How to Make the Perfect Cup of Tea According to Michelin-Starred Chefs
The milk-in-first-or-last debate has gone on for too long. We asked some of Britain’s best chefs, baristas, and hospitality dons exactly how to make a cup of tea.
Photos by Liz Seabrook. Food styling by Tamara Vos.
How do you take your tea?
Such a harmless question. But because the British class system instills in us a need to categorise our fellow man based on how many National Trust properties they've visited or which supermarket their parents shop at, your preferred method of making mildly caffeinated beverages becomes Kind Of A Big Deal.
Foreigners take note: if you have more than zero sugars in your tea, we will immediately knock 20 points off your assumed IQ. Same goes for reaping excessive pleasure from squidging the tea bag against the side of the cup. Anyone who asks for Earl Grey is a shy Tory. PG Tips is shit. There's also lots of stuff about mug choice but a general rule of thumb is that if it's before 7 AM or you are any degree of hungover then, yes, it's acceptable to use the big Sports Direct one.
And that's before you even get started on milk in first or last.
We can't go on living like this, so MUNCHIES asked a trio of Michelin-starred British chefs and hospitality dons to instruct us on exactly how to make a cup of tea. With their collective wisdom, let's hope we can put an end to the tea-making debate once and for all; uniting Typhoo apologists and Tetley loyalists, cementing national identity, and rendering at least 80 percent of @VeryBritishProblems tweets obsolete.
Here is their advice. Learn from it, sip slowly, and please for the love of God, don't leave that dirty teaspoon in the sink.
Dimitri Bellos, restaurant manager at Heston Blumenthal's three Michelin-starred restaurant The Fat Duck.
Personally, I would put the milk in later. I like to get the strength and flavour first—before I add the milk. This way, I know how much milk I would need to add. I do remember reading though that the Royal Society of Chemistry, after months of research, came to the conclusion that milk should go in the cup first. I've a feeling that this part of the ceremony is very individual and you would probably find a 50-50 split through the UK. I've got a cousin who has got the same name and surname as me and he puts the milk in first.
At The Fat Duck we serve loose tea, which would probably be my favourite. However it's not always practical especially when you are travelling or very busy. My favourite tea at the moment is Bai Rui Xiang oolong. It's from the Wuyi Mountain in China. It has great complexity in terms of flavour and a long finish. The ultimate favourite is raw Pu'erh tea: deep and rich flavours, earthy aromas with great complexity and a fascinating history.
I'm not a fanatic tea drinker nor do I take tea particularly seriously—I don't have a kettle that heats to 80 degrees and I don't set a timer for the infusion. But tea does hold a sort of spiritual importance. It has that ability to soothe and calm, and produce that Oh, that's nice! effect.
We're talking builders' for me and I'm afraid my choice is purely shallow. I go for the box or tin I think looks nicest, like Yorkshire Tea, for instance. (I told you I was shallow). My method is:
1. Boil the kettle. 2. Put tea bag in mug. 3. Pour over hot water. 4. Twiddle bag around a bit. 5. Take out tea bag and squeeze it as you do so. 6. Pour in milk (colour should roughly resemble a Werther's Original). 7. No sugar. 8. Drink and breathe sigh of relief.
Mark Hix, former executive head chef of The Ivy London and founder of the HIX Restaurants group. The perfect cup of tea is Rare Tea English Breakfast loose leaf tea steeped in a China pot, which must be pre-warmed for three and a half minutes exactly, and served in a mug. The tea goes in first, then a splash of milk. No sugar.
Failing that: a Long Island ice tea.
Fancy another cup? Check out the MUNCHIES Guide to British Food, running every day this week on MUNCHIES.