Jezebel contributor Jenna Sauers deflates the “rah-rah Rule Britannia stuff” of the Adams, Orwell, and Hitchens essays, strips out the ceremony, and explains the essentials of making tea:
The main thing — and the most obvious area of commonality between Hitchens, Orwell, and Adams — is that everything used in the making of tea must be very hot. All the warming and boiling and swishing of hot water can be made to sound complicated, but it’s actually operating on a very simple principal: Because the hottest brew is the most flavorful tea, the entire tea-making process is about taking the hottest possible elements, mixing them together in the hottest possible environment, and then preserving as much of that heat as possible as they infuse.
From Arthur’s Home Magazine, Vol. LIV No. 6, June 1886:
The Scotch do not say “make tea,” but “infuse tea,” which is more correct. Good tea is an infusion, not a decoction. By boiling the leaves, you get a bitter principle and drive off the delicate perfume of the tea. For this reason, the tea-pot should never be kept hot by letting it stand on the top of a cooking-stove, over a lamp, or where it is likely to be made to boil. Excessively bad tea is made by people who do not know better, by putting a small pinch of tea into a large kettle of water and letting it boil till they have extracted all its coloring matter, in which they think the goodness of tea consists. A metal tea-pot is better than an earthen one, and the brighter it is kept the better is the tea. Rinse the tea-pot with boiling water. Put in a bumping spoonful of tea for each person and one for the pot. Pour over it just enough boiling water to soak the tea. Let it stand a few minutes, and then fill up the pot with boiling water. Do not put in carbonate of soda to soften the water and make the tea draw better, i.e., to make a wretched saving of tea, unless you are in absolute poverty. The water, in fact, is softened by boiling, which causes it to deposit some of the matters it held in solution; witness, in long-used tea-kettles, the lime which settles at the bottom of many waters after boiling.
Multiple sources attribute this to Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong, though I haven’t located the original source:
Set an old three-legged teapot over a slow fire.
Fill it with water of melted snow.
Boil it just as long as is necessary to turn fish white, or lobsters red.
Pour it on the leaves of choice in a cup of youe.
Let it remain till the vapor subsides into a thin mist, floating on the surface.
Drink this precious liquor at your leisure,
And thus drive away the five causes of sorrow.
The start of a collection of How to Make Tea essays.
There is a very simple principle to the making of tea and it’s this – to get the proper flavour of tea, the water has to be boiling (not boiled) when it hits the tea leaves.
Christopher Hitchens (after Orwell):
If you use a pot at all, make sure it is pre-warmed. (I would add that you should do the same thing even if you are only using a cup or a mug.)
George Orwell (via Hitchens):
[O]ne should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about.