Cheryl St.John: The Perfect Cup of Tea

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. ” ~C.S. Lewis

cheryl_stjohn_logo.jpgI’m not an expert on types of teas. I just love tea and everything related, like china cups, chintz pots and pretty sugar bowls. We always associate it with the English, but tea originated in China over 5,000 years ago. The Chinese were aware of the health benefits we’re only beginning to recognize today. Later, Buddhist priests carried tea seeds to Japan. The first European to personally encounter tea and write about it was a Portuguese Jesuit Father in1560. The Portuguese developed a trade route by which they shipped their tea to Lisbon, and then Dutch ships transported it to France, Holland, and the Baltic countries. As far back as the 1600s tea was tremendously popular in France.

The first Queen Elizabeth granted permission for the British East India Company to begin trade routes and ports, which later led from spices to tea, cotton and other commodities. Coffee tea and chocolate were exotic beverages, which caused a revolution in drinking habits.

tea_table_Before tea, beer or ale was the preferred morning drink. At first valued for their curative powers, they were soon counted among the necessities of daily life, and the utensils used in their preparation and service became essential as well. The practice of tea drinking arrived in colonial America with colonists from both England and the Netherlands and was established by the mid-seventeenth century, evidenced by the number of tea wares recorded in household inventories. The earliest of these were undoubtedly imported from abroad, but American silversmiths began producing teapots by the start of the eighteenth century.

In the 1760s, the British imposed that pesky tax on tea, and colonists took to smuggling tea or drinking herbal infusions. Outraged merchants, shippers, and colonists staged demonstrations, culminating in the famous Boston Tea Party. Paul Revere’s ride and the first shots fired at Lexington were but a year and a half away.
tea-party-sandwichesPolitical hostilities were eventually resolved, and Americans once again enjoyed tea time. Moreau de Saint-Méry, a foreign visitor to Philadelphia in the 1790s, noted the warmth and hospitality of these events. “The whole family is united at tea, to which friends, acquaintances, and even strangers are invited.”

Queen Elizabeth II continues a tradition started by Queen Victoria in 1860 and opens the palace gardens once a year to host three afternoon tea parties, each attended by 8,000 people! I’m all for an afternoon tea party, but I usually plan something a little less grand.

In the late 1880’s in both America and England, fine hotels introduced tea rooms and tea courts. Served in the late afternoon, Victorian ladies and their gentlemen friends met for tea and conversation. These tea services became the hallmark of the elegance of the hotel, such as the tea services at the Ritz in Boston and the Plaza in New York.

teacups_In 1904 at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, trade exhibitors from around the world brought their products. A tea plantation owner named Richard Blechynden had planned to give away free samples of hot tea to fair visitors, but a heat wave hit. No one was interested. To save his investment of time and travel, he dumped a load of ice into the brewed tea and served the first iced tea.

Four years later, tea merchant Thomas Sullivan of New York developed bagged tea quite by accident as well. He wrapped samples and delivered them to restaurants for their consideration. The restaurants brewed the samples in the bags to avoid the mess of tea leaves, an a marketing opportunity was born. I must agree I much prefer bags over loose tea, too.

tea-partyIt’s difficult to get a good cup of tea while traveling or eating out, because restaurants serve you a cup of hot water and a teabag. Pooh. Real tea is brewed in a pot. True aficionados will even quibble over the type of pot and the blend of leaves.

How to make the perfect pot of tea:

Unless your tap water has a lot of chlorine, use tap rather than filtered water. Tea adheres to the minerals in tap water for a better flavor.

Make sure your teapot is clean and run HOT water in it and put the lid on so the pot is heated. A tea cozy is a good investment, but several insulated hot pads will do in a pinch.

I use an electric kettle to heat water, but for years I used a stovetop kettle or a heavy saucepan. Bring the water to boiling. (Unless you’re steeping green tea. With green tea, you want to extract the nectar, not cook the leaves.)

hall_crocus_large_8_cup_medallion_tea_pot_and_lidThe rule of thumb is one tea bag per cup of tea or person. You can estimate by measuring how many cups your teapot holds. I buy family size tea bags and I prefer Luzianne brand. To one family size bag I add one or two flavored bags, such as India Spice Chai, Bengal Spice or Apple Cinnamon, depending on how much flavor or spice I want.

When water is hot, pour standing water out of your teapot, place the teabags in and pour the hot water over. Place the lid on your pot and cover with the cozy or insulated pot holders to keep the heat in while the tea is steeping. This process is known as the “agony of the tea” and is quite beautiful to watch if you’ve ever seen it through a glass pot. Let stand for about 4 minutes.

When you pour your first cup, enjoy the aromatic scent. Sweeten if you like or add lemon or milk (not cream). There’s nothing like a steaming cup of fresh hot tea.

stjohn.jpgI drink three or four pots a day, summer and winter, and I much prefer it over coffee. Scones are my treat of choice when I host a tea party, but biscotti or a cookie will do. If you want to hold a tea party, simply pick up a few pretty cups and a tablecloth at your local thrift store. Set a vase of flowers on the table and enjoy the company of your friends.



+ posts

37 thoughts on “Cheryl St.John: The Perfect Cup of Tea”

  1. Hi Cheryl, what beautiful pictures, and the info is fabulous. I’m checking out the scone recipe next. I love a good cup of tea although iced is my favorite. While cleaning out my mom’s old house, I came across the lovely sterling silver tea service my dad got her for their silver aniversary…polished that baby up and it became the centerpiece for a tea party bridal-shower for my niece. Oh it was a fun day.

    I brought home from Boston a can of “Boston Harbor” tea, and I had very special “high” teas at Harrod’s in London and The Orangery at Kensington Palace (where Princess Di lived.) Oh, thanks for letting me relive some wonderful memories just now! oxoxoxoxxo

  2. Hello Cheryl. Great post! I love tea. Japanese green tea, with roasted brown rice added to the mix, is one of my favorites. I have a pair of beautiful cups given to me by a Chinese student of mine, and they’re perfect for sipping this delicate, nutty brew. And on a cold winter day there’s nothing like a cup of Earl Grey with a scone and strawberry jam. Now I’m off to check out your recipe…

  3. The pictures ARE beautiful. I’m sitting here drinking my orange-spice, which starts the day beautifully, and reading this made me feel as though I were sharing the pot with friends! 🙂

  4. it’s times like this I really wish I liked tea. I keep trying… although it’s been awhile so perhaps I should try again. 😛

    Now, some cocoa from a Victorian chocolate pot… that’s something different.

    And yes everyone–those are some of the best scones ever!

  5. Jennie, I LOVE Earl Grey! Now that you’ve brought it up I will make my next pot Earl Grey.

    Liz, I love the thought that we’re sharing a cup of tea! Mine is India Spice Chai. Your orange spice sounn yummy.

  6. Lovely post, Cheryl. Though I’ve been a coffee drinker practically since I could hold a cup–lots of milk and an itty-bitty bit of coffee–I enjoy a cup of good tea now and then. Sugar, no milk, please.

  7. Tanya, I am picturing your lovely heriloom teaset and what a beautiful occasion that must have been. An anniversary gift in us for a bridal shower. I know your niece loved the family tradition and the thought you put into it.

    I don’t have a silver set. I’m a China and ironstone collector. Each year I co-host at least one Christmas tea, when all my pots and cups come into use. I was just asked to make scones for the church ladies’ tea. 🙂

  8. Tracy, I used to drink a lot of coffee, but tea is easier for my digestion. I drink coffee when I’m out, but not so much at home. My favorite is to run into Bucky’s–do you have those? It’s a gas station–and get the 24 ounce coffee with hazelnut sweetener and a tad of cream. Yummmmm

  9. Hi, Cheryl. I loved your post. I’ve never been a coffee drinker, but give me a warm cup of tea sweetened with honey, and I feel cozy all over. And you can’t get more romantic than a delicate china teacup hand-painted with roses. Even sitting on a shelf they make me sigh. (Grin)

  10. Growing up in England, I’ve loved tea since before I could walk. My favorite is Prince of Wales for regular tea. India Chai spice for flavour. If you’re in the mood for something lighter try Lady Grey tea. Bags over loose every time. We used to have tea every afternoon when I was growing up. My electric kettle is on all winter (especially in Ne!) brewing delicious teas. Also, I love men who drink tea. Nothing so romantic as a rough gentleman’s hand holding a bone china cup. It shows that he treats delicate things gently. 🙂 Great topic, Cheryl.

  11. Cheryl,

    I truly love the pictures. I love tea too. I am checking out your recipe blog today. Tea can be drunk anytime of the day

    Thanks Cheryl for such a fascinating post

    Walk in harmony,

  12. I agree, Karen. I have several shelves of teacups on display. They just exude grace and romance, don’t they?

    Eve, you are definitely a romantic, and I agree about men and delicate china. Did you love the part in Open Range when Kevin Costner and Robert Duval tried to pick up the cups and looked at each other? Then Charlie Waite fell asleep, had a dream and woke in a start to break Sue’s mother’s china? She was so gracious – and he left money for a new set for her in case he got killed in the gunfight. :::sigh:::

  13. Thank you Melinda, and thanks for visiting my recipe blog. You can use the search feature up in the left hand corner. There are a lot of chocolate recipes–big surprise there, eh?

  14. This was quite interesting. Originally I really hated tea and I’ll tell you why – they only time I got it as a child was when I was really sick so I always associated the two. Finially I got to where I likerf it when eating Chinese out. Now I have been experimenting with different flavors but I’m afraid I am still just sticking a teabag into a boiling cup of microwaved water (you are probably suddering at that lol). I also add just a drop of honey sometimes. I’ll keep experimenting 🙂

  15. Hi Cheryl – My good friend started me on a setting out tea cups of different varieties on the table when I have guests over. She bought me the first two cups and saucers. I inherited a few from my mother and I’ve have fun buying just one or two from a set. Now I have a variety of them and when I have coffee or tea at my house, I let my guests chose what particular teacup they’d like. Every place setting is different, with different cups and saucers. It’s really fun. I’m collecting them now.

  16. I’ve read books that included a description of
    “teas” or “high tea.” They always sounded very interesting, but reading your descriptions give
    more insight into the rituals. It is all so very

    Pat Cochran

  17. Yup…on of my favorite things…”tea party” with my daughter. Complete with imaginary tea or “real” tea (usually water!)
    My grandma used to take me outside when I was a little girl…with a pitcher of iced sweet tea and we’d play tea party with those little acorn tops. Have you ever tried to pour tea into and then drink out of an acorn top? Challenging…but doable.

    What does this have to do with anything? Pretty much nothing…enjoyed the post! 🙂

    Oh, and just bought my copy of Her Colorado Man today! Whooo hooo! 🙂

  18. Lovely pics, lovely article — I’m enjoying a cup of darjeeling now as I blog browse. The next pot will be white peony. I, too, drink a lot of tea.

  19. Coffee to get the day started is my usual. Then I switch to green tea at work. At home I like flavored teas. At bedtime camomile. Sometimes when eating out I will have flavored iced tea.
    Since I am rather lazy, I prefer tea bags to make a cup at a time in my Garfield mug.

  20. I prefer lemon in my tea, if anything at all. I know some people put sugar and a dash of milk, but that dilutes the wonderful deep tea flavour. Except with Chai tea. To properly drink that, it should have honey and milk in it. I’m also currently obsessed with Moroccan mint tea. I’ve been drinking it non-stop lately. It’s good for the body and tastes yummy. Plus the whole house smells like mint. 🙂

  21. Such beautiful pictures, Cheryl, and I, too, wish I loved tea more when I see this kind of thing. I’m afraid the closest I get is coffee and even then I don’t drink that every day.

    Beautiful post, however. Makes me hungry. : )

  22. I am currently completely in love with TETLEY’S tea and TWINING tea. They are just different, better.

    You know how tea smells fantastic but really doesn’t have much taste? Well, these TASTE fantastic. And Tetleys has their tea bags in a really interesting little drawstring bag so you can squeeze the hot water out without burning your poor little fingers. I just love that they are worried about my fingers!!!!!!

    Lovely tea. I just bought Tetley’s Christmas Blend. Oh My Gosh. This is the best. The very pinnacle of tea creation.

    I drink a cup of hot tea every night around bedtime, part of the bedtime ritual for an insomniac. So I need decaf.

  23. Jeanne, I didn’t shudder, but I can recommend that you will enjoy tea much more if you make a pot. LOL

    Yes, tea is a feel good drink during sickness. My daughter drank it when she had the flu, and she doesn’t drink tea hot any other time.

  24. Pat, high tea is actually a heavy meal, rather than a light snack, but the term has changed meaning over the years to something that people think means fancy or elegant. It’s a big meal. Low tea is scones or biscuits and jam.

  25. A girl after my own heart.. A good cup of tea and a good book is my idea of heaven.. I use Tetaly tea bags.. but I boil my water first to heat the pot and then then bring the water back up to the boil.. I use both a tea cozy and a hot pad on the bottom.. Really keeps the tea hot.. And I always drink from good china cups or china mug.. I also warm my cup before drinking too.. I love to go to a favourite hotel to have high tea once in awhile.. There is just something so special about that… thanks for sharing this information.. was a great blog..

  26. Chai tea lattes are wonderful!! Brew your chai tea extra extra strong. Pour it over ice, add milk. If you want to add the honey, make sure you do it before it cools. Also, if you sprinkle a little nutmeg into the concoction, it tastes like liquid pumpkin pie. 🙂

  27. Never been to a TEA, but your table looks so pretty. Now I see what I have been missing.


  28. Hi Cher! I’m a coffee person, but I have a set of antique teacups that belonged to my grandmother. They’re among my true treasures. Great post! When I do drink tea, I like Orange Pekoe.

  29. Thank you for a lovely post. Am heading to your site for the scone recipe. We will be having a tea for our book club at our library and they will be perfect to serve.
    My husband’s grandmother came over from England when she was about 18. She enjoyed her tea with milk and would sometimes add a dash of brandy. An old english tradition.
    There is nothing as soothing as a hot cup of tea.
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  30. Thank you, Kathleen!

    I do love a pretty table, Edna. I am a bit of a dish fanatic.

    Wouold love to see your teacups, Vicki. Think of me when you unpack them and maybe take a pic.

    Thanks for visiting my recipe blog, Pat. You will love the scone recipe and so will your book club members.

Comments are closed.