I love tea, I truly do. I never drink coffee, and I don’t see why my fellow people do. Non-the-less my friends love their pungent brown beans, so when we get together, that’s what they drink. That’s fine by me; it inspired the creation of this much finer web site.

Today was another coffee-morning get-together. With my one cup of tea. The company was lovely but the tea was lousy. Same as always of course. Here’s how is usually goes…

We’re at someone’s house. Friends and I all sitting ’round the table. Friends going to have coffee, I’m going to be served ‘tea’. I’m given my cup and the heated kettle – but as yet no tea.

Kettle, cup and I wait, even more time goes by. Friends keep chatting, then hostess remembers my drink. Voila, out comes a tea bag. If I’m lucky it’s not herbal, no grass with water for me. So, bag in cup, we’re still pining for the kettle. Water’s lukewarm by now, no need for an ambulance should it spill.

Finally, poured in my cup, the water turns palest brown. There’s the dark blob of the bag, and some lightly stained aqua. No way will the two really mix. The water’s too cool, the bag never once stood a chance. I let it steep as long as I can, but I don’t like my tea arctic cold. When there’s truly no life in the feeble sack, I abandon it on my plate. I pick up my cup and peer inside. Staring back at me, is the weakest of sickly teas. I should feel sorry for it’s unhappy state, but it’s me I’m thinking about. And I’m the poor sod to drink it. Sip, by hesitant sip. Close my eyes and think of better days.

“How’s the tea today?”

“Absolutely foul my dear, every little drop. Like slurping on cold puddle soup.”

Except you’d never hear me say that. Call me a coward, but I love my friends. Just truly don’t like their tea.

Boil it, boil it, boil it!

It’s all wrong. In homes and restaurants it happens every day, someone who doesn’t understand the simplest basics of tea makes the experience and the cup horrible for someone else. Usually for me, and I hate it. No wonder so many people don’t drink tea. Getting served water properly hot enough in a restaurant is often like asking the server for a free meal. I’ve turned back many a pot for a hotter one, and received some very upset looks in return.

Really hot water is the single most fundamental aspect of tea brewing. If a newbie or even a long-time drinker learns nothing more about tea in their entire lives, the minimum knowledge for a decent cup is hot water.

Without getting into the specifics of temperature that the purists, specialists, experts and fanatics use, there are two simple rules of thumb. Green and white teas are brewed off the boil. All others are brewed on the boil (with herbal teas being the most forgiving – you can usually get away with brewing them either way).

For greens and whites this simply means removing the kettle from the heat source and letting it sit for 2-5 minutes (naturally, advice varies, depending on your level of fanaticism, but I am trying to simplify). Some people like to pour the water into a teapot or cup. However, water cools faster in a cold cup or teapot, and learning the difference between the two would be important. I just let the water sit in the kettle, away from the heat source, for a couple of minutes. Don’t wait too long like my friends do, or your tea will be weak and uninspiring.

Now, all other teas–this is black tea and generally all those teas whose names I can’t pronounce–are really, really easy. Boil the water. Period. Black teas are hardy and need that scorching-hot-boiling-madness to really pull out the flavor. This kind of burning violence against tea is highly recommended.

If you have one of those old-fashioned whistling kettles, don’t run over to it just when it starts blowing. Let it grow – a full, intense boil will cause a whistle loud enough to summon a brigade of British Bobbies. Electric kettles are designed to let the water boil briefly before shutting off – that’s when to grab it and pour it out over those vulnerable leaves.

The bottom line: there is no excuse for lousy tea – the water must be hot. Really hot. Even water just off the boil is still far too hot to touch. If you can put your finger in the water, something has gone horribly wrong, and you may need to brace yourself for the disappointing consequences.

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