How to Make a Good Cup of (Black) Tea

Christopher Hitchens knew how to make tea
Christopher Hitchens

The only good cup of tea you can get in America is the one you make yourself. Never again will I order tea at Starbucks. Two bucks for a teabag and a cup of water not suitable for infusion is outrageous!

The late Christopher Hitchens shared my frustration and wrote a fantastic article on the subject. It boils (pun intended) down to one basic rule: use boiling water.

Keep in mind, it’s black tea, particularly ‘breakfast tea’, to which I’m referring. Green and other more delicate and complex teas should be brewed at temperatures below boiling.

Purists may tell you that only loose leaf tea will do. While I agree that loose tea is the best way to go, I’ve made plenty of good cups with teabags.

When I first began drinking tea, I wanted to make sure I was following established traditions like warming the teapot (assuming you use a teapot). Hitchens thinks this is a must. I say do it if you want, but you probably won’t be able to tell the difference.

Another minor disagreement I have with Hitchens concerns the inclusion of milk, which not all tea requires of course. He wasn’t a fan of pouring the milk in the cup first, and he suggested using milk with the least amount of fat. With regard to the former, do whatever makes you happy (again, this really only applies to those who use teapots). As for the latter, do yourself a favor and try using whole milk — it truly makes for a great cuppa.

If needed, I suggest using honey as a sweetener. It goes well with tea and offers some additional health benefits — chief among them is its antibacterial qualities — that sugar doesn’t provide.

When ordering tea at Starbucks, Hitchens would insist upon boiling water. I disagree with this too. Instead of holding up the line and confusing the poor baristas, I order a cup of steamed skim milk. It does a body good.

*Photo courtesy of Guardian News and Media Limited