The perfect cup of tea requires “patience, love and care”, apparently – as well as, surprisingly, a little bit of hard water. In an exercise at this month’s Cheltenham Science Festival, University College London chemistry professor Andrea Sella and Taylors of Harrogate tea buyer Simon Hill examined the various factors that go into the optimal cuppa.
First, rather than a disposal polystyrene cup, a china cup or mug should be used as they have smooth sides that the tannins in tea can’t stick to (as well as making a musical tinkling sound with the spoon). Next, freshly-drawn water should be used rather than water that has been previously boiled, as the longer water has boiled for the less oxygen it contains, making it harder for the tea leaves to impart their flavour.
Perhaps surprisingly, the experts also recommended using slightly hard water for tea making, as the minerals reacting with the tea give it a little bit more flavour and body. The water should be left to stand for a few seconds after boiling, although with more delicate and white teas it should be allowed to cool to 80 degrees C before pouring.
Another long-standing debate was resolved when the experts recommended adding the milk into the cup first (in a 1:20 milk-to-tea ratio, no less) as it binds with the harsh tannins and makes the drink smoother. Brewing time should be between three and five minutes to allow the flavour to develop, and then the tea should be left to stand to cool to 60 degrees C – the optimum sipping temperature.
Hard water is something of a controversial subject when it comes to hot beverages, as many people dislike the residue that forms on the tea’s surface. It’s also certainly not the best for your kettle, leaving limescale which over time makes it less efficient and costs you more in energy bills! If you’d prefer to give soft water its due, find out how worthwhile it is to order a water softener from Harveys!