In Search of A Perfect Cup of Tea

December 15th, 2008

Recently, I wrote a post about socks which was also a post about tea.  In this post I mentioned that socks were the bane of my existence and that tea was the elixir of life, except that all too often my tea was merely marginal and I couldn’t understand why…

Several readers tried to ease my laundry burden by giving me loving sock guidance, however, a small handful of readers were far more concerned about the merely marginal tea I kept making.  They offered me some helpful hints on how to make a good cup of tea.
I’m sorry to tell you this, but I was far more interested in learning how to make a better cup of tea than I was in learning how to better organize my laundry.
What does that say about me?  

Some of the tea making advice that was offered was directly contradictory.  One reader insisted that I should never pour boiling water over tea as this increased acidity.   Another reader said that I must pour the boiling water directly over the tea.  
Several readers counselled me to try loose leaf tea and some said I just needed to add more sugar or milk or grain alcohol to my cup and then I wouldn’t even notice the tea at all.

So I decided to conduct an experiment.  

I gathered three types of Earl Grey tea because we are Earl Grey drinkers around here.
I found some organic loose leaf Earl Grey in a local food co-op.
I found some hoity toity silk bags of Earl Grey in a local antique store.  
And I almost always have either Bigelow or Twinings on hand.  I will say that I really think Bigelow makes a better Earl Grey than Twinings.  But sometimes Twinings goes on sale and I buy it, than I wish I hadn’t because… blah.

For my tea making tools, I dug out this cast iron kettle with dragons on it that the CD gave me a few years ago for a birthday present.  I pretended to be excited that he got me a cast iron kettle with dragons on it in which to make tea… but no… not really into dragons.  

I will also be using a tea strainer for the loose leaf tea.

There will be two variables in this experiment.
1.  The type of tea – loose leaf, hoity toity silk bag, or regular old tea bag.
2.  The type of water – boiling water poured directly on tea or very hot but not quite boiling water poured directly on tea.

Drew was my collaborator in this experiment.  He loves tea as much as his mom.  We both usually pour milk and sugar or honey into our tea, but for the sake of this experiment we are drinking it black.  

The sacrifices we make!

We eventually prepared all the cups for the test.  

Then we tasted them.

We wrote down our thoughts about the taste as well as a rating for each cup with one being low and five being high.

More tasting…

More rating….

Occasionally, we cleansed our palettes.

Drew insisted that I include this photo in the story.

Then our tea party got crashed.

But we let him stay.

Here are the results of our little tea sampling party…

The hoity toity silk tea bags covered in boiling water.

Drew – “normal” 2 stars
Mom – “smooth, very nice, not bitter” 3 stars
Ethan – “really great, but strong” 2.5 stars
The hoity toity silk tea bags covered in water that is very hot but not boiling.
Drew – “not as strong” 4 stars
Mom – “tastes almost like hot water” 1 star
Ethan – “plain, terrible” 0 stars

The organic loose leaf tea covered in boiling water and steeped in the cast iron dragon pot.
Drew – “tastes like a leaf, tastes like a stick” 3 stars
Mom – “strange, earthy” 1 star
Ethan – “tastes like you ate it out of a dirt spoon” 1 star

Organic loose leaf tea covered in water that is hot but not quite boiling.

Drew – “bad after taste” 3 stars
Mom – “much milder than boiled, but less flavor, bland” 1 star
Ethan – “really great, but tasteless” 2 stars

Bigelow tea bag covered in boiling water.
Drew – “stronger taste” 3 stars
Mom – “more bergamot flavor” 3 stars
Ethan – “not the best tea in the world” 1 and 3/4 stars
Bigelow tea bag covered in hot water that is not boiling.
Drew – “very hot and thick” 4 stars
Mom – “tastes like hot water” 0 stars
Ethan – “tastes like hot water” 1 star
As you can see, our results did not amount to much cohesion, nor do they seem to make any sense at all.  My favorite cup turned out to be a Bigelow tea bag covered in boiling water, but the silk bag in boiling water was a close second.  The loose leaf variety that we tried was so vastly different from any Earl Grey tea that I have ever tried, that I almost wonder if the store placed the wrong tea in the bulk jar.  
Unsatisfied with the results of our test, I turned to my investigative journalism skills and found a good, concise, yet photographically satisfying article on how to make a good cup of tea on the BBC.  You can read it here.  
Now that I think about it… every once in a while I pour milk and honey in the bottom of my tea cup and then pour tea from the tea pot on top of it and well… that just might be the magic mix. 
So please disregard our research and try out the BBC version.  I imagine they are probably right being all British and everything.   Now I am going to go try and make a good cup of tea…