For the British, tea and the art of serving it properly has always been of utmost importance. For those in other countries, however, tea has been merely a drink that you make in any old mug courtesy of a pre-measured tea bag that tastes especially good when you have a cold or the flu or when you’re in need of a warm beverage to lessen the chill of a cold winter’s night.
Too bad! A good cup of tea is a real treat. As a matter of fact, more and more individuals outside of Britain and its colonies are discovering its great taste. Coffee shops, popular in America, are adding more and varied teas to their menu, allowing uneducated tea drinkers to learn the ins and outs of proper good-tasting tea. Tea shops are also springing up in many countries, offering fine imported teas of many flavors.
If you’re a fan of this fine beverage and you’d like to serve tea in a proper manner, the process is simple once you’ve got all the required pieces in place.
The proper setting for your English tea can be nearly as important as the tea itself. Get ready to enjoy the tea by setting a pretty table that your guests can enjoy. Include china cups and saucers if possible, a dainty linen table cover, matching napkins, and perhaps a floral centerpiece. If you’re serving food with your tea, be sure to provide the appropriate size plates. It’s okay to mix and match if you don’t have enough tea cups of the same pattern. As a matter of fact, it adds a little extra whimsy.
A proper English tea always comes from a pot, brought to the table on a tray along with sugar, a sugar holder, a milk pitcher, tongs for sugar cubes, a napkin, a spoon, a saucer, and – of course - a cup. (Some of those items can already be on the table, if desired.)
When the process begins, the teapot should be warm – never cold or at room temperature. This allows for the tea to stay hot longer. It’s best to warm the teapot in the oven, on the stove over low heat, or by placing it in a tub of boiling water. Invest in a “tea cozy” that wraps around the pot, which will also keep the water hot for a longer period of time.
Preparing the Tea
“Real” British tea is made with loose tea leaves, but if you’re concerned about having the leaves appear in your cup, you may use a filter or diffuser. If you’re using leaves, put a teaspoon of tea per cup in your warm teapot. Fill it with freshly boiled water (never boil water twice), stir slightly, and allow it to “steep” or sit for between 2 and 5 minutes, depending on the strength you seek. Stir it again before you serve. You may wish to add milk and/or sugar before you serve (the British way!) or allow your guests to add it as they wish.
If you find that the tea is not the taste you were seeking, you can make a few changes. First of all, try using less tea per cup. The tea you’re using may be particularly strong and not require as much to make a good cup (or cuppa, as the British say). You might also want to switch the type of tea you’re using. Ask your local tea expert what teas might be more suited to your taste or try some of the most popular British teas, which include Darjeeling, Earl Grey, English Rose, Orange Pekoe, and Imperial Gunpowder. All are decidedly different so it might be prudent to take a taste test before you buy.
Pouring the Tea
To avoid having the tea spill from the top of the pot, always place one hand on the lid so it doesn’t slip. Pour slowly to avoid over-pouring. If you wish (or if your guest prefers), you may use a strainer so that tea leaves do not gather in the cup.
When everyone is seated and served, it’s time to enjoy your tea!
A proper tea, especially an afternoon tea, is served with small treats including cookies, tiny cakes, scones, or even small sandwiches and other finger food. The fancier and more elegant the better!