/ Food & Drink

How do you brew the perfect cup of tea?

There’s nothing like a good cup of tea, but what makes the perfect cuppa? Is the teapot a must or is your favourite brew made best in a mug? And would you let a machine make it for you?

With 98% of tea bought as tea bags, I’m with the minority when I get the teapot out for guests.

Apart from making it a bit of a special occasion, I find it’s easier to let people decide for themselves how long to let the tea brew, and whether they want the milk in the cup first, added afterwards or not at all.

Looking for a good tea? Read our taste test results to find the best and worst teas.

Going to infini-tea and beyond

In our recent taste test of 36 English Breakfast and Earl Grey top-notch teabags, we were able to use the professional tea tasting facilities at tea brokers Reginald Ames Ltd.

Our experts added exactly the same amount of boiling water to each tea using special lidded mugs and allowed them to brew for the same length of time. After three minutes, as soon as the timer sounded, the tea was poured into the tasting bowls – tasted both without milk, and also with the exact same amount of milk.

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Is it tea you’re looking for?

However, I have to say that I’m definitely a lot more slapdash in real life and I don’t always have the patience or time to let my Rosie Lee brew.

There’s an interesting development in tea world – you can now buy tea pods and capsules to use in coffee makers. Since they’ll brew a tea in just 30 seconds, I’m very tempted. Not only is it speedy, but it’s not really my fault if the tea disappoints.

We asked our expert panel to rate these machine-made teas – one or two of the pods weren’t too bad, though all of them were marked down for producing thin and watery tea.

Your region’s personali-tea

A cup of tea that doesn’t hit the spot because it’s too weak, too milky, or is strong enough to bend the spoon is always disappointing. But what makes a good cuppa?

When we asked Which? members for their favourite brand of tea we got different answers from different parts of the country. Northerners seem to prefer Yorkshire tea (19%) with Twinings in a close second (14%). While Southerners prefer to relax with a Twinings (16%) and put Yorkshire in second place (13%).

So here are a few questions for you to mull over while you sit down for a nice cuppa. What’s your favourite tea? How do you like to make it? And would you let a machine do the work for you?


Please spare a thought for those who have very hard water, which is not very good for tea. Coffee is less affected and the smell of ground coffee is wonderful.

For me, tea is a treat to be enjoyed when visiting people in soft water areas. 🙂

At our previous house we had exceptionally hard water but still enjoyed several cups of tea each day. Where we live now is not so hard but is still at the upper end of the scale (!) and we do drink three or four cups of tea every day. We spent a lovely week in the Yorkshire Dales in May this year where the water was soft and the tea was also very good.

I too have very hard water, but invested in a Brita Water Filter Jug with cartridges which extracts a large percentage of limescale and also takes away the ‘medicinal’ taste we get in this area from essential chemically induced additives such as chlorine. That together with a decent brew of Yorkshire Gold in a teapot makes a perfect cuppa. I understand it is considered socially correct by connoisseurs to pour the tea first before adding the milk but found my teacups became badly stained and were difficult to clean so now put the milk in first followed by the tea with a minimum of staining. The key is to gauge the right amount of milk which differs from person to person to get it right. A bit like the cream tea debacle I guess. Cream over jam or jam over cream?

I have just realised that I misread the question at the top of this Conversation, which – ungrammatical though it may be and not substantiated by the context of the article – clearly wishes us to come up with a novel way of currying favour with the Prefect. I did serve two years as a prefect but no one ever made me a cup of tea – and I probably would have poured it down the sink if they done so [out of suspicion of an evil intent].

When I first started work nearly fifty years ago there were quite a few ex-service personnel around and they frequently joked about the possibility that bromide was put in their tea during military service in order to suppress the fulfilment of their libidinous desires. I noticed that they had quickly recovered. I guess it forms no part of the modern brew but it’s probably just as well to use a water filter in case the authorities decide the population needs some corrective treatment.

Haha John. Just keeping you on your toes. Was worth it for your comment.

When I worked on the railways for 6 months after leaving school, tea was made in an enamel can – you just put sweetened condensed milk and tea leaves in it at home and then added hot water when you had your snap (food) at breaktime. Not a perfect cup of tea but drinkable.
Now. we use a traditional round pottery tea pot, three and a half heaped teaspoons of M&S Luxury Gold loose tea (forget tea bags), hard water, 3 minutes standing and you get a pretty good brew.

renniemac says:
20 October 2014

I live in Scotland therefore the water is lovely and soft .personally I prefer Twinning’s breakfast tea, and yes I’m afraid to say it, I use teabags. I heat the teapot first with some hot water, china teapot is best, I then put 2 teabags in the pot and pour in the hot water, never the other way around, makes for weak tea. nor do I like stewed tea. a nice golden colour is my preference. I also use a granite tile trivet that you put in the microwave for 3mins, this keeps the tea warm without further brewing, then pour the milk in the cup, I know! they say the milk curdles if put in first, but maybe unknowingly I like curdled milk as I prefer this method. then sit back to enjoy my beautiful cuppa. Mm mm.

Sophie Gilbert says:
23 October 2014

I’ve given up on ordinary tea. I don’t drink so much tea that I can’t afford the nicer stuff such as Tesco’s Finest Assam, Ceylon or Darjeeling (all in tea bags). I recently bought delicious Kenyan tea in loose leaf as well. Warm the tea pot, my husband says warm the mug if don’t use a teapot. Don’t let the water boil if you use delicate teas (it doesn’t matter if you boil ordinary tea to b), and the rest is up to you. Milk before tea or tea before milk? This is a similar question to the one Captain Haddock asks himself in one of the Tintin books: sleep with the beard over or under the blanket? There is one right answer per person.

I would ask my wife the Haddock question but I am a coward : )

I was intrigued that the type of milk was not explored as I find the creamier the milk the better the tea tastes – regardless of the brand!

renniemac says:
24 October 2014

dieseltaylor I use semi, but full for coffee. but I believe its all about personal taste.

Full fat milk is healthier : ) But yes each to their own.

As for so long skimmed milk has been held to be better it is going to take some effort to change perceptions. That the dairy industry can use the fat for cheese and butter making gives them an incentive to push the reduced fat versions.



” Full-fat dairy is a vital source of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K as well as calcium and phosphorus, the minerals that work with vitamin D for build strong bones.

But the term ‘fat-soluble’ means that these vitamins need to be delivered in or with fat for the nutrients to be available to the body. Taking the fat out makes it difficult or even impossible to absorb them.”

Perhaps it is a flawed argument that eating more vitamins and minerals is better, on the basis that someone in reasonable health and eating a reasonably balanced diet will be consuming more than enough and the rest goes to waste.

I just don’t use teabags and there is nothing like loose leaf tea. I mix two… Assam and Earl Grey and that’s just how I like it. Not everyone is sold on tea bags.

We use Ringtons tea, delivered to the door. They do a very good decaffeinated version as well. Must be made in a teapot and drunk from bone china mugs.