The Perfect Cup of Tea

Making a cup of tea is one of life’s small pleasures. For some people it’s a way of waking up in the morning, while for others it’s a relaxing comfort at the end of a long day.

A brief history of tea

The very first cup of tea was brewed more than 4000 years ago in China, and became the national drink during the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE), with elaborate tea ceremonies becoming an important social event.

It first came to Europe with the Portuguese and Dutch at the beginning of the 17th century, and became a fashionable drink amongst the wealthy. It didn’t reach British coffee houses until 1658, and, being a peculiar continental habit, the nation took a while to truly warm to it.

The turning point came with the marriage of Catherine of Braganza to Charles II in 1662. Being part of the Portuguese nobility, Catherine was an avid tea-drinker, and she made the drink fashionable among the English aristocracy, leading to the first major tea imports.

Britain’s love affair with tea grew over the following centuries, even developing our own form of the tea ceremony with upper-class ladies serving it at home to friends using elaborate china and tea-making paraphernalia. By the middle of the 18th century tea had replaced ale and gin as Britain’s most popular beverage.      

These days, around 165,000,000 cups of tea are drunk every day in the UK, and the different methods and techniques for making the perfect cuppa are a source of heated debate. Loose tea or bagged? How much do you use? Do you put the milk in first or after, or do you use it at all?

The real answer to most such questions is to make it however you like it, but if you’re a stickler for doing things the ‘proper’ way, we have some guidance for making the perfect cup of tea:

How to make the perfect cup of tea

The first thing to consider is the type of tea you are using, as this can greatly affect the way you make it. Good quality loose tea yields the best flavour such as Darjeeling or Earl Grey, but decent bagged tea can also be used if you really must.

1. Begin by warming the teapot with some hot water.   

2. Fill the kettle with fresh water from the tap – don’t reuse previously boiled water as this will spoil the taste.

3. Place one teaspoon of leaves per cup into the pot, and one extra.

4. Switch off the kettle just before the water reaches a rolling boil and pour the required amount into the pot.

5. Leave to infuse for the recommend time; generally around 3-5 minutes.

6. Only add milk to stronger teas such as Assam. It will spoil the flavour of lighter teas such as green, Darjeeling, Earl Grey, and Oolong. You can add the milk before or after as you please – if people decry you for putting it in first, you can tell them that adding the milk after actually causes denaturation of the milk proteins, spoiling the taste. You can also call them out for clinging to outdated inequities of social class.

If you can, use a proper china cup as this will enhance the flavour (perhaps not in any scientifically measureable way, but it really does improve the whole experience).


UK Tea Council

Fortnum & Mason

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