How to brew the perfect pot of hot tea.

Dry tea leaves in a glass teapot. Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.

Many of us grew up with tea in the home: the good old box of Lipton’s tea bags. Out it came when we had a cold, a sore throat, or the winter chills, and a tea bag was dunked in a mug of hot water straight from the tap or microwave. In restaurants, a cup of tea was virtually the same: a mug of hot water with a little metal carafe also full of hot water, with a tea bag, a packet of sugar or honey, a little sealed cup of coffee creamer, and a wedge of lemon on the saucer. With plenty of honey, sugar, cream, or lemon, our cup of tea was nice, it warmed up our hands and steamed our faces, but we didn’t take much notice of its flavor. It never struck us that tea could taste better, but it can! It’s really a very simple process, but that means that the main components – water, tea, and tea pot – are very important.

For good pot of tea, the goal is to achieve a beverage with the most flavor and the least bitterness possible; it will have a freshness to it that will be both comforting and refreshing, and it will be steaming hot. You will need: one tea pot, tea strainer, table spoon, at least one tea cup and saucer, a kettle, water, tea, milk, sugar, and lemon (if you take your tea with any of these). The sugar is added to the cup of tea first, to dissolve it, and then the milk or lemon; do not add both milk and lemon to the same cup, as the lemon juice will curdle the milk.

First, the water: tap water, if it’s hard, will not make the best cup of tea, because the minerals and chemicals in it will change the taste of the tea. Also, to heat the water, boil it in a kettle, not in a microwave; boiling in a kettle infuses the water with extra oxygen, which makes for more flavorful tea, while water heated in a microwave will make the tea taste flat and metallic.

Fill the kettle with fresh, cold, water from the tap, or bottled drinking water, and bring it to a full boil. An electric kettle is especially handy for this, because it’s faster than a burner on the stove. When the water is hot but not yet boiling, pour some into the empty tea pot, put the cover on, and swirl the water around inside, for about 10 seconds to warm up the teapot. If you skip this step, the cold teapot will cool the water when it’s poured in, and the tea will not steep properly, or stay hot as long.  Once you have the water and pot prepared, you are ready to add your tea!

Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.

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Filed under Glossary & Terminology, Recipes

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