What is the proper way to prepare a cup of English tea?

English tea is a popular beverage that has been enjoyed for centuries. Whether you are a seasoned tea drinker or new to the world of tea, there are certain steps that must be followed to prepare a proper cup of English tea. In this article we will look at the history of English tea, the types of tea used and the correct way to prepare a cup of English tea.

History of English tea

Tea has a long and storied history in England, where it has been a cultural staple since the 17th century. The introduction of tea to England and its subsequent popularity is linked to trade, colonisation and the rise of the British Empire. Here is a summary of the key moments in the history of English tea.

Introduction of tea to England (1660s)

Tea first arrived in England in the mid-17th century, mainly through the East India Company’s trade with China. The Portuguese and Dutch had already established a taste for tea in Europe, but it was the marriage of King Charles II to the Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza in 1662 that helped to popularise tea in England. Catherine brought with her a love of tea, and her habit of drinking it regularly at court made it fashionable among the aristocracy.

Tea becomes a popular beverage (18th century)

By the 18th century, tea had become increasingly popular among all classes in England. At first it was an expensive luxury item, but as the East India Company expanded its trade and gained a monopoly on tea imports, prices began to fall. Tea was heavily taxed, which led to widespread smuggling and adulteration of the product. Finally, in the 1780s, the government reduced taxes to combat the illegal tea trade.

Afternoon tea and tea gardens (19th century)

The tradition of afternoon tea is often attributed to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford in the early 19th century. The Duchess is said to have experienced a ‘sinking feeling’ in the late afternoon and requested tea and light snacks to stave off hunger until dinner. The practice spread to the upper classes and eventually developed into a social event with a variety of sandwiches, cakes and pastries.

During the 19th century, tea gardens became popular places for socialising and entertainment. They provided a relaxed setting where both men and women could enjoy tea, food and leisurely activities such as strolling and listening to music.

The British Empire and tea production (19th-20th century)

As the British Empire expanded, so did its control over the world’s tea production. British colonisers introduced tea cultivation to India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the 19th century to break China’s monopoly on tea. This led to the popularisation of different types of tea, such as Assam and Darjeeling, in the English market.

Tea in modern England (20th-21st centuries)

Tea remains a popular beverage and an integral part of modern British culture. The tradition of afternoon tea continues to thrive and tea is enjoyed in a variety of settings, from casual gatherings to formal events.

In recent years, speciality tea shops and a renewed interest in tea culture have led to a greater variety of tea blends and flavours. Despite these innovations, the classic English breakfast tea, often served with milk and sugar, remains a national favourite.

Types of tea

English tea is usually a blend of black teas, although other types of tea such as green tea and oolong can also be used to make a cup of English tea. Some popular types of black tea blends used for English tea include

  • English Breakfast: A strong blend of black teas, usually including Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan teas.
  • Earl Grey: A blend of black tea with bergamot oil, giving it a distinctive citrus flavour.
  • Darjeeling: A black tea from the Darjeeling region of India, known for its floral and fruity notes.
  • English Afternoon: A lighter blend of black teas, often including teas from China and Sri Lanka.
  • Scottish Breakfast: A hearty blend of black teas, often including Assam, Ceylon and Keemun teas.
  • Irish Breakfast: A strong blend of black teas, often including Assam and Ceylon.

When making English tea, it’s important to allow the tea to steep for the correct length of time, usually around 3-5 minutes depending on the strength of the blend. Serve with milk and sugar if desired.

Proper Way to Prepare a Cup of English Tea

  1. Boil fresh water: The first step in preparing a cup of English tea is to boil fresh water. It is important to use fresh water as stale water can affect the flavor of the tea.
  2. Warm the teapot: While the water is boiling, warm the teapot by filling it with hot water and letting it sit for a few minutes. This helps to prevent the tea from cooling too quickly once it is brewed.
  3. Add tea leaves: Once the water has boiled, pour it into the teapot over the tea leaves. The amount of tea leaves used will depend on personal preference, but a general rule of thumb is to use one teaspoon of tea leaves per cup of water.
  4. Steep the tea: Allow the tea to steep for 3-5 minutes, depending on the strength of the tea and personal preference. Be careful not to oversteep the tea as this can result in a bitter taste.
  5. Strain the tea: After the tea has steeped, strain it into a teacup using a tea strainer. This helps to remove any loose tea leaves and ensures a smooth, delicious cup of tea.
  6. Add milk and sugar: If desired, add milk and sugar to the tea. Traditionally, English tea is served with milk and sugar, but this is a matter of personal preference.
  7. Enjoy: Sit back, relax, and enjoy your cup of English tea.


English tea is a beloved beverage that has been enjoyed for centuries. To prepare a proper cup of English tea, it is important to use fresh water, warm the teapot, add the right amount of tea leaves, steep the tea for the right amount of time, strain the tea, and add milk and sugar if desired. Whether you are a seasoned tea drinker or new to the world of tea, following these steps will ensure a delicious and satisfying cup of English tea.


What kind of tea should I use to make English tea?

Traditionally, English tea is made with black tea leaves such as Assam, Darjeeling or Ceylon. You can also use blends specifically marketed as “English Breakfast” tea.

What kind of water should I use for my tea?

It’s best to use fresh, cold water that hasn’t been boiled. If your tap water is heavily chlorinated or has a strong taste, you can use filtered or bottled water instead.

Should I use loose tea leaves or tea bags to make English tea?

Although loose tea leaves are generally considered to give a better tasting cup of tea, you can certainly use tea bags if you prefer. Just make sure you use good quality tea bags that contain whole tea leaves rather than tea dust or fannings.

How much tea should I use in a cup?

The general rule of thumb is to use one teaspoon of loose tea leaves or one tea bag per cup of water. However, you may need to adjust the amount of tea according to personal preference or the strength of the tea you’re using.

How long should I leave the tea to steep?

This depends on the type of tea you’re using and your personal preference. In general, black tea should be steeped for 3-5 minutes, while Darjeeling and other lighter teas may only need 2-3 minutes.

Should I add milk or sugar to my English tea?

This is a matter of personal taste. Many people in England add a splash of milk to their tea, while others prefer it without. Sugar can also be added to taste.

What should I serve with my tea?

Common accompaniments to English tea include scones with jam and clotted cream, cucumber sandwiches and other small pastries or biscuits.