The humble cup of tea, how can it go so wrong?
The other day I was served a cup of revolting muck. I had been striving over a physical task and as a giddy-up incentive to finish the job the lady gave a nice warm brew to pep me up. It was vile and it went down the sink and it caused a puzzle. How is it possible that a middle-aged Englishwoman cannot make a cup of tea? I observed her in action. She took a mug, poured a large slug of milk in, plopped a teabag on top then topped it up with hot water. When the filth tanned, she removed the teabag and presented it for service. It was grim. If I had wanted horrible milky crud I would have asked for Ovaltine or a latte or a chai.
Tea is very important. Tea is more valuable than smack, as wars have demonstrated and aside from being the world's most popular drink (after water) it is vital to the English character, whether it is the brick-red mug with a bacon sandwich or the delicate fine china and fairy cakes or the reason for the power surges in Coronation Street ad breaks. I am an Englishman. That qualifies me to discuss this question – and besides, I drink a lot of tea. I drink tea all the time when I'm not drinking booze so I drink at least some cups of tea quite often. This dedication is quite normal, there have been some lab experiments on the subject and even the normally iconoclast George Orwell wrote a stiff, unexpectedly totalitarian manifesto on the qualities of a perfect cup of tea. Every report I have read has differing ideas of perfection, there is no platonic ideal; Orwell himself favours a strong, bitter cup and pooh-poohs blends other than robust Indian teas such as Assam. Times change, and one is not necessarily a twerp or a fruit for favouring Oolong or Earl Grey these days. Coffee drinkers get away with plenty of effete choices. Regardless, most tea brewing methods assume one is simply trying to make a universal nice cuppa. There are rules about timing and temperature but mostly they take a that'll-do attitude to the game. Fuck that'll-do.
Tea is very important. Tea is more valuable than smack, as wars have demonstrated...
The following method works. It's no use if you are spitting feathers and you need a brew and your cigarette is already lit, but you shouldn't need a recipe for that.
Ingredients: Note the large amount of tea leaves.
Filter the water. It really is better. Don't filter mineral water, it is an expensive and silly thing to do. Get some tea. For the photographs I used Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe Darjeeling which is nice but not especially fancy and does account for the colour. It is fine to use normal breakfast tea, simply rip open the bags first to let the tea flow about. Put the leaves into the teapot. A traditional method of teaspoon measurement suggests using one for each cup and one for the pot but that will be too weak. Use 3-4 times that amount, in terms of torn teabags use at least 8 or 9. Yes it is a lot. Put the nascent tea in the teapot then put it in the fridge for at least 12 hours. This isn't great, admittedly. It may be a stumbling block for some tea enthusiasts. However, I use multiple time-staggered teapots - I plan hard (I also chuck manky crap out of the fridge I don't need). This is the vital element though, as it affects the flavour of the tea. Boiling water does the job quick, but it strips the oils from the leaves, giving the liquid the astringent, tanniny taste. Steeping the tea in cold water takes a lot longer and is less efficient, needing more leaves, but it keeps the lighter, more florid notes and keeps the liquor clear -[ see photo] – cold brewed tea will not stain the vessel like the bitterer hot tea will.
Fully-brewed tea, ready to serve.
Remove the leaves from the pot, the plain liquid will keep in the fridge for a day. Pour a cup and nuke in the microwave for a minute to 60 degrees celsius or so. Cup of tea! Perfecto!
Milk and sugar. Load your cup up with what you like, it's your funeral. The argument about milk first/milk after is about the milk proteins, simply, if the tea is very hot, put a little milk in the cup first, if not so hot then plop it in afterwards. The milk thing was more of an issue with full-fat milk anyway so is largely irrelevant now. Use it with breakfast tea, not with scented or green teas. The juice from cow's tits has a flavour benefit in that it makes more of a toffee flavour to woody, bitter teas, but that is not needed in this method. Similarly, sugar offsets the astringency, again not an issue if you've done it right. The etiquette of such things is a different story - the lack of kettle, milk jug, pouring ceremony, etc. This dance of manners is an easy problem to offset because you will have the sneering satisfaction of knowing you have done it right.
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