Monday, March 12, 2012

The Perfect Cup of Tea

Though the custom of afternoon tea didn't come into full flower until after the Regency period had ended, there's no more perfect combination than curling up with a cup of really good tea and a historical romance. (Unless you add something chocolate, of course.)

The average American makes tea by zapping a mug full of water in the microwave for a minute or two, then dunking a bag in the water till it turns color. Microwave ovens heat quickly but often unevenly, which means part of the water may be overboiled while another portion is hot but not yet boiling. The result is usually a muddy cup of tea.

Instant hot-water faucets, if set at the proper temperature, should produce water that’s hot enough to make an acceptable single cup of tea, but they usually don’t produce near-boiling water quickly enough to make a full pot of tasty tea.

A true cup of tea takes very little longer and very little extra work, yet it returns enormous rewards in taste and satisfaction.

To make perfect tea, start with a kettle of cold water. Let the water run for a bit before filling the kettle, so the water will be fresh and fully aerated. While a kettle is best, water which has been brought to a full boil in a covered pan will also make good tea. Set the burner at the highest temperature, to bring the water to a boil as quickly as possible.

While you’re waiting for the water to boil, fill the tea pot – preferably a china one, which holds the heat better – at least halfway with hot water from the tap. Let the warming water stand in the pot until the kettle boils, so the tea pot will be thoroughly warmed. (This keeps the boiling water from cooling off too quickly as you pour it into the tea pot, and it also keeps the tea pot from cracking because of the sudden temperature change.)

Fill a mesh tea ball with one teaspoon of loose tea for each cup of water the teapot holds. Don’t fill the tea ball more than half full; tea leaves need room for expansion. Or use one high-quality tea bag per cup of water.

The instant the kettle begins to boil, empty the warming water from the pot, put in the tea ball or bags, and pour still-boiling water over the tea. Let the brew steep for three minutes. Remove the tea ball or tea bags. Serve with lemon or whole milk (not cream) and sugar to taste -- and enjoy!


  1. Beautiful post! I love a good cup of tea, and have one right now sitting next to my computer. I prefer my teapots and mugs out of stoneware becasue you can heat them up and even warm them further by putting them in the mircowave before adding in boiling water. If you heat the mug the same way you mentioned warming the teapot, it helps too. A good cup of tea is like getting a hug.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Tiffinie. I love introducing "real" tea to people who have only ever experienced the microwaved kind. They always take the first tentative sip and their eyes light up -- and they're hooked!

  3. Are there any scones involved?

  4. That's a post for next week -- the recipe for scones!