The Perfect Cup of Tea

The Perfect Cup of Tea

by Amber on January 14, 2011

True story about tea: When we lived in the UK, I took a misstep at the top of a very tall flight of metal stairs, and ended up falling down the entire flight. It was as painful as you imagine. The first step in first aid on the part of my British co-workers? A sugary, milky, strong cup of tea. I kid you not. As far as Brits are concerned, TEA FIXES EVERYTHING. And 99% of the time, they’re right.

But I hate to break it to you, kids. The majority of Americans do not know how to properly brew a cup of tea, and thus have a horrible experience with it when they do.

Another true story about tea: one of my trips home to San Antonio after living in England, my Nan offered to make me a cuppa. (That’s British slang for hot tea. Keepin’ it real.)

She plopped a tea bag into a cold cup of water and stuck it in the microwave to heat. If you already know how to brew tea properly, you just cringed. Others of you may be asking, “What’s wrong with that?”. Yep, I’m looking at you.

You know how much I love my grandmother, and how she is the reason above all that I blog and cook and bake and live. But Nanny, that was the worst cup of tea ever. In the history of the world.

The reason for that is that tea leaves are delicate. They are incredibly sensitive to temperature. So much so, that even adding boiling water to a tea bag in a cold mug can shock the leaves into seizing, which results in incredibly bitter tea. Heating a tea bag in cold water did exactly the same thing.

Bitterness is the number one complaint I’ve heard from anyone who ever told me they didn’t like tea. So I’m going to tell you how to brew a proper cup of tea.

When brewed properly, tea is something to revel in. It will improve your life. I promise. I wouldn’t promise if I didn’t know it was true.

Plus, there’s something in it for me. I never want to have another cup of tea like what Nanny served up that one trip home. God bless her, it was the stuff of nightmares.

Here are the most important things about brewing a cup of tea:

  • For black tea, you must use boiling water. That means 212F. Luke warm water is not going to cut it.
  • Do not boil the water you’re going to infuse your tea with in the cup that you want to drink from.
  • However, your cup should be warmed before you add the tea bag or boiling water.
  • It is perfectly acceptable to add milk to black teas (English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Assam, Everyday), but not to teas with lots of citrus, apple, herbal or green tea. The milk will usually curdle.

perfect cup of tea

Now listen to me: Walk away for 3 to 5 minutes. If you like “Builder’s Tea”, i.e. really strong tea like a construction worker would enjoy, leave it untouched for the full 5 minutes.

perfect cup of tea

Remove the tea bag, then add milk, half and half, sugar, Splenda, whatever you fancy. You’ve just brewed the perfect cup of tea. Good work!

perfect cup of tea

I mean it, and I tell you this because I love you: A properly brewed cuppa is the stuff dreams are made of. In some instances, it’ll change your life.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Amanda January 14, 2011 at 9:45 AM

Love the pics and tips… I literally have NO CLUE about tea!


Cookbook Queen January 14, 2011 at 10:30 AM

I do have a tea kettle, but it’s the whistling kind. And I love tea!! (don’t drink coffee)

I’ve always wished we would pick up the tradition of afternoon tea….I could totally go for that every day!!



Steff/Kitchen Trials January 14, 2011 at 11:27 AM

Good tea is a wonder. Luckily, I grew up with good tea thanks to a Grandma who spent time in England. However, I don’t think I’ll ever get over the British preference for milky tea as opposed to sweetened tea. Clearly, my Southern roots are showing in the instance.


naomi January 14, 2011 at 11:49 AM

Great tips. I love tea. Impatience does equal bitter cup of tea.


Jen Schall January 14, 2011 at 2:52 PM

I’m normally a coffee drinker and not much of a tea drinker, but reading this post is making me crave a nice cup of tea!


Tracy January 14, 2011 at 3:22 PM

I’ve never brewed tea this way before. I do have a kettle though, so I’m on the right track! I’m definitely going to give these tips a try!


Wenderly January 14, 2011 at 4:07 PM

I’m a full out coffee girl I must say, but you’ve enticed me with this cuppa…think I need to give it a go!


SMITH BITES January 14, 2011 at 6:39 PM

we’re both coffee and tea – usually green tea all through the week and coffee on the weekends; great tips Amber and LOVE THE KETTLE!!!


Aimee @ Simple Bites January 14, 2011 at 10:50 PM

I could. not. make it through my afternoons without a strong cup of tea. Great post! And I need an awesome kettle like that.


bridget {bake at 350 January 15, 2011 at 9:17 AM

Great tips! I think you’re right….we don’t know what we’re doing when it comes to tea! I did treat myslef to an electric kettle last year and I love it!


Margaret January 15, 2011 at 10:46 AM

NOTHING better than a GOOD cup of tea. How I hate going into a restaurant, ordering tea after the meal and they bring me a Lipton’s teabag and a small pitcher of lukewarm water. YUCK!!!

Learned to drink tea as a child in England. Mom used to have tea and buttered toast for me after school. And yes, bring on High Tea in the USA.

Thanks for this post!!


Amber January 15, 2011 at 4:35 PM

Margaret, the hubs and I have that SAME issue! He despises Lipton tea with a passion. We just don’t even bother ordering it when we’re out anymore.


Lynn January 15, 2011 at 8:33 PM

I love a good cup of Earl Grey. It is definitely something to revel in!


TidyMom January 16, 2011 at 1:54 PM

Thanks for linking up Amber!! I featured your post in the wrap up http://tidymom.net/2011/im-lovin-it-wrap-up-1-16-11/


Jamie | MBA January 16, 2011 at 3:15 PM

Tea is one of my most favorite things in the world. I really *need* an electric kettle in my life!


sweetlife January 18, 2011 at 11:00 AM

love, love a perfect cup of tea…paired with a clean kitchen, nothing is better,lol



denise burton January 18, 2011 at 1:57 PM

I never realized there was an art to making a cup of tea!! Gotta try this one after a rough day.


Matt January 20, 2011 at 12:17 PM

I just mentioned to my workmates that I knew people that had grown up without ever using a kettle – there was a lot of disbelief.

Keep in mind that while strong black teas will almost always want milk adding, you dont have to add milk to black tea – some lighter teas (like darjeeling for example) can have their flavour completely obscured by the milk. Try Earl Grey (a medium tea) without milk, maybe a little sugar to bring the flavour forward, you might be surprised.

My favourite tea fact – during steeping (when you add boiling water and let the cup or teapot stand for a few minutes) the leaves will unfurl, this is called “the agony of the leaves”.


Retro March 31, 2013 at 3:28 PM

As a Brit who recently moved across the pond to the US (and thereby a huge tea drinker), I applaud your tea making instructions! However, there’s one thing that you just can’t do to your tea in America with the same result, and that’s adding milk. The milk here is disgusting in hot tea! It’s obviously processed differently and has a very different flavor. I’ve actually given up on milky tea and now will only drink it black in the US!


Amber March 31, 2013 at 8:03 PM

I urge you to try tea with half and half. My British husband thoroughly approves! Or try organic milk or raw milk, you might find either is much more to your liking.


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