Milky or black, with sugar or without, to dunk biscuits or not – it's up to you, says Yorkshire Tea's senior tea buyer Suzy Garraghan.
In general, the British tea expert says, there aren't too many hard and fast rules when it comes to making and drinking tea. The main thing is to enjoy it "as you like it".
"What I love about tea is how everyone has their own way of making it, which they often feel quite passionate about," she says.
As the second most widely drunk beverage in the world after water, however, tea does tend to taste better if it's made a certain way.
Teabags are the most common way of making tea around the world, Garraghan says, due to their convenience and the tea's smaller surface area, which creates a stronger infusion.
Here, Garraghan shares her advice for making a better brew using teabags.
If you add milk in first it's never going to reach its proper brewing time.Suzy Garraghan, Yorkshire Tea
Use fresh water
Do you top up a large kettle of water before boiling to make your tea? Plenty of us do, but it's probably not the best idea, says Garraghan. Not only does boiling too much water waste electricity, using reboiled water can make your cup of tea taste flat and dull. Instead, boil just as much as you need and use freshly drawn cold water each time. Fresh water has more oxygen and fewer impurities than reboiled water, making for a brighter, tastier brew.
Don't just dunk and dump your teabag, Garraghan says. Brewing tea takes time, and more than just a few seconds. For a black tea, allow two minutes for the flavours to fully develop in your cup. Milk tea needs even more time – four to five minutes for an intense brew that is then mellowed out with a dash or two of milk. Let your teabag steep without flapping it all over the cup, and give it a slight stir and squeeze before serving. Make sure you know your ratios, too – about one teabag per 300-millilitre standard cup, remembering to account for any extra milk you stir in afterwards. Reusing teabags is OK at a pinch for more delicate flavours such as green tea, but Garraghan prefers a fresh teabag each time for full, brisk black teas.
Milk – first or last?
Tea was originally made by pouring the milk in first to avoid the scalding water breaking the delicate china cup. That doesn't mean it's the best way to make tea, however, especially as modern-day cups can now withstand high temperatures. "Milk in last, every time for me," Garraghan says. "You need 100-degree water to let the tea do its thing and brew properly. If you add milk in first it's never going to reach its proper brewing time for black tea."
In general, dunking biscuits in your tea is fine or encouraged even, Garraghan says. Malted milk or plain biscuits such as Arnott's Nice biscuits work particularly well with tea's flavour profile. But save the chocolate biscuits for another time, Garraghan says. Melted, sugary chocolate isn't doing your tea any favours.
Store it right
Well-made tea will stay fresh and bright for up to two years – but only if you store it properly, Garraghan says. Tea is highly hygroscopic, which means it absorbs moisture from the air, and can take on scents from its surroundings. So keep it in a dry, airtight container, away from strong fragrances.
Hot tea toddy recipe
Tea isn't just for teatime, Garraghan says. You can use it during cooking, especially in malty rice dishes, and cocktails if you want to mix things up. This recipe from Yorkshire Tea calls for 60ml of alcohol but if you'd rather skip the booze, swap it out for a similar alcohol-free substitute of your choice.
- 1 strong tea bag
- 30ml dry gin
- 30ml rum
- 2 teaspoons of honey
- To garnish: 1 star anise, 1 cinnamon stick and lemon slices
- In a mug or heatproof glassware, steep the tea bag in boiling water for 4 minutes.
- Remove the tea bag and stir in the honey until dissolved.
- Add the gin and rum.
- Garnish with the star anise, cinnamon stick and lemon slices. Enjoy.