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Lessons From The Brits On A Nice Cup Of Tea

I've never given the art of making tea much thought. Probably — and I assure you much to the dismay of the whole of the United Kingdom — because I usually make my tea using the luke-warm water that comes out of NPR's water cooler. But late last year, an essay by Yoko Ono caught me by surprise: She and John Lennon stopped to discuss what's the proper way to make tea. Does the bag go in the cup before the water? Or the other way around?

This morning, I was delighted to find that Christopher Hitchens, a writer and an Englishman, was struck by the same piece and gave this some thought — and just in time for the dead of winter, too. Us Americans, he writes, should think of tea the way we currently think of coffee. That is that there was a time in the U.S. when coffee tasted more like coffee flavored water. But, today, even fast food joints like McDonald's have learned to brew full-bodied, sophisticated coffee.

Hitchens bases most of his advice on A Nice Cup of Tea, a seminal 1946 piece by George Orwell. So how do you make a proper cup?

  • Tea bag goes in before the water.
  • Water should be boiling when it's poured in. ("In order for it to release its innate qualities, it requires to be infused. And an infusion, by definition, needs the water to be boiling when it hits the tea.")
  • Use a cylindrical mug, not a teacup.

But perhaps most importantly, lose the bags, Hitchens says. Be proper and use loose tea and a strainer.