The English Tea Ceremony…or How To Make a Proper Cup of Tea

Lord luv a duck! I’m dying for a cuppa!

cup of tea,


All these teapots are mine!

Last week London suffered a terror attack. As with the other terror attacks across the globe; those by ISIS and the homegrown kind so common in the USA, I feel angry and helpless. 

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said that the threat of terror attacks are “part and parcel of living in a big city.”  He said this back in September, but it was requoted for this most recent attack. Some people found it upsetting. It’s  nice to pretend that such things are one-offs, but he is correct. It made me think of a story my father told me. 

cup of tea,

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or book long enough to suit me.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground.

My parents grew up in the south of England during WWII. Toward the end of the war Germany was sending over 100 V1 bombs across the Channel every day! The V1s were unmanned flying bombs, also known as Doodlebugs ( My father said that when you heard one, they had a distinctive engine noise, you stopped whatever you were doing and listened for the engine to cut out. If it was still coming towards you when this happened, it was terrifying. The engine cutting out meant it was time for the bomb to land and blow up. If it was directly overhead, it was better but still, might “land” nearby. If it didn’t cut out you started to breathe again and got on with your day. These terrifying events were part of living in the south of England. No one was expected to like them or ignore them; You got on with what you were supposed to be doing whether that was going to school or delivering milk, so the system kept going and supporting the individuals whose job to was to deal with bombs or terrorists. The same goes for now.

cup of tea, www.moderngillie.comI found this meme that looks like a transport service announcement. It may not be real but it went viral and it got it exactly right!

cup of tea,

“As the message drained away Vimes stared at the opposite wall, in which the door now opened, after a cursory knock, to reveal the steward bearing that which is guaranteed to frighten away all nightmares, to wit, a cup of hot tea.*
* The sound of the gentle rattle of china cup on china saucer drives away all demons, a little-known fact.”
― Terry Pratchett, Snuff

To honor the dead, wounded and all the good people drinking tea and carrying on I am sharing how to make a proper cup of tea. 

The ritual of tea is fascinating. Everything stops for tea. cup of tea,

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated the the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”  – Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

I was taught to make tea by my grandfather. 

He was a coppersmith and during the war, he had to be discharged from the army because he was needed by the Royal Navy and RAF as well as the army to do coppersmithing. Once you are an army coppersmith you aren’t allowed to work for the other arms of the military. They had to make him a civilian consultant and transported him all over the place. He took a good cup of tea very seriously. 

cup of ta,

“A simple cup of tea is far from a simple matter.” – Mary Louise Heiss, The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide

Step 1. Fill the kettle with cold water. Cold water has more Oxygen dissolved in it and will make better tasting tea. 

Step 2. Scald the pot. Fill the pot with hot water. By preheating the pot you keep the water you pour over the tea leaves closer to 100C longer. This is important for black tea because black tea is fermented and rolled and requires the high heat to unfurl and release maximum flavor. 

Step 3. Catch the kettle BEFORE it comes to a complete boil. It takes practice but you can catch the water as it approaches a full boil. According to Grandpa Reg, the water loses flavor when it reaches a full boil. I wasn’t sure about this but he had been making tea for a lot longer than me and the British take their tea very seriously. A few years ago I watched the movie Red Cliff ( It is about China during the Three Kingdoms period. The beautiful wife of the hero is an expert in the making of tea. It’s what high-class Chinese ladies did in those days. She describes the stages of boiling that the water goes through and which stage is correct for making tea properly. When the water reached a full rolling boil she was clear that it was no longer ideal for tea. So I stand over the kettle and listen. 

cup of tea,

Tetley tea bags – top
Loose English Breakfast Tea – left
Loose Chai tea – right

Step 4. Empty the hot water from the pot and put in the tea. The amount or number of bags depends on the size of the pot and the preferred strength. Grandpa Reg used loose tea: PG Tips. Loose tea requires a tea strainer. It also stained the cups something fierce. In North America, good loose tea is tough to find so we settle for Tetley Teabags which make a strong, tasty, cuppa.

Step 5. Pour the water over the teabags

cup of tea,

” But indeed, I would rather have nothing but tea.” – Jane Austen, Mansfield Park









Step 6. Place a tea cozy over the pot to maintain maximum heat.

Cup of Tea,

“A cup of tea would restore my normality” – Douglas Adams, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Screenplay.

Step 7. Wait for 5 – 10 minutes. Any longer and you have stewed tea, Yuck.

Step 8. Add milk to cups. There is a debate here. Some add milk second, others add both at the same time. (rumors are that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth subscribes to this method) In my house, we do milk first. My father claimed he could tell if the milk was added second. Adding milk to the hot tea may scald the milk whereas adding hot tea to milk gradually heats the milk without scalding it. I think my dad is a big princess sometimes and should be happy when someone makes him a cup of tea. 

Step 9. Pour the tea. Offer sweetener and a biscuit if desired. 


cup of tea,

“If you are cold, tea will warm you;
If you are too heated, it will cool you;
If you are depressed, it will cheer you;
If you are excited, it will calm you.” – William Ewart Gladstone

Do enjoy your tea!


cup of tea,
cup of tea,
cup of tea,

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19 thoughts on “The English Tea Ceremony…or How To Make a Proper Cup of Tea

  1. Torrey says:
    Love this post! So informative! I never thought about adding the milk first to prevent scalding or even not fully boiling the water. I will definitely be giving this a try as we are avid tea drinkers in this household. P.s. I couldn't agree more it is hard to find good loose tea leaves in the US!
  2. Cassidy Ann I am Salty says:
    I so needed this post! I have been wanting to learn about teas, even bought dried herbs and a steeping net etc, but have no idea what I'm doing! The heritage behind this is fascinating as well, thank you for sharing!
  3. Kirstie Ganobsik says:
    This is so fascinating - I love how you intertwined history with the tea lessons. As an unschooled American, I definitely benefited from these tips, and am going to give proper tea making a whirl!
  4. Andrea says:
    OMG! My Mom would die if she saw the amazing collection of tea sets you own! She collects tea sets as well. Absolutely gorgeous! The blue and gold one reminds of one I saw at Fortnum & Mason a couple of years ago, lol. I wish I had this post back in 2010 when I first traveled to London!! Thanks for sharing this! :)
  5. Diana says:
    I didn't know that loose tea stained cups. I've actually been looking into using loose tea exclusively from here on out because of the plastic liners in tea. I love this post, thank you for sharing your father's story!

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