On the preparation of tea

We give some tips on dealing with a range of teas. As ever, our emphasis is on real-world and practical advice rather like the video below (which is priceless).

Mow we've watched that we're going to start this article proper by embracing controversy and stating that tea preparation can be taken too seriously.

This is an example of what we're speaking about, the Engineer's Guide to Tea Preparation from the excellent resource that is www.worldoftea.org. It's impossible to fault, impeccable in its detail, but fundamentally getting it wrong. Oolong may be at its very best when steeped for thirty seconds at 195-degree water, but it's pretty good when steeped for a couple of minutes at whatever temperature it came out of the kettle at.

George Orwell was closer to the mark with his seminal essay 'A Nice Cup of Tea', although it focuses entirely on Indian (ie. black) tea. He tells us it's about getting the basics right - hot water, loose leaves, earthenware pot if possible. Here's a photo of the great man himself, enjoying a lovely cup of tea.


And then Christopher Hitchens got one step further in his article for Slate magazine, a homage to the Orwell essay updated for Twenty-First Century America:

"Next time you are in a Starbucks or its equivalent and want some tea, don't be afraid to decline that hasty cup of hot water with added bag. It's not what you asked for. Insist on seeing the tea put in first, and on making sure that the water is boiling. If there are murmurs or sighs from behind you, take the opportunity to spread the word. And try it at home, with loose tea and a strainer if you have the patience."

Throughout the article he dispenses practical advice for practical people in the context of modern life, and as such we judge it to be much more useful than the nitpicking of the latter day tea masters.

Which takes us to this photo of our office teapot:

Nothing fussy. Holds enough for two mugs and has a basket in the top to contain the tea leaves. Let me tell you what we do with it:

For Black Tea and Oolong

Heat it first by swirling hot water around inside and then pouring it away. Two or three spoons of tea in the top. Fill with freshly boiled water. Wait for a minute or two. Serve. Add milk if you feel like it. If you're on a health drive and only drinking skimmed milk I wouldn't bother at all. Rude Health almond milk, interestingly, can work pretty well too if you are putting yourself through even more intense dietary gymnastics.

You can then reuse the same tea leaves. We find that this works for one more pot, and then you need to start adding a few more fresh tea leaves to each additional pot - say half a spoon. Repeat until the basket fills up completely.

For Green and white tea (and La Caravane gunpowder tea)

Leave the kettle for half a minute or so after it has boiled. Maybe even a minute. Then do about the same, except maybe just two spoons of tea leaves and absolutely no milk.

We've found with La Caravane that you can just keep reusing the same leaves - the resulting tea just keeps improving, until it starts getting a bit weak at around the fifth use. Then you should add some more. The Chinese insist that the later steepings are the best ones, the least bitter and most delicate. Who are we to argue with them?


And that's about it, really. As we said, the focus should be on getting the basics right, and on doing so with decent quality tea. Too much admin is detrimental to the experience. But so is crap tea.

But I don't have a teapot

Don't panic! We've got you.

Obviously teabags have their place, but we should really be trying to raise our tea game above this. Happily there is a tool at our disposal - the tea filter. These are small bags of filter paper. You add a spoonful of tea leaves, dangle the bag into your mug, and add hot water. It's quick and easy and means you can start drinking good tea on a regular basis.

Even better, we have started selling them in our emporium. Check them out...