My lifelong search for the perfect cup of tea

English crime writer Agatha Christie

It’s all her fault: Agatha Christie

Personally, I blame Agatha Christie. The characters in her novels seemed to be forever frequenting quaint little tea shops, impatiently waiting for the maid to bring a tray of freshly-baked scones and seed cake, or fighting over who was going to play “mother” and pour the steaming beverage into delicate bone china cups decorated with hand-painted flowers.

In my American youth of the 1960s, coffee was king. I occupied the yellow bedroom next to our kitchen, and awakened each day to bloop-hiss sound of coffee percolating in the pot. My parents liked a couple of strong cups of java at the start of each day, and just the smell of coffee can take me back to the hurry and scurry mornings of my childhood.

Tea was usually only brewed for someone sick enough to stay home from school, and you had to have something serious like chicken pox before you warranted the luxury of receiving food on a tray. Tea and toast seemed a very special treat indeed.

Miss Marple is shown here cogitating, as she so often does, while having tea.

Miss Marple, shown here cogitating as she so often does, while having tea.

Whereas, teatime at Miss Marple’s appeared to be more of a gracious pastime, and something belonging to a world eons away from where I lived, in a place where time ticked more slowly and was infinitely more precious. Even now, the sound of a kettle happily burbling to a boil can make me think of sitting rooms bright with flowers and old-fashioned chintzes, with perhaps a hint of skullduggery lurking in the afternoon shadows.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I discovered enjoying a daily, civilized cup of tea was no fantasy, but there are as many different experts on brewing tea as there were tea leaves in a bag! Even George Orwell, celebrated author of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and “Animal Farm,” was inspired to pen an essay about it.

I’ve found that the best way to make tea really depends on the type of tea being made and the quality of your tea leaves (whether loose or bagged).

Use this chart to determine how long and at what temperature you should steep your tea


Credit: / dusky

In fact, the perfect cup of tea involves only one secret ingredient – patience, claims the School of Life Sciences at the University of Northumbria. According to a 2011 article in The Telegraph, researchers in Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK spent 180 hours of testing and a panel of volunteers consumed 285 cups of tea in the laboratory to come up with an equation for the perfect cup of tea with milk.

Using an electric kettle is also preferred, and woe betide the know-it-alls who suggest that microwaving a mug of water is more efficient! Ignoring the fact that such Philistines will never understand the beauty of a gently brewed cup of tea, studies have shown that microwaves, although marginally faster, actually use more energy than an electric kettle to heat the same amount of water.


Credit: Anness Publishing, Ltd.

What’s worse, the taste of microwaved water is best described as “flat.” This has something to do with changing the oxygen content of the water, which apparently can change the flavor of the resulting tea.

Tea is also good for your body. According to Time magazine, researchers attribute tea’s health properties to a type of antioxidant called polyphenols and phytochemicals, or chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants. Though most studies have focused on the better-known green and black teas, white and oolong varieties also offer benefits.

In my kitchen today, you’ll find three teapots and several types of tea to complement whatever mood you’re in, along with an electric kettle, and for fun, various spoon rests, strainers, amusingly-shaped tea infusers, and pretty cozies and tea towels.

You’ll also find an assortment of cookbooks filled with recipes for delicious sweet and savory teatime accompaniments. The Perfect Afternoon Tea Recipe Book is full of easy-to-prepare recipes for delicious tea sandwiches and pastries, all best enjoyed when elegantly served on a tray, of course!

As far as I’m concerned, Agatha Christie was amazingly astute when she penned her first Hercule Poirot mystery, “The Mysterious Affair at Styles,” in which she wisely predicted, “You’ll feel better after a nice hot cup of tea.”


One Response to My lifelong search for the perfect cup of tea

  1. Ah, tea. So very civilized. I love drinking tea when I’m in the U.K., because it always seems to taste so much better.

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