Gently warm your milk but do not boil!
Brewing up a pot of good quality loose leaf tea is a kitchen ritual that has saved my sanity more than once. There's something about taking the time and care to do it right that soothes my soul and encourages contentment. Read on for my rather detailed step-by-step method for brewing a proper pot of black tea.
My first cup of tea in the morning is a pretty down and dirty thing. It's purely functional and designed to get some caffeine moving in my veins before I get too cranky. I plop a TG Tips bag into a large mug, pour on boiling water and barely brew it before adding milk straight from the refrigerator. (I know, I know!)
But later in the day, I'm ready for a more refined experience and brewing up some good quality loose leaf tea is often just the treat I'm looking for. Here's my method for brewing a strong pot of good black tea.
What You Need
A good quality, loose leaf black tea (see recommendations below)
Milk (optional, whole or 2% is best)
Your favorite tea treats, sweet or savory
A kettle (I prefer electric)
A teapot, preferably with accompanying strainer
1. Put the kettle on. I love my electric kettle and use it all the time. It's faster than using the stovetop and shuts off automatically when the water has reached a boil. But of course you can use your stovetop, too. I confess that I've never used a microwave for this purpose and so will refrain from comment.
2. Start some milk warming over a low flame. Warm milk is not 100% necessary but it's a really nice thing to do. I usually just warm it gently to avoid bringing it to a boil which is too hot for me.
3. Warm the Pot. While the water is heating up, run the hottest water you can get from your faucet into your teapot and cover. This will pre-warm the pot. I know some people who even do this with their cup, but I usually don't bother.
4. Assemble your tea setup and ingredients. Retrieve your favorite tea cup, find your strainer (if using), slice some lemon (if using), find the sugar bowl (if using), choose your tea, find your measuring spoon. Place everything you will need for your tea on a tray. Include a nice cloth napkin, if possible.
5. A note on teapots. My favorite teapot comes with a wide mesh strainer that fits snuggly into it, allowing plenty of room for the leaves to expand. It's easy to just lift the mesh strainer out when the tea is done, so there's no over-brewing.
Some tea pots come with a strainer built into the spout which I don't care for. I find them hard to clean and the leaves are still left in the pot to over-steep. But if that's what you have and you're used to dealing with it, by all means use it.
You can also just measure your leaves straight into the pot and hold a strainer over your cup to catch the leaves when your pour.
6. Measure your loose tea into your pot. I use 1 teaspoon of loose tea for every 8 ounces of water, unless the tea tin instructs me differently. When the water has almost reached the boil, pour out the tap water from your pot and insert the strainer, if using. Measure your tea into the strainer. If you don't have this style of pot, you can just measure the leaves directly into the pot.
7. Pour on the water. When the water reaches the boil, turn off the kettle and pour it over the tea leaves and into the teapot. Put the lid on and cover with a cosy to keep warm.
8. A note on cozies. I hope to own one of those adorable, Grandma-knit cozies one day. Until then, I just wrap my teapot in a tea towel. This is, I suspect, not very proper but it does work to keep the pot from cooling down.
9. Steeping your tea. For black tea, steep anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes. I like a good, strong cup of tea, so I tend to go the full time. You may want to set your timer.
10. Find a treat. If you want something to nibble on while drinking your tea, this is a good time to put that together. A few suggestions that have worked for me: two or three cookies or some chocolate on a pretty plate, a sliced pear, some leftover gingerbread. On the savory side, you could try a slice of leftover quiche or a few slices of cheese or some roasted almonds.
11. Almost there. Pour your warm milk into a pitcher and place it on the tray. After the time is up for steeping, remove the strainer from the teapot (if applicable) and replace the lid and the cosy. Put the teapot on the tray with the other accompaniments and retreat to your favorite tea drinking place. If at all possible, avoid your desk and computer.
12. Pouring and enjoying. Pour a some of the warm milk into your cup. Remove the cosy, pour in your tea and relax. Sip your tea, eat your treat and consider how even something as simple as drinking a cup of tea is a pretty marvelous way to spend your time.
A few recommended loose leaf black teas:
• Ancient Gold Black Tea from Samovar
• French Breakfast from Mariage Freres
• Golden Assam from Rishi Tea
While I don't follow all of their recommendations, this page from the Mariage Freres website is worth reading. Their list of water temperatures and steeping times is handy, too.
(Image: Dana Velden)