The British Way to Make the Best Cup of Tea

Grab yourself some Builder’s Tea and get brewing.

October  9, 2017

Though I swear by coffee, my earthy early morning stimulant, the tease of cooler weather brings with it a change of pace. As my apartment drops in temperature, I dust off my kettle and restock my tea cabinet. Unlike coffee, I can drink multiple cups of tea a day without feeling jittery; the warm water soothes my throat and my soul.

It is during this season that I seek to master the art of drinking tea. I look for answers and techniques to better guide my practice. How should I drink my tea? How should I prepare it? Today, I found my answers in a weirdly specific but usefully comprehensive guide to all things tea.

Originally published in 1980, the “Method for preparation of a liquor of tea for use in sensory tests” is a six-page set of standards developed in part by the British Standards Institution (BSI). In recent years, the resource resurfaced and garnered significant media attention. According to the BSI, tea drinking is an exacting science.

First: The guide advises milk drinkers to fill their mug with the desired amount of milk before pouring in the hot tea. This allows the milk to heat evenly when it comes into contact with warm water. To further prevent scalding milk, the water should be poured in at no hotter than 185° F. When brewing tea, the guide recommends a ratio of 2 grams of tea leaves to every 100 mL of water. The two should be allowed to infuse together for six minutes for optimal flavor. (The guide does specify what kind of tea, but since black tea ranks as the UK's highest-selling variety, we can assume black tea). The BSI goes so far as to specify tea making materials, noting that a teapot made from “white porcelain or glazed earthenware, with its edge partly serrated” is your best bet.

Whether or not this all seems a little exaggerated to you, some people take their tea drinking very seriously, so these guidelines might come as a welcome roadmap. But feel free to bristle at the dicta and opt instead to drink the way you desire! As my tea drinking days begin, I think I might give some of this advice a chance. I’ll start by finding the perfect pot

How do you take your tea? Tell us about any specific practices in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Julia B.
    Julia B.
  • Imogen Ebsworth
    Imogen Ebsworth
  • grimlin
  • Safstar
  • Michael Smith
    Michael Smith
Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


Julia B. May 21, 2019
It also depends where in Britain you're talking about -- some places add the milk first, others the tea first.
Imogen E. October 10, 2017
I always think it's funny when people unfamiliar with tea call instructions like the above 'elaborate' - right cos coffee culture isn't completely out of hand in terms of styles of drink, methods of brewing etc.

I can't say I do that method above exactly, but the basics - use leaf tea, let it steep sufficiently, warm your mug with a swish of hot water then add your milk first and tea last are hardly difficult.
grimlin October 10, 2017
Neat! I'll be trying these set of instructions. At our house for some herbals and straight up black tea: 1 tablespoon in 3 cups of boiling water in the smallest stainless steel pot I own (fits perfectly without measuring; also the only thing I bother brewing tea in as my family has an uncanny knack for breaking tea pots) for about 5 minutes, or longer when I forget about it as I chase after toddler and chores around the house. I have a strainer meant for a cup that fits into this pot perfectly so that I don't have to strain the whole pot. After I've been drinking tisanes for a while, I have to work my way back up to an english or irish b'fast style tea - those teas don't mess around!
Safstar October 10, 2017
I would add a couple of things here: One is after making your beautiful pot of tea please don't forget your strainer before pouring into the cup and the other is don't forget the accompanying biscuits, although whether you dunk or not is left entirely to individual preference!
Michael S. October 10, 2017
Speaking as a Brit, the method isn't going to be the issue for most Americans, the issue will be the tea itself. American brand black tea(e.g. Lipton) is astonishingly weak to the British palate. Seek out some twinings or Yorkshire tea and all will be well.