Ah, tea! It can pep you up and calm you down. It can be enjoyed alone or shared with others. Its preparation can be as simple or as complex as you like. As luxuries go, it is pleasantly affordable, universally available and easily transportable. Research suggests that it is conducive to good health, and it doesn't leave you with a hangover in the morning. What a wondrous substance!
There is nothing wrong with dunking a tea bag in a mug, if that is what you prefer. However, the ritual of taking tea can be easily enhanced with some of the following.
Loose leaf tea
It really does taste better. Speciality tea shops are popping up all over the place, offering a range of plain teas and tea blends. I love Arctic Fire, in which black tea is mixed with mint and cornflowers -delicious! The best shops will have knowledgeable staff and allow you to smell and taste the teas before you buy.
I'm sure there is a PhD student out there who can prove me wrong, but I do think tea tastes better from a nice cup. Certainly the whole tea experience can be enhanced by using something that you love the look and feel of.
Charity stores, antique shops and sites like ebay are a great place to pick up gorgeous pieces at a reasonable price. I have managed to acquire sets of four patterns: two of 1930s Royal Doulton in smooth creamy china, and two of Noritake, so fine I can see the light shining through them. Such a glorious abundance of choice!
"How many teapots do you need to be happy?" asks my husband. "I'll let you know when I get there," I reply. I currently own seven, including a silver one, two vintage Royal Doultons and one shaped like a Tardis. A teapot is ideal for bulk tea production, but there are also plenty of single-serve teapots around.
If you are putting loose leaf tea straight into the teapot, you will need a tea strainer. On a recent visit to London I picked up a lovely silver one in Fortnum and Mason (which, incidentally, is my spiritual home. I could happily spend the rest of my days there.)
Large tea infusers can be used in tea pots to reduce the hassle of getting the tea leaves out when cleaning it.
Small tea infusers are ideal for making a single cup of tea without a teapot. I find that the mesh ones leak a lot of liquid onto your saucer when you take them out of the tea, so I prefer the style pictured here. These make a proper tea experience easily transportable, being easy to stash away in a desk drawer, suitcase or picnic basket, along with a container of loose leaf tea.
There is something immensely comforting about a tea cosy; they invoke warmth and homeliness. They are relatively easy to make if you are the crafty type, but there are also many wonderful ones available for sale. Type 'tea cosy' into Google and enjoy hours of happy browsing.
A temperature-controlled kettle
Different styles of tea are best prepared with water of a particular temperature (see here). Previously, my tea-making routine would look like this: boil kettle, wander off and do something while it cools a bit, completely forget about it, discover the water is now too cold, repeat process. Then my darling husband ordered a kettle which allows me to set the temperature, and my life has been transformed! (Well, improved somewhat.)
A little something on the side
Biscuits, cake, little sandwiches...a cup of tea is best enjoyed with a bite to eat.
High tea is a fabulously relaxing way to entertain friends -whip up a cake and a few sandwiches, open a packet of good biscuits, and you are all set. Even simple food looks fancy served on beautiful plates or a tiered cake stand.
Click here for my Nan's super-easy cake recipe.
Well, after all of that I think we both deserve a cuppa. Shall we pop the kettle on?