Today we welcome back the incredible Gail Carriger. One lucky commenter will win a prize pack including a copy of Blameless and a fan autographed by Gail.
Gail Carriger is the New York Times Bestselling author of the Parasol Protectorate series. She began writing in order to cope with being raised in obscurity by an expatriate Brit and an incurable curmudgeon. She escaped small town life and inadvertently acquired several degrees in Higher Learning. Ms. Carriger then traveled the historic cities of Europe, subsisting entirely on biscuits secreted in her handbag. She now resides in the Colonies, surrounded by fantastic shoes, where she insists on tea imported directly from London. The Parasol Protectorate books are: Soulless (Oct. 2009), Changeless (March 2010), Blameless (Sept. 2010), Heartless (July 2011), and Timeless (March 2012).
How to Make a Proper Pot of Tea
Being an Essay based on Hearsay, Family Tradition, and Opinionated Preferences
By Gail Carriger
Let us talk about tea. That great and fateful, that wonder of all
wonders, that calmest and most civilized of drinks. I have been
pleased to note, of late, it is making a comeback at steampunk events
in particular. At Nova Albion the ConSuite consisted of nothing but
tea and biscuits – as it should.
Let us not discuss the travesty that is iced tea, the mockery that is
Long Island iced tea, or that Thing that they do with all the sugar in
the South (you can’t see it, but I shudder at the very idea). Let us
not delve in to the wondrous exoticism of those foreign notions,
primordial and progenitive as they may be: white, green, oolong. Lets
us not even think about decaf, for oh, it really does taste
every-so-slightly of fish. Oh no, let us discuss the truth in tea, the
tea of my people, the dark, the honest, black tea.
My mother is an ex-pat, who brought with her very little, stayed for
40 odd years, and retains even less. However, she still has her
accent, and she still has her tea – every day at 4 pm, sometimes 5,
rain or shine. She has done this my whole life. When I was little, I
was permitted milk and a dash. Now I take it stronger than she, and I
have to reminder her, every time, to let it sit a bit longer for her
strangely evolved daughter.
I dabbled briefly in coffee during my rebellious college years and I have, upon occasion, tested my own will power by giving tea up
entirely, but I always returned to it. My safe haven. It is the taste
and the peace and the joy that draws me ever back, but it is also the ritual.
I brought a gentleman caller home to my mother’s several years ago. A
fine upstanding young man, large and Greek in appearance but very
American in sensibilities. In an effort to impress, after the tea was
finished he began to wash the dishes. My mother and I, chatting away
almost missed it. Almost. I saw him out of the corner of my eye. Mum
must have guessed, from the horror on my face, what he was about to
He was going to wash the teapot!
It was like one of those slow motion cartoon moments. Mum and I, arms
pin wheeling out, agonized drawn out cries of “Noooooooo!” as we dove
He didn’t drop the pot in surprise at our behavior, but it was a very
near thing. Fortunately, the soap covered scrubbing brush never
touched the vaunted and scared interior of that well cured teapot.
Thank goodness, for it was the work of decades.
A teapot should never be washed. You may swish it out with boiling
water. But it should never ever be washed. This is a teapot, by the
way, that is only used for black tea. You want to drink that appalling
herbal tisane stuff, use a different pot.
So how, in fact, does one brew a perfect cuppa?
My training is specific to my mother, as hers was to her grandmother, and so forth back as far as any of us can remember. It is not the
training of every tea drinker. And there have been, dare I say it, studies showing that not all the steps are necessary for taste, but who would trust scientists on such a religious matter as tea?
Here is how I do it.
Select a pot, a good china one, with a spout that does not drip, and a
lid that stays on. Most pots these days produce four mugs worth of
tea, but one should measure to see how many it takes.
Boil enough water for the pot and then some. Boil it! Boil. Swish a
dollop of the boiled water around inside the pot to heat it.
Choose a good quality loose leaf black tea. I prefer Twinings English
Breakfast Gold Label from England (not the red box American swill).
The quality of a tea can be determined by the smell (not too spicy)
and the taste (not too bitter) and the color (for EB a rich dark
chocolate brown with hints of rust when seeped) and the size and shape
of the leaf (generally larger is better).
Place a heaped tablespoon into the pot, one for each mug. If the pot
is a 6-er or larger, also include “one for the pot.” One learns the
quirks of each tea and each teapot and what relationship works best.
Add the recently boiled water. Fill the pot all the way, but not so
far it will spill when poured. Do not use one of those teapots with
the immersion cages. They do not allow for proper blending. Stick the
handle of a spoon in and give it a good couple stirs. Cap and cover
with a tea cozy.
Those who are to immersed it the culture of green teas will allow only
a three minute seeping. Those fancy tea timers are equally
precipitous. I have even had proprietors of tea shops, who should know
better, try to poor for me ahead of schedule. Oh, no no. I prefer a
five at least, but I like my tea strong.
Now, we move on to teacups instead of mugs. Tea always tastes better
out of a teacup, I feel, and allows one to drink it entirely before it
gets cold. Choose your cups and saucers with care, you want a nice
delicate rim, in makes sipping much more enjoyable.
Put the milk in first. Good quality whole milk, organic if possible,
un-pasteurized if risk is appealing. Lemon is only for the truly
quirky. Then poor the tea in after through a strainer. No sugar
please. A tea that requires sugar is not a very good tea. A person who
requires sugar is not a true tea drinker, they should be excused onto
something more banal. Raspberry cordial, perhaps?
A few words on etiquette.
The hostess always pours the tea for herself first, unlike most other
endeavors. This is because she should test the strength and quality upon her own pallet, and not subject her guest to weak tea, over-brewed tea, or spoiled milk.
To drink, one picks up both the cup and saucer, then raises the cup to drink with the free hand. No, the pinky is not stuck out. The cup is returned to the saucer without clinking.
Never dunk anything into your tea. All you end up with is crummy tea.
And one last moment of comedy. Should you over-brew your tea, my
friends and I refer to this as: strong enough for a mouse to run
What do you love most about tea? A favorite ritual? Memory? A love of teacups? One lucky commenter will win a prize pack including a copy of Blameless and a fan autographed by Gail. Open internationally, contest closes at 11:59 PM PST April 25, 2011