Tea is a drink that fits almost every occation. Hot when you are cold, relaxing when you are tense, refreshing when you are tired, always a handy comforter ... Here follows a short introduction for those who have yet to see the light.

Some Terminology

When the boiling water has been added to the teapot the tea is said to be Wet, as in "I've just wet the tea" or "Is the tea wet yet?" When the tea is suitable for drinking (i.e. it's been wet for 3 to 7 minutes depending on variety of tea) it is said to be Drawn, as in "The tea should be drawn by now. Please pour me out a cup."


Always remember to prepare your tea properly.

The Water

You should ensure that the water used to make the tea is not "hard", i.e., it should have as little lime in it as possible. If you you find a light scum on top of your tea then this may be the problem. A sure warning sign of "hard" water is when you find the locals using an open saucepan for boiling their water rather than a kettle.

Solutions to this problem include investing in a water softner, migration, and the use of bottled water (but note that Perrier is unsuitable due to bubble confusion while boiling). Migration is the preferred solution, although in in extreme cases emigration may be necessary. This is a small price to pay for a good cup of tea.

The Teapot

There are two types of teapot - those that pour badly and those that pour well. It is essential to obtain the latter type. Factors which determine a teapot's suitability include origin, length, and cross section of spout, lid shape (A friend of mine bought a teapot in Eastern Europe, brought it home without breaking it, put the lid on, and didn't get it open again for two years), overall volume, and thermal conductivity. The characteristics of the handle are less important although they shouldn't be completely ignored.

The only way to find a good teapot is by trial and error. Simulation tools, finite element analysis and the theory of fluid dynamics seem to be of little use where teapots are concerned. This might explain why there are so many non-pouring teapots around.

It is essential that the teapot be thermally insulated from the time the tea is wet. The best way to achieve this is with a tea cosy (a hat for a teapot) and a teapot stand (a pedestal for a teapot).

The Tea Cosy

The cosy should be the correct size. Note that the spouts and handles of many teapots are such that a cosy with one hole (topologically a disk) is sufficient. Such a cosy can be removed and replaced with each pour. If a proper cosy isn't available, a thick towel folded around the teapot may suffice.

A teapot with tea in it should under no circumstances be heated or even warmed by any external source. Tea treated in this fashion is said to be "stewed".

The Teapot Stand

The teapot stand must be made of insulating material. A metal stand (of any temperature) is unsuitable for this purpose. A wooden stand is ideal. A minor side effect of having a good teapot stand is that furniture tends to end up with less dark rings burnt into it.


The permitted additives are milk, sugar, and lemon. Including milk AND lemon is inadvisable. The more exotic flavours of tea are best without additives.

Sugar is optional, but when included, should always be added after the tea and before the milk (if any). If you find undissolved sugar at the bottom of the cup or mug after drinking then you are either using too much sugar or not stirring hard enough.

Milk (if used) should be cow's milk. (Discussion on the sorely missed alt.cows.moo.moo.moo please).

Many people will pour milk directly into a boiling cup of tea; this scalds the milk. Scalding the milk will add a mild but unpleasant flavor to the tea. The ways of avoiding this are many and varied.

One way is simply to mix the sweeteners in a cool (room temp will do) tea cup with a very small amount of tea, allowing the tea time enough to cool in the cup. Once the tea has cooled some, you can add the milk. Pour a slow stream of tea down the side of the cup while rotating the cup and pouring down a cool face of the side (cooling the tea) in order to cut the milk to a lower concentration (1/8 or less) before adding the rest of the tea. Alternatively you can pour the tea down the back of a spoon (silver, gold, thermally conductive plastic, no steel or tin).

Another method is tricky but can work if your in a rush: having poured the cup, scoop up some tea in a spoon, hold the spoon tilted ever so slightly toward the outside of the cup, touching the side of the cup, and very slowly pour the milk into the spoon. The spoon will overflow, allow this, but as soon as the contents of the spoon appear to be mostly milk stir quickly at the tea and repeat as necessary. Although the second method may seem complicated and time consuming, it is easy to get used to and can be done in less than ten seconds if you have the milk handy (and aren't adding many tablespoons of milk to the glass).


After adding sugar and/or milk the tea should be stirred with a teaspoon. The stirring can be done in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction, but not both (believe it or not, they would cancel each other out - I've seen it done with ink blobs). Speed of stirring isn't critical. The production of a vortex (or malström in Scandinavia) about one third the depth of the cup or mug will do.

If you do use sugar, it's best to stir the tea before as well as after adding the milk. This makes the sugar disolve quicker and has the added bonus that if you get disturbed during the ceremony, return later and can't remember whether you've added the sugar or not, then all you have to do is examine the surface of the tea - if it's moving in the right direction, then you know you've added and stirred the sugar. Note that if you can't remember whether you've added the milk or not, then something is very wrong.

The cup or mug

Some sort of glazed pottery or china is best. Plastic or styrofoam cups are only to be used in emergencies. While the ideal size of cup varies with personal tea drinking habits, the serious tea drinker will demand that the handle be large enough to accommodate at least two and possibly three fingers. A circular cross-section is almost mandatory for correct stirring effect. The walls of the cup or mug should be thick enough to keep the tea hot for a reasonable length of time, and to protect it from careless non-drinkers.

In an office environment it is essential to guard your mug jealously. In some workplaces it may be advisable to keep the mug about your person at all times.

Tea as an analgesic

Tea which has been allowed to cool is very good for relieving pain due to sunburn. Just dab the cold tea on the affected area with cotton wool or similar.

Tea as an organic fertilizer

In Ireland, a company is making potting compost out of used tea leaves, and selling it to gardeners.

Tea as a cosmetic

Keep the cucumbers for sandwiches on the lawn, lie back and place one discarded teabag over each eyelid. Very refreshing in the afternoon (or so I'm told).

Tea as a recreational drug

When my mother was a child she and some of the other kids borrowed her grand aunt's pipe one day, filled it with tea leaves, lit it, and passed it amongst themselves. Suffice it to say that none of them smokes tea now.

Recommended Flavours

Always avoid unnatural teas, with the myriad of flavours that overflow the market, ranging from strawberry to mint and liquorice. Look for the pure tastes. Tea tastes just fine all by itself. E.g., try There are two flavors that might be honored, although they are synthetical, and they are Finally a warning. Do whatever you can to avoid Finnish Christmas Tea. It is the one single kind of tea that has to be classified as totally undrinkable. Scented with orange, clove, and cardamom. It simply defies all description. Fortunatelly extremely rare on the market.

Did I hear Tea Bags from someone in the audience? No, I though not. Let's leave it like that, shall we?

Feeling tempted? Have a look at the ecxellent selections at The Tea Centre of Stockholm, or why not try ordering some really good from Todd & Holland Tea Merchants, via the Internet?

If you happen to understand the strange language of Swedish, I can recommend the page called Tebladet (the tea leaf), made by the Swedish tea importers Kobbs Te and Tespecialisten. Much relevant and interesting information there.


A million thanks to Fergal Suipeil, who contributed all text about tea equipment and water! A tea master of rank!

Thanks also to Patrik Fältström, for finding the URL to Todd & Holland, and to my wife, Lena, for the Tebladet pointers.

Special thanks also to Asa Bender for the hints on how to properly add milk to your tea.

Have you got any more info on tea? Please, tell me!
liman .at. cafax .dot. se

Page updated: 2005-11-02 /Liman.