How To Brew That Perfect Cup of Tea

We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom before:  to brew a pot of tea, throw in one teaspoon  for each cup and then add one “for the pot.” Others might say to use a level teaspoon for black tea, but use more (say 1.5 teaspoons) for green and white teas, because they’re more delicate than black.

Here’s the problem with that way of thinking: a teaspoon is a measure of “volume.”  Tea comes in so many shapes and sizes that measuring it by volume may not be the best approach.  Take Chinese gunpowder for example – this is a charred green tea that is tightly rolled into small pellets (that resemble musket shot). Chinese gunpowder is so densely packed that a teaspoon of it is going to weigh significantly more than a teaspoon of a large, full-leaf tea.  By using the teaspoon as your yardstick, inconsistent tea brewing is pretty much “baked in the cake.” Continue reading

The History of Afternoon Tea

The Blue Drawing Room where Anna Russell entertained guests for Afternoon Te

The Blue Drawing Room where Anna Russell entertained guests for Afternoon Tea (image credit: Woburn Abbey)

First let’s distinguish between the idea of tea drinking in England, and the more elaborate ritual of taking afternoon tea (a light meal), which evolved much later.

When and how did tea become so popular in England? Portugal was probably most responsible. In 1662, when Charles II married a member of the Portuguese royal family, Catherine of Braganza, she brought tea with her as part of her dowry, and tea soon became the official court beverage in the 1660’s. At that time, tea was scarce, expensive and highly taxed – a rare luxury good that only the aristocracy and upper classes could afford.

The powerful East India Trading Company began providing King Charles II with small gifts of tea from China for Catherine in order to curry his favor and perhaps win special rights and privileges for the company, which may have included a near monopoly on tea imported from China.    Continue reading

What Is Clotted Cream?

Tea time, with scones, clotted cream and jam

Tea time, with scones, clotted cream and jam

First of all, it’s clotted, not whipped.  Secondly, it’s a rich and creamy dairy product that most people associate with England, but is now available widely around the world.  Thirdly, it’s a luxury item that is usually spread on scones, desserts and fresh fruit, especially at afternoon tea taken in the English tradition.

Clotted cream is made by pouring fresh milk into a pan and then letting it sit for several hours, allowing the cream to rise to the top.  Then it’s simmered over low heat until clots form on the surface, trapping the cream inside. The clots are then skimmed off to make clotted cream.  The signature golden hue comes from the butterfat content in the whole milk.

Some sources claim clotted cream first originated as early as 16th century England, while others indicate the 19th century.  In any case, it seems clear that it arose as a method for preserving excess milk supplies, at least for a few extra days. Since that time, the process for making it has barely changed. Continue reading