There’s no denying it’s our state-given right to get slightly hysterical about the quality of our cuppas.
Milk first or water first? Squeeze the bag or don’t squeeze the bag? Use filtered water or just don’t bother? These arguments have rocked British workplaces and homes up and down the land.
So we spoke to tea expert and consultant Angela Pryce to find out exactly how to make The Perfect Cup Of Tea™. No squabbles.
First of all, let’s just accept that everyone feels differently. Some like milky tea, some like just a drop. Some, let’s call them oddities, like it black. Some like it weak, some like it strong. Personal taste is big in the tea world.
But put aside your personal tastes, and there are some key essentials that all cuppas should have, regardless of the preference of the tea-drinker.
1. Store your tea right
Always keep your tea in an air-tight container. As soon as you’ve popped the foil on your PG Tips* (*other tea brands available), be sure the transfer the bags or the loose leaves to a tin or other such re-sealable container. Cardboard boxes do not a good cup of tea make.
“Tea absorbs moisture and kitchen smells,” explains Angela. “So store properly to avoid spoiling the flavour.”
2. Always use fresh water
None of this reboiling the kettle nonsense.
“Always use freshly drawn, cold water every time you fill your kettle. The oxygen in the water is vital in producing a lively, bright brew.
3. Use a teapot
“Obviously make sure your tea pot is clean,” says Angela.
She also advises warming your teapot first. “Swirl a small amount of boiled water in it – this ensures the water temperature remains hot when poured.”
4. Loosen up the leaves
Here’s the first of our controversial suggestions: loose leaf tea is the way forward.
Sure bags may be slightly more convenient, but if you want taste, you want your tea leaves to really infuse with the water without the straightjacket of a bag.
Angela recommends you “Allow one teaspoon per person and one teaspoon for the teapot,” but also suggests trial and error. “It’s entirely up to you - add as much or as little to make it to the strength you like.”
However, if you prefer tea bags (hey, we’re not judging here, they’re very useful), use two to three per pot, depending on how strong you like.
5. Water rules
How hot is the perfect cuppa?
Slightly off the boil? Left to cool for a few minutes or bang on 100°C?
Well it depends on the type of tea you’re going for. And here’s where it gets complicated, as we have to remember there are many different types of tea.
Let’s assume, shall we, that we’re talking about a traditional English Breakfast Tea - black tea often drunk with a touch of milk.
In that case: “Use boiling water for black teas and herbals.”
But if you are partial to a green, white or oolong, these are more delicate so you should wait until the water has slightly cooled down - it should take around five minutes.
Speaking of that teapot, if you have a temperature controlled one - the idea blew our minds too - aim for 80°C, which is perfect for these lighter teas.
And in terms of water quality, if you live in a hard water area definitely use a filter for a smoother taste.
6. Brewing time
Keeping the pot hot is important but Angela warns: “Leaving the tea in the pot, to brew under a tea cosy is a no no. This extends the brewing time and can make the tea bitter and stewed.”
She tells us that the general rule is: “the darker the leaf, the longer the brewing time.”
So black teas, up to five minutes, while green tea just three minutes.
7. Squeeze the tea bag?
Absolutely not. Some people will insist it makes no difference and means you can scrimp on brewing time but don’t risk it. Black tea contains tannins that can make the drink bitter - squeezing the bag won’t just strengthen the tea, it’ll give it a bitter taste. Be patient.
8. The great milk question: should it go in first or second?
The answer to this question is steeped in history. Angela explains: “Historically, the ‘milk in first’ rule was to protect the fine bone china it was served in - but nowadays it doesn’t really matter.
“However, never put milk in first if you are using a teabag in a cup as this will cool the water down and will limit the brewing process.
And there you have it: the ultimate cup of tea solved.
Anyone fancy a cuppa?