What’s the right way to prepare and consume tea? Fill a gaiwan with a large amount of loose leaf tea, steep for 15-30 seconds at a pop, serve in teeny tiny cups and repeat until the leaves have lost every trace of flavor? Drop two cheap black tea bags into a mug, zap them in the microwave, steep until they’re strong enough to make a bald man sprout hair and load with whopping amounts of milk and sugar? Use a two hundred dollar gadget that automates virtually every step of the process – and does windows too? Boil water in a kettle, add a teaspoon of loose leaf tea per person to an ornate porcelain teapot (plus one for the pot) and serve in delicate china teacups along with some of those little sandwiches with the crusts trimmed off?
The answer is…yes.
In other words, as we’ve just noted, there are any number of ways to do tea and probably a lot more variations that we haven’t touched upon. But when it comes right down to it there’s really no “right” way to prepare and drink tea.
Of course, if you want the best tasting tea possible, there are some fairly hard and fast guidelines that you would want to follow, but even this is open to interpretation. One person’s expensive and subtly flavored white tea, steeped to absolute perfection, might be the equivalent of bilge water for the “two cheap teabags in a mug steeped to within an inch of their lives” drinker.
Which doesn’t stop some people from instructing other people in how best to make a proper cup of tea. If you follow tea news, you’ll see that a British tea lover occasionally lashes out at someone — typically us Yanks — for our inability to do so. One of the most recent outbursts came from Dame Helen Mirren, who is so veddy British that she has actually portrayed Queen Elizabeth.
Prior to that columnist Christopher Hitchens weighed in at Slate with a piece that advised readers How To Make a Decent Cup of Tea. Hitchens in turn quoted from the advice of an even more famous Englishman, George Orwell, who offered up his own highly opinionated thoughts on A Nice Cup of Tea, all the way back in 1946.
All of which is good and quite valid advice – if you’d like to make a “decent” or “nice” cup of tea in the proper British manner. But when it comes to making a proper cup of tea, the bottom line is that each one of us should choose what works best for us.
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