British tea time has certain mannerisms associated with it. Employing some of these mannerisms will help your tea time be more authentically British, not to mention more enjoyable. This guide to pouring tea British style will help hone your skills and increase your tea time enjoyment.
Preparing the Tea
You can’t pour what you ain’t got. Steep up a fairly strong potful of the tea you’ll be serving, assuming it will be a black tea such as English Breakfast Blend No. 1 Tea, and you can then thin it with hot water for those guests preferring it that way (see below). It’s usually a good idea to steep in one teapot and then strain into a second teapot for serving (if you’re using teabags, an infuser ball, or something like T-sacs, then just steep in the serving teapot and remove the bag/ball/sac/etc from the pot before setting out to serve). See this article on the blog for a good method for this 2-teapot preparation.
Holding the Teapot
This is going to depend on the teapot. I see many photos where the pourer holds the teapot by the handle with one hand while her/his other hand holds the lid on during the pour. However, there are teapots designed so that the lid sits down further and is, therefore, less likely to fall off until the tea gets fairly low in the pot so that you have to tip the pot practically on its side. Since your serving teapot will most likely be a more British style pot and therefore have a high-sitting lid, you will want to hold the lid on with one hand while pouring.
Adding Lemon, Milk, etc.
Some people prefer cream, but generally whole and 2% milk are better in tea since the lower fat content causes less distortion and masking of the tea’s flavor (skim milk is not recommended since it is fat free). There is also quite a debate over whether to put the milk in the cup before or after the tea has been poured into it. Some say it is a matter of class distinction, with the “milk first” crowd being considered the lower and lower-middle classes preference. I personally don’t care. Milk first in a tea I know well helps it mix in better with the tea.
As for lemon, honey, etc., they should be added after pouring in the tea. And never mix lemon and milk, unless your guest insists (one thing the British are well-known for is never making their guests feel like fools and idiots – so whatever the guest wants is fine with them). Lemon slices are better than wedges since they float in the cup, looking pretty, and it’s easier to get the juice from them into the tea without risking squirting another guest in the eye – Yikes!
Using a Strainer
You will only need to include a strainer in your tea time if you steep loose tea in the pot and then serve from that pot. (If you choose to use a bag/ball/sac/etc., then no strainer is needed.) You will want to put the strainer on the cup edges and then pour. Some photos show the strainer being held in one hand while pouring with the teapot, but that’s only doable if the teapot is fairly full and there is no danger of the lid falling off (because you don’t have to tilt the pot as much). When done pouring, set the teapot down, lift up the strainer, shake once or twice to let excess drops fall off into the cup, and set the strainer on the next cup. If you can do this while keeping hold of the teapot, this is actually better, since you don’t have a lot of up and down motion.
Thinning the Tea with Hot Water
As stated above, the tea should be steeped up fairly strong, but not all of your guests will want their tea steeped that strong, so ask before pouring. For those wanting the weaker tea fill the teacup only about two-thirds with the strong tea and add hot water. (If you know your guest well and what he/she would want, then no need to ask.) I have seen this done in British movies and experienced it while in Europe, but didn’t really know why until now. It helps you accommodate the varying preferences of your guests, and their comfort is your key concern at tea time.
Handing to Your Guest
When the tea has been prepared, hand the teacup on its saucer with a spoon to the guest (or to the nearest guest who can pass it down to him/her). And remember not to make your guest feel foolish when she/he begins clinking the sides of the cup with the spoon while stirring the tea (a gentle swish back and forth no more than twice is considered the preferred method).
Steeping More Tea
More often than not, you will be serving up a second round of tea. For those of you who don’t have a maid, you have a couple of options: leave the leaves, teabags, infuser ball, etc., in the teapot, serve the tea to your guests, and then add more hot water to the teapot (just don’t be surprised if the second round is oversteeped and somewhat bitter); or prepare that second potful from scratch the way you did the first one (better since the tea will taste its best, but takes more time).
Best wishes for a fabulous British style tea time!
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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