Tea. Black tea. Not the insipid green dishwater the health nuts go on about. It picks us up, it calms us down. It’s our refuge after a hard day at work or when the kids are being impossible. And now the scientists are even saying it’s good for us.

This beverage, this elixir, this daily crutch, deserves respect. Simply chucking a teabag in a mug and splashing it with hot water won’t do. Tea must be brewed with care. It must be the cherished end product of a small ritual. In short, it must be made properly. And here’s how.

Holy Water

Apart from the blessed leaf itself, water is the most important ingredient in a cup of tea. Sounds simple? Please, please, please abandon that lackadaisical approach. First of all, water must be fresh. Tea needs oxygen, it needs air. It must breathe.

Do not reuse water that has been boiled and left sitting in your kettle. When water boils it loses its air. Take the time. Empty your kettle and fill it with clean, fresh, oxygenated water that, if at all possible, has also been filtered.

Filtered? Isn’t tap water just as good? Oh, dear, respect, please! Tap water contains chlorine and heavy metals, removing these from your tea water makes a difference you can see and taste.

Kettle Cleanliness

And your kettle? Make sure it’s clean and de-scaled. Mineral build up on the element and the kettle walls will transfer to the water. Do you want even minute quantities of that stuff inside you? Do you want it to spoil the subtle ecstasy that is the flavour of tea?

The Magic Crucible

Heat your water. When the water is very hot, but before it boils, take it from the heat and fill your teapot one third full.

This writer prefers a ceramic teapot as metal pots can taint the taste of tea and tend to lose heat more quickly. Whichever version you use, pre-heating is mandatory to provide a sufficiently heated environment for successful brewing. An unheated teapot will sap 10º – 15º of heat from you brewing water.

Return your kettle to the heat and allow it to boil. As soon as it does, remove it from the heat. Do not leave it bubbling away while you flounce around the kitchen wondering what kind of biscuits you feel like. That H2O is losing its O.

The Blessed Leaf

Discard the pre-heat water from your teapot and add the blessed leaf. You are, of course, using a good quality Indian or Sri Lankan tea. Whole leaf is the holy grail, but medium broken-leaf tea will also reward you with a handsome brew.

You’ve heard your mother say it, and it’s true – one teaspoonful for each person and one for the pot. Tea strength is a matter of preference, but novices will be well advised to use this traditional portion control advice as a starting point.

And the Alchemy Begins

Fill the teapot with your just-boiled, oxygen-rich water and allow to brew. Brew time, as it affects tea strength, is again a matter of preference, but it is unlikely you’ll go far wrong if you allow the tea to sit for 3 to 5 minutes. Any longer and the tea will become overly rich in tannin and acquire a bitter taste.

A Note on Milk

Do you take milk? Add it to your cup before pouring the tea. I’m being excessively pedantic, you suggest? No such thing. When milk is added to a hot cup of tea it undergoes a traumatically rapid heating process. Technically, the milk proteins become denatured - they link together in clumps (microscopically) and significantly change the taste of the milk – for the worse.

If the tea is added to the milk, rather than vice versa, the milk heats more slowly, avoiding much of that unhappy denaturing reaction.

Worship in Peace

Finally, remove any distracting influences from your immediate vicinity (rambunctious children are particularly pernicious enemies of tea worship) and…. pour. Through a strainer, please. Leaves in the cup, blessed though they may be, are aesthetically displeasing and somewhat annoying to pick from between one’s teeth.

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