There are numerous books and websites on how to prepare the perfect cup of tea. There are even more sources on proper etiquette, like how a teacup should be held, and in which direction the teaspoon should be stirred. With all this information, most of it extraneous and 17th-century elitist, participating in afternoon tea might seem a bit daunting. “We do not believe in intimidating the customer,” Mueller assures. “In fact, there are no rules to drinking tea.”
There are, however, some general guidelines one can follow. With a full-bodied black tea, for instance, milk may be added to enhance the flavor. For an herbal tea, or tisane, like a lavender-lemongrass infusion, or a light, white tea, adding milk wouldn’t serve a purpose except to mask the delicate aromas. As for adding sugar, honey, or other sweeteners, it solely depends on the drinker’s taste.
Something that will undoubtedly enhance a tea-drinking experience: brewing loose leaves, not pre-bagged tea. At Teavana (The Westchester, 125 Westchester Ave, White Plains 914-328-3425; teavana.com), the staff measures the loose-leaf tea by the ounce. Loose-leaf tea ensures a higher quality tea, coming from the plant Camellia sinensis’ (the species of plant used to produce tea) buds, whole leaves, and leaf pieces. In pre-bagged tea, small tea leaves and tealeaf dust is more common, yielding an unpleasant flavor and harsh tannin.
Brewing loose-leaf tea is easy: Just purchase an infuser basket or a disposable filter, which can be found online. Measure 1 teaspoon of loose tea per 7-ounce cup in the strainer, pour boiling water over leaves into a cup, and let steep for the required time, which depends on your tea choice and desired strength.
Storing tea is even easier. Make sure you have a canister or container that is opaque, and fill it with tea leaves. Make sure the canister is sealed well, at room temperature, and in a dark place. Do not refrigerate or freeze tea, as this will destroy its natural properties.
How to Brew Tea
- Set table with china cups, saucers, silver teaspoons, forks, knives, sugar cubes, china milk carafe, linen tablecloth, napkin.
- Boil water in a kitchen kettle.
- Brew tea in china/silver kettle that will be used at the table.
- Put scones, cakes, tarts, and sandwiches on a three-tier server or on platters.
- When guests arrive, bring in the tiered server, and then bring in the tea kettle(s) with the brewed tea.