Friday, April 20, 2007

A Nice Cup of Tea

is an integral part of everyday life in England, where I grew up, and even though I am hooked on Starbucks coffee, whenever I am stressed or have a problem, I automatically put on the kettle and make tea!

Appreciated centuries ago for its reviving qualities, a cup of sweet, strong tea is still regarded by many Londoners as a cure-all for minor ailments and fatigue, and by simply putting on the kettle, they feel they are making progress in solving whatever is troubling them.

Londoners were formally introduced to tea in 1664, when the East India Company began to import tea from China. Coffee houses soon began to sell tea to drink at home, and by 1707 it was well established as a fashionable, if expensive, drink and while gentlemen enjoyed it in coffee houses, gentlewomen made clear green or black tea in the Chinese style, without milk or sugar for their guests in the evening. Tea only became widely available to the poor in 1784, when the government removed the high excise duty on tea leaves. Mid-morning were routine by the end of the nineteenth century and at many firms, a "tea lady" was employed to wheel a trolley around the office with an urn of tea, milk, sugar and biscuits. Today, tea drinking has once again become popular, with the availability of rare and interesting varieties from companies such as Twinings and Fortnum & Mason. So how do you make the perfect cup of tea?

The Perfect Cup of Tea
  1. Boiling the Water. The water should be brought just to the boil for brewing black tea and be just off the boil, for preparing more delicate green or white teas. The ideal pot for brewing tea contains a small perforated holder (infuser) for the tea leaves. The holder can be removed or sealed with a plunger once the tea has been brewed sufficiently.
  2. Brewing the Tea Leaves. The teapot is warmed with hot water just before the leaves are added. Traditionally, British tea drinkers allow 1 teaspoon of loose-leaf tea per person, plus 1 extra teaspoon for the pot, but most tea experts recommend experimenting to taste. Large-leaf teas can be brewed for 4-5 minutes; small leaf teas need only 2-3 minutes.
  3. Serving The Tea. Britons drink their tea black or white (with milk), or with a slice of lemon. There is much debate about the correct way to serve the milk, but most believe that it should be poured into the cup before the tea is slowly added. (more information on tea can be found in the Williams-Sonoma book, London).
So why not dust off the teapot and buy some tea (or tea bags) and the next time you are feeling blue, do what the English do - put the kettle on and make a nice cup of tea. The English bone china Royale Amber Teapot-for-one pictured at the top of the page can be found at the Gourmet Fusion Store, where this month there is also a free Starbucks Gift Card promotion. Cheers!

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