Anatomy of Good Tea: How to Brew a Decent Loose Leaf & Tea Bag Cuppa

Tea can be as much a simple warm-up for the day as it can be an investment for the veritable drink “foodies” of the world, who genuinely revel in taste experiences.

The anatomy of a cuppa, is rather straightforward: teacup, hot water, actual tea, and perhaps extra fixings for your preference. There’s an elitism that certain groups of people have to what constitutes a proper cup of tea, but honestly, it comes down to preference.

Don’t bow to pressures simply because “that’s how it’s done!”.

I favour the ritual of loose leaf tea because I am partial to the strong flavour of relatively fresh-leafed tea brewed and burnished by heat and smoothened over with honey. I adore the tendrils of heat from the cup too, as much as relishing learning where I stand on the pungency of the tea’s flavour with every hue of orange, gold, and variations of red.

See, I like hibiscus as well as Bergamot, and a slew of tea blends that fall more on the Black Tea spectrum. I also can’t stand green tea!

I’ve learned though, that some people don’t enjoy drinking tea because they’ve never been at the receiving end of a good cuppa. Some don’t know the basics of tea brewing, and why establishments around the world have specifications for tea time and hoards return there regularly.

So, welcome to the very lazy brief on tea…

Tea is about tastebuds and comfort level.

You have to know what you like in terms of flavours and temperature first, or you’ll never find your perfect tea fit.

Forget whether it’s a teabag or loose-leaf:

  • Do you want it strong or softer in flavour?
  • Do you like piping hot beverages or ones that mellow into soft warmth?
  • Do you taste more with the front of your tongue or the back?
  • Are you obsessed with bold bouquets, or not?

Ask these questions about yourself before you even pick up your next tea bag.

Depending on where you are in the world, Oolong, Rooibos or Five Roses tea could be your default picks off the shelf or menu. Some have Singapore or English Breakfast tea, and even no-name leaves that taste of nothing or too much of everything.

The right flavour will excite you from the first whiff.

Brewing thereafter is all about enhancing that scent toward your tastebuds and it settling well in your stomach and mind.

Acclaimed 5-star establishments like The Savoy, as well as some of the residents of Buckingham Palace, do a sequence of excellence for tea brewing, that goes:

  • 1 teapot = never more than x4 teaspoons of tea
    • 1 teaspoon of loose leaf tea for each individual + an individual teaspoon for the pot
    • For more guests, rather have another pot prepared.
  • Boiling water
  • Placing a tea strainer over the teacup (so no teapots with built-in infuser mechanisms, I guess)
  • and pour the tea made with boiling water, through the strainer, into the cup – WITHOUT over-filling the cup
  • One is able to then add a slice of lemon, IF drinking Earl Grey
  • You can add milk thereafter too, if you prefer.

Wish to drink like the queen?

“She will also use a strainer…the Queen enjoys her Assam or her Earl Grey the traditional way, made with tea leaves in a teapot and poured into a fine bone china teacup.”

Grant Harrold (2021) – Former Royal Butler to Princes Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry, and Etiquette Expert

When do I add the milk?

Milk’s addition is very much a hotly debated element around the world.

What many people don’t realize is that adding milk before or after the tea depends on the type of homeware you’re working with.

The ability of your mug to retain heat is an important factor in enjoying a good cup of tea. If you choose bone china over clay for example and, add milk AFTER the tea, then you’ll be much like Her Majesty the Queen of England.

Bone china, while considered costly even today, has the benefit of retaining heat perfectly enough that the coolant of the milk can therefore be added afterwards. Choosing inferior receptacles with barely a soft curvature in body and lip, will result in a lesser texture and taste experience as the milk reacts to the temperature vibe of your cup.

I don’t prefer milk in my teas generally.

However, much like the Sugar Vs. Honey debate, depending on your tea flavour choice, various additions have their merit depending on preference.

How I do things…

During the harsher lockdown measures of the pandemic (i.e: Level 5), it didn’t click until I was in the throes of preparing my nightly tea before catching up on New York Times top stories, that making a good cup of tea has methodology similar to that of perfume makers – including distilling each element individually before blending them, for what is ultimately a superior cup of tea.

If you want to fall in love with tea, then be exacting in your craft.

Here is how my codified creations go:

  • Rinsing every item to be used, with cold water and, preparing the tea station
    • Tea Tray
    • Cup or mug
    • Teapot
      • PRO TIP: Careful what kind of tea pot you buy because the ultimate brew is also influenced by the pots shape, and the materials ability to enhance flavour and retain heat (see: ceramic pots Vs. glass Vs. clay Vs. enamel etc.).
    • Infuser (the straining thingy to control loose leaves)
    • teaspoon
    • side plate
    • cloth
    • honey dipper
    • Kettle
    • lemons
  • Having the tea choice of the day, at the ready (whether a TWG tea bag or loose leaf tea option)
  • Boiling the water in a kettle (stovetop ones come with their own instructions)
  • Pouring x3 teaspoons of tea into my tea pot
    • Mine have a built-in strainer
    • Sometimes I also use a pure cotton TWG strainer in a large mug
  • Pouring the freshly boiled water into the tea pot
    • Water should not still be bubbling. Let the water sit for 30 seconds after the boil
    • I pour over the strainer full of tea because sometimes the top leaves don’t get moisture otherwise and then it’s a waste of perfectly useful leaves.
      • Not pouring from the top also means your ratio of water \ tea is off, if your water doesn’t level with the tea leaves
  • Seal off the neck of the tea pot with a cloth or cap
    • I prefer a strong Black Tea brew (so a 4 – 5.5 minute wait) and so I push the temperatures from the steam too, to further sweat the leaves
    • PRO TIP: Green Teas and White Teas are best when steeped uncovered.
  • Pop the cloth or tea pot cap off and scent the steam – If the bouquet is just right, and the colour looks good, then begin the pour into the cup.
  • Knowing my tea is strong and that I have a sweet tooth, I usually use a honey dipper to drip about 2 teaspoons of honey into my cup regardless of the type of tea.
    • PRO TIP: Honey actually comes in different flavours, and extracts a different flavour profile from each type of tea subsequently, so choose your honey carefully!
  • I love fresh lemon or even sometimes lime slices with teas like Earl Grey or Naartjie tea.
  • Stir around and leave the cup to settle for 15 seconds
  • ENJOY!

I know it seems like I stretched out my process unnecessarily, but for me, tea is rapturous.

It is less a collection of ingredients and tools to brew a cup, but more a near therapeutic process of reaching peace by the time tannin hits my taste buds.

Earl Grey was the first real tea in my adulthood that I took the time to know and appreciate. I adore Bergamont as a result – from perfumes to room sprays, to my tea. It embodies what it means for a plant to be “fragrant”. It’s pungent and austere all in the same measure – likely remnants of its history as a touted favourite of royalty the world over.

Tea time is like going on a retreat – it bears nearly all its merits; From the individual solitude which you can tailor to the relaxation that comes from slowing down; I really love brewing tea as much as I do love drinking it.

I also love the popular adventure of Afternoon Tea – especially enjoyed with friends.

In truth, regardless of where you are: tea is a rather personal experience – from the leaf you choose to the cup you pick, from the kind of water you prefer to the right temperature that works for you.

It’s actually all about you, and I really think people forget that in their quest to have the “quintessential” experience.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks so much for reading Chantel 🙂 Glad the tips are of value.

  2. Awesome post. Thanks for sharing these tips.

Leave a Reply