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I am pretty old with no culinary knowledge whatsoever, but last week I learnt to make my first cup of tea! I have been practising it over ever since and been making slight changes to technique with improving results every time.

My specific question pertains to what experts on this forum think the ideal recipe for tea would be. I have some sugar cubes, milk, a tea bag, hot water a microwave oven and I need a glass of tea. What's the ratio of milk:hot water? Should I make the decoction before adding milk? When should I add sugar? How long should I place in the oven for best mixing?

I would greatly appreciate if you could provide me with a scientific reason for the sequence you suggest (in terms of solubility, diffusion, convection, etc).

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7  
There is a basic misunderstanding here. You're making a cup of tea for your own consumption. So the best way to make it, is whichever way you find tastiest, at a reasonable amount of effort. But your taste in tea and mine no doubt differ. E.g., I drink my tea without milk, but you like milk in your tea. There is no "best" way in general. So there really isn't an answer to this. I suggest rewording to clarify what you're looking for more objectively—or, if you just want recipes to try, Google will quickly provide you hundreds. –  derobert Mar 19 '13 at 21:48
    
I edited the title because it suggested an overly broad, unanswerable question. –  rumtscho Mar 19 '13 at 22:39

8 Answers 8

I've never known the science behind it, but water heated in a microwave oven makes horrible tea and coffee. You need a kettle.

The standard British teabag-and-mug technique (as opposed to the loose-tea-and-teapot technique) is:

  • put cold tap water in kettle
  • turn kettle on
  • put teabag in mug
  • allow kettle to come to full boil
  • fill mug with freshly boiled water
  • leave for 30 seconds or so
  • remove teabag with a teaspoon; give it a little squeeze for extra flavour
  • stir in sugar (optional)
  • add milk (optional)

Scientific rationale:

  • The water needs to be as hot as possible to extract all the flavour: boiling water can't get any hotter
  • Remove the teabag before adding milk or sugar because otherwise some of the milk/sugar will be removed along with the teabag
  • Stir in sugar before milk because it will dissolve more efficiently in hotter liquid
  • Milk last because you can judge the colour more easily

However

I've seen people claim that the water should be cooler than boiling, because the boiling water destroys subtle flavours in the tea. That may be true, but I suspect that teabag-grade tea just isn't that fine; in any case the conventional wisdom is boiling water for tea, below-boiling water for coffee.

A note on strength and timing

The longer you leave the teabag in, obviously, the stronger the resulting tea. Experiment and find your preference. 30 seconds seems to be about right for a typical British tea drinker, and a typical British teabag.

However, it should be noted that a typical British teabag isn't really intended for the one-mug method -- it's a size originally sized for teapots, and you're likely to get at least two mugfuls from one teabag, if you make tea in a pot and top up with boiling water after pouring.

You could, in theory, re-use a teabag to make a second mug of tea, but teabags are so cheap that hardly anyone bothers.

The teabags found in some cafes, smaller and with a string for pulling them out of cups, need a longer steep, since they contain less tea.

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30 seconds look like a very short amount of time for the tea to properly dissolve in water, even at boiling temperature. –  Pino Pinto Mar 26 '13 at 15:00
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Water should be cooler than boiling for more delicate teas, but can be boiling for black teas. Tea should be steeped according to personal preference and/or package directions, 30 seconds isn't a magic number. Otherwise, this is a good answer. –  Yamikuronue Mar 26 '13 at 15:33
    
@PinoPinto The intention isn't to get every last drop of flavour out of the teabag. The intention is to get a pleasant strength. I've added something about that to the body of the answer. –  slim Apr 18 '13 at 13:50
    
Personally I put the milk in first, pour on boiling water, then almost immediately remove the teabag, then add sugar. I like my tea weak, milky and sweet. Takes all sorts! –  ElendilTheTall Apr 18 '13 at 19:34
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@PinoPinto: 30 seconds is easily long enough steeping to get a full-flavoured mug of tea, with some of the stronger brands of tea commonly available in the UK. –  vincebowdren Jul 4 '13 at 9:38

George Orwell wrote A Nice Cup of Tea, a short essay on how to make a proper cup of tea (by British standards).

It is an informative and funny reading, although too tongue-in-cheek in some parts and a bit antiquated in others.

You may find it here.

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You should provide relevant quotes in your answer to make it better quality. If the link ever breaks your answer is only just a reference to some text that the user would have to then Google. –  Alexandre P. Levasseur Oct 13 at 0:31
    
@AlexandreP.Levasseur like right now--that link is dead (to me, at least, no pun intended). I found it here: booksatoz.com/witsend/tea/orwell.htm A nice googlable phrase--put it in quotes for exact match--is "When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points". –  msouth Dec 11 at 1:10

There are many good answers here, so I'll just address one area: How long to "mix" everything together.

  • Definitely boil the water before adding your tea bag (although as mentioned here, loose leaf tea will taste better).
  • Steep (let the bag sit) in the tea for 1-2 minutes. How long depends on your preferences. Do you like stronger tea? Let it steep longer. After a few tries, you should come to a steep time that tastes good and should remain consistent so long as you use the same brand of tea. Changing to a new brand may mean some additional adjustments to your steep time.
  • An important factor in your tea taste is tannin. When tannin is released in the tea, it can quickly become astringent, or bitter tasting. Many people who claim they don't like tea do so because they have only ever experienced incorrectly-prepared tea. There are several things which can cause too much tannin in tea:
    • Letting the tea steep too long
    • Squeezing or pressing a tea bag to get the water out
    • Shaking the bag or stirring the water while the tea is steeping. It's best to just let the hot water do the work of infusing (mixing) the tea.
    • Reusing tea leaves or bags (depending on the type of tea. In general, green and white tea leaves can be used through multiple infusions, black teas should not.)
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+1 for mentioning tannin. When I follow packet directions on blended tea I find it tastes overly tanniny and I have to shorten the brewing time. –  starsplusplus May 27 at 15:00

For best results, secure a supply of filtered or distilled water. Store-bought bottled drinking water will work. Tap water often contains chlorine and minerals that can adversely affect the taste and appearance of coffee or tea.

Heat water to boiling in a kettle on the stove, in a self-heating electric kettle, or in a stoneware mug in a microwave oven. (When heating in a microwave oven, be sure the container doesn't contain any metal or metallic trim glazing. Remove the hot container with caution, as the water may be superheated and it could erupt violently, causing injury or blindness if it hits you in the face. This is particularly a concern when the container is very clean and smooth and the water is very pure. The hazard of superheated water can be mitigated by carefully inserting a spoon into the container at arm's length before withdrawing it from the microwave oven.)

I recommend avoiding using a glass for preparing the hot water, unless it is oven-rated borosilicate glass, as thermal stress or shock can cause the glass to shatter. Stoneware and china are safer.

Drop a tea bag into the mug of hot water and allow it to steep for about 4 minutes for maximum strenth. For weaker tea, use a shorter steeping time. Withdraw the tea bag and discard it. Instead of a tea bag, one can also use loose-leaf tea and a tea infuser.

Add milk, condensed milk, cream, or powdered non-dairy creamer and/or sugar to taste. If the mug is very full, you may need to discard some of the tea before adding milk or cream. You can leave the bag in the mug if you like, as it is already saturated with water and won't appreciably absorb milk or sugar. I remove the bag first, because I fill my mug almost to the brim and removing the tea bag lowers the liquid level enough to make space for milk.

If you choose to brew the tea in a teapot that holds more than a cup of liquid, you may need to use two or more tea bags or a large tea infuser. Some china teapots have integral strainers, allowing one to toss loose-leaf tea directly into the pot before adding boiling water.

It is also possible to brew tea with room temperature water or in a glass jar or bottle set out in the sun, but due to the lower water temperature it will take somewhat longer, upwards of half an hour to several hours. The advantage of using boiling water is that one can use water from questionable sources, as boiling kills pathogens.

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Filtered, maybe .... distilled no. There's no salts left in it, which makes the tea just seem ... strange. –  Joe Mar 19 '13 at 23:05

First of all decide what tea you are going to drink. If it's something like Jasmine then just drink it as it is; if it's Earl Grey or similar then I would advise you to drink it with a slice of lemon; if it's a traditional breakfast tea (known as "builder's tea" in the UK) then lemon or milk is fine.

Get loose leaf tea if you can rather than tea-bags. You will need a tea-pot with an inbuilt strainer or a separate strainer (like a very small sieve) if you use leaf-tea. Use freshly drawn water: water which has been boiled loses most of its dissolved oxygen. As the water in the kettle is heating use a little of it to warm the pot. Once warmed discard the water with which the pot has been warmed. Add the quantity of tea desired to the pot. This obviously depends on how strong you like your tea. I find that two or three teaspoons of decent leaf-tea will make 0.5 l (just short of a pint) of decent strength tea. If you are using teabags one or two teabags will make 0.5l of tea.

Add the BOILING water to the tea in the pot. If you are using bags then it is usually good advice to give them a stir to help the process of infusion. Put the lid on the pot and leave it to mash for about five minutes.

Religious wars are fought over whether to put the milk in the cup first. I do as pouring the tea on to the milk mixes it evenly and means I don't need to stir it. If you are using a breakfast/builder's tea then you will probably find you require milk or lemon as otherwise the tannins will make it taste astringent.

Once poured tea should be drunk whilst still hot (>45C). Enjoy.

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For me, "builder's tea" means very strong, very sweet, made with ordinary teabags. –  slim Mar 20 '13 at 10:22
    
Good point. I use it to distinguish from the specific blends (usually by Twinings or some such) like Assam, Darjeeling, Kenyan... –  TimGJ Mar 20 '13 at 13:58

I would add milk after the boiling water, then remove the bag after letting it steep, giving more tea a greater volume of liquid to infuse into.

I have found that when milk is added first the cup of tea is weaker and not as hot as the tea leaves would be sat in the the cold milk prior to the boiling water being added, and the milk reduces the maximum temperature the tea leaves would reach, which is key to infusion.

On a personal note I should explain I drink very strong Yorkshire tea steeped for a minimum of 2 minutes (usually longer) which is bitter. I add two 5ml spoons of sugar. Having previously worked as the youngest employee on many building sites, I can tell you without doubt that there isn't such a thing as the perfect (or even standard) cup of tea as it all comes down to personal preference, I've made cups with two bags left in, and cups made with used tea bags dipped for only a few seconds.

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thanks for the edit –  Sam Hatake May 28 at 2:19
    
Welcome to Seasoned Advice! –  Preston Fitzgerald May 28 at 3:06

for black teas, the water must come to a "rolling boil". In other words, not when it just starts to boil, but once it really builds up a good steam. Electric kettles will shut off at that point, so be ready to pour it over your tea leaves or bag(s) immediately. Do not let it settle down or you lose the peak boil which is what you need to properly steep the tea. If you want to use a stovetop kettle, buy one with a whistle. When the water is properly boiling it will whistle to let you know. Again- use it immediately. As others have stated, how long you steep the tea depends on how strong you like it, & you have to experiment on that for yourself. I love STRONG tea. A trick I use to shorten the steeping time, is to double up on the amount of tea I use. You definitely want to drink the tea immediately. If you make a Pot, you want to finish it within 20 minutes. After that time it becomes bitter. I use an insulated beverage pot- sold as "Coffee Butlers" instead of a china Tea Pot, this keeps the tea hot for a full 20 minutes, so I can make a pot of 4 cups of tea. I was told by my British Granny, that adding sugar & milk after you pour the tea was part of the etiquette of the "Upper Crust"(or Landed Gentry)of British Society in the early days of the British Empire. The reason it was considered "bad form" to add your milk & sugar before you pour the tea, is that only people who could not afford spoons did it that way. The "Gentry" could afford spoons & so of course if you can afford it, you need show it off.

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Sorry, just wanted to say that. Anyways, is I get:

  • Lemon juice 100% lemon
  • Boiled water
  • My mug, of course
  • Tea bag
  • Milk
  • Sugar

So you want the water to come to a hot boil. When I say hot, I mean hot! You get at least a quarter cup of lemon juice and pour it in and add the hot water. Then you put the tea bag in, then add the sugar, milk, and sugar in the mug. The color may change but that does not mean anything. I love my tea just the way I described it. And I may get a biscuit or two to enjoy my tea with. No need to thank me. You're welcome.

enter image description here

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