Whether visiting friends and family, attending a conference, corporate, or social event, odds are I am about to be insulted with what can best be described as the most dire of situations… a bad cup of tea. Now any hot drink guzzler would scarcely notice the differences in their ineptly prepared concoction, but to a semi trained beveragist, the differences become glaringly obvious. Firstly, I believe it is necessary to explain how tea it is supposed to be done, so those things that grind my gears will make some semblance of sense. I will address the varieties of tea blends in time, but for now I will start with preparation as this can make or break the best of leaves.
Step one: throw out the old water in the kettle.
One of the interesting little quirks of water is that it changes after every boil. This effects how the leaves in the bag respond and oftentimes can change the taste dramatically. Some connoisseurs even go so far as to suggest only bottled spring water should be used… A tad too extreme for me, but using water from the cold tap is important; not only is this water less likely to be re-boiled to death in the cylinder, but it actually boils faster from cold too.
Step two: warm the cups.
During my childhood I had the good fortune to be raised with access to fine food and dining etiquette without the snobberly of actually being able to afford it. My lovely mother who runs her own blog http://janeykylescott.wordpress.com/ , taught in a training restaurant and bar in back in Rotorua. Often times we would be called in to at first fill in empty seats on the slow nights, to being used as a credible threat to bring overconfident wait staff crashing back down to earth. In table service a cold plate chills any good meal, the same goes for hot drinks especially tea. A simple solution is to fill the cups with hot water from the tap while the jug boils (this helps remove residue from the cups too) or to fill with water from the jug, wait a bit, throw it out, and then put the bag in with the second fill.
Step three: Order of construction.
Bag first or water first? I generally place bag in first than add the water, but some others swear by not scalding the leaves… I will investigate this further in future posts to see if there is any real difference. If sugar or honey is to be added, I do this second; this aides in the dissolving of the sugar properly rather being left with a sickly sludge at the bottom of the cup. Then finally I add the milk.
Regardless of the type of bag used UNDER NO CIRCUSTANCES should the milk or sugar be added to the cup until after the bag has been given a chance to soak properly; one full minute at least should do, but for the correct soak time check the side of the box, different leaves develop at different speeds, much like people.
If the above steps are followed, a cup tea is near impossible to stuff up and provides a level playing field to allow the leaves to offer up their distinctiveness for fair assessment. Speaking of assessments, My first critique will be of the flat standard, Dilmah single origin tea.