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Reg readers scuffle over the ultimate cuppa

Brews for all tastes, with a nasty dash of 'cofftea'

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As you can see, we're no nearer to identifying the ultimate cuppa, and as one commenter put it, it's pretty much a case of "brew what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law".

Nonetheless, we do need to identify key elements in the process if we're to formulate a test regime. The following are, in our opinion, the vital areas of consideration...

What tea?

We're never going to get a consensus on this one, so let's just serve up choice selection of reader preferences for your sipping pleasure.

Old man drinking cup of tea

Neil Barnes sips Lapsang Souchong

Roger Byrne offered: "Well I would always go for a pure Assam tea. There are some good blends about but none match the depth of flavour of a good Assam. It does have to be brewed properly of course, no dunking a teabag in the cup for a couple of seconds, as it takes time for the flavour to develop."

Assam proved a popular choice, although "if you can't get it (i.e. live somewhere outside the UK and India) then Ceylon would be my second suggestion" noted one anonymous participant. "Not as good as Assam but OK," he/she conceded.

Our own Neil Barnes, he of SPEARS board fame, voted for "Lapsang Souchong - prince of teas". Showing his age, he continued: "Gunpowder teas are acceptable; green teas or even Earl Grey in a pinch."

Jai reported his grandfather's divine DIY brew involves "one part Earl Grey to 3 parts English Breakfast". That's not exotic enough for Phil Launchbury, who's apparently a part-time chai blender:

50% Yorkshire loose leaf tea (hard water variety) – a really good basic tea
10% Lapsang-Souchong (for the smokiness)
30% Earl Grey (for the high notes)
10% (other) – varies depending on mood – can be Darjeeling or Russian Caravan tea or sometimes Gunpowder tea.

Other candidates included loose Russian Caravan (Guy Middleton), Fortnum & Mason's Jubilee blend (David Evans), Sainsburys red label bags (Nick Hardy), Betty's (only available in York, Harrogate, Northallerton or Ilkely, Mark Knebel Daniels notes), Make Us A Brew Tea Company's English Breakfast blend (Sam Smallwood), Twinings Earl Grey (Tim Johnson), Madura (a low caff black tea available in Oz, according to John Tserkezis), Barry's Tea (Frumious Bandersnatch) and, god preserve us, Oz Bush Wattleseed (mutatedwombat).

Bag or loose?

A teabag and loose teaAndrew Hill was unimpressed with my admission that I use teabags. He chided: "What sort of Englishman (or so I presume you are) prefers using bags to loose? It's the equivalent of preferring a Big Mac to a nice hand-reared Aberdeen Angus burger on freshly baked sesame buns."

Ketlan reckoned "teabags are for girlies", while Chris Miller instructed: "Never make tea from teabags - they're filled with the leftovers from making 'real' leaf tea and it will be crap."

Noted, although a lot of you insisted you haven't got time to be faffing about with loose tea, and it isn't always practical, especially when you're slaving away at the coalface.

Mug or cup?

A selection of mugs and cupsCups found little favour with our experts, with El Presidente frowning on their use "unless it's cha or otherwise ceremonial; high, cream etc".

Peter Taylor concurred: "The important thing to remember though is that it must be served in a mug. I can’t bear bone china, and fear I'd be laughing stock in the IT dept if I ever lifted a cup…"

Furthermore, Andy O'Rourke mandated: "You should use the same mug throughout the day without washing, the last cup of the day should be in a cup that has been thoroughly stained a bright orange colour :-)"

Preheat?

Steam coming from a boiling kettleTradition dictates (as indeed did my gran) that the pot must be pre-warmed with boiling water before the tea brewing commences, although plenty of you seriously doubt preheating has any effect on the resulting cuppa.

Alan Drury reminisced: "I come from a long line of tea-drinkers and my Mother and Grandmother would demand that the water be fully brought to boiling point, the pot scalded before use."

Merlinski entered the fray with: "People warm the teapot, so why not the cup? Essential as it also removes whatever evil contaminants left behind by the dishwasher's rinse aid."

Brewing time

A stopwatchA K Stiles pretty well summed up the "time according to taste" consensus, estimating "3-7 minutes in the pot with a cosy". This time scale was extended by an anonymous reader to 7-9 minutes, who explained: "Less than 7 isn't worth it, more than 9 isn't so good."

Andrew Moore favoured six minutes for his cafetière-brewed darjeeling/assam mix, exceeding the four minutes suggested by Identity for a African loose tea concoction. Seanmon served up a compromise, with "at least 5 minutes" in the pot (with tea cosy).

Overall, six minutes looks to be a good compromise (see ISO 3103, below), but we'll let you have a further say on the matter in due course...

Cow juice with that?

A cowOn the thorny question of milk/no milk, Peter Gallagher unhelpfully (or perhaps helpfully) suggested: "For the best cup of tea you need to get rid of the milk and replace it with whisky."

While this may be true if you're recovering from exposure to cofftea, a majority identified cow juice as a vital ingredient of a classic cuppa, although there was little agreement on whether it should be full-fat, semi-skimmed or skimmed. Apparently, though, there are scientific considerations here, as El Presidente illuminated: "Full fat milk but not too much because the lactose takes away the bite of the tannin."

Rather less scientifically, the appropriately-monikered Irongut came in guns blazing with: "FULL FAT MILK ONLY! None of this hemi demi semi skimmed shite."

John Tserkezis chanced his arm with his choice of "cold soy milk", while an anonymous expert wisely cautioned: "Never use condensed milk."

Milk when?

A hand milking a cow into a cupSo, does the milk go in the drinking receptacle before or after the tea? You may dismiss this as a matter of small import, but you'd be wrong.

Charlotte Davies summed it up thus: "The milk goes in first, and then the tea."

AJ MacLeod agreed: "Milk is definitely best added first, you just need to learn how much to add for your particular tea and brewing duration."

Alan Drury popped up again, explaining that his mum and gran insisted "the milk should always be put in the cup before the tea was poured". He adds: "They both used to swear blind that they could taste the difference if any part of this procedure was omitted."

Frumious Bandersnatch was on hand to explain: "Absolutely need to put the milk in the cups first, otherwise you scald the milk. You might not believe this, but do a blind taste test and I think you'll be able to tell the difference.

Obviously, the above applies only to a teapot scenario. Nobody in their right mind would put milk in first when making a brew in a mug with a teabag, would they?

Chillingly, they would, as a shaken Andrew Cope told us: "Whatever you do do not do what my colleague does. He puts the milk in immediately and has even been known to put the milk in with the tea bag while waiting for the kettle to boil."

Well-travelled readers will confirm the this horrific practice is the tea-making method of choice in pagan lands, where puny teabags of suspect origin are dunked in lukewarm water to produce an affront to civilised tastebuds.

Drawing a veil over this barbaric practice, we can proceed to...

Sugar?

Teaspoon with lumps of sugarAdded sweetness is a matter of taste, but it provokes strong opinion. Kieran Holland was pretty clear on this one, thundering: "NO SUGAR - The taste of sweet tea is only something I can stomach if I’m camping, and its bloody cold, and someone else made it."

John Robson agreed, noting: "Sugar is an abomination unto Nuggan."

For the opposition, Putters mandated no less than three sugars. He is presumably not a member of his local Diabetic Tea Lovers Association.

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