What constitutes good tea is, of course, subjective, and I am prepared to concede that what’s my cup of tea mightn’t necessarily be yours.
But as some of my family and friends have become nervous about making me tea, here’s a quick run-down on how to make what I consider to be a good cup of tea.
And for the record, I never judge tea made for me by people at home or at work; it’s the people charging good money for what can only be called dishwater who are in my sights.
1. BOIL WATER
Not as simple as it sounds. Use a kettle – either stove-top or electric. Recently, I heard that these aren’t standard kitchen appliances in the United States. Somewhat sceptical, I asked my American friends and found that while some do (take a bow Jerry Sehkle, although the fact we’re related way back probably mean it’s something to do with the family tea-drinking genes), others have never tried them and assume that heating water in a microwave is fine. It’s not. It doesn’t get as hot. Good tea is made with water that’s come to a full rolling boil. Every time I flip the switch on the kettle, I can still hear my grandmother saying “you WILL boil the water properly, won’t you dear?”
If you have to, use a pot on the stove, but it’s slower and there’s more chance of getting splattered by boiling water.
2. USE FRESH WATER
Once – and only once – I accused my beloved of using the wrong tea. We’d just moved from Auckland city to Waiheke Island, and I, with my taste buds dulled by years of drinking tea made with chemically dosed city water, failed to recognise that it wasn’t the tea that was different, but the water.
We don’t always have access to fresh rainwater, but at least empty the kettle and refill it from the tap every time. Water that’s already been boiled once tastes flat if it is boiled again and used to make tea. The wonderful Sri Lankan tea company Dilmah explains it like this:
‘Water is known to contain dissolved gases absorbed from the air. Carbon dioxide (CO2) gas that is present in water affects the acidity. Acidity of water plays a critical role in the ionization of tea polyphenols, and it contributes to the stability of the above complex.
CO2 in water is gradually released during the boiling process. Re-boiling will in fact further reduce CO2 levels, resulting in a decrease in the acidity. As mentioned above this will affect the caffeine and polyphenol complexion, and bring about changes in the colour as well as the character of the brew.
Twice-boiled water will therefore affect the taste of a good tea, and hence our request that only freshly boiled water is used for brewing Dilmah tea.’
3. USE GOOD LEAF TEA
There’s tea, and there’s tea. Taste is personal, so shop around and see what you like. We drink Dilmah Classic most of the time, but usually have a cannister of Kerikeri Tea’s Organic Bay of Island Breakfast in the cupboard for to offer to friends or to have as a treat (it’s more expensive than Dilmah), and love trying other brands and blends.
Occasionally I drink green or herbal teas too.
Keep your tea in a dark, air-tight caddy in a cool place. Many people advice keeping it in the fridge. I go through my main tea so quickly that leaving it on the bench for a few days doesn’t matter.
4. MAKE IT IN A POT
Teapots are worth using simply for the ritual. But there are practical reasons for using them too. The tea gets time to steep, and, depending on the size of the pot, there’s usually the option of a second – or third – cup.
Heat the pot by filling it with hot water from the tap and letting it sit while the kettle boils, or swirling a bit of boiling water from the jug around in it (if you do this, make sure to bring the kettle back to the boil again).
My current pot is a white ceramic one I got for $10 in a sale at Briscoes. It has a basket that holds the tea leaves, which makes emptying it easy. If you are using one of these, fill the warmed pot with boiling water, put the basket in, add tea (one teaspoon for each person, and one for the pot), and put the lid on.
If your teapot hasn’t got a basket, put the tea in first.
And if you use teabags instead of loose-leaf tea, it’s still worth using a pot; your tea will have a depth it’s not possible to achieve by making it in a cup.
5. LET IT BREW
Good things – and tea is the best of things – take time. Let it brew for at least three minutes, longer if you like it strong.
6. TIP ME OVER, POUR ME OUT
If you take milk, put it in the cup first, then pour tea on top. I don’t like it too milky – about half a centimetre in the bottom of the cup will do.