The British are known for their love of tea and that attitude that tea is the cure for all of life’s mishaps. Break a nail (after just having a very expensive manicure and special nail polish applied)? Have a cup of tea. Your spouse ran off with the clerk from the grocery store? Have a cup of tea. That notice from the IRS that you are being audited back to the beginning of time arrived in the mail today? Have a cup of tea. Whatever the occasion, be sure to have the tea “British style” – black tea steeped strong with milk and sugar.
The black tea is usually one of the name brand blends. PG Tips has claimed a top spot for many years. Their tea blending pros focus on making sure that famous flavor is consistent cuppa after cuppa. Some other top brands are Twinings who have been around for 300 years and counting, Typhoo that started out as a stomach soothing tea, and these others: Fortnum & Mason, Harrisons & Crosfield, Barry’s Tea, Bewley’s Tea, and Taylors of Harrogate/Yorkshire. They are intended to be steeped up strong. And have milk and sugar added to them.
But what about other black teas?
Over the years, I’ve had other teas that are generally not ones you would serve British style and had rather surprising (and good!) taste results. Here they are:
- Earl Grey – Often tea aficionados think that the oil of bergamot in the tea, since bergamot is a citrus fruit, means you can’t have milk in it; I beg to differ, no curdling and a great flavor blend, especially with a bit of sweetener (I switched from using sugar years ago).
- Golden Bi Luo – A black tea from the Yunnan Province of China. This may seem like total lunacy to those of you who treasure this fine tea, but I just had enough left for this experiment recently and decided to go for it. The typical smokiness and vanilla notes still came through.
- Nilgiri Oolong – Oolongs vary in how much the leaves are oxidized after withering. This one was pretty highly oxidized and was almost a black tea. So, adding milk and sweetener was not too surprising. Even though this is a true black tea, it is not usually served British style. But I dared. The milk and sweetener brought out the malty character even more.
- Dooteriah Second Flush Darjeeling – A marvelous tea any way you serve it, but when served British style it was a true revelation. A bit smoky, rich, aromatic, uplifting, and soothing. The only bad thing here was when it was all gone. I had to rush to steep some more!
- Red Dragon Pearls – The “pearls” are tea leaves rolled into spheres about 3/8” in diameter that have an aroma like raisins. Only the tender tip leaves are used, making this a rather prized tea.
- Young Pu-erh – Some folks, when reading my article a few years ago about putting milk and sweetener in this tea, seemed totally shocked. A pu-erh! Served British style! Ugh! But it was worth it, the flavor becoming even smoother and full-bodied while the typical earthy character still came through. There were cocoa notes very evident, too. Just remember to steep it for the maximum time recommended: 10 minutes.
One key step is to steep in a teapot, not in a gaiwan or small vessel, and treat it pretty much as a regular black tea. Another key step is to be very conservative in how much milk and sweetener you use – enough to smooth and add a touch of sweetness, but not so much that the tea’s signature flavors are smothered.
Do your own tea experiments and see what teas will stand up to being served British style!
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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