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How to Make the Perfect Cup of Tea

There’s always a lot of talk about coffee.  Coffee memes, coffee jokes, coffee…

There’s always a lot of talk about coffee.  Coffee memes, coffee jokes, coffee almost-a-joke-but-not-actually-because-I-haven’t-had-my-first-cup-yet. New techniques, new blends, new roasting methods. Which is all good. But why is no one talking about how to make that perfect cup of tea? Why are the tea-drinkers being neglected?

Because, let’s be honest here – I don’t function without tea any better than a coffee drinker does without their morning cup of chemical dependence. And it’s incredibly easy to make a bad cup of tea. Incredibly. Personally, I’m of the opinion that a bad cup of tea is more undrinkable than a bad cup of coffee, although I’m pretty sure someone’s going to shout at me in the comments for that.

how to make the perfect cup of tea, women's institute, w.i., beaufort scales, cozy mystery, cozy mysteries

Pretty, but looks quite weak. And why is there a daisy in it? Was someone cutting the lawn?

I don’t get on with coffee so well. I love the smell, and I enjoy cold brew coffee for about a month in the summer (then I get bored and don’t touch it again for another year). I like frappes, and every now and then if it’s cold I’ll try some concoction generously laced with caramel syrup and possibly whipped cream. But, given the choice, I like tea.

Plus, tea’s important, particularly when it comes to cozy mysteries. I mean, an awful lot gets solved over a cup of tea. Disagreements, and domestic discord, and the question of who should bring the mini quiches to the next meeting. Also who the murderer’s trying to frame, and how to best keep dragons hidden from the suspicious gaze of certain overly-perceptive detective inspectors. The Toot Hansell Women’s Institute relies heavily on a nice cup of tea, and is always ready to share with dragons.

And the problem with that is it’s pretty much impossible to get a decent cup of tea.

how to make the perfect cup of tea, women's institute, w.i., beaufort scales, cozy mystery, cozy mysteries

Again, pretty. But I don’t want pretty. I want caffeine. And how do you even drink that?

I don’t mean at home, obviously. But pretty much everywhere else, unless you’re in the UK. I think they get taught how to make tea at around the same time as they learn the alphabet.

“Q, R, S, T. Okay, Tom, let’s stop there. How do we make tea?”

“Um – Peppa Pig?”

No, Tom. Try again.”

Alright, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. Maybe tea lessons wait until the wee ones can see over the counter. But, in general, you can usually get a decent cup of tea at a cafe, a pub, or anyone’s house in the UK. Strong, served with milk and maybe a bit of sugar if that’s your preference, with no fancy flavourings or strange spices going on – unless you’re actually looking for a herbal tea, of course, but that’s a different question entirely.

how to make the perfect cup of tea, women's institute, w.i., beaufort scales, cozy mystery, cozy mysteries

I’m not going to even say what the colour of this resembles. But I’m not drinking it.

Anywhere else? Pretty hit and miss. Europe has a bewildering affection for Lipton Yellow Label tea, which requires about six bags to make one cup that even approaches the right strength, and I know my friends only have regular tea at home because I leave some at their house. Cafes are confused when you ask for tea with milk, so you end up with a tiny cup of watery milk (or just milk) with the aforementioned Yellow Label floating disconsolately in it (I will admit that my terrible French may have something to do with these miscommunications).

how to make the perfect cup of tea, women's institute, w.i., beaufort scales, cozy mystery, cozy mysteries

Now we’re getting somewhere…

Australia and New Zealand have some pretty cool teas these days, but I still approach cafes with caution. Often the water’s not hot enough, so the tea doesn’t brew properly, then by the time you add the milk it’s so cold you have to gulp it down before it reaches that horrible tepid temperature that transforms it from elixir to dirty dishwater. That’s if the milk’s on the side, of course, and not slopped in with the not-quite-hot-enough water, meaning the tea never actually brews at all, just stains the water slightly.

Really, the only option is to a) carry your own tea bags with you (yes, I do this. My carry-on always has one Ziploc of toiletries, and one of tea bags. I know. Yes, I’m embarrassed of myself sometimes. Okay, regularly), and b) make it yourself. But what if you’re not sure that your tea-making skills are up to the standards of the Toot Hansell Women’s Institute, or that of visiting dragons?

Well. Allow me to present a handy guide.

how to make the perfect cup of tea, women's institute, w.i., beaufort scales, cozy mystery, cozy mysteries

Don’t leave the spoon in! Seriously, you’ll burn your fingers off.

How to Make the Perfect Cup of Tea

First, the eternal question: loose leaf or tea bags? Obviously loose leaf is more suited to Women’s Institute meetings and visiting dragons (or royalty), but you do tend to end up living with a sieve full of tea leaves in your sink. However, you get a cleaner, fuller flavour from the leaves, so you may have to base this one on personal preference (and tolerance for a messy sink).

  • Preheat the teapot (if using) by swirling a little boiling water around it. You can preheat mugs, too, if it’s particularly cold, but that’s kind of getting carried away with things.
  • Tip out the preheating water, then add tea leaves (about a rounded tsp per person, plus a little extra for the pot). Top immediately with boiling (not almost boiling, not boiled-a-couple-of-minutes-ago) water. I don’t think I need to give directions for tea bags, other than boiling water.
  • Let the tea brew for 2-3 minutes — less makes a milder tea, more gets stronger until it makes your teeth go funny and it tastes horrible. Don’t do too much more.
  • If using a teapot, add milk to mugs and top with tea. If using tea bags, take the bag out then add milk, mostly just because you’re less likely to splash it everywhere (she says from experience). Add sugar to taste, and serve with cake and cookies. You may need to use large soup mugs and two teabags when catering for dragons.
how to make the perfect cup of tea, women's institute, w.i., beaufort scales, cozy mystery, cozy mysteries

Boiling. BOILING. Boiling water.

There’s a school of thought that says, when using teabags, you should put the milk in with the teabag, before adding boiling water. I’ve tried it, but I have reservations – I can’t help but feel it cools the water down too much for the tea to be able to brew properly.

What are your thoughts, lovely people? Are you a tea or coffee drinker? Or neither? What’s your beverage of choice, and how do you prefer to make it? What are your pet hates when it comes to your favourite drink? Let me know below!

Note: I thought this was going to be a really short, silly blog. I’ve written over 1,000 words on how I prefer to make tea. I may have a problem. I’ll pop the kettle on while I think about it…

Note the second: Like the Beaufort Scales mug? You can own one! Jump over to the Zazzle store to choose your own — or sign up to the newsletter below for a chance to win one in the next giveaway!

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  1. Jon says:

    The first day at the bus depot, I was told off to make tea. And lo, all the bus drivers did complain it was too weak. So I chucked a whole box of PG Tips bags into the urn. And they liked it, and called for more. I haven’t been fond of tea since then.

    1. kimwatt says:

      I learned to make tea doing a yacht delivery from Brighton to Greece in January – we all took turns making the tea, and there was MUCH discussion about exactly how it should be made. I only started drinking it because it was so cold I didn’t really have a choice, but now…

  2. I’m a coffee person, but it’s odd. I can have the once-in-a rare-while raspberry mocha or something, but overall, I just want my coffee to taste like coffee. I do like cream in it (again, NOT the flavored creamer-type yuck, but cream or half & half) but am capable of drinking it black if needed.

    However, I think I may be an oddity among coffee drinkers, because I actually like tea quite a bit. I don’t know why it is, but I see coffee as a morning thing and tea as an afternoon/evening thing. That might be because I like herbal teas quite a bit, so the caffeine is a non-issue. I’ve always wanted to have a good cuppa made by Someone Who Knows. I’ve had my tea straight up, with cream, and with honey (orange blossom honey is my favorite for teas) and love all versions. My Number Two Son is a tea drinker, and he loves finding just the right type and just the right process for each type. He buys loose leaf as often as possible, and loves when he finds the odd bag of tea that looks like potpourri and bark, haha. One of these days, if I ever make it to France, I’m making my way straight to your place, Beaufort mug in hand, and asking for a handout.

    1. kimwatt says:

      Ooh, some of the herbal teas are so nice! There are amazing tea shops here where they have huge ranges of both potpourri style and more regular teas in huge jars, and scoop them out as needed. I admit it’s all a bit lost on me, as I’m usually just after my regular Yorkshire tea, but I like looking at them and smelling them.

      And you would be so welcome to come to tea! We could have cake (or scones) and large mugs of a good strong brew. I’d even break out the tea pot ?

      1. Oooooooh! And I must inform you that my Beaufort mug is on its way from Zazzle. I got purple outside and green inside. I’m so excited!

        1. kimwatt says:

          Aw, yay!!! And I love that colour scheme – I can’t wait to see a photo!

          1. You know it. Instagram, here I come.

  3. Lorinda Johnson says:

    Coffee drinker here, but I do like a good Chai Tea; 2 bags, milk nuked for a few seconds to take the chill off. ?

    1. kimwatt says:

      Ooh, chai tea is lovely! I use soy milk and half-fill the mug, nuke it, then top with boiling water and a bit of honey. So yum!

  4. Cynthia E. White says:

    I am a dedicated coffee drinker, but one of my grandfathers was British, and I have been to England several times to visit relatives so I have received instruction on proper tea. I find I prefer loose-leaf tea, and do have several strainers, but as you said, you do end up with lots of used tea leaves. Tea bags are easier, but it also does depend on the quality of the tea. I love Earl Grey or English Breakfast tea with milk, and then peppermint or ginger tea with honey for an upset tumny or cold. I don’t add as much sugar to my tea as the English tend to do – but then I also drink my coffee very strong and bitter. And I have been known to travel with teabags. My aunt travels with loose-leaf tea, a strainer, and a tea infuser to heat water. She is quite religious about her tea.

    There are a few cafes and restaurants in the Twin Cities that serve decent tea – real tea from loose leaf. But even a cuppa with a black Lipton’s tea bag and enough milk and sugar isn’t too bad. Just don’t ask for green tea in a diner if you’re running for president. Green tea has its place, and can be a refreshing afternoon afternoon beverage either alone or when mixed with peppermint tea. But never in an Amercan diner.

    Iced tea is very traditional in the American South, but that would be a whole different discussion, and can result in generational fights, so I won’t get into that discussion.

    And if I were ever so lucky as to have one or even two dragons stop by for tea, I would be sure to serve them large mugs of proper black tea with milk and sugar, as well as pie, scones and a few ham sandwiches so they don’t get too hungry. Until then, I will have to make do with my Cloverly Dragon mug(on order from Zazzle) and a cosy mystery.

    1. kimwatt says:

      This is the most wonderfully detailed tea comment ever! I have to admit that Earl Grey and I don’t get on at all (and I’m quite dubious about green tea), but am definitely with you on both mint and ginger teas. It’s all what you’re in the mood for sometimes, I think.

      I shall refrain from asking for more information on the iced tea situation – that’s another thing I’ve never really got my head around. A nice herbal tea, brewed up and kept in the fridge, can be wonderful on a hot day, though. I do enjoy that!

      And I’m so excited to hear you have a mug on the way! Thank you so much – that’s absolutely awesome! Now we just need to organise some dragons to drop by…

      1. Cynthia E. White says:

        Well, I do hear airplanes flying overhead going to and from the Minneapol-St. Paul airport, so that is a bit dragonish. No need for the airplanes to drop by, though. ?

        1. kimwatt says:

          ? no, no one wants airplanes dropping by. That would require an enormous amount of tea and biscuits…

  5. Linda says:

    DEFINITELY agree with you about Coffee/Tea, Red/White (wine). I love all 4 beverages (not mixed mind you…ugh), BUT I can drink a much ‘cheaper’ glass of red wine or coffee – but can’t skimp on the white wine or the tea! I’ve only recently (this past year) come to Tea, as in the US it almost always meant Iced Tea (or Sweet Tea) down south – and I didn’t (and still don’t) like that. Not an herbal tea fan either and often the Hibiscus (which I think makes a lot of them taste the same) gives me headaches. I do like a nice cup of Jasmine too though. But over the last 2-3 years, I’ve read soooo many British (Often Cozy-ish Mysteries or Police DCI) (Dragons, Talking Cats, and this other Author writing about magical Rivers and talking foxes) my curiosity got the better of me, I HAD to figure out what all the bloody fuss was about because I was obviously missing out. Plus any excuse to eat biscuits (doesn’t sound as sinful as calling them cookies) and that is a mystery I will happily investigate! So by now I’ve quite forgotten the subject of the post, but my tea is now cooled enough to drink, so, all’s well that ends well!

    1. Kim says:

      Tea is a great excuse for biscuit consumption 😁 And I’m very much with you on the iced tea. I will sometimes steep herbal teas (usually hibiscus ones, as it happens!) in a jug in the fridge in summer, but not proper tea. I’ve never liked the iced variations of it I’ve tried.

Comment away! (Points awarded for comments involving cats, tea, or baked goods)

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