At-Home Coffee Shop: A Proper Cup of Tea

I am a “tea person.” I come from a long line of tea people.

The funny thing is that because I’m a tea person, I avoid ordering tea at most restaurants and coffee shops. Because there are a lot of ways to foul up a cup of tea. For instance:

  • tepid water
  • bad tea-bag-to-water ratio (giant pot of tepid water + 1 tea bag = crummy cup of tea)
  • steeping tea too long or not long enough
  • refilling a person’s bad cup of tea with more tepid water while the tea is steeping (and a “tea person” might not ever be able to move on if this happens)

Although I would love to live in the world of avid tea-makers and drinkers, having good tea run like water from the tap might take away from the calming ritual of making a pot of tea. It’s hard for the perfectionist in me to admit it, but there’s probably more than one way to make good tea. But, in case you’re looking to wow your family with a simple cup of tea on Christmas Day, here’s my way.

First, choose your tea.

My family really enjoys Yorkshire tea. I can’t vouch for its technical quality, but I enjoy Tetley for iced tea. My grandmother prefers loose leaf Irish breakfast tea. I buy any brand of fair-trade loose-leaf English breakfast tea, although I’m currently enjoying a bag of Numi tea. (Although I’m not refined enough to taste much of a difference, I kind of prefer Irish breakfast tea because I think it’s cool to be like my grandma. But I haven’t been able to find it both loose leaf and fair trade for a decent price.) I’m not a huge fan of flavored teas, but I have enjoyed loose leaf or Yogi lemon ginger tea both alone and mixed with black tea.

Second, choose your water.

Alton Brown told me that  my tea water needs to be freshly run–not having been sitting around in my fridge for a long time. I forget why this is, but you can trust A.B. Also, choose water that you’d enjoy drinking alone. Tea won’t necessarily cover up the taste of your water, but the water might make your tea taste bad. We have a Brita filter attached to our faucet, so I use water straight from that.

Third, boil your water.

Note that I did not write “heat up your water.” I also didn’t write “turn on your tap water so it’s really hot.” And sorry, Charlie–the spigot behind the bar at your favorite coffee shop will also not give you boiling water. My mom, who hasn’t taken up coffee as a condolence-prize hot drink, has decided that she’ll drink tea from a restaurant as long as the water is hot enough to inflict some serious pain if she dips her finger in it. Why is it important to have boiling water? Each type of tea (green, white, oolong, black, etc.) has a specific water temperature that allows the tea to give its maximum flavor. Also, after the tea has been boiled and cooled, oxygen has been removed which affects the flavor of the water. Still curious? Read this. Alton Brown also notes that if you are using tea bags, you might want to use water that is just below the boiling point because it won’t pull the bitterness from the tea dust into your drink. You can use the microwave (in my opinion), an electric tea kettle, or an old-fashioned tea kettle. We used electric for a long time since they were so convenient in the dorms. When ours conked out, we got a traditional stainless steel model because stainless steel doesn’t usually “just stop working.”

Next, measure your tea.

If you use tea bags, you’ll need one tea bag per 6-8 oz. of water. If you’re using loose-leaf, you’ll need one spoonful of tea per cup. My teaspoons are about the size of soup spoons, and my soup spoons are pretty much ladles, so I have one spoon that I somehow picked up from my mom’s old set of silverware that is normal-sized. My teapot holds 1.5 quarts (6 cups), so I use six spoonfuls. If I plan to serve all my tea at once, I’ll put my tea leaves directly into my teapot. If I want to keep the teapot full for a while and drink it throughout the day, I use a teabag (purchased or made from cheesecloth and string) or put my tea into two three-cup mason jars. You’ll want your teapot or other brewing container to be pre-warmed with boiling water (or at least really hot tap water) and then dried.

Then, steep the tea.

After you’ve poured your still-boiling water over the tea leaves, set a timer. If you steep the tea for under 3 minutes, it will be pretty weak. If you steep it for over 5 minutes, it will be too bitter. I set my timer for 4 minutes because I like strong tea, but I want some wiggle room in case it takes me a while to stop snuggling with my puppies and get to the kitchen. I pour my tea through a strainer (or cheesecloth if my strainer is dirty) from my teapot into cups or my mason jars into my teapot.

Finally, enjoy your tea!

If you take cream and sugar, the Brits will tell you to put the cream in your cup first. They say something about bacteria happens. However, science is not on their side, so you can do it however you want. I usually drink my tea with just a little skim milk, but I’ll put in just a bit of sugar if I want something more desserty. You can drink your tea out of just about anything. The cuter my mug, the more I enjoy it. I prefer my tea out of the Shakespeare mug I bought in Stratford-upon-Avon when my grandparents took their ten children and grandchildren to the U.K. in ’07. However, tea probably tastes best in a bone china cup. Tiny silver spoons, authentic British scones, and clotted cream won’t hurt either.

Check out the rest of my At-Home Coffee Shop series here.

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2 thoughts on “At-Home Coffee Shop: A Proper Cup of Tea

  1. Thank you for doing your part to educate your readers about the loveliness of tea. If you can get green tea bags in a restaurant, the not-quite-boiling temp. of the water works okay. Also, if I think about it, I will fill my tea pot with hot water so that it’s nice and hot before brewing the tea in it. (I pour the unused hot water in a pitcher and use it to water plants when it cools.)

  2. This is great Kelsey! It is funny that you posted this, because I was just having a conversation with my Mom about tea. Actually it was about her mother, and how it would drive her crazy that her mother would turn the tea kettle back on for her tea, even though my mom insisted it had just whistled right before she walked in the door. Now I can tell her there was a reason for it! :)

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