How to Make Tea Like a Brit

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Do it wrong and you’ll never blend in. Do it right and we’ll love you forever. Yes, the art of making a decent brew is an integral one if you want to fit in with the locals in Great Britain.

Etiquette

1. Tea is social currency.

Asking someone “Do you want a cup of tea?” is the way we bond in Britain. It’s like talking about the weather or asking how someone’s holiday was – it’s just the done thing. If someone comes over to your house – offer them a cup of tea. If someone says it’s time for them to get going – offer them a cup of tea before they leave. If you’re watching TV with someone and an advert break comes on – offer them a cup of tea. If you’re heading to the kitchen to get yourself a drink – then for god’s sake OFFER THEM A CUP OF TEA!

2. “Tea” means one thing and one thing only.

Unless someone has specified, or you have a dazzling diversity of herbal teas on offer, “tea” is by default “the normal one” – that is, English breakfast tea, or “builder’s brew” as it’s sometimes known. It does not mean Earl Grey unless specified.

3. … Except when it means other things.

Ok, so actually I lied when I said “tea” means one thing. Some British people call their evening meal “tea” . Therefore, if someone asks if you want to come round for tea, you may want to clarify what they mean. If they do mean “tea” as in dinner , then you can expect a normal meal; it is not the same thing as “Afternoon Tea”, “Cream Tea” or “High Tea” (no one actually does these things, except maybe in a café on Mother’s Day for twee novelty factor).

4. It’s in the details.

If someone’s making you a cup of tea in the UK, it’s standard to ask “Milk and sugar?” and “How strong do you like it?”. If you’re making tea for someone else, be sure to do the same.

We Brits can be pretty particular about how we like our tea ­– whether it’s how long to brew it, how much milk we like, whether or not we take sugar (and if so, how many spoonfuls)  – but, once you’ve learned how someone likes their tea off by heart, you know you’ve crossed the friendship barrier. Yay!

Practicalities

1. Get your teabag right.

Outside of Britain, the major brands selling English breakfast tea seem to be Twinings and Lipton. I’m going to let you in on a secret: we don’t really drink those in the UK. Sure, people will get their herbal teas from Twinings and their ice tea from Lipton, but in everyday life we use teabags that have been bought in bulk, don’t have little labels on strings attached, and that don’t come individually wrapped. If you’re new to Britain, experiment with the different brands: Tetley, Yorkshire Tea, Clipper, and PG Tips. There’s a whole new world of discovery waiting for you!

2. Use a kettle.

A kitchen without a kettle is like… well, it just isn’t. If you try to make a British person a cup of tea in the microwave then they will be forgiven for throwing that tepid-excuse-for-boiling-water in your face.

3. A teapot is best.

Ok, so I’ll admit it (although it pains me): the teapot is becoming a bit of a dying art. It’s true, a lot of my friends (twenty-somethings in their first jobs and non-student houses mostly) do not actually own one. But trust me on this: tea made in a teapot is infinitely better (not to mention more economical on the teabags if you’re making more than two cups). Boil the water. Let it brew in the teapot for a good few minutes. Enjoy.

4. Milk in before or after?

The eternal question: when pouring the tea, do you put the milk in the cup before or afterwards? Well, fun fact time: there is no right or wrong way! Many tea-drinking Brits do, however, have strong opinions on the subject (based solely on what we grew up with – in much the same way as we debate the pronunciation of “scone”). Apparently putting the tea in afterwards was how the upper classes used to do it, purely to show off the fact that their china could withstand the raw, unadulterated heat of boiling water without cracking – unlike the plebs who needed milk to protect their crappy crockery.

Personally, I put my milk in first. Make of that what you will.

 

Do you have any tea-related tips or tales? Share them below.

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About Author

Leah Eades is a compulsive traveller and freelance writer, whose adventures so far include working in an Italian nightclub, contracting a mystery illness in the Amazon, studying at a Chinese university, and cycling 700km along the Danube River. She blames cheap Ryanair flights for her addiction. Having recently graduated with an English degree, she is currently based in Florence, Italy.

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