Friday, June 10, 2011

A proper British cup of tea

Breakfast: Breakfast burrito

Lunch: Salad and mini scones with a proper cup of tea

Dinner: Satay tofu and mixed veggies

Today I fly back to the UK for the first time in over a year and a half, so I'm pretty excited and thought I should post something typically British - and what could be more British than a decent cup of tea?

Now, you'd think that making a cup of tea would be easy. Apparently not. 99% of North Americans cannot make a good cup of tea. I think it's a patience thing: we Brits have the ability to wait hard-wired into us - we are a nation that will line up for something for hours without knowing what it is, and we will tut loudly at anyone that tries to jump the queue - while most North Americans are used to drinking coffee and getting it quickly, so the concept of leaving a teabag in to brew just bewilders them. Also, some places like McDonalds commit the heinous crime of putting the milk in with the water. NO. This will not make a good cup of tea. All McDonalds or Starbucks workers, please see below.

Also you can't really enjoy tea without some sort of dipping treat or supporting nibble. I made some mini scones with some home-made blackberry jam and Putin went mad on them - they were pretty good. I'll post the recipe on when I get back. Oh, and lately I've seen some scone recipes that have eggs in them: this is strange and wrong. As far as I'm concerned, a scone with an egg in it is a cake.

You'll need:
(Satiates 1)
1 good teabag - PG Tips Pyramid bags if you can get them. Try to avoid Orange Pekoe as I've yet to understand what this actually is. If you're using a big cup, use 2 teabags
1 tsp brown/white sugar
real milk - if you're vegan or lactose intolerant, use whatever milk you fancy, but for me, it's got to be cow's milk
A cup of water

Put the water in the kettle and leave it to boil
Put the teabag and the sugar in a cup / mug. DO NOT PUT THE MILK IN.
When the water is boiling (as in the second after the kettle switches off) pour the water into the cup. If you aren't stood right next to the kettle when it boils, then boil it again
Stir everything around once and then LEAVE IT. Go away. Stand away from the cup. Get out of the kitchen. If you smoke, go and have a cigarette. If you're at work, check your emails
Go back to it only after you've gone longer than you think you should. I'm talking a minimum of 3 minutes here, more if your teabag is flat
Squeeze the teabag against the side of the cup using the spoon, in order to get all the goodness out
Take the teabag and throw it away. Don't leave it in the sink, that's just annoying
Stir around to make sure the sugar has dissolved
Add enough milk to make it golden brown and stir. If the milk goes in when the tea is still brewing, it cools the boiling water down and stops all the flavour coming out of the tea leaves.
Grab a scone / 2 Hobnobs / other sturdy biscuit and sit down with the paper to enjoy
Dunk and drink. Hooray!

Fact for North Americans: in the UK, it's expected (in fact, it's necessary) of you to make endless cups of tea for builders / plumbers / any workers that come to your house. This is a standard British pleasantry and to overlook it is very bad. If you find yourself in this situation, use 2 teabags per cup and 4 sugars. This is commonly known as Builder's Tea. It should also be served with a whole tin of biscuits.

I am very much inspired in my tea-drinking ways by the late great Douglas Adams, who wrote a gorgeous guide to the perfect cup of tea. I only disagree with him on one point: Earl Grey tastes like crap fog.

Posts over the next 3 weeks will be sporadic but interesting while I galavant around the UK and the Czech Republic trying desperately to avoid meat. Let's see how I get on!


  1. Top shelf. I indubitably concur.

  2. I would add that for a slightly better cup of tea, in my personal opinion, one should steep the tea in a pot, adding to the cup first the milk, pouring the tea into the cup second is crucial, as it raises the temperature of the milk gradually and wards off scalding. any desired sweet additions can be added last.

  3. Thanks for your comments Phil! Of course, the teapot is the king of all tea-making apparatus but I have yet to furnish my house with one and so have to settle for the cup method.

    It's interesting also that back in the day when everyone used their finest china it was actually standard practice to add the milk to the cup first, so that the heat of the steeped tea did not crack the cup. Thankfully we're past those days.