Essentials Of Tea: Before Arriving In Britain
Just to clarify, I was already a tea enthusiast before I moved to Scotland. There is something cathartic and ritualistic about making a good cup of tea. Starting the kettle, selecting the tea that fits your mood/energy/activity, and waiting for it to brew until you can finally taste the cozy goodness. The Brits know how to make a fantastic cup of tea, but there is a proper way to make a cuppa. Before you move to anywhere in the United Kingdom, or most of Europe perhaps, learn your basic tea-making skills and what you like in a good cuppa. If you find you truly enjoy it (as most of Europe and Asia does!), your favorite cup of tea will make you feel cozy and at ease far away from home.
First, warm your water by using a kettle. Electric or stovetop, it doesn’t matter! Most Brits use an electric kettle at home, and if you’re extravagant (or tea pretentious like me), you can use an electric kettle that has different temperature settings. As someone who drinks many cups of tea per day, I can honestly say this changed my life. While tea can generally be brewed at boiling temperature, it is better to brew it at specific temperatures. For example, green tea should be brewed at 180°F or 82°C. The temperature that tea leaves are brewed at and how long it is brewed for changes the taste and sometimes consistency. Rule of thumb: the lighter the leaves, the lower the temperature.
Next is choosing your tea. Quite an uncomplicated process once you have tried a variety of teas and know what you like (and dislike)! For energy and strong flavors, drink English breakfast and Irish breakfast teas. Green tea is an easy go-to, with low caffeine levels and a great anti-oxidant. Get matcha if you’re looking for something with a fuller but refreshing taste, without a tinge of bitterness that standard green tea has. For more of a creamy taste, go for a chai. These are starting to be mixed with all types of tea, from blacks to greens. White tea is naturally sweet, often mixed with other greens and herbals. Speaking of herbals, these have all sorts of natural purposes, such as health remedies, sleepy-time inducers, and anxiety reducers. While you may not need them for physical reasons, herbal teas are usually packed with lovely floral and citrus-y flavors. There are so many different kinds of tea, but it takes a few tries to find ones that you truly enjoy. Similar to picking out a wine or beer, most tea boxes will have a description of the flavor on the back to give you an idea of what to expect. My personal favorite brand of British tea is Twinings, one of the oldest tea companies in Britain, still in the original store in London! In the States the best green tea I’ve found is the Kirkland brand, from good ole’ Costco.
Once your water is warmed and you’ve picked your tea, brew that bag! Check the tea bag packaging or tea bag tag for brew time, which is usually 3-5 minutes. Don’t be too impatient, it usually takes that long for the water to cool anyways! Make sure to provide room for milk, honey, or sugar if you decide to add some to your cuppa. It’ll take some experimenting, but usually the darker the tea, the more likely you’ll want to add some milk or honey to make it less bitter.
There you have it! The simplest instructions for making a great cup of tea. While it may seem like everyone can make tea, not everyone can make a superb cuppa. Use these tips if you feel lost when browsing tea menus in the U.K. or Europe! Sometimes culture immersion isn’t just in the language differences or social interactions, but in the little everyday things, like tea!