How to Make a Cup of Tea – Guest Post by the Boffin

A cup of tea before the milk is stirred in.  Contrary to stereotype, most tea is drunk out of conventional cups and mugs and not out of dainty tea sets.  "Milk clouds in tea" by Xavier Snelgrove - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons
A cup of tea before the milk is stirred in. Contrary to stereotype, most tea is drunk out of conventional cups and mugs and not out of dainty tea sets. “Milk clouds in tea” by Xavier Snelgrove – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

It is going to sound complex, but what is going on is the desire to increase the positive flavor notes and minimize the bitter ones. Therefore, you want to brew the tea at the hottest temperature possible, and then add something to make it drinkable. There is a lot of chemistry going on in tea, but you don’t need to understand it in order to make a good cup.

You’ll need:
– Kettle (electric is best, one on the stove works too)
– Tea pot
– Large mug
– Working space around the kettle
– Lots of teaspoons
– A tea cosy or clean tea towel.

1) Empty the kettle. Get rid of the old water, you don’t want it as causes problems in the brewing.
2) Add enough water to the kettle for brewing. How much? Depends on how large your tea pot is. Only use fresh water. Some people even run the faucet for a few minutes prior to filling the kettle.
3) Boil the kettle.
4) Rinse out the teapot and warm it. Most people add some boiling water to the pot, wait a minute, and then pour that out. What ever you do, the teapot needs to be hot before you add the hot water.
5) Add the tea to the pot. Nice rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon of tea per person. Or if you have bags, just throw them in based upon what you are looking for in terms of strength (experience).
6) Put the pot near to the kettle.
7) As soon as the kettle is boiling, pour the water into the teapot. Put the lid on the tea pot. Cover the pot with a cosy or tea towel.
8) Wait for 3-10 minutes (depending on how strong you want the tea)
9) Add your sugar/sweetener to the mug and then if you want milk, it goes in next (before the tea). Lemon juice should be added last.
10) Stir and drink while hot.

#9 is the contentious part. Many Americans do not add anything beyond sugar to their tea, and they are missing one of the most important steps. During the brewing process the tea builds up a high concentration of tannins. These compounds are what make the tea taste bitter. The reason people add cow/goat milk to tea, is to bind up the tannins and remove that bitterness. However, it does not need to be milk. Lemon juice works (and is fun to watch what it does to the tea). Honey also works too. Regular sugar has a minimal effect, so people have to add so much sweetness to the tea to mask the bitterness. If you are going to add milk, then it should go in the mug first, so that it is not scalded by adding it the hot tea. Oh, and if you discover that you milk turns to lumps in you cup, the milk is going off. Making tea is a good gauge as to how fresh your milk is. You just start again with fresh milk.

Tea has a very powerful place in British culture, more than people realize. In fact there is no equivalent over here in the United States. Every house is expected to have a tea making kit (even if people don’t drink tea). Not only is it the center piece of social gatherings (as you see on Downton Abbey), but it is also used as a source of comfort and reassurance in times of stress. ‘Shall I put the kettle on?” is a frequent question their spouse would ask when a person receives bad news. It doesn’t have the aggressiveness of coffee, and the act of making and drinking it is quite soothing.


Karen here. If you want a scholarly take about the brewing of tea, the Royal Society of Chemistry actually issued a news release, but it is dry and not written well, to be honest.

Now the Boffin took a stand and said “milk first”. To some, this is quite controversial. You see, there are factions about whether to put the milk first or last into the cup. In fact, that was what the English Civil War was truly about. Charles I was not beheaded. He died by suffocation with a tea cozy.

And I must say one more thing. Invest in some good quality tea to try this out. Lipton does not cut the muster. Perfect for iced tea, not so good for hot. Even Walmart has Twinings now, so it is not impossible to splurge, and give the English tea ceremony a try. Tell us what you think. We’d love to hear from you.

20 thoughts on “How to Make a Cup of Tea – Guest Post by the Boffin

  1. 1. Brew for ten minutes? Whew! That’d be strong enough to grow hair on my tongue. Or take it off it was already growing there. I never considered myself a cowardly tea drinker, but I’ll reconsider.

    2. Thank you for clarifying that important turning point in British history.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well done, The Boffin. Your love for the beverage and the ritual both are displayed to us Yanks bloody well.

    The elder women in my family all started their days out by steeping a tea bag in a mug at the kitchen table. I wish they had experienced a chance to try your stronger, more nuanced version. They put the milk in last. Woe be they. Nary a complaint, though. I’m a coffee man. The only tea I drink is iced, usually. We do have some English sent over to us in a heartfelt care package from our London blogging friend Rachel, and when my dear wife Karen and I make it when summer gives way to the chills of autumn, I shall remember your primer! Have a good day.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. My mom says it always makes her feel better when she has a cold, and sometimes, if she drinks it early enough in the cold, she thinks it even makes it go away!

        Liked by 1 person

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