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Friday, 28 May 2010

The perfect cup of tea

Historically there have always been a number of major differences between the North and the South of England - dialects, industries, weather, and the big divider - how we make our cups of tea!

"To gain optimum ambience for enjoyment of tea aim to achieve a seated drinking position in a favoured home spot where quietness and calm will elevate the moment."
The Royal Society of Chemistry 

Being a Southerner living in the North, and someone who drinks eight or nine cups a day, this has long fascinated me.  The version of tradition I know tells it like this, although it is always the subject of hot debate and I am sure there are others who would disagree...

In the South you put the milk in first, then add the tea.  This is apparently because in the olden days while the landed gentry used delicate porcelain, these who couldn't afford it used cheaper china which cracked if boiling water was poured straight in. 

In the North you put the tea in first, usually into a mug, because "how do you know how much milk you need until you see the colour of the tea?".  Fair point.

On the train going between the South and the North the tea is just dodgy.

And you can even buy different versions of the same tea brand depending on whether you live in the South and have soft water (makes bubbles more easily), or live in the North and have hard water.

And the scientific world is divided: The Royal Society of Chemistry says 'milk in first' but the Royal Society of Physics says 'all that matters is the temperature of the water'.

Whoever thought there would be so much to think about!

This is my receipe for the perfect cup of tea:

1) Boil the water and put a bit in the teapot and a bit in your cup to warm it up.  Swirl it round the teapot and the cup so they are hot, pour that water away. 
2) Put 2-3 tea bags in the pot (best is a mixture of Earl Grey and my favourite PG Tips which makes for easy-drinking sophistication - don't knock it until you have tried it!)
3) Pour in boiling water, put the lid on and swirl it around.  Leave it for 2-3 minutes while you get your biscuits out of the tin or cut your slice of cake :-)
4) Pour a good splash of milk into the cup then add the tea - I like it about 1:5 milk:tea
5) Sip and say 'ahhhhh'

I like mine in a plain white mug, strong but with lots of milk so it is a caramel colour, best drunk:
  • first thing in the morning with the birds singing outside the window
  • with a bacon buttie after a long bike ride
  • in the afternoon with a piece of carrot cake and a good book
  • in a tea shop with a friend, served with lashings of laughter
  • at the kitchen table with marmite on toast after a night out
From my travels I am also partial to a bit of Japanese roasted tea, sweet mint tea from Libya and Morocco, bitter Rooibos from South Africa, mate from Argentina, spicy chai from India, smoky Lapsang Souchong from China... the list goes on, but that's a discussion for another day. 

Tea goes well with good conversation. What's your favourite and how do you like it? 

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  1. OH I have to comment!! I am lucky enough to have a husband who brings me tea in bed in the morning. Tis practically the reason I married him. Its one of life's pleasures that you just CAN'T do by yourself. Its just not the same having to traipse downstairs, make it your self and bring it back! I also have it in a china mug. China is great because you don't lose the heat to the mug, and somehow the fine rim, just makes the tea taste better, and mug sized, because cups - well they do need a pot nearby don't they! ALSO I found out that the whole 'milk in first' thing - the poshies put their milk in after - not something i thought I must say, but then I am evidently not posh. A friends mum who is super super posh apparently referred to peoples she thought a bit middle classes as a 'bit milk in first'. And there was me thinking it was proper to milk it in first cos milk in after means you must have used a tea bag!

  2. I am not normally a tea drinker have made it a lovely event!

  3. What a lovely blog, dedicated to lovely tea!!!

    I found it truly fascinating, and you have provided the answer to why some like milk in first! My auntie is the only one I know who ALWAYS does the milk first. Her reason has always been "to avoid getting pregnant with red-headed twins" which I have always loved!!! :)
    I love tea without milk (or sugar), and I mostly drink green tea. I prefer a tea cup, and can rarely finish a whole mug full. The only time I add anything is when I have a cold, and then I add some honey and lemon juice.
    Enjoy your cuppa!

  4. Oooh tea brought to you in bed - nothing tastes better than that! Love hearing your alternative ways of drinking it. Might try out the cold tea with honey & lemon myself one of these sunny days

  5. Preferably tea out of the pot with a lovely cosy over it...and the morning paper.
    NEVER must milk be added first to a tea bagged infused cup...i feel it coats the leaves and you really cant get that tea "hit"....i only enjoy mine with a slight bit of milk anyway..i mean whats the point in drinking milky water.
    As you can see tea is massive in our house....:)

  6. Yes that is so true! I always think of it as the milk blocking the tea from flowing out!

  7. I'm from the midlands... make of that what you will! So, I'm a teabag in the mug girl. But never, never put the milk in until the teabag is out... Making tea with water that isn't boiling just ruins it (hence don't drop the water temp by putting the milk in with the bag). I remember having to teach a boyfriend that particular tip!! Luckily for him he listened!

  8. Hi Beth. Interesting thought! Yes I must say that the temperature DOES matter to me. Being Japanese and living in Yorkshire, I DO drink tea throughout the day! From traditional Yorkshire tea to oh many of my favourites like Earlgray, Peppermint, green tea (of course!), Redbush, Jasmin, Oolong, chai etc etc. In my case no matter what type of tea I drink, I have it black. I can't stand white tea! sorry! (only tea that go with milk is to me ceyron tea by the way. All of my Srilankan friends drink with warm milk too from my experience) x m


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