top of page

The Butler's Guide to Tea

Frank Mitchell

Before we talk about making tea, I want to make sure we have the right tools for the job. Teapots and tea sets come in myriad shapes and sizes, designed to suit all tastes and budgets.

The Butler's Guide to Tea

Tea Equipage

Before we talk about making tea, I want to make sure we have the right tools for the job. Teapots and tea sets come in myriad shapes and sizes, designed to suit all tastes and budgets.

Changes in fashion and personal stylistic preferences aside, here are a few guidelines to ensure that the equipment you choose will brew the best cup of tea possible. 

The Teapot

A good teapot should be inert—which relegates the beautiful silver tea set to ornamental status.

Unglazed pots such as Yixing teapots are said to be better for green and oolong teas as the clay will ameliorate the tea’s natural astringency. 

Bear in mind that these pots come in a variety of grades and that the quality of the clay can have as much effect on the taste of the tea as the water you use.

For black tea, the inside of the pot should be glazed so that it will not affect the tea’s flavour. Glass is good at this and has the advantage that one can watch the tealeaves open up as they draw.

Unfortunately glass is not as good at retaining heat when the teapot is pre-heated.  The teapot should be large enough for the quantity of tea required, but consider single serving teapots for green and oolong teas.Such teas can be brewed more than once and you are encouraged to use all the tea from each brewing before adding more water.

Make sure that the opening is wide enough for the infuser you intend to use.The spout should be level with the opening and pour without dripping. Oval shaped spouts are generally the most successful. On a good teapot, the lid fits so closely, that blocking the vent in the lid with your finger forms a vacuum and no water will pour from the spout when the pot is tipped.

Lastly, a well-balanced teapot does not strain the wrist or bring your knuckles into contact with the hot teapot when pouring.

Whatever you decide, remember that you should have a second, preferably matching teapot. I will explain the use of the second pot next month.

The Strainer

Assuming that we are using loose leaf tea, an arrangement must be made to separate out the tea leaves once the tea has drawn. 

This can either take the form of a strainer or an infuser. Most infusers do not leave enough room for the tea leaves to draw properly and yet one often sees small infusers designed for a single cup used in a teapot!

As the tea leaves draw water they swell up. Packed together tightly in the infuser they are rendered useless. Do not force a large infuser into the teapot – I have seen staff get them stuck inside.

Take care not to chip the glaze off teapots with metal infusers and their retaining clips and chains. 

A well-know range is marketed under the ‘Bodum’ name.  These have the advantage that when the leaves are pushed down into the bottom of the infuser cage, they effectively stop drawing.

If the tea is to be poured immediately – one can do so without first removing the leaves and dripping tea on the tea tray. Do not be tempted to convert a cafetière already used for coffee to tea making.

The old-fashioned strainer still does a good job, but it must be kept clean and an arrangement must be made to catch drips. 

If the strainer is plastic – it stays in the kitchen! By using two teapots, one can keep the strainer with its stains, drips and spills in the kitchen anyway. 

The Tea Cosy

This is usually used while the tea is drawing, but some experts believe this practice can cause the tea to stew and release bitter flavours into the final brew.

Reserve the tea cosy until after the leaves have been removed from the pot. Of course, if the tea will be served immediately, it should not be needed. Similarly, avoid using a tea warmer until after the tea leaves have been removed. 

A final word on cleaning: simply rinse out the pot with boiling water and leave it to dry. Avoid washing it in soapy water or placing it in the dishwasher which will dull the glaze.

Never bleach a teapot to remove stains. Add two teaspoons of baking soda, fill with boiling water and soak overnight. Rinse and leave to dry.

bottom of page