Pour a Proper Cup of Tea Today for Christopher Hitchens
He had divisive opinions and a rare mind, but the late, great Christopher Hitchens also, from time to time, deviated from politics, culture, and history to examine other important issues including film, filmmakers, and -- importantly! -- how to make tea. Pour one out for Hitch today -- the proper way, no dunking -- with his wise words from last year.
"If you use a pot at all, make sure it is pre-warmed. (I would add that you should do the same thing even if you are only using a cup or a mug.) Stir the tea before letting it steep. But this above all: "[O]ne should take the teapot to the kettle, and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours." This isn't hard to do, even if you are using electricity rather than gas, once you have brought all the makings to the same scene of operations right next to the kettle.
It's not quite over yet. If you use milk, use the least creamy type or the tea will acquire a sickly taste. And do not put the milk in the cup first--family feuds have lasted generations over this--because you will almost certainly put in too much. Add it later, and be very careful when you pour. Finally, a decent cylindrical mug will preserve the needful heat and flavor for longer than will a shallow and wide-mouthed--how often those attributes seem to go together--teacup. Orwell thought that sugar overwhelmed the taste, but brown sugar or honey are, I believe, permissible and sometimes necessary.
Until relatively few years ago, practically anything hot and blackish or brackish could be sold in America under the name of coffee. It managed both to be extremely weak and extremely bitter, and it was frequently at boiling point, though it had no call to be. (I use the past tense, though there are many places where this is still true, and it explains why free refills can be offered without compunction.) At least in major cities, consumers now have a better idea how to stick up for themselves, often to an irksome degree, as we know from standing behind people who are too precise about their latte, or whatever it's called.
Next time you are in a Starbucks or its equivalent and want some tea, don't be afraid to decline that hasty cup of hot water with added bag. It's not what you asked for. Insist on seeing the tea put in first, and on making sure that the water is boiling. If there are murmurs or sighs from behind you, take the opportunity to spread the word. And try it at home, with loose tea and a strainer if you have the patience. Don't trouble to thank me. Happy New Year."
- Excerpted from "How to Make a Decent Cup of Tea"
R.I.P. Christopher Hitchens. Leave your thoughts on tea making and other Hitchens concerns below.
• How To Make a Decent Cup of Tea [Slate]