Just because you have your pinky up as you sip your Earl Gray doesn’t mean you’re doing it the right way. In fact, you’re doing the exact opposite. Although we’ve moved way past the Victorian era, every now and then it’s nice to observe the gentile traditional tea time practices of the past. Here’s how to sip and savor without making a fool of yourself (fancy hats and lace gloves optional):
Holding the cup
DO hold the cup in the palm of your left hand and move it towards your four fingers spread slightly apart. Using your thumb, steady the saucer on the rim.
Do handle the cup held with the index finger through the handle. Use the thumb above it to secure the grip and the second finger below the handle. The bottom of the handle should rest on your third finger and the rest of your fingers should naturally curve towards your wrist.
DON’T by any means extend your pinkie finger. It’s pretentious and even considered rude.
DON’T cradle the cup in your palm when it has a handle. Also avoid lifting the saucer with the cup.
Swish and stir
DO swish the spoon carefully and silently back and forth without touching the sides or the rim of the cup. Place the spoon on the saucer behind the cup to the right of the handle.
DON’T sip from the spoon and never leave it in the cup.
DON’T swirl your drink around like it’s a glass of wine.
When the cup runneth over
DO unfold the napkin over your lap, ready for use. If you have to leave the table, temporarily rest the napkin on your chair.
DO request for a clean saucer if the tea spills. You can also fold a paper napkin and slip it under the cup to soak up the spill. Remove the soggy napkin and place it on another dish or waste bowl.
DON’T overfill your cup. Prevent saucer spills by filling the cup about three-quarters full.
DON’T make a fuss out of a spill.
DON’T blot your lipstick with the linen napkin.
DON’T place a used napkin back on the table before the meal is over. The host usually signals the close of the tea by loosely refolding the napkin and placing it on the left side of the plate.
Getting acquainted with the accoutrements
You may already be familiar with the teapot, sugar bowl, hot water kettle, creamer, sugar tongs, waste bowl, lemon plate, and lemon pick, but there are some paraphernalia that may leave you confused. Familiarize yourself with the following:
TEA STRAINERS are placed on top of the cup to catch loose leaves when pouring tea from the pot.
TEA INFUSERS (tea balls, tea makers, or tea eggs) are stainless-steel wire-mesh balls used to steep or brew tea in a mug or pot. Some teapots are designed with filters or infusion baskets. DON’T cram your tea balls with leaves to give room for the leaves to expand in the water.
CADDY SPOONS are used to measure and transfer the tea from the tea caddy to the teapot.
MOTE SKIMMERS are silver spoons with holes in its bowl used to transfer leaves from the caddy to the pot. Also known as MOTE SPOONS, they are used to skim off stray leaves. DO use the sharp point on its end to unblock the clogged spout of a teapot.
Know your tea
All true teas come from Camellia sinensis, a species of evergreen shrub, while any leaf, root, fruit, or flower that comes from a different plant is considered an herbal tea. For example, chamomile flowers and peppermint leaves are considered herbal teas, because they don’t come from the traditional tea plant. It’s important to distinguish between real tea and herbal tea since the flavor, health benefits, and nutritional characteristics vary from plant to plant.
The thousands of varieties can get overwhelming, but there are five major categories for true teas to know that can help when choosing your cup of tea. DO know that the categories are based on the fermentation process. Different flavors are brought out by selectively exposing the leaves to oxygen, a process known as oxidation or fermentation.
BLACK TEA is fully oxidized which gives it its rich, robust, and full-bodied flavor. Usually dark brown with a reddish tint, it’s a potent brew with a sweet citric taste. Black tea is known to help lower cholesterol and the risk of stroke and heart diseases. Rich in potent antioxidants like theaflavins and thearubigens, black tea is also known to lower the risk of cancer.
DO drink your black tea with milk and sugar. Although black tea can be taken plain, the strong-flavored brew tastes better with milk and sugar. Milk tones down the tannin in the tea. DO pour the milk first before the tea to bring out a richer flavor. This will also prevent the discoloration of the cup.
GREEN TEA undergoes minimal processing so it maintains its vibrant color—usually a pale yellow or grassy green. The Chinese style of processing produces a wide array of flavors from grassy and sweet, to floral and fresh, nutty and roasted, to citrus or smoky with a lighter body. Green tea is rich in one of the most powerful antioxidants: epigallocatechin gallate, which helps promote better health and weight loss. Greens are also known to aid in brain function and help lower the risk of cancer.
DO follow directions carefully when brewing green tea as it can easily go bitter.
OOLONG, a favorite among connoisseurs, is a blend of green and black tea. High quality oolongs are known to be the most expensive of all varieties. Those with a deeper concentration of black are usually amber colored with notes of fruit, dark chocolate, and roasted sugar. Less oxidized varieties are characterized by lighter bodies, floral aromatics, and golden green infusions.
DO brew oolong with whole loose leaves. Oolong in teabags don’t have the full flavor and benefits as they are mostly made up of dried up tea dust or fannings.
WHITE TEA is made of baby leaves and is rarely produced. Because it doesn’t undergo oxidation and made from the youngest shoots of the tea plant, white tea is known to be the healthiest of all varieties with the highest concentration of antioxidants and L-theanine, a rare amino acid found in high-quality varieties. Whites are appreciated for their complexity, subtlety, and natural sweetness. Health benefits of white tea include reduced risk of cancer and cardiovascular disorder. It’s also known to help improve oral and skin health, relieve stress and anxiety, and help lift the spirits.
DO brew white tea under very low temperature and steep under a short time to produce less caffeine. For higher concentrations of caffeine, steep longer with higher temperature.
PUER is a black variety that’s aged for several years. Dubbed as the most mysterious, puer or pu-erh is prized for its medicinal properties. It’s characterized by its deep earthy and rich flavor with no bitterness. It’s also low in caffeine. Puers are fermented by exposure to microflora and bacteria, a process similar to producing wine or yogurt. The most expensive puers are over 30 years old. Puer is known to reduce bad cholesterol and aid with digestion.
DO buy puer from trusted retailers. Cheaper puer tea may contain high levels of fluorine which can build up in the body and cause fluorosis marked by mottling of the teeth and calcification of ligaments.