Tales From the City- Tea in the City!


It’s curious that no matter where you go or how much fun you’re having, there’s nothing better than coming home, putting the feet up, and just letting it all go with a good old fashioned cup of tea.

There are some interesting rules to tea. One lesson I learned when I started to rebuild my old Victorian house is when your builder comes over anything can go wrong.

Tea Rule Number One. Builders Tea.

I was sitting at the kitchen table; my eyes glazed over at the costs that were growing by the second. My builder was talking away when he said, “Crumbs this is a dry house.”

“Well, thank God for that!”  I said, and then thinking to myself, well, finally some good news, at least I don’t have rising damp. Nothing more was said about the dryness of the house. I was still mentally tallying up pounds and pence and wondering just how bloody expensive can a nail be, when I bid him a gentle goodbye. It wasn’t till a week later that I ran into friends and got odd looks and chuckles.

“We heard your house was dry.”

“Yes, I am so lucky!” I said, rather pleased with myself. No rising damp for me! Pounds saved and all that. More odd looks and chuckles that didn’t make any sense to me at the time.

Later after that encounter in town, my friend Terri ran into the chuckling couple and heard what I had said and rushed over to put things right.

“Oh, how could you not offer the poor man a cup of tea! He didn’t mean that you don’t have rising damp!  He was trying to tell you that your house is so dry you can’t be kind enough to offer someone a basic cup of tea!”

Errggg…now I have a supply of biscuits and loads of tea in the house for anyone that might knock on the front door. I no longer own a dry house and I still don’t have rising damp!

Tea Rule Number Two. What is the tide level today?

There’s another expression about tea that got me into trouble.  I am not what you would call a gracious or skilled waitress, so I like to hand a cup of tea or mug not quite filled to the rim, as there is a 150 percent guarantee I will spill it on you, the table, or at least end up with a proper dribble going down the side of the cup. Well, this time, I slightly went overboard with the whole caution bit and handed a cup that was only three quarters filled.  Suddenly out shot the comment, “Gosh, the tide is out!”   Ahem..okay I will fill it up more next time.

Tea Rule Number Three. Always put on mascara before leaving the bedroom.

Tea in England is simply, solid and good.  It’s comforting. It’s what we do. We had a fire at the pub across the road, and as the flames leapt up into the air, the kettle was on the boil before the first fireman arrived. I woke the girl upstairs and sent her out into the road, carrying a tray with hot mugs of tea. She was still heavy with sleep and stumbled out the door. There were about fifteen fireman and each was thrilled to get his cup of tea. She came running back into the house quite frantic about her looks, as I had sent her out without so much as a slip of a second to do her hair. Well, to be fair, there were some handsome chaps out there.  I can be cruel at times! The girl around the corner shop brought out packets of biscuits and the trays of tea went out with military precision No time to muck about with mascara and perfume. Get on with it girls! It’s what we do. We make tea.

Tea Rule Number Three  Or how to Make a proper Cup of Tea.

There is a strict code which one is supposed to follow when making tea.  I ignore most rules and just put the kettle on and get on with it, but here it is for fun.

Tea in England is black and should be strong enough as my character, Mary Catherine Black demands, “Strong enough for a mouse to trot on.”  Milk and or Sugar, take your choice. There is such a thing as builder’s tea (which I did not serve my builder!) It’s strong, always in a mug, with loads of milk, and sugar.

So here’s how to make a proper cup of tea..

Fresh water is a must each time the kettle is put on. Bring it to a rolling boil and pour it into a tea pot.

You have to warm the tea pot first so it is willing to accept the tea.

Roll enough water around the tea pot so it becomes warm to touch.

Rinse out the hot water and get ready for the next step.

Tea aficionados will demand loose tea, and black, but I just bang in tea bags. I like Yorkshire Gold. Even though the tea is not from Yorkshire, and I know it comes from India, I just like the idea that whilst I make my cup of tea, I am gazing out across the Yorkshire dales, listening to the sound of bleating sheep and James Herriot is on his way!


How much tea to put in? One per person and one for the pot is what they used to say. But what if you have ten people? That is one strong cup of tea. It really is a matter of personal taste. I would do one for the pot and about one bag for two people and taste it from there.

Fresh water is added, the tea is left to steep for a good two to five minutes carefully minded with a tea cosy. But any longer than five minutes and the tea will become over steeped and you will have a cup so bitter and strong it will pull teeth out of your mouth.

Milk…here there is fierce and heated debate. Pour the milk into the mug first, or pour it in afterwards? The two schools of thought here never will meet. I put mine in first. But, some believe when you add the milk after, it alters the taste and others think the MIF club (milk in tea first), hails memories of the assembly factory line mugs of tea. All very unsophisticated, which suits me to a tea!

Milk in first or not, then a tea strainer is placed over the top of the cup and the tea poured! If you’ve used tea bags, they sell little tiny tea presses, so that you can grab the tea bags and squeeze the very last drop of tea from the bags.

Add sugar to taste. Sit back and enjoy with a biscuit!

(Creamed tea is not tea with cream in it, it’s regular tea with milk and a lovely scone preferably with Devon Clotted Cream and locally made jams.)

Tea Rule Number four. Don’t throw your tea about.

If one is sitting at the table, raise the tea cup only, not the saucer, and place the tea cup back down after each sip. The tea cup is held in one’s lap or at waist height but is never ever waved in the air for emphasis during a heated debate. Too much tea flies around the room when this is done!

Tea Rule Number Five –Don’t cool your tea with spilt tea.

There’s a rule that surprised me, as I never thought one did this, but apparently one never drinks any spilt tea from the saucer, or adds it back to the cup from the saucer to cool the hot tea.  I find it amazing that there even is a rule for this. Why would you want to do that in the first pace and ruin a perfectly good cup of tea?

Tea Rule Number Six. Don’t argue with a great writer.  Dare we argue?

George Orwell writes…

Picture of George Orwell which appears in an o...

Picture of George Orwell which appears in an old acreditation for the BNUJ. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There are 11 rules for perfect tea making, rules from which nobody should dare depart,” said George Orwell.

1. Use tea from India or Ceylon (Sri Lanka), not China

2. Use a teapot, preferably ceramic

3. Warm the pot over direct heat

4. Tea should be strong – six spoons of leaves per 1 liter

5. Let the leaves move around the pot – no bags or strainers

6. Take the pot to the boiling kettle

7. Stir or shake the pot

8. Drink out of a tall, mug-shaped tea cup

9. Don’t add creamy milk

  1. Add milk to the tea, not vice versa

11. No Sugar!

Six spoons of tea for the pot?  That would indeed make it strong enough for a mouse to trot on and then instantly die from the vapours!

I found a comment by the RSC about adding milk to tea…

“Adding milk to hot tea, allows “”denaturation of milk proteins” more likely.  Dr. Stapley writes”At high temperatures, milk proteins – which are normally all curled up foetus-like – begin to unfold and link together in clumps. This is what happens in UHT [ultra heat-treated] milk, and is why it doesn’t taste as good a fresh milk.”

So apparently it’s better for the milk at the bottom of the cup to cool the tea, rather than the tea (milk poured in afterwards) raise the temperature of milk. After all these rules, my head is spinning. I am going to go to the kitchen, pop on the kettle, bang in a tea bag into my mug, and take all of it, mug with the tide in, into the front room and watch the world go by. I know one thing for sure, no matter milk in first or last, sugar or not, tea bag or loose, this last rule is the only rule I care about.

Tea Rule Number Six. The Golden Rule.

Tea always tastes better when someone else makes it for you.

So here’s a cuppa!

A tea bag being removed from a cup of tea

A tea bag being removed from a cup of tea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

About susan sheldon nolen

It’s rare to catch me without coffee, a form of camera, or my beloved wire fox terriers. I love the history, the art, and it’s a massive part of my life, as I either paint, write, or get interrupted by my dogs, reminding me of the real world. I hope you enjoy your time here. It’s such a privilege to have readers.
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6 Responses to Tales From the City- Tea in the City!

  1. Susan, excellent. And, I agree with you. I put the milk in first, because it stirs it better when I pour in the tea on top of it. But, if I brew the tea in a cup, I have to pour the milk in afterward. For an American, I have such a British-ly complicated relationship with tea………..

  2. A post after my own heart, Susan. Even when working I must ahve a mug of tea close at hand. In fact: I am just looking around for my current one this minute.

    A dry house. you did make me chuckle 😀

  3. I don’t drink much tea at all, Susan, but after reading this post feel as though I need to make myself a cuppa now, using the proper rules! When I make it, the tea bag is in the mug, boiling water poured over and then milk added – no sugar. It always tastes better made by someone else, however, and everyone would agree with me after tasting one of my cups! 😀

    • I just heard from someone the other day who said the milk goes in last. You don’t want your tea bag to loll about in wet cold milk. I just thought to myself, well milk is always wet? 😉 Never mind eh, just brew the tea and enjoy it!

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