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Help Me Make the Perfect Cup of Tea

Hello. I'm somewhat embarassed to admit this, but I'm not sure I make tea correctly. Can someone please tell me:

-The correct method to make a single cup of tea (I can't bother with brewing or teapots since I'll be doing this at work with minimal gear at my disposal).

-Some good breands of loose tea or bags (preferably earl grey)

-Also, what's the etiquette with milk, lemon sugar? Can you put milk in tea while it's brewing? Are there certain teas that should not have milk?

Thank you for your guidance!

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  1. If your office coffeemaker has a hot water dispenser, I'd use that as your hot water source. You'll get much better results that way than if you microwave a cup of water.

    I like Harney's Earl Grey Supreme, both because of its excellent flavor and and because it is available in sachets, which seem the perfect compromise between the convenience of tea bags and the richer flavor of loose tea.

    I would not add milk to Earl Grey. I generally don't like milk in my tea, but I will use it sometimes for stronger teas than Earl Grey. Earl Grey, however, seems like it would be overwhelmed by the addition of milk.

    6 Replies
    1. re: silverbear

      i like milk in earl grey, at least the milder ones.

      1. re: silverbear

        i was born and reared in the south, and am not familiar (at all) with a practice of adding baking soda to tea, or overbrewing due to not using enough tea. the worst criticism we get is about sweet tea that is too sweet.

        anyway, you should use boiling -- not just hot -- water. tea leaves should be pummeled with it by pouring from some height above the leaves (in the pot). steep no more than 5 minutes, and remove the tea off the leaves then. otherwise, it is bitter.

        i know you want to make it in a cup, but that will not taste the best -- even if it is a sachet rather than a bag.

        1. re: alkapal

          Speaking of sweet tea...
          I live in Vegas (land of the tourist) & I always chuckle when someone asks me for tea. I always ask hot or iced & they look @ me like I'm crazy & stupid.
          I guess in the south when you say tea, you mean sweet tea.
          Is this a proper assumption?
          They look at me even funnier when I tell them our tea is unsweetened!

          1. re: dbug31

            because it is generally hot in the south for a greater length of time than it is cold (if at all), people generally drink cold drinks. thus, iced tea is the norm. though usually, i hear an order for "iced tea" -- not just "tea". also, there are enough "imports" from other places (i.e., non-south) that servers are savvy enough to ask when it might be in question. your customers may be from the "deep south" where it is traditionally "sweet," though that is changing, too. maybe vegas is their first trip away from home.....(ps you cannot make sweet tea from unsweetened iced tea at the table -- no amount of sugar or sweetener will change that tea's essential nature!) ;-)

            1. re: alkapal

              I guess it's just one of those things. Kind of like the majority of my customers here on the west side that want ranch to dip everything in.

              Yeah, I've tried that "you can add sweetener" bit, it never works.
              Generally, it's followed by a yucky face! : )

              1. re: dbug31

                dbug, now you know why the yucky face! (although.......some higher end resto may offer sugar syrup to get the sweet tea effect with plain iced tea...but often resto iced tea is bitter no matter what. --- and it STILL ain't the same!)

      2. PG Tips is a good, strong English tea that comes in pyramid-shaped bags. Given the strength, I'd only recommend it for a single cup if you have a mug that's bigger than 8 oz., closer to 16, in fact. I recently found PG Tips decaf (DCaf) here in the States for the first time, and it's just as good. Because tea does its best steeping in very hot water, I recommend not adding milk until the tea bag comes out, unless it's warm milk. Whether you add milk at all is simply your own preference. I'd let the bag sit in the hot water for 2-3 minutes.

        1. Forgot to mention...Cook's Illustrated recently did a tea taste test and found that some teas do indeed taste better with milk, while others are at their best "black." PG Tips is one of the teas they liked better without milk.

          1. I think I may have posted this before, but it's great. It may help you, it may not, but it sure is entertaining: http://www.netcharles.com/orwell/essa...

            1. My english husband says:

              You'll want to have boiling water for this, as earl grey is simply flavored black tea.
              We'd think it best to let it sit for just a few seconds to not scorch the bergamot.
              Invest in a small electric kettle. Bodum makes a $20 model, called the mini ibis.
              He uses this all day long @ his desk & it's quiet too...

              Use the water for your kettle from the water cooler though, as pure water makes all the difference in the world.

              You may want to look into Serendipitea: http://www.serendipitea.com/Category....

              Once again according to my hubby, he says no to milk, but I disagree. Milk is a matter of taste. As far as when to put it in, it depends again on your taste. Yes, it will obviously lower the water temperature, so I suppose it depends on how much milk you use...

              Here's a few guidelines for time & temperature, from Alton Brown's Tea show:
              *Note: For Oolong and Green tea, water should simmer at 200 degrees F. and 180 degrees F.
              *For Irish and English tea bring water to a full boil.
              *Black tea should soak for 3 to 5 minutes. Oolong tea should soak for 4 to 7 minutes. Green Tea should soak for 2 to 3 minutes.

              Best of luck & happy tea drinking!

              1. My dad being from the south, always made sweet tea with a bit of baking soda in the boil to ease the tannins (which works remarkably well). Has anyone tried this with some of the stronger black teas with a hot product?

                1. The water has to be boiling, I like Bigelow or Twinings. Don't over steep, 3 minutes for one cup is more than enough. A tad of sugar, lemon if you wish, never milk in tea.

                  1. People in the South add baking soda to tea because they overbrew it. And they never use enough tea, so they extract the hell out of what they do use. It's a wretched practice that should have been abolished along with slavery. Many Southerners will leave tea in water for 15 minutes or more. Ick! No wonder it's bitter!

                    But I agree with dbug31. You must have freshly drawn, BOILING water. Hot won't cut it for black tea. Green, white or oolong yes, but not black.

                    And don't add anything to tea until the steeping is done. It's your preference what to put in it, but less is more. A good quality tea needs nothing actually. Even though I like a bit of sugar. Milk takes away all health benefits of drinking tea.

                    People who drink tea with the bag string hanging out of it should be tarred and feathered.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: mldubose

                      Brits and Canadians always put milk in our black tea. Some even put sugar. But always after the tea has been brewed - loose tea is always preferable. And indeed the water must be brought to a full rolling boil. Green tea is a totally different drink.

                    2. I grew up drinking massave amounts of tea. My mother is from Ireland and that is all her people drink. I prefer Barry's Irish tea with some sugar and a splah of milk. It has a little more caffine than your typical American tea like Lipton's, and tastes richer too. Don't ice it, it's not good.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: RVAwino

                        I agree with RVAwino, Barry's Tea is very good. I like it with a little milk, too, though it's not particularly bitter even without it. It's strong enough to brew a whole pot with just one bag, and at least one refill.

                      2. If you own a french press, I highly recommend that you use it for tea making, especially as it's the same "mess" as making a large pot as a single serving, which is very little mess at all. A french press give lots of room for the leaves to bloom in hot water so it's great. The rule with milk is that you should always put milk in your cup first so when you pour the tea, it "scalds" the milk or something which makes it taste better. Milk or lemon are used because the chemically react to reduce bitterness; sugar just makes it more palatable for people so sugar isn't all too recommended for hot teas (but iced sweet tea is the best.) If you do add milk to tea while it is cooking, I think you are in step to make milk tea (bubble tea) which is great but something different.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: digkv

                          french press is a great solution for the office situ described by OP! still need to pour boiling water on tea leaves from a good height. ;-)

                          if find milky tea with sugar quite comforting....
                          tea with a cardamom pod is nice and relaxing, and is good for a queasy tummy.
                          tea with sliced ginger is nice for chest congestion.

                        2. The French press was a good suggestion. Another thing that would work well is a Melita one-cup gadget using the #2 filters. You would use one vessel (cup) for steeping the loose tea and then pour it through the filter into your drinking cup. This might be an easier clean-up than the press.

                          Honey is nice in tea, if you can handle it at work. Twinnings makes nice teas, both bags and loose.

                          1. Mighty Leaf Earl Grey is the BEST I've ever tasted, very loosely packed in a silk-like sachet (Their Organic Breakfast rates high in my book also)...available in limited Whole Foods & online. Harney & Sons and Taylors of Harrogate make very good earls as well.

                            Tazo (tried it at Starbucks), which is more mainstream is very good too but I think the bergamot essence is a bit stronger.

                            I only like black teas and always add a pinch of half & half and a bit of sugar. It may not be the proper way but it's so delicious. The key to a good cup of tea is how long you steep, keep it to under 3-4 mins and the quality increases.

                            1. My favorite tea to make at work:

                              Chamomile tea (I buy Wissotzky tea bags)

                              I put hot water in my cup and let the tea bag steep. Meanwhile, I cut off a sliver of lemon, and take out the jar of honey. I pour honey and watch it melt. Then I squeeze fresh lemon juice and give it all a stir!

                              Best tea ever.

                              1. black tea needs boiling water
                                green tea water about 180 degrees
                                oolong and white tea also about 180
                                puh er tea... um i dont remember and am too lazy to look up

                                there are many great teas, and devices to make tea with at

                                1. I use the IngenuiTEA teapot. Its really cool. Go here and watch the video at the bottom:


                                  If you have a microwave at work you just put water in the ingenuiTEA, put it in the microwave and bring to a boil, put in some loose tea, let it brew for 5 to 8 minutes, then put it on your mug to let all the tea out. I never put milk in my tea - I think that is an English thing and my family originated in eastern europe, but I do like lots of sugar and lemon.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Linda513

                                    This thing looks great. And the matching cup - 14 oz!! It would be easy to add a little more tea and re-infuse with this, too.

                                  2. You should get an electric kettle! I have one, and oh my god... it works SO well! You just boil the water, pour it in your mug, thermas, ect. (Not caring on spelling) Then you set a timer for three minutes and put in suger if you want. I always do this, and it does very well!

                                    So if you want, try it!

                                    1. a Brit here and by golly we are the world's tea drinkers!!

                                      Tea absolutely HAS to have boiling water. Walmarts sells an electric cordless kettle for around $20. Do not use coffee machine hot water or those hot water taps.

                                      Put English teabag in cup or mug(American tea is too weak), pour boiling water over the bag, let it steep for a couple minutes, use a teaspoon and your first finger and squeeze out excess water from the bag, add milk and sugar to taste. Of course you can put milk in Earl Grey - a matter of taste and preference. Some peeps like their tea strong (so the teaspoon can stand up on it's own!) and some like weak tea like dishwater. Builders are known to have about 6 spoons of sugar in their tea and a few biscuits too to dunk.

                                      If you are using a teapot it's one tea bag per person and one for the pot!

                                      1. I know some tea purists never let soap touch the tea pot, cup, etc. Wash only with water.