Look, I don’t know if you’ve all got experience with ‘having ankles’, but I’m pretty sure I’m about to get my license revoked. Molly and I have been hiking around the park almost every day for a year now, but this weekend I finally got overconfident, tripped over my own feet, and then walked home on the same busted ankle I had previously busted in college. Hooray for me. Kids, don’t listen to the government. Working out is a trap.
Now that my right ankle consists of what I can only assume is a mixture of gravel and corned beef hash, I can no longer locomote under my own power – I have to get my hands on Molly’s shoulders in what we’re calling “Doubles Conga” so that I can hop around the house on one foot.
And until we can buy wigs and spangled costumes and a small alligator, we can’t take our act on the road.
So here I am. Hello. If you think I’m going to start doing my Elderly Flamingo Impression in the kitchen next to knives, flames etc., you are incorrect. Let’s talk about the only thing I can photograph from my current setup in bed: tea.
Americans make bad tea. Water is wet. Guess what, though, punks? British people make bad tea, too. Tea is easy to make bad for the following reasons:
- It’s a tisane, Brenda. If you’re into chamomile or peppermint or lemon ginger zing-zang surprise, that’s fine, but it’s not tea. None for me, thanks.
- Not using boiling water. Black tea requires boiling water. In order for it to taste like literally anything, the water has to be boiling when it hits the leaves. No you can’t use hot water from the tap. And you can’t microwave a mug of Diet Vanilla Almond Sleepytime Breeze and then complain that it doesn’t taste like anything. If you’re not gonna boil water don’t bother! Who cares. You can drink almost anything else. I don’t care about what exact temperature degree goes with which green or black or red tea – I don’t know enough to care. All I know is the black tea I have made for myself at least twice a day for literally my whole life has to be made with water that has bubbled in the last 30 seconds and not because of carbonation.
- “Black tea’s too bitter!” Yeah. People think tea is this nice, delicate treat that fancy ladies sip out of translucent little fairy teacups. And sure, it can be that. But in real life tea is for dragging your soul back up out of your butt when you’ve lost the will to live at 3.35 on a Tuesday. Tea is for making you feel like a human person with a functioning nervous system again after having sat through two staff meetings and a training video. There’s a reason why we took a tea break every hour on the hour in my most miserable job – I never thought I’d develop an addiction to caffeine, but 6 cups a day got me there. What was I talking about at the beginning of this bullet point. Oh yeah – tea has to be strong. Otherwise what’s the point?
- Cream?!? Cream?????? Cream…ER? Creamer than WHAT? Just use milk, man. Cream is for coffee. Creamer is for… I honestly have no idea. If you’re not doing dairy, do oat milk. Hazelnut milk. Whatever milk. Just not whatever cream.
- Don’t get me started on iced tea, or sweet tea. That’s a whole other post, and believe me, it’s coming.
Having tea be gross is not going to surprise most of you. I bet there are some of you poor saps out there even now who ordered a large earl grey once at an airport Starbucks and decided everyone who drinks tea is insane. You’re not wrong – that stuff is gross. Even a London Fog is just a vanilla milk steamer with a vanity bag in it.
But don’t you want to have the kind of bracing, restorative cup that makes you feel like a hearty sea captain/sheep farmer/society lady who just sent her rival’s hopes up in smoke? Don’t you want to go from “I couldn’t possibly take another step” to “Bitch You Thought” in no seconds flat? Surely the tea drinkers can’t ALL be irreversibly cracked.
While coffee reaches into your back molars and drags out every last ounce of energy you possess like the adrenaline needle scene in Pulp Fiction, tea just buoys you up like a smile from a baby on public transport, or getting to pet a corgi in a backpack. Tea makes things seem possible for a little while. And yes, it can be delicious.
So what makes tea good?
- It has to be strong. I’m saying it twice because it has to be said. British people who make bad tea invariably make it too weak. Weak tea basically tastes like the inside of your own mouth when you haven’t brushed your teeth, and it does nothing for you caffeine-wise. Pass.
- Strong tea is bitter and requires milk, sugar, or both. If you want strong black tea without milk, go to Russia. They have figured out the magic of milkless tea. It is incredible, but I have no idea where to buy it or how to make it. It just is something good that happens to me sometimes, like a rainbow, and when it does I am grateful.
2a. My point is, though, that your tea can be as strong as you want as long as you have milk to mellow it out before you drink it. That’s why people who don’t steep for a full five minutes are cowards.
- In my opinion sugar in tea is only for dire situations, like 6-hour flights or extremely boring online classes. But I am just some lady – you should put in however much sugar you want.
That’s literally it. Use boiling water. Make strong tea. Add milk. Prosper.
“But Katie” I hear you wail, those of you who are still here. “Katie what about the milk-first vs. bag-first debate? What about warming the pot? What about squishing the teabag?”
Okay, nerds, here’s Tea 102: Advanced Varsity Tea
- Larger tea leaves are better. Tea bags work for everyday, but if you really want to drink tea that has anything approaching flavor loose leaf is the way to go. Tea bag manufacturers try to sell you stuff about the best quality tea being “fine milled”, but they’re literally just sweeping up the dust from the leaf-sorting floor and putting it in bags to sell. Which, again, is totally fine and I will drink. But as a rule, bigger leaves make for better tea.
- I wasn’t kidding about boiling water. Boil it on the stove if you have to.
- Is it milk first or bag first? This is a dumb question, because it depends on the situation. If you’ve got a teabag, put that in the mug, pour the boiling water over it, steep it for 5 minutes, take the bag out, put the milk in. If you’re pouring from a pot, pour the milk into your cup first, then pour the tea. We are attempting to stop the heat of the boiling water from curdling the milk, which is why you wait until the tea is steeped in each case before you introduce milk.
- If you have a teapot, make tea in the teapot. It comes out better. If your teapot is, for some reason, fine bone china (I assume because you’re trapped in some kind of time-traveling situation a la Kate and Leopold), make sure you swish hot water around inside it before you add your tea leaves and boiling water, otherwise it might crack. If you have a normal or metal teapot, you can go right in with the boiling water.
- How much loose-leaf should you use? My rule of thumb is a teaspoon for each cup, plus one for the pot. Plus, like maybe some more. Hefty teaspoons. Maybe two teaspoons each. Weak tea is not the way!
- Don’t forget to strain the tea as you pour it or else you’ll be chewing leaves. I forget probably half the time. It’s fine.
- Do give the bag or leaves a stir right after you add the boiling water, and then leave them alone for 5 minutes.
The very best tea in the world, to me, is strong, milky and flavorful. This is why I will never stop trying to make masala chai at home – that’s the absolute gold standard. It’s also why Thai iced tea is so amazing – never underestimate the power of condensed milk. But even if you don’t have access to those, you can make yourself a damn fine cup of tea with whatever you happen to have around. Just don’t get impatient, and stay away from the microwave.