A Nice Cup of Tea

Evening Standard, 12 January 1946.

If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.

This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

  1. First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.
  2. Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
  3. Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
  4. Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
  5. Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
  6. Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
  7. Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
  8. Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
  9. Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
  10. Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
  11. Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

(taken from The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3, 1943-45, Penguin ISBN, 0-14-00-3153-7)

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Fine & Dandy Teas, New Zealand – Sarah Munro

Fine & Dandy Teas, New Zealand – Sarah Munro

Who are you? Where are you from?

Hi! I’m Sarah. I’m based in Auckland, New Zealand and have a lovely (one and a half year old) son and a tea company that I run along with my partner Adam called Fine & Dandy. I’ve worked in sustainability and always been interested in where things are from, how they’re made and where they’ll end up. That’s something that’s really fuelled my interest in tea, but also I just love a really great cuppa.

What do you do? What is your business about?

We travel to organic and fairtrade tea farms, build relationships with our growers and import quality loose tea with beautiful provenance. This makes life and business so much more exciting than it would be if we just picked a few blends out of the catalogues of the big European tea brokers, and it means we can get our hands on really carefully produced fresh tea. We launched our company brewing hot cups of tea at our Farmers Market Brew Bar and that’s been a great way to share the story of the leaves and some tips on brewing as well. We started the business while I was on maternity leave less than a year ago after an extensive search to find great suppliers that we were proud to work with. It’s incredible to think it’s become my full time job and Adam has left his marketing job and jumped onboard as well, and we are pretty excited about how things are going.

How did you get into tea? 

When I was 24 I went off to India by myself and travelled for 9 months. I met lots of precious friends and had some amazing experiences, and I loved that amid all the chaos Indian people come together throughout the day over many cups of tea.

Later my partner Adam and I taught in Japan and really developed a taste for green tea. A shot of matcha before taking a frantic class of 6 years olds was our regular pick me up! Being in a school tea was such a part of our daily working life, prepared so beautifully and thoughtfully using quality leaves.

It was all pretty impressive, and we landed back in Auckland when the specialty coffee scene was really taking off, and no-one was thinking about good tea.

Where do you feel tea fits in the future?

There’s so much exciting stuff happening with tea right now. What we are seeing is this massive growing interest in quality and provenance- it’s very in line with the third wave coffee movement and bean to bar chocolate. Sometimes it does feel like we’ve been kept in the dark for a very long time about what quality tea actually is, so there’s certainly some work to be done to move things on from the world of processed tea-bags and flavoured blends.

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My Matcha Journey – Choose Carefully

My Matcha Journey – Choose Carefully

The Beginnings

I am sad to say that my first dealings with Matcha tea weren’t the best.  I had heard so many things about this super tea drink.  Magazines, Websites, Cafés, even Coffee shops, were all harping on about Matcha tea.  Skinny matcha lattes’, or Matcha Macaroons, the world was going crazy for this green powder.  With such things being said as, “70% more anti-oxidants than green tea” or “Boost metabolism and fat-burning” I was intrigued.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the price!!

I immediately jumped online to buy some of this magic powder, but very quickly discovering it was expensive.  Prices ranging from 20-60£ for a small pot of this magical powder.  I wasn’t prepared for this and went for a cheap version.  When I say cheap I really do mean cheap.  Not a £15 or £10 version oh no.  I went for the 27 pence version!!

img_6911What were you thinking? Yes, Yes, I know this now but at the time, I wasn’t fully versed in the tea culture, least of all Matcha.  As far as I understood, in my caveman brain, was that Matcha is just green tea leaves ground into a fine powder.  Oh, how wrong I was.

Now you know the background to my matcha tea journey.  I am starting from a negative place.  It was horrible.  I didn’t have the whisk (Chasen), or the right bowl.  Nothing.  Obviously, I went to Google and found many resources showing me how to brew Matcha.  However, I had to make do with a toy metal whisk, a small mixing bowl and a teaspoon to make my first matcha bowl!

Present Day

Now imagine my reticence when Anthony from matchæologist contacted me with a very generous offer.  He was going to send me a pot of his Ceremonial Grade Misaki Matcha tea.  I had spoken with Anthony a few times via email or recording an interview for our podcast.  I had deeply enjoyed our conversations and was also very appreciative that he had replied to my Instagram messages and was so enthusiastic about my magazine.  So, on the one hand, I am extremely grateful that he would be prepared to send me this incredible gift, on the other hand, I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy the tea and disappoint him with my feedback.  I replied to his email and he sent the Matcha tea through to me.

The Review

A few days later, I got home to find a post office card telling me my parcel was left under the slide in the garden.  I was worried because that day it had been raining heavily, luckily the postman had thought it through and it was safe and dry.

img_6912There was no mistaking where this had come from, “MATCHÆOLOGIST” printed across the small box.  I quickly went inside and opened it up.  When I opened it, immediately I felt that this was something special.  Inside was a lovely card wishing me the best with my Matcha.  Then a muslin draw-string bag, with Matchæologist printed on the front.  I opened the bag and there is was, the small metal pot that housed the Matcha.  I pulled out he pot and slowly started opening it.  As I did so I said to myself, “Put your previously experiences out of your mind, treat this as a new experience”.  Once I opened the pot, immediately I knew I had made a mistake two years ago.  The colour of this Matcha was so strong and vivid.  If you’ve read about matcha you’ll have heard it referred to as Jade in colour, I can happily say that this Matcha was exactly that, Jade.  Next I smelt it, oh the smell was exquisite.  Sweet, pure and clean, a quantum leap from the muddy and odourless 27p matcha.

Surprisingly, I didn’t brew some straight away, I took photos.  I wanted to capture this unboxing!  Then I realised I wanted to give this tea the full attention it deserved.  I wasn’t going to rush into brewing this tea, I needed to take my time.

Saturday morning,  I brewed my first Misaki bowl.  I wanted to try it out and then get my wife to have a try.  She had also experienced the foul taste of the 27p matcha, so I wanted her opinion too.

I pulled out my matcha bowl, whisk, spoon and most importantly the Misaki.  I heated the water to the recommended 80C and warmed my bowl.  I followed the instructions and whisked my way to a nice frothy bowl of Misaki.  The whisking is the hardest part, to get that lovely foam on top takes some concentration and patience, as well as strong endurance in your forearms.

Lifting the bowl, I can already tell that this is going to be special.  The smell from the bowl is gorgeous.  Exactly the same as smelling it in the pot, but now it seems sweeter, even cleaner and pure.  Now I am going to the taste it, giving it a good slurp to make sure I aerate the Matcha, the liquid flows elegantly across my tongue leaving a sweet, pleasant and velvety taste in my mouth.  My taste buds come alive and I can already feel the promise of “70% more antioxidants” or increasing my metabolism is completely missing the point of this drink.  It all sounds great, but the real plus to this drink is the smell, taste and feeling you get while you drink it, the rest is just beneficial by-products.  This Misaki stands up proud and lifts you out of your seat.  

Final Thoughts

Clearly picking the correct Matcha, like anything, is a necessity.  What was really highlighted to me in this experience was that all the hype can make you think a certain way.  Trying this Matcha has really blown away the idea of having Matcha for simple health benefits.  It is a beautiful drink, very much to be enjoyed like a good wine or a well-prepared coffee.  Respected for the art of growing, picking and manufacturing to get to the stage that we can enjoy this simple but very powerful elixir.   

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