The world always looks better from behind a superior brew.
You cannot beat the consistent pleasure and satisfaction of a really good cuppa.
Sure, there are other enjoyable things, like food, or sex. Napping. Video games. Our appetites for those things are likely to wax and wane over our lifetimes. But tea? Tea is a constant like no other. If you are a tea-lover, like me, then you are never "not in the mood" for some.
It warms you when you are cold, it is even oddly refreshing on hot days. It's calming when you feel stressed. It's a lovely way to wake up in the morning.
It isn't just the taste of it, although that is pretty delicious. It's the way it is both stimulant and relaxant; the way you can feel perked up but still relaxed. Caffeine, meet Tannin.
It's more though, isn't it? There is an entire ritual around it. There is something satisfying about preparing it yourself exactly the way you like it.
If you're reading this from the US, you might not be able to relate, but here in the UK I am pretty sure we all have a tea corner in the kitchen. The kettle is plugged in there permanently, and there is a selection of mugs close by, either in a cupboard just above, or on a small wooden tree. Sugar and teabags might nestle along the wall in matching caddies, or be hidden away in the cupboard with the mugs. There might be a tray to prepare the drinks on, a rest for the teaspoon, or a small bowl for the used teabag.
Most of us have got a brand of tea we are loyal to. We drink English Breakfast Tea in our house. If we can't get it, Yorkshire Tea is the next best thing. Irish Breakfast Tea is even better, because it's good and strong - but I can never find it anywhere. If you just buy whatever teabags are on offer, you are probably coffee drinkers at heart. If you prepare your tea with loose tealeaves, then you are a harder core tea-drinker than I am. I tip my metaphorical hat to you.
We've all got a favourite mug, as well. Tea just tastes better in some mugs than others. It's science. I don't like my tea mug to be too big. More liquid means it is naturally weaker, unless you brew it longer - and then the balance of heat to flavour is all out of whack. I cannot drink it out of a black mug, either. The interior of the cup has to be white, so that the tea looks good and dark. Not too dark, of course, but a rich medium brown. Against a black surface, even a pretty good effort looks weak and unappetising. We drink it with our eyes first. Mugs that are large or black are relegated to the back of the cupboard, or an upper, harder to reach shelf. They are used for the occasional coffee. Ideally, a good mug should be dishwasher safe (it doesn't have to be microwave safe, because tea should never see the inside of the microwave at any point in the process).
My kettle is cream-coloured, with wooden trim. When you turn it on, the switch lights up blue. I love it, although I would love a whistling kettle even better. Almost everything we need for tea making is within arms reach, in a corner cupboard just above it. Nothing matches, but every mug has a story behind it. The sugar bowl was a handmade gift. There's a jar of instant coffee, but we don't talk about that.
Brewing a decent cup of tea is both a science and an art.
For maximum enjoyment, down tools and make it yourself. No one else can make it exactly the way you like it like you can. If you find such a unicorn, marry them. Most people make it the way they like to drink it, and any attempt to make it the way someone else likes it feels wrong.
My very favourite mug is red and white. The outside is red, and the inside is white (of course). It is on the upper end of the right size (any bigger would be too big), and it's decorated with large white spots.
I put the sugar in with the teabag, before the boiling water. I would love to be one of those people who says, "No thank you" when offered sugar in my tea, but it is impossible. I take one and one half spoons of sugar. That is exactly the right amount for my favourite mug. If the mug was any bigger I'd need to take two, if it was smaller, I'd only take one. I do want sugar in my tea; I don't wan it to taste like syrup.
Ideally, the kettle should be freshly filled. I like to run the tap for a minute first. Water the plants. Refill the dog's water bowl. Rinse out the kettle and refill it. If I'm making one cup, I don't want it too full. It's a waste. But it needs to be above the minimum level, or it will wreck the element. Around the line for 2-3 cups is perfect.
I believe the water should be properly boiling when I pour it on my teabag, so I hover like a vulture waiting for the kettle. I pour the water slowly because I like to see the water take on some colour right away. The mug needs to be good and full. You don't want it right to the brim, because that makes stirring tricky. The excess water and the lack of a good stir makes the tea too weak. Keep in mind that you will lose some when you fish the teabag out, and you don't want to end up feeling half your tea is missing. Or worse, using extra milk.
I stir it at several times in both directions. It's best to leave it to brew for at least one minute, but never more than five. If left too long, it will start to go cold, and you'll get a residue on the top. Always take the bag out, and never squeeze it. (And just for the record, we - English people - don't leave the bag in. At least, I don't know any person who does that, except for the weirdies who drink fruit teas. We only request the bag be left in at cafes where the tea making skills are truly diabolical, and we know that this our best chance of having something drinkable that probably won't taste like gnat's piss.)
All you need now is a small drop of milk. Pour it steadily, and watch the colour lighten. Stop when it's the perfect shade. The colour is much more important than how full the mug is. If it isn't quite full enough, a small amount of hot water from the recently boiled kettle will fix it. It isn't ideal, but its better than too little tea, or too much milk.
Milky tea is the WORST. If you love someone, do not make them milky tea.
We are not done. You need a biscuit. (Lit: "Cookie".) Something with chocolate is preferred, but Rich Tea are a decent dunking option. You have to have a good, broad mug, and remember to keep your dips brief, or you will be fishing soggy biscuit out and scalding your fingers. Plain digestives are no good, but chocolate ones are OK. Any hobnobs are fine. Actual cookies are decent, as well. The very best biscuits for dipping are chocolate Pickups. The ones with caramel.
Here's a less conventional idea: if you have an chocolate covered biscuit - something like Blue Ribband or a Twix - nibble off each end, and use it like a straw. Warning: 1. You will look and feel like a pillock. 2. You have to suck HARD. (Steady on.) 3. You won't get much tea through it, but that's OK - the biscuit will absorb a good amount of tea, much more so than if it was dipped normally. 4. There is a serious risk of collapse, so as soon as you get ANY tea, stop and gobble the biscuit quick. KitKats work well for this, but I don't buy Nestlé. Chocolate fingers are just as good, but the very best are orange Club biscuits or Rocky bars. Tunnocks Caramel Wafers are very good, too.
Enjoy your tea while it's hot. Cold tea is an abomination. If it goes cold, I pour it away and start over. I never finish a cup of tea or coffee completely; I always leave a mouthful or so. If you've made it with loose leaves, if the bag splits, or any crumbs have fallen to the bottom, you get them in that last mouthful.
Do not ask about herbal tea.