Special Edition: How To Make The Perfect Cup Of Tea

In amongst this plethora of posts about expat life in Chile, I thought it would make a change to inject a touch of the familiar back into the blog.  What better way to do this than talk about tea.  I must put a disclaimer in at this point, and say that it probably won’t make you a perfect cup of tea, not least because the term is a subjective one anyway.  So really, this post is about how I make tea (assuming that I have the time, energy, and inclination to do it properly, which I’m afraid is usually not the case – I know, I’m the worst Englishman ever, don’t judge me).  With that in mind, the most accurate title for this entry would be “How I Should Make A Cup Of Tea If I Want To Do It Properly”, but I’m sure you’ll all agree, that it’s not quite as catchy as the title I opted for (not that it is that catchy anyway).

Anyway, pointless and irrelevant preamble aside, let’s get on with it.  In true Blue Peter style, I am of course drinking “one I made earlier” as I write this.

For this exercise, you will need the following items:

1. Tea leaves (not bags, and it has to come from Camellia sinensis).  Herbal “tea” isn’t tea (an analogy would be saying your glass of wine was a type of beer). “Ooo, I love this delicious wine beer” sounds rather silly doesn’t it?  Anyway, all flippancy aside, you get my point.

2. A kettle.  Electric is easiest, but if you have a metal one, and want to boil it over a wooden fire, then that’s equally fine. 

You at the back!  Yes, you! Don’t you dare even think about using a microwave!

3. A teapot

4. A mug (or a cup and saucer, I don’t really care, but it depends on number 8 – see below)

5. A tea cosy (optional)

6. A jug of cold milk/bowl of white sugar (granulated or lumps) – brown sugar is for coffee (also optional)

7. A supply of water (not optional, but it being free of contaminants is highly recommended)

8. Biscuits (optional, but your best bet would be rich teas, digestives, hob nobsor ginger nuts).  If you go for biscuits, the cup and saucer arrangement is better, as the saucer can hold your biscuit as well as the cup of tea.

9. A tea strainer (to catch all the leaves, unless you like eating them/plan to “tell someone’s fortune” – although we know that’s a load of old cobbler’s – and yes, that apostrophe is deliberate, I checked)

Right, shopping list out of the way, what do you do with all this stuff?


1. Empty the kettle, and add new water.  Then boil the water.

2. Put boiling water into the teapot.  The teapot has to have no tea in it at this stage.

3. Boil kettle for a second time.

4. Empty hot water from the teapot, and add tea leaves to it.  The number of teaspoons of tea leaves you need to add is one per person, and one “for the pot”.  (i.e. n+1 spoons where n = number of people for you Mathmos out there).

5. Add boiling water to pot, and leave to brew (length of time varies according to how strong you want your tea, but don’t leave it too long, as you don’t want it to stew).

6. Putting the strainer over your cup, pour the tea in.

7. Add milk/sugar to taste.  I know I’m provoking a huge row of monumental proportions here, but it’s definitely better to add milk afterwards (as then you can control how milky your tea is.  If you add it before, and you put too much in, then you’re stuck).

8. Put tea cosy over pot (if applicable).

9. Enjoy your nice cup of tea.

I can’t advise on biscuit dunking techniques I’m afraid, as I’m rather lacking in those skills.

Anyway, that’s my guide on how to make nice tea :).

Special Edition: Old Letters (or the Four “Billy No Mates” of the Alphabet)

I like old stuff, really old stuff.  Walking around this marvellous city, nothing seems more exciting than the most ancient parts (Peterhouse’s 13th century Hall – see my previous post “Living La Viva Loca“, Corpus Old Court for example – built 1350, and the Round Church from circa 1130).  The amount of history that they have witnessed is simply staggering.  At home in Surrey, things are just the same.  There’s a church in my town that was built in 1095, and two of my local pubs were established in the 14th century (although I don’t just like them for their history – they do some solid real ales and pretty decent food too, but I digress).

Perhaps this interest in the past is where I get my fascination with my own genealogy from, and why I think Archæan geology is the most interesting?  There certainly does seem to be a pattern.  My favourite rock in my collection is my 2.7 Ga (or 2,700,000,000 years old for you non-geologists) Lewisian Gneiss that I picked up on the trip to Skye last June/July.

Anyway, all that aside, it is my rather archaic and outdated orthography that has prompted this inaugural special edition.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that I enjoy using “æ” (capital “Æ”) in my writing (both typed and handwritten) to denote “ae” (or simply “e” for those of you from North America).  I decided to do some digging around to see if this delightful character had any chums, or whether it would instead be classified as being “forever alone”.  At this point I feel it would be somewhat prudent to bung in a quick disclaimer, as I am not even remotely close to being any sort of linguistics expert.  If any English or ASNaC students are reading this, and there are major errors, please let me know, as I’d like to be accurate!

The first revelation I came across was that “æ” (named “ash”) used to be in the Old and Middle English alphabets, but its current usage in words such as “mediæval” is merely a combination of “a” and “e” (in linguistics speak, this combining of letters is apparently called a “ligature” – no I hadn’t heard of that word before either) rather than “æ” sensu stricto.

Nevertheless, there are several other letters that have sadly been culled over the past 1,000 years.

The first of these dearly departed friends is named “eth”, or (as an alternative spelling) “eð”.  This probably gives you a clue as to what this letter looks like – “ð” is the lower case, with “Д being the capital. It was used to denote a “th” sound (such as in “thank you”), and is still, like ash, used today in modern Icelandic.  “Д lost the popularity contest at some point in the 13th century, and was replaced by our next character.

This cheeky chappy replaced poor old eth, but only lasted about 200 years.  Given that it replaced eth, it had the same pronunciation.  So, allow me to introduce – “þ” (lower case), “Þ” (upper case), or, for those to whom he is yet to be acquainted – “thorn”.  Thorn is also used in modern Icelandic (although I don’t see why both eth and thorn are needed if they’re pronounced in the same way, perhaps someone who speaks Icelandic could comment below).

Third in our rogues’ gallery is the letter “wynn”: “Ƿ” (capital), “ƿ” (lower case).  Wynn was used for “w” sounds, until it got replaced by “uu” which then became “w” – hence why “w” is called “double-u”.

The final letter in this line up is named “yogh” (pronounced “yog” as in “yoghurt”, or “yoch” with the “ch” like that in “loch”).  Yogh looks like “Ȝ” in its upper case form, with “ȝ” as its lower case.  This letter’s pronunciation was quite hard to find, as I had to sift through (i.e. ignore) lots of strange sounding terms that only linguistics students are fond of.  Finally, I found out that yogh was used as a “g” (as in “bag”), and as a “y” sound that’s written as a “j” (as in “Jarlsberg” – which is an excellent Norwegian cheese for those of you unfamiliar with it).

So, there you have it, four abandoned letters from English.