Keep That Water Boiling For A Perfect Cup Of Tea

In the height of summer, a cup of tea is often a more refreshing choice than coffee. Make sure your tea tastes optimal by pre-warming the cup, using leaves rather than bags, adding the milk second and following the most old-fashioned of rules: take the teapot to the kettle, not the other way around.

Picture by Scott Akerman

At Slate, Christopher Hitchens goes on an extended riff about how to make an ideal cup of tea. While tea from cafes isn't quite as bad in Australia as in the US situation he describes, the scenario of being given a pot of semi-warm water and your own teabag is all too common. The most noteworthy of Hitchens' points is the importance of boiling water, on which he quotes author George Orwell:

[O] ne should take the teapot to the kettle, and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours.

With an electric jug, that simply means pulling it off the stand pouring the second the boiling starts and pouring away. Hit the link for the full process of fine tea, and share your own tea-making tricks in the comments.

How To Make A Decent Cup Of Tea


    I find it interesting that he insists that tea has to be from boiling water. I drink many pots of tea daily and can say that it depends on the type, quality and size of the tea leaves as to how it is brewed. All green teas are best brewed at about 80 degrees (Celsius). The better brands of green like Gyokoro are best brewed from about 70 degrees or even as low as 60. It also has a long brew time.

    White teas are also ruined and become very bitter if brewed from a high temperature. Snow Dragon is a loverly tea but it is also best when brewed from about 80 degrees and drunk over time. It also makes a really good cold brew.

    Most black teas can be brewed from a high temperature but if you think it tastes to bitter brew it from a lower temp (90-80).

    I have to agree that it is just dodge to order tea and get a teabag, but it is also understandable given the quantity they sell. With higher demand I would hope that the serving quality (pot with diffuser and looseleaf tea) improves.

      While I'm not a tea drinker, I'm surprised to see a blanket advocacy of making any fragrant beverage with hot-as-can-be water!

      Like Le_Gambit, I use water at slightly different temperatures to make decent espresso coffee (average ~90°C).

      I'd been told that using water that was too hot (or too cool) resulted in undesirable flavors predominating in the cup (from 'burnt' to excessively bitter - but, of course, I had to prove it to myself.

      It all goes to show that the final qualities of your drink are affected by lots of different factors all along the production trail. I suspect that there is only one guaranteed way to ruin a nice tea OR coffee - and that is to use water that is way too hot.

    If you're using leaves (in a teapot presumably), shouldn't the milk be in your cup first? Before the brewed tea?

    My wife insists that's how it's done

    Technically, adding the milk second isn't as hot as adding it first.

    Assuming the tea is the same temperature when poured from the pot (and that there isn't any additional delay in having to pour the milk second), the rate of thermal change will be more pronounced if the tea is allowed to sit at a higher temperature before being diluted.

    I once saw an interview with an Twinnings Representative from England. He stated that because of the nature of teabags, they placed their better quality leaves in those to release the best flavor quickly. Slightly less quality was use for pot bags and loose leaves. Counter intuitive. I always thought it was the other way around.

      I would suspect that that is just marketing. Almost all teabags, when infused, add their own flavour to the tea. This causes a slight more dusty taste to appear in the drink.

      I also have to mention that I no longer add milk to my tea as I find it doesn't add anything to the flavour.

    I always add a bit of honey and sugar and chocolate and almonds to my tea.

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