Whilst striving for perfection in any endeavor is most likely a good thing, we should never let ourselves become rigidly fixated to one or another set of “rules” of tea preparation, lest we transform a joyful activity into a nervous, dreary one.
So what, then, at a minimum do we need to brew the “perfect” cup of tea?
1. Good Water
If your water tastes like sewage, or has icky impurities in it, your tea will most likely not taste good either. That should be obvious. Use the purest water at your disposal; tap water in most places is fine.
2. Good Tea
Equally obvious should be need to use a good quality tea. Now understand that the “quality” of the tea oftentimes depends as much on you as the manufacturer. The best tea in the world, stored in an open container in a warm, humid room full of noxious odors, will soon be no better than the cheapest bargain brand, or perhaps even worse. So keep your tea in a dark, airtight container away from light, moisture, and those unpleasant smells you don’t want to taste in your tea.
3. Proper Preparation
Here’s where the fun begins, because everyone it seems has their own version of what “Proper Preparation” consists of. Which is a shame, because not only is making a cup of tea not all that complicated, but different methods of preparation may yield different, interesting results. In other words, rather than be inflexible about this, we should be open to experimentation, and the new taste experiences our experiments create.
Here are the steps to prepare a cup of tea:
- Bring water, (clean, good tasting water!), to a boil
- Pour it over your tea, (in a tea bag or, if loose leaf, in a diffuser)
- Allow the tea to brew for several minutes, (4 minutes for black tea, 2 minutes for green or white tea)
- Remove the tea bag or diffuser, and add milk and/or sweeteners
That’s all there is to it!
You may find you like to seep your tea a little longer, or a little less. That’s okay! Whatever tastes good to you. I’ve even been known to make my tea in a microwave, and add some flavored non-dairy creamer to it when it’s done, actions which would cause many a tea snob to faint or have an apoplectic fit. Oh, the horror!
The “Perfect” cup of tea is whatever you choose to make at the moment, with whatever resources you have at your disposal. If by chance a cup of tea turns out very badly some day, just dump it out and start over.
Now in the interest of fairness, I need to point out that there are others who may not share my opinions, and believe that the preparation of tea is a delicate undertaking. I’ve provided links to these folk’s essays, that you may peruse them at your leisure, perhaps finding valuable tips here and there.
1. George Orwell famously wrote an essay titled, “A Nice Cup of Tea“.
2. Twinings of London, an organization that knows a thing or two about tea, has a page describing how to “make a good pot of tea“.
3. The Rare Tea Company’s directions for “the perfect cup of tea” are a bit more complicated.
4. An article in The Telegraph attempts to answer the age old question, “should milk go in the tea cup first or last?”