The Perfect Cup of Tea

This is the story of the long journey to a perfect cup of tea. Ever since I discovered tea at the age of fourteen, it has been a vital part of the day. White with none, at least three times a day. Warm and comforting, all is well with the world when my hands are wrapped around a mug of tea.

But then I became enraged at a world suffocating in plastic and started to wean our family away from using plastic, one product at a time. And I started in on tea. It was very tricky to find a teabag where the bag or the box wasn't shrouded in plastic. So I started to experiment with making tea in a pot, with loose leaves which are packaged in cardboard, and then, following hints from ever-helpful readers, found I could buy loose tea from big jars in a cute coffee shop, or from my favourite wholefoods shop. So far, so good, right?

Wrong. Turns out I was absolutely pants at making tea in a pot. I was outraged. I made tea that was stewed, I made tea that was watery, I tried using a tea infuser, but I could not get it right. And I NEEDED a perfect cup of tea. Several times a day. And then I got sick, for weeks and weeks, and felt so miserable that I just gave up the fight. Lovely reader Judy let me know in the comments that Twinings 100 bag boxes were packaged without plastic. Hooray! But now I was drinking tea that wasn't grown pesticide-free in Australia, and wasn't fair trade, whose only positive was that it wasn't wrapped in plastic. Buying food is a minefield of ethical dilemmas!

Then the very brilliant and helpful Libi wrote in a post that I had inspired her to go and buy unpackaged loose leaf tea. She took her own container, and got a discount from the properly impressed tea lady at the MOST wonderful tea stall I have ever seen. Shopping envy. Go have a look. Anyway, I was mortified, having totally given up on the whole tea in a pot thing. I confessed my shortcomings to Libi, and then she made the suggestion that has CHANGED MY LIFE.

STIR THE POT before you pour it out. Prevents watery tea, and you don't have to leave it so long it stews to get the right strength. I guess it's like jiggling the tea bag. BRILLIANT! Total game changer. This morning I set myself up with tea caddy, kettle, tea pot and strainer, and made tea over and over again, using the stove timer, until I got a consistently perfect cuppa. Oh, I am so happy! And it took a Proper British Chick to sort me out. I love the internet!

Admittedly, there is a tiny part of me that is saying, 'You still drive a car and stand under a hot shower for an unconscionably long time, you still buy cheese and muesli bars wrapped in plastic - why are you making such a fuss about tea bags?' It's true, it seems a bit OTT, but every time I make a little change in the way I shop, or eat, or think, something clicks inside my head, and I feel a little bit more whole as a person. I do not need to rely on a tea bag to make a cup of tea. I can make a cup of tea like my granny did.

It's odd, because though my grannies must have made thousands of pots of tea in their time, I only remember them using tea bags, so I never got to stand next to them and watch them make tea in a pot. I inherited my granny's tea caddy, as you can see, with the gorgeous tea pots all over it, but she always stored crackers in it as far back as I can remember. In  the space of one and a half generations, that knowledge just suddenly disappeared. And that is only the knowledge of how to make a cup of tea. How much else has disappeared, or is dying with our grandparents' generation, knowledge that is so important for living in a world where there may not be quite as many resources in the future to squander on making our lives convenient?

Anyways, just so you know, here are instructions for making Jo the perfect cup of tea:

Pour boiling water in the pot and sit for a minute to warm. Try not to wander off and forget what you are doing. Jo does this often.
Pour hot water down the sink; this is good for the drains.
Put one barely rounded spoonful of reasonably robust tea leaves in the pot. Note: if you are not making a cup of tea for Jo, and you have different tea leaves, you will need to experiment at this point!
Reboil kettle with fresh water (one mugful of water only - let's save power as well).
Fill mug with right amount of boiling water, pour in tea pot.
Cover with tea towel/ tea cosy, set oven timer one minute thirty (yes, exactly). You may need to experiment here too.
Pour into mug through strainer.
Tip tea leaves into compost.
Add milk.

Happy Days!

Is anyone else this anally retentive about making tea? Do share!


Lanie said…
Fantastic post. Made me laugh aloud.
Anonymous said…
You are speaking my language Jo. :D My husband is British and so tea in this house is always served STRONG. Weak tea simply doesn’t cut the mustard I tell you. I too got to thinking about tea after reading a blog post on it a few weeks back – might have been yours? – and I spent some time searching the net and bought 1kg black orange pekoe leaf tea, organic and fair trade. It was only $20 + P&H too. Yes it comes with carbon miles and yes it was in a plastic bag but I can and will reuse the bag and the online purchase is a trade off between me driving to a tea shop (I have no idea where our 'local' one would be) with 3 small children who would create havock for certs. Still, I love the flavour of the tea but the strength has been a little lacking unless brewed to tannins burning the tongue point so I reckon I know where I was going wrong now. Thank you. :)
I had a Papa who drank leaf tea when I was a child but he had switched to tea bags by my teenage years. He also drank his at the strength of dirty dishwater, 1 teabag for 12 or more cups of tea and a huge slug of milk each time (bleugh) so not much help to be had there anyway. He would have been 100 on October 22nd and he was the 2nd youngest of 11 children so his tea making skills are definitely from the days pre tea-bags. :)
Anonymous said…
You forgot to turn the teapot around 3 times (the leaves sink down to the bottom) and tap the lid (again, apparently to make the leaves drop in the liquid). I have been drinking tea since I was 2. I think I was weaned on tea! I have given it up twice in my life but came to the conclusion that bollocks...I love it! I need tea and that's it...that's all! I use t-bags...bad narf7 :(.
Jo said…
Lanie, I seem to be amusing a number of people today. When my daughter got home from school I told her I had spent the morning making a couple of dozen cups of tea, and she laughed immoderately..
Jess, it seems you came up with a good way to buy tea AND avoid tantrums. Brilliant. Hope your orange pekoe is perfect now!
Fran, I worry if I start twirling and tapping the teapot, my family will think I have joined some kind of tea-based cult (I may try when no-one is looking though..).
I discovered that David sells loose tea in the spice section at Wholesome House. You could add it to Steve's list for Monday...
Anonymous said…
Another fussy tea drinker here. Very few people can make one for me that makes the grade. Even just using tea bags.

My weekend pleasure is a pot of the champagne of teas for breakfast. Assam Joonktollee. $220.00 a kilo.

I love how tea is relaxing to make and relaxing to drinking. A quiet, peaceful drink. With no overpowering odour.

I make a lovely pot, if I do say so myself.
Jo said…
Lucinda, seriously? $220kg? Champagne and then some. Oooh, I really want to try some now. I shall hunt some down! But maybe I won't buy a whole kilo..
I love that the perfect cup of tea has the faintest aroma of honey. That's how I can tell if it is going to be perfect.
Tell me, how do you make your lovely pot? Any points of difference?
Anonymous said…
I know. Worth more than my jewellery. I buy 50 or 100 gram bags. I only use it once or twice a week.

I have a little tea pot with one of those inserts that you pull out. I put in two teaspoons, let it draw for a few minutes and withdraw the insert thing. Makes three perfect cups (traditional small cups, not mugs. I use my Wedgwood tea set for my weekend treat). Being Assam, it has quite a strong taste but not bitter. Great clarity and colour.

I buy from The Tea Centre. You can goggle them.
Jo said…
I have looked at those teapots in the kitchen shop. Any good? Is there any actual difference between the $10 and the $50 ones? I couldn't see any.
I like the idea of being able to take the tea leaves out to prevent stewed tea.
I LOVE the idea of the weekend tea party. Going to begin that tradition forthwith!
Anonymous said…
Horay! I'm so glad I helped in the tea quest.
I knew there was a reason my family take tea so seriously. If my Dad only knew I'd been inadvertently teaching someone half a globe away to make a proper cup of tea he would be most surprised.

I also have special weekend tea that I look forward to all week and crack out my vintage china to drink it from. Tea is such a simple treat but it really does make a difference to your day.

Jo said…
Much gratitude Libi. You are a star in our house!
I am totally joining in the weekend teaparty. I must see photos of everyone's best teacups!
Unknown said…
Ha! No, I'm not but I can totally empathise and I'm married to someone who thinks he is the only person on the planet who knows how to make tea. Can't complain, as it means he has to make it every morning!
Jo said…
Oooh, lucky you. I would maintain complete ignorance in perpetuity..
On the same principle I am completely incapable of learning how to use our coffee machine...
okay have calmed down now. but !!!!!
jo, you know i am a 'tea biddy' - but i too am 'pants' at making loose leaf tea. i can only do it with tea bags (even in a pot). i had resigned myself to that. my parents make proper tea perfectly each time - and i just realised, they stir or swirl the pot before pouring. so there must be something in it if you have confirmed this technqiue too.
enjoy your weekend, e
Jo said…
e, your mum and my granny would no doubt have been soul mates! I have a sixties housekeeping manual which also features that same tin, being used by the Lady Mayoress of Sydney? Brisbane? as she demonstrates proper tea drinking etiquette!
I hope you hit upon a polling station with a BBQ and cake stall today..
Barb. said…
Has to be strong and I like to have the milk in the cup before pouring on the tea. Some people say this will scald the milk but that is how I like it so that is how I do it. I only like tea during the hot weather so will need to get some in before Summer gets here. I also need to up my nettle tea intake again, been a bit slack there.

Jo said…
Hi Barb, Jessie mentioned nettle tea too. Good for iron?
Heather said…
Coffee drinker here. I am so American, huh? Anyway, it makes me happy to imagine you enjoying your tea everyday. I'm glad you found out how to make it work on your terms.

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