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4 Elements To A Decent Cup Of Tea

Sep 12, 2008
In this article, I want to share with you the essential elements that I use in making my friends a cup of tea when they choose to stay with me at my cottage hotel on the South Coast of England. Making a proper cup of tea is a British obsession, but a rich cup of tea also provides you with plenty of natural antioxidants to stave off cancer, heart disease and other ageing effects. Tea also contributes to your daily fluid target to keep you health and the caffeine levels are really quite low, especially when compared to coffee and some soft drinks. Tea is essentially made by combinining the leaves of certain plants - classically the tea bush Camellia sinensis and with fresh, hot water for the correct length of time, to leave a clear and attractively coloured liquid, which is fully flavoured and not bitter or tasteless. It may be served hot or cold.

The Tea

Personally, I prefer to make a cup of tea with loose leaf tea. I use good quality black tea - either a single tea from Ceylon or a blend from one of my more favoured tea makers.

If using a tea pot, I like to use one rounded teaspoon of loose tea per person plus an additional teaspoon "for the pot" as we like to say.

If I am making tea in a cup, then I may either use a tea bag or one rounded teaspoon of loose leaf tea.

I find that you get the best results using loose leaf tea in a teapot. However, tea bags are a little more convenient. The problem with tea bags is that often they contain a poorer quality tea, which is not from the tip of the tea bush and may be ground into a fine powder. Also, loose tea has more room to circulate within the pot. But you do need to have a tea strainer to unsure that your cup only has the tea and not loose leaves in it!

Be aware, especially if serving British friends, that the US style tea bag often only has 2.1 g of tea as opposed to the 3.1g of tea normally contained within a British teabag.

Buy good quality tea, store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place to stop oxygen or moisture from impairing the flavour of the tea.

The Water

The purpose of the water is to extract the maximum flavour from the leaf of the tea bush. You need to ensure that you have the right type of water at the correct temperature to be in contact with the leaves for the optimum length of time.

Always use freshly drawn cold water. When water is re-boiled, or stands for a while, it loses oxygen which prevents the full flavour of the tea being released. If you live in an area with high level of chlorine or other salts, then it can help the flavour of the tea, if you use a water filter. For black tea leaves, use water that is just off the boil i.e. 100 C. If you don't use boiling water with highly oxidized (black) tea leaves you are unlikely to develop the active substances within the tea. I always use a kettle to boil my water. With less oxidized tea leaves green or white tea you should use water that is less hot. The water should be allowed to swirl around the tea leaves to extract their flavour.

The brew

Ideally, allow the tea to brew for 3 minutes. I use a tea pot to make the tea for my friends. Ideally, warm the tea pot first as this allows the brewing temperature to be maintained for longer. You can allow the hot water to brew, by being in contact with tea, in a cup for about 1-2 minutes.

You want the hot water to be in contact with the tea for long enough to release the polyphenolic compounds that will give your tea its rich colour and flavour. If you allow the leaves to be in the water for too long, the tea can become "stewed" and taste bitter, because of the release of certain high molecular weight chemicals. If the water isn't near the tea for long enough, it can be weak and tasteless. Most of the caffeine is released in the first minute, so brewing for less time is not likely to reduce the caffeine content of the brew. If you are using a teabag - NEVER squeeze the teabag. It will make your tea taste bitter.

The Cup

I always use a tea strainer to avoid getting tea leaves into my cup.

Serve the hot tea with milk, sugar, lemon or honey. Do not serve the tea with lemon and milk or the milk will curdle. Choose one or the other.

If you want to add milk to your tea and you are making tea from a teapot, then add the milk to the cup first. That way the milk will be gradually heated up by the hot tea. If you add milk to a cup of hot tea, then you risk degrading the proteins in the milk, which will give the milk a stale taste.

However, if you are making tea with a teabag, don't add your milk in first as the milk will prevent the tea from brewing. Allow the tea to brew in the cup and then add the milk.

Sugar can then be added to taste. Both milk and sugar reduce the natural astringency [bitterness] of tea.

About the Author
Nalin Wickramasuriya runs a cottage hotel in Hayling Island, England. She prides herself on the care and quality of the stay she offers to visitors - who always become friends - to Cockle Warren Cottage Hotel on her favourite Hayling Island
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