Here in the UK, it’s Easter Monday and another work-free day added to the Easter weekend, so I thought I’d have some fun!  OK, there’s been a wee bit of a controversy lately in the British press with one of our revered actors (David Tennant & a once venerated Dr Who) in Broadchurch (a British cop drama that I’ve never watched, because it’s Line of Duty for me every time) making a cup of tea in a microwave.  Oh, the horror!

Of course, I expect you think we’re shocked because all Brits warm a proper teapot and make tea with real loose tea leaves.  Well, once upon a time, we did.  And before you all shout at me, some probably still do that. But actually, not the majority now. And I’m writing this because I thought not only would I tell you how we really do it (make tea) I’ve also got two teapots to show you.

Yes, I continue to get rid of stuff for the big move, and therefore, continue to ask myself some very hard questions as to why I’m keeping things.  And if they’re not going to be actually used, then they must mean something to me.  So here, for your benefit, is one thing I’m keeping – the teapot that my mother used every single day of my childhood.  In fact, she used it until the day she died.

I don’t come from a wealthy background, and there were just not the consumer goods around after the war that we take for granted. It was quite a frugal existence with life lived on one salary not two, and my mother at home, doing the housework and cooking very basic, very English food.  But there were some standards that my mother and father, in their almost genteel 1950s way, stuck to. And that was how they made and drank their tea.  It was always drunk in a small cup with a saucer (never a mug) and came in this teapot (which needs a polish, btw) which was warmed and made with real tea leaves, which you were meant to read.  Do you remember that?  And the ‘slop basin’?   Yes, really.  That’s where you poured the remnants of the first cup before the second was poured.  Always, btw, tea in first and then the milk.  This is because milk is poured in first only if you’re serving tea in very fine bone-china, porcelain cups, which would crack if the hot tea went in first.  Also people might want a slice of lemon with their tea rather than milk, so milk is always offered rather than assumed to be part of the tea experience.

By the time I had my own family I still made tea in a teapot.  I was quite a tea snob.  And rather like hats I collected teapots and had up to 10 in my kitchen.  Now there’s just this one, which I’m keeping as a reminder of how I used to make tea.

Because, do I use a teapot now?  No I don’t.  However, tea made in a micro-wave?  Never!  I’ve had tea made in a microwave and it’s not tea!  And I’m sorry to say this was in the States.  I asked for tea in a cafe.  I mean, this was in 1999 and things are probably different now.  I was assured I could have some tea.  I waited and then, triumphantly, the waitress came bearing a glass flask, which was something like a small bulbous vase with a narrowing at the top end with some yellow liquid in it.  Honestly, how I kept a straight face I don’t know, but having been a nurse you know what it reminded me of?  Yellow liquid in a bottle?  Yes, indeed.  Of course, it tasted of nothing, rather than….. Not that I would know. And I drank coke after that as, at that time, I wasn’t drinking coffee (I do now).

Now here’s the thing.  This yellow liquid wasn’t even hot!  It had obviously just been warmed in the microwave. And I’ve had tea like that elsewhere (Italy, as it happens).  But, the heat of the water and the boiling of the water is the key to tea-making.  Whether it’s in the pot, or, as I do it now, one good (Yorkshire, or Twinings) t-bag in a mug and then boiling water into said mug, that water has to have been freshly boiled (can’t be water lying around in your kettle.)   And moreover, it has to be on the upward boil, and by that I mean it must still be boiling and bubbling.  It then brews or, if in a hurry, take a teaspoon and bash the t-bag around.  You then take out the t-bag when the tea looks the colour of a ginger nut biscuit, and add milk.  No sugar.  You don’t want tea tasting of syrup.  It has to be that really strong and almost bitter tea-like taste.  Otherwise, why have a cup of tea?!

So, how do we do it?  Mug, t-bag and really, really boiling water.  Brew, bit of milk.  And that’s it – done!

And it should look like the pic I took in the Royal Academy!  That fabulous brown/gingery colour, which gives tea such a kick and a taste!

Btw, that Royal Academy teapot had real tea leaves in it – and the cup of tea was ace!

Lastly, I want to share with you how I was such a naive, untravelled person when I arrived in the States all those years ago.  Got to our hotel room, and great, I’d brought t-bags with me.  But where was the kettle?   OMG – no kettle! How was I going to boil the water.  Reader, we worked out we could use the coffee machine.  Apologies for being so British.  But I HAD to have a cup of tea after my Atlantic flight!

That’s all for now. Hope you had a great weekend.

Penny, the frugalfashionshopper

P.S  I just re-read this and think I still sound a right tea snob – so, don’t take any notice of what I say!  But have a great week!



38 thoughts on “How to make a cup of tea!

  • 17th April 2017 at 8:15 am

    Most of my Spanish friends don’t have a kettle, they heat the water in a mug in the microwave. It’s fine for infusions or if you drink your tea very weak and black (which I’ve learnt to do with Spanish tea bags) but hopeless for Twinings Earl Grey. You’re not a snob – often the simpler the task the more important each step becomes ?

    • 18th April 2017 at 7:44 am

      Yes, you could do the heating up method in a microwave with a Lipton’s tea bag but I agree it just wouldn’t work with the stronger brew. I think what other countries don’t get is that we want a cup of tea that is brewed to the equivalent of their excellent coffee.

  • 17th April 2017 at 8:18 am

    As an adult I’ve always disliked the taste of tea but my husband loves it. One day he decided to make it with leaf tea and the taste was a revelation. I now drink tea but always a small cup. It is brewed in my great grandmother’s silver teapot which, like yours, needs a good clean ~ it’s clean on the inside at the moment thanks to denture cleaner tablets! There is something about this teapot with the leaves that have transformed tea drinking for me but sadly only at home. We don’t live in the U.K. so tea can resemble your early experience but even in the U.K. it is difficult to find a leaf tea cafe. BTW we’re visiting our daughter’s new home in Hove in May so I’ll be doing the Hove and Brighton charity shops ~ hope there are some interesting ones.

    • 18th April 2017 at 7:49 am

      There are some tea shops in the UK that still do leaf tea and in London I’m glad to say that the major museums and art galleries do leaf tea as well. Funnily enough the charity shops in Brighton aren’t all that good but I believe that George Street in Hove is THE place for charity shops. I’ve not visited it for some time but will do, I hope, fairly soon!

      And interesting that you like your tea in a small cup, that would be quite rare now. Most like the ubiquitous mug – I compromise by having a large cup!

  • 17th April 2017 at 8:18 am

    What a good blog! Sadly we only use tea bags these days, but it has to be Yorkshire. We have friends in Utah, and the first time we visited, they offered us tea and it came as a cup of tepid, insipid, pale liquid in a beautiful bone china cup and saucer. The next time we visited we took Yorkshire tea with us, but they couldn’t cope with it! Way too strong for them!

    • 18th April 2017 at 7:54 am

      I can just about cope with a weak cup of tea if it’s a proper tea, like Kenyan, made with leaves and above all served hot with not a lot of milk or maybe even served without. It’s the tepid tea that’s undrinkable. Yes, Yorkshire tea is really good!

  • 17th April 2017 at 8:49 am

    I enjoyed reading about your tea experience. I’ve been meaning to ask what BTW means? Please advise.

    • 17th April 2017 at 8:34 pm

      By The Way!

    • 18th April 2017 at 7:56 am

      So sorry, Catherine, it’s me being lazy and slightly (and falsely) hip. Also I’m being influenced by the Twitter thing where you have to be very concise with what is said so you shorten and make acronyms like btw, which is, of course, ‘by the way’ 🙂

  • 17th April 2017 at 10:11 am

    Tea made in a microwave – ugh, no thanks! My American friends always love Earl Grey tea when they visit but I am a Tetley’s tea bag girl.
    Once we took American friends to Cambridge for the day, and when offered coffee after lunch they asked for iced tea. When it arrived, in a teapot, they tasted it and almost spat it out. It had been made by pouring cold tap water onto a tea bag to which they added two ice cubes!

    • 18th April 2017 at 7:58 am

      Ah the iced tea thing. Never had it and I suppose the people making it in Cambridge hadn’t either!!

  • 17th April 2017 at 10:21 am

    I so agree Penny. I have two cups of tea a day and they have to perfect – much as you have your perfect cup of tea. My latest pet hate are those taps which produce boiling water – my daughter has one and the water is never quite hot enough. So I insist on getting the kettle out of the cupboard to which it has been consigned and boil myself some water. You can imagine the rolled eyes!
    To be fair to David Tennant (!) in Broadchurch – I seem to remember that he heated up a cup of tea which he hadn’t had time to drink earlier, which is slightly different to making it in the microwave. I also love Line of Duty, but you are missing a real treat in this last series with Julie Hesmondhaigh who has been superb as the rape victim. Stellar performances all round from an amazing cast.

    • 18th April 2017 at 8:04 am

      Ah yes, those taps. We were invited to friends for tea. They don’t drink tea ever, only coffee. And they had some new devices in their kitchen including that tap. I was made a cup of tea with this new ‘boiling water’ contraption. Was it boiling? Well, I really don’t think so as the tea was terrible, and not hot enough. You can always tell.

      As for David Tennant and the microwave, I do apologise as I didn’t watch the episode and if he was heating it up that’s just about OK. And what’s more I promise to watch Season 2 and 3 of Broadchurch and give it a go (not Season 1 as I know the plot line). But that will be once I’ve recovered from the current Line of Duty. Watched a recorded episode 4 last night and could hardly breathe!!!

  • 17th April 2017 at 3:29 pm

    Lovely blog, Penny. I like tea, ut I am mostly a coffee drinker. I agree that tea made in a microwave doesn’t do it any justice. I don’t have a lovely teapot but I do have a kettle.

    • 18th April 2017 at 8:08 am

      I am getting quite keen on coffee now, but tea is still very important part of my day. Like coffee in the States, it’s just what we drink. Teapots though are sadly becoming a thing of the past.

  • 17th April 2017 at 3:56 pm

    Leaf tea in a teapot every time. Breakfast tea in the morning, Assam at lunch time and Kenyan at tea time. BUT always milk first and in small China mugs. It takes all sorts!!!

    • 18th April 2017 at 8:12 am

      Your tea making sounds great and I like the changes you make through the day. The thing about milk afterwards is I don’t like a lot of milk in my tea and I just hate it if given a tea out or at friends that’s been swamped with milk. I always ask if I can add the milk. I don’t have a lot so friends usually say, ‘are you sure you’ve had enough’ and the answer is always, ‘yes’. We all have different foibles and fancies and that’s mine!!!!

  • 18th April 2017 at 12:02 pm

    Thanks for solving the mystery of milk before tea. I always wondered about that. How on earth do they know how much milk is enough?
    I have broken all of my tea pots over the years and brew my leaf tea in a mug now; with boiling water. I too have come across tepid teas and teas served in a glass. Ugh to both!
    I am a tea snob, I must admit, and I’m not even a Brit.

    • 19th April 2017 at 8:29 am

      Yes, the milk before or after is still a contested thing. I think, now, the milk before is usually done by people who like a lot of milk in their tea, urgh! Thanks for commenting.

  • 18th April 2017 at 4:38 pm

    My family tease me because I always make myself a pot of tea…but I use tea bags!
    Line of Duty is (in my opinion!) totally brilliant; the writing, the acting, the suspense, the shocking ending of each episode. I don’t want the series to end.

    • 19th April 2017 at 8:31 am

      I have a friend who make tea in a pot with tea bags which I think is fine. I don’t give myself enough time for that, but you carry on as it’s a great tradition!

  • 18th April 2017 at 6:32 pm

    There is nothing like a freshly brewed cup of tea – I’m an Earl Grey drinker mostly bit enjoy a Breakfast tea or even PG tips now and again. Freshly boiled water every time.

    I loved your mum’s teapot – what stories it could tell! I also loved your teapot; I’m surprised it has lasted so long. I always broke mine, usually dropping them, but haven’t used one for years now.


    • 19th April 2017 at 8:32 am

      The china teapot is now a decoration and stands on a shelf well away from anything else. Like you I’ve broken many a teapot in my day – but this one survived. Thanks for commenting x

  • 19th April 2017 at 4:51 pm

    I still make tea in a pot occasionally, usually when I have a houseful. I was unaware of the David Tennant thing but yuck, it sounds dreadful. I never ordered tea in the States when I travelled there frequently, I learned that they just don’t know how to make it properly.
    Lots of charity shops in Hove and Shoreham’s good too.

    • 20th April 2017 at 6:54 am

      Yes, like you, very occasionally I do make a full pot of tea for visitors. I think the tea thing in the States is that they don’t get that tea has to be treated in a similar way to their coffee – it has to be made rather than just heated!

      Seaford has excellent charity shops as well.

  • 20th April 2017 at 5:10 pm

    Traveling in the US I asked for tea when we stopped for lunch. Apologetically. I sent it back as what I got was a cup of barely warm water and a tea bag on the saucer. Again I got a cup of lukewarm water with a tea bag and sent that back. Out came the manageress. Honey, she said, that’s as hot as it comes out of the tap.

    • 22nd April 2017 at 9:26 am

      OMG Margaret!!!! Yes, it’s not the actual tea that matters so much (although the tea sold in the States is soooo weak) and a tea expert would disagree, I’m sure, but it is the boiling water that is so often missing when taking tea outside the UK. Because this has happened to me in Europe. And it must be due to these countries drinking coffee as opposed to tea, and coffee spoiling if the water is too hot. But tea made with lukewarm water – I feel slightly sick as I write this!!!

  • 23rd April 2017 at 9:01 am

    We had to learn to make a decent cup of tea before 7 years. Warm the pot, one spoon of tea for each person and one for the pot, boiling water into the pot and leave for 3 minutes. Then turn the pot around 3 times to let the tealeaves settle to the bottom. And although we didn’t have fine china, we always put the milk in first. (My mum was a bit of a snob lol.) Then it had to be taken upstairs without spilling any in the saucer.
    Which reminds me of the time we went into a tea shop somewhere in the midlands. A customer in front of us was asked “Would you like it in a cup or a mug.” “Oh I’ll have it in a mug” responded the man in a broad Yorkshire accent. “Oh aren’t you glad we’re not with him!” cried my beloved mother, who was deaf and didn’t know how loud her voice was . . .

    • 28th April 2017 at 7:53 am

      A couple of days ago someone told me that you can make a pot of tea for 45 people in a normal size pot. It’s 45 spoons of tea, plus of course, absolutely boiling water. Leave to brew until it’s like black treacle, then pour a little bit of said treacly tea into 45 cups and top up with fresh boiling water, and there you have it. 45 cups of tea from one small pot!!!!

      I think all our mothers were snobs in a way. I was told never to wear trousers outside the house!!!

  • 24th April 2017 at 9:46 am

    I still take a travel kettle when I go abroad – you usually only get a coffee maker in the US. And I usually scout out a “real” shop so I can attempt to get proper milk. But I must confess that although I’m a bit of a tea snob, I have been known to do a Tennant and warm up a cup of tea that has gone cold……horrors!

    • 28th April 2017 at 7:54 am

      Oh, gosh, getting a good cup of tea in the States is nearly impossible. It’s the weakness of their tea along with the lack of the boiling water. If they could only see tea needs to have the same kick as coffee……

      • 14th May 2017 at 1:27 pm

        American coffee in most diners/hotels is also horribly weak – stained water.

  • 27th April 2017 at 2:02 am

    Hi Penny, I loved this post – it brought back memories of my childhood even though I am Australian… mother always made tea in a teapot but made hers separately (3/4 cup of boiling water then a dash of tea from the teapot). Dad had his with milk but the milk always went in first – nothing to do with the quality of the china but due to the myth of putting milk in first otherwise you had red haired children…..must have worked as I had jet black hair (now white). I still have a few pieces of my mother’s original dinner set – a cream Johnson set they bought after they were married in 1946 as well as some pieces of Staffordshire China including a yellow teapot that I would never part with. She always loved good china and glassware but sadly never lived to have the Royal Dalton Dinner Set she always wanted – I bought her a Royal Albert Tea Set when I started working. Thanks for reviving some lovely memories.

    • 28th April 2017 at 7:59 am

      Yes, I remember my mother slowly collecting a bone china tea set over the years and I still have two of the cups and saucers. They’re more for the memory of my childhood as I wouldn’t ever use them myself now – they’re too small! I do love a large cup of strong tea, but don’t use a mug, it’s always a large white cup – the things that stay imprinted!

      • 30th April 2017 at 8:50 am

        My mum started collecting as well – in Australia in the 60s they were called “crazy tea sets”…… that generation had it so hard – my dad was a Japanese prisoner of war on Burma Railway who met my mother after the war – life was tough for them and the nightmares lasted for his lifetime. I think our generation had the best of times due to their sacrifices……in Australia the younger generation can’t afford to buy homes and those of us who are retirees are finding the investments we thought would last our lifetimes aren’t going to make it…..

        • 3rd May 2017 at 11:21 am

          I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. Mine didn’t have nightmares as such but he was very damaged by the war – too long a story to tell. And I agree with you, I think the post-war generation really did have the good times, which our children do not.

  • 14th May 2017 at 11:16 am

    Tea = leaves = pot + leave to brew….and drink out of china not paper.
    So a tea bag in a paper carton (costing around £2) is not my idea of good cup of tea.

    I always put milk in last.

  • 15th May 2017 at 6:02 am

    We enjoy the miriad of loose teas we buy from our local supplier but for everyday we like M & S Breakfast teabags – made in a pot, one teabag will do two cups of mid strength tea! Mug or cup – but seems to taste better if
    they are bone china, the tea stays hotter.

Comments are closed.