Musings on the Happy Leaf: An Englishman in Edinburgh on all things TEA

Given the strong opinions on this matter, this post may be a little risky. However, following on from my previous post, about tea… I thought it would be great to ask Samuel – the most knowledgeable person that I know, in all matters tea-related – to pen his thoughts on the matter. Being the lovely chap that he is, he happily obliged… and here are his thoughts:

Musings on the Happy Leaf: An Englishman in Edinburgh on all things TEA

Samuel J: Tea Guru

It may be a touch of the “stiff upper lip” or my simple philosophy of being pleased with my lot, but I believe it is difficult to make a bad cup of tea, when one has the correct ingredients. In fact, I enjoy drinking tea from those great urns, mainly because there is a copious amount! True it is not good tea per se, but I can always know there will be an equally average cup to follow soon after!

I thought I would always remember my bad cup of tea. By being very wary of various shops propounding to sell tea I’ve managed to keep it to one in the past few years. Though darn it if I can remember where it was. Perhaps at the airport? They gave me the American thing of tea bag, pot of lukewarm water etc… just as many have described in various articles (see the links in the recent “Christopher Hitchens, Douglas Adams and George Orwell on Cups of Tea“). Usually if you are provided with a pot, bag and UHT milk you can go up and “accidentally” spill all the water, pop the bag in and watch as the assistant puts some really boiling water in. I was surprised a few days ago when I went out for a meal and ordered Tea afterwards. We were each given very hot pots and bags, but all of my colleagues proceeded to pop the bag in to the cup and pour on the water. “Daft”, I said to them, as I deposited my bag in the hot pot and enjoyed a glorious cup! In these places where you are given the tea and expected to take your milk in its UHT pot form, then you must always protest and ask for a jug of milk. My father usually resigns to drinking it black on these occasions, but if you ask specifically for a jug then they often manage to find one.

Pots and bags

I think you should always drink tea from the pot. Well, you know, using a pot… Don’t lift your china high and dribble the spout down your top! I also like using large mugs. Make sure they are emblazoned with interesting pictures or vaguely riveting text, more for the enjoyment of your fellow tea drinkers… Or even your colleagues who choose to sin against the tea club and drink coffee in your presence. I disagree with George Orwell who said that:

“The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse”

Samuel disapproves!

Black teas, the only ones you should drink according to Orwell, are very suitable for brewing in a silver pot. In fact I believe that Indian or Ceylon teas should be brewed in a silver teapot, it gives a stronger flavour. Green teas (see ‘namby pamby tea’…) are better brewed in china pots as they were originally intended – the metal will impair the delicate flavours in these examples. It’s true that you get better cups by using loose leaf tea rather than bags, but it is very easy to be very lazy. Personally I hate using baskets or muslin bags for this loose tea, – you’ve bought it to be different to the paper bags, then you re-enclose it in a different receptacle! Pointless! Much better to use a tea strainer as you pour from the pot. I do admit, though, that loose leaf tea is of a higher quality so naturally it will make tastier tea than the usual bags even when constrained by a mesh cage.

Starting off, you should always use freshly boiled water. People often re-boil the kettle or top it up. This isn’t the best as the repeated boiling drives off the dissolved oxygen in the water which is an essential component of delicious tea. Pop three teaspoonfuls, (or three bags, if you must!) in a warmed teapot first and then pour in the boiling water second for a normal pot, if you feel you need it a bit stronger, then one or two more should suffice! I agree with Douglas Adams et al. when he states you should warm the pot on the stove; my grandmother always leaves her teapot on top of the water heater in the kitchen, but regrettably I don’t have a suitable warm surface in my kitchen. Ergo I still have to swish my teapot with water…

Pouring the tea.

Always pour into the milk. Anyone who complains that “I want to see exactly how much milk is needed after I’ve put the tea in my cup” or sim. either hasn’t drunk enough tea or is just a bit loopy. If you drink the same cup of tea every day, then all you have to do is realise how much you put in after the tea and just switch the order. I tend to find that most people like about 8-10mm of milk in the bottom of the cup. This is varied slightly on the diameter and depth of the cup, but generally remains about the same. If someone, like Lawrence, especially enjoys milky tea, then simply putting 12-15mm of milk in is usually suitable! I know this rule of ‘milk in cup then follow it with the tea’ is a slightly outdated (and in fact lower class) rule, but I prefer to follow it. I am led to believe that it stems from the days when people with not much money bought poor quality china which would crack with the high temperature of the scalding hot boiling tea, and so putting the milk in first would stop the cheap china cup cracking under the sudden temperature change.

She look a little loopy...

Those upper classes who could afford it would buy more expensive china which was less susceptible to sudden temperature changes – thus they would happily, and unthinkingly, drink it black. Another element that can mar the flavour on occasion is when stirring the cup. When imbibing with those who choose only to partake of the evil bean, some might unconsciously take a used teaspoon from a coffee mug and stir their tea with it. This is a definite no no. I also find that when others use my teacups for coffee this leaves a horrible hint of the bitter coffee flavour in the cup even after washing. If you don’t have such delicate taste buds then these are less important points.

To get good tea for yourself, the easiest thing is to go to a good tea shoppe… there are two excellent examples in Edinburgh. My favourite is the quaint AnTEAques shop on Clerk street. It sells tea and antiques, as you might expect from the name. They have a choice of a perfect plethora of loose leaf teas from Assam pekoe fannings to chocolate mint tea! And have delicious fruit scones for accompaniment. On the other hand, if you want more space (AnTEAques seats about 10 people and has no facilities) then try Tea Tree Tea on Bread street. They have a much larger operation which includes coffee, sandwiches, cakes and a similar selection of fine leaf teas. For china pots and elbow room, go to Tea Tree Tea and for the choice to purchase the delightful bone china tea service you use, go to AnTEAques!

Or indeed make a date to sample tea a la Samuel!

And after tea? A good, refreshing pint!

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About Chris

Scholar of religion/nonreligion... PhD Student (Lancaster University), blogger, singer, actor, thinker... Northern Irish living in Scotland. Co-founder of The Religious Studies Project. Director at the NSRN. Baritone masquerading as a tenor. Vegetarian for no particular reason.

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