Apparently today is one of those fake holidays, something called International Tea Day. While most of the world celebrates the release of the new Star Wars film, I will honor my tea.
Why? Because I am basically that Onion story about the fancy man enjoying tea. It is, in many ways, a triggering biography of my life in relationship to morning beverages. Why? I drink a cup of tea every morning. Along with a bowl of grapes or a banana, tea is what draws me up and over the hump between waking and sleeping. It’s been my “thing” for years, mostly because I think coffee tastes like caca water and it’s higher traces of caffeine quite literally make me insane, vibrating into other dimensions from only a sip.
But making tea can be hard and that’s probably why so many people are like, “Eh, tea.” before muttering off in 2003 lingo about tea being gay, which it more or less is. Anyway, there’s an art to the perfect cup and I’m here on this lux international holiday to explain that making a cup is more than boiled water poured over a tea bag, more than fruity teas or green messes or herbal whatevers. I’m a purist – A snob. – and tea should be a burning black breakfast teas, a drink that is both complicated with rounded, approachable qualities. Tea making is complicated and divisive – but I’m here to show you my fuss free fag dranking agenda. Enjoy.
1. Bring water to a near boil. Some like their tea scalding but I think it should be at a point where the water is just about to break into boiling. That’s when you pour. (Note: This is mostly because I have una boca sensitiva when it comes to hot or cold things. They gotta be just right for this dainty sipper.) You also don’t need a good teapot or even a teapot for tea making at all: the joy of tea is that you just need “hot” water. If you have a microwave, a saucepan, or a tap that produces particularly warm water, you’re all good. You don’t need a fancy boiler or a kettle that whistles. Believe me: I’ve been using the same shitty apple shaped teapot that I bought from a Hollywood thrift store in 2009 for almost a decade. You don’t need anything fancy to make hot water. Such is the joy of tea.
2. Fill bottom of cup with honey. A divisive question is when to add sweetener and what sweetener to use or if sweetner is necessary at all. I say go for it. Live your fucking charmed ass life, you baby. To this, I typically fill the bottom of a cup with a thin layer of honey to create a base that can then spill upwards into the cup. Pouring honey or other sweeteners in after water has been poured usually sends the sweetener to the bottom of a cup, skimming the floor. A honeyed bottom avoids this because hot water poured over it draws the sweetness up. Plus, your stirring will bring and disperse the sweet too. I also say to add no more than a teaspoon of sweetener or else your tea is going to taste fake and you’ll lose all the nuance of said tea. Also, I use honey because it is “more natural” and has a lush depth of flavor that matches the tea thus sidestepping the cloying bleh of artificial sweeteners or fucking agave.
3. Add tea bag and pour over hot water. Plop the tea bag onto the honey reservoir and add hot water over it. Let stand for a second before you…
4. Stir — then let sit for five minutes. Use a spoon to stir the cup of tea. You needn’t stir too fast or too long: just get everything all mixed up, particularly the honey with the water. Since honey is already more of a liquid than solid, it disperses itself evenly with the water faster. Let the cup sit for five minutes — but no longer than that. Otherwise, you risk over-steeping your cup and end up with somewhat gnarly, bitter tea that you will sip in anger because of what could have been but wasn’t.
5. Remove tea bag and splash in milk. Take out the bag and, if you’re saving the world like me, compost it. Moreover, if it’s the first time you used said bag and said teabag is ~*~fAnCy~*~, feel free to keep it. More on this later. Splash in milk and stir again or let it disperse itself on its own. Unlike the honey, the milk will evenly disperse instead of settling on the bottom (which the honey does if it isn’t stirred well with the water).
6. Enjoy! Sip, you fancy fairy, you.
Got that? Great!
Now. You might have some questions — No lemon? Why milk? — and I have answers for you and general rules of thumb since tea making isn’t as easy as it might appear on British television shows.
• Spend extra on your tea: get the good stuff. I strongly, strongly, strongly recommend Mariage Fréres’ French Breakfast Tea. It’s a subtly chocolate-y tea that has such a unique, full character: it truly shines with a bit of milk and honey. Moreover, the muslin bags it comes in lend itself to being reused more than once. For the less annoyed and more eco-friendly, enjoy a loose leaf version. My only issue with loose leaf is that you can over-steep a cup quite easily and often burn through an expensive batch faster.
• Not all breakfast teas are good. Most tea brands are bad. They’re bland and they’re underdeveloped, flavor wise. I have tried so many teas in my life and I’ve learned which are good and which are bad and the truly good ones are few and far between, Mariage Fréres being far and away the best. Yet, since that brand is quite expensive, might I recommend PG Tips for a classic cup and Revolution English Breakfast, Twinings English Breakfast, or serendipiTea’s Assam Irish Breakfast as other options. Don’t ever do tea via pod or use Bigelow or Tazo or Lipton or Stash: they are bad (or, at least, weak and flat: you can do better, queen).
• You can use a bag more than once — but no more than that. Non-paper bags typically fair better for reuse and, if you do not over-steep or stir too vigorously, a bag should be fine for reuse one more time. If you do re-use a bag, steep the tea for ten minutes instead of five since it has lost some flavor from that first steeping. You can even leave the bag in, if you like.
• However, never leave a bag in for more than five minutes upon first steeping. This will make your tea way too fucking bitter and, frankly, gross. Don’t do it. Save it’s power for a second life.
• Don’t do lemon. You might be given a lemon or might see lemons going with tea but I say no to that. For breakfast tea, you only need honey and milk. Unless you have a cold or are old, lemon overrides all the flavor of the tea and prevents you from actually tasting anything else but honey. Moreover, you cannot add milk to give your tea a depth. Keep lemon away. One exception: hot toddies. Lemon all you want for that warm boozer!
• Milk instead of creamer. Creamer like lemon can monopolize your tea. You don’t want to just taste the dairy so go with something more subtle, like a low fat milk.
• It’s breakfast tea or no tea at all. Why? Because breakfast teas have a strength and complication to them easily lost on other teas, specifically black teas. Gone are more cloying perfume notes for more nuanced, complicated, fuller flavors. If you must stray, roobios and chai and oolong can be nice and complicated. Other teas – whites, greens, herbals – are too light and are a squint above flavored water.
• Early Grey is not the same as English Breakfast tea. A common mistake at restaurants or when shopping is to confuse Earl Grey for English Breakfast tea. They are not the same. Most notably, Earl tastes like fucking perfume and is so gross and floral and generally obnoxious. Do not do it. English Breakfast has a depth and subtle nuance, an elegance that isn’t trying too hard to be anything but tea. Earl Grey tastes like perfume gum.
And that is my take on tea. It really is an easy but complicated answer to breakfast drinking requiring a delicate magic to pull off.
That’s the tea, man. Tea, man.