A Very Good Place To Start

A Very Good Place To Start

Where to start? I suppose the English would start with a good cup of tea. Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management is very clear.

There is very little art in making good tea; if the water is boiling, and there is no sparing of the fragrant leaf, the beverage will almost invariably be good. The old-fashioned plan of allowing a teaspoonful to each person and one over, is still practised. Warm the teapot with boiling water; let it remain for two or three minutes for the vessel to become thoroughly hot, then pour it away. Put in the tea, pour in from 1/2 to 3/4 pint of boiling water, close the lid, and let it stand for the tea to draw from 5 to 10 minutes; then fill up the pot with water.

My favorite part of this “recipe” is the next line:

The tea will be quite spoiled unless made with water that is actually boiling, as the leaves will not open, and the flavour not be extracted from them; the beverage will consequently be colourless and tasteless, –in fact, nothing but tepid water.

I just started reading The English American by Alison Larkin in which the protagonist is an English girl who discovers her birth parents are from America. There is a part where she explains how to make proper tea.

First, you warm a teapot. Then you put in tea leaves – Earl Grey, Lapsang, or Darjeeling, ideally. One teaspoon for each person, and one for the pot. Then you pour in water that has been boiled.

The same directions from a book that was published in parts between 1859 and 1861 and a book published in 2008. I guess when you find perfection, you don’t mess with it.

So, I made my tea with a British brand of breakfast tea, warmed my pot, used one teaspoon per person plus one for the pot, used boiling water, and let it steep for 5 minutes. I was also very careful to add the milk and sugar to the (pre-heated) tea cups before pouring in the tea.

One for me with coconut milk and one for my husband with the real stuff. It was dark and delicious. Had a slight bitter edge that the sugar evened out. I could drink this everyday. Note: I don’t usually use china for sipping on tea, this just seemed to be a very auspicious occasion, plus I figured the Victorian era didn’t use cups the size of giant fists like we do now.

While making the tea, I chanced to look at the side of the Fortnum & Mason tea box. Directions: Warm the teapot before adding one teaspoonful for each person and “one for the pot”. Bring fresh water to the boil and pour in immediately. Allow the tea to brew for 5 minutes, then stir and serve.

My god, those Brits have repetition DOWN.


7 Responses to “A Very Good Place To Start”

  • My Brit ex-BF’s mom used to say that only “oiks” (her word for low-class folk) put the milk and sugar in after pouring the tea.

  • Oh, my dear, of course you don’t put the milk in first, but as dear Mrs Peter Rodd pointed out, it isn’t because of that myth about not cracking the cup.

  • One of the things I love so much about my English family is that the answer to every difficult question in life is the offer of a cup of tea. Every cup is poured according to the instructions you have outlined. A ritual or a meditation? I’m not sure which but it is observed with precision and dedication. I think it is incredibly cool.

  • Dear Governess, you’re up on customs and manners….tell me more. I usually add my (fake) milk after but sometimes I put it in before.

    I wonder if the milk takes some of the heat from the pre-heated cup and therefore doesn’t cool the tea down as much?

  • Heating the cup is not at all traditional, and I have never heard of people doing it before. You warm the pot, not the cup.

  • Ah, the cup warming, that is just leftover from waiting tables. It is a nice gesture.

  • Does anyone recall the scene in Gosford Park when the Kristin Scott Thomas character silently freaks out as the Detective pours the milk in her cup before the tea? She says with a sigh and voice full of loathing, “Would you mind pouring the milk in after?”

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