How to make a cup of tea

by Rod Smith

The primary error of tea (hot tea that is) etiquette is to regard it as simply a drink. It is not. It is a way of life. It is an act of celebration. When served using good china, sipped with an appropriate mystical gaze and a small, appreciative twist of the lip (extended “pinky” is optional), tea drinking is the salute of an unseen army pledging allegiance to all things refined.

To prepare the perfect cup of tea, boil the kettle, and, while the water edges toward boiling point, place teacups and saucers at the ready. Unless you are drastically ill, on your very last legs, please do not use a Styrofoam cup, a coffee mug, or even a teacup without the saucer. Such lackadaisical tea drinking should be kept in utmost privacy, never displayed in public.

Place a sugar bowl (the teaspoons nestled next to the cup and on the saucer) and milk jug around the centerpiece teapot and wait, suspended with expectation.

At the first piercing shrill of the boiling kettle, which, by the way, is music to the ears of long-time tea-drinkers, agility of mind and body are required. Much is at stake in this very brief, urgent moment. From the kettle, tip half a cup of boiling water into the teapot. Swill it around until the teapot is warm, then, in one swift movement toward the sink, rid the warmed pot of the water. The teapot yet warm, lift the teabags from their container (using one bag for each guest) and toss them into the hot water.

As the tea draws or steeps, quiet chatter might be deemed appropriate within some factions of the tea-drinking community, although I was taught to always maintain awe-filled silence.

It is at this point that milk (a mere drop) is poured into each cup. Entire populations argue that the tea precedes the milk into the cup, but I hope it is clear on which side of this chasm I sit. A little tea is poured into the cups until each has been visited perhaps three times until they are seven-eighths full. This circular motion to fill each cup with each visit ensures all participants are served a cup of tea that is equally strong. As free, somewhat uninhibited chatter naturally flows among guests, offer guests sugar. Once again, know there are factions who consider the addition of both milk and sugar an act of severe sacrilege, but many people are often very wrong about much.

Finally, an offer of tea should not be refused. If you really do not want tea, the reply to “Would you care for a cup of tea?” is “That would be really lovely thanks; I will participate later.”

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