Monday, June 8, 2009

Put the Kettle On ~ It's Tea Time!

Tips on brewing a proper cup of tea and Almond scone Recipe 

I have come to believe that there are many who do not know how to brew a proper cup of English tea. So I have come up with a list of helpful tips. Upon what do I base my authority? My Mother, who is a genuine English Rose, born and raised in England with much of her youth spent in Teignmouth a small coastal fishing town in Devonshire. Her home was right on the water and when the tide was high the waves would reach the back steps. The air was filled with the smell of saltwater and the cries of seagulls overhead circling and diving and fighting for space on the windowsills.

My mother remembers the day in 1940 when all the local fishing boats disappeared from her town. They were participating in England's call to civilians to mount what was one of the most heroic and amazing rescues of WWII. Fisherman in small fishing boats from all over England joined the British naval fleet and braved dangerous seas in the Channel and enemy attack to bring home allied troops who were stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk and surrounded by Hilter's army. The smallest boat to engage in this rescue was an 18 foot open fishing boat. Many of the soldiers were rescued directly off the beaches wading into the water to the smaller boats that transported them to the larger ships amid machine-gun fire, bombing and explosions sending shrapnel flying everywhere. While many were killed or captured, many more were rescued. It was a pivotal moment early in the war and could have resulted in a catastrophic loss. Churchill had only expected to evacuate 20,000 to 30,000 troops. Instead, 338,000 were rescued that day. It's a memory that still brings tears to my mother's eyes.

But enough about that. Back to tea a much more congenial subject. To properly enjoy a cup of tea it must be made correctly. I think it is often assumed that you simply have to dunk a tea bag into a cup of hot water and whollah, you have tea. This, of course, is totally wrong and will result in a terrible cup of tea that tastes like dishwater and is not at all related to the rich, mellow, satisfying brew that tea should be. Therefore, at the risk of being too simplistic, I have made a list of tips (with my mother's input) to take the guesswork out of making a proper cup of tea.

Mr Puffy's Ten Tips to Brewing a Perfect Cup of Tea ~ and Where It Can All Go Wrong:

Tip No. 1. Select the right teapot. Tea must be brewed in a vessel (teapot) that holds heat well. Clay or fine bone china works best - but avoid ceramic as it does not hold heat well. I use a variety of teapots including the chintz styled one pictured above which is made by Arthur Wood & Son, Staffordshire, England.

Tip No. 2. Select a good quality black tea. This is a personal preference issue and you might have to experiment with a few. For an everyday tea my favorite is Taylors of Harrogate - Yorkshire Gold. I am fortunate to have several British shops nearby in Santa Monica, California which carry this tea. In fact, the Tudor House not only has a nice selection of British imports it also has a tea room which is a nice place to sit and enjoy a cup of tea if you ever happen to be in the neighborhood.

Tip No. 3. Use the right ratio of tea to water. While this is largely a personal taste issue, a good rule of thumb is 1 tsp. tea to 8 ounces water.

Tip No. 4. Use water that has reached a rolling boil. The water has to be at a rolling boil to make a good cup of tea. Merely heating the water until a few bubbles appear is insufficient. For those of you who do not work from home, an electric kettle can be used to boil water at the office.

Tip No. 5. Tea must be steeped. The term "steeped" is a fancy way of saying allow the tea to brew undisturbed. A standard black tea should be steeped for approximately 5 minutes.

Tip No. 6. Use only fresh tea. Unlike wine, tea does not improve with age. Check the dates on all your tea and if is over 6 months old, toss it out.

Tip No. 7. Use a fine bone china teacup. Rummage through your cupboards and look to see if any of your mugs or teacups are stamped "fine bone china." Fine bone china holds the heat well and is a pleasure to sip tea from. It simply is the best for tea.

Tip No. 8. Only add whole milk. Using a low fat variety simply won't give you enough body. The good news is that you use very little milk in a cup of tea.

Tip No. 9. Keep your teapot warm. If you don't have a tea cozy, simply wrap your teapot in a tea towel which works just fine in a pinch.

Tip No. 10. Enjoy with a scone or shortbread cookie, but nothing too sweet. Below I have shared a recipe for Almond Scones which is a staple of my tea time.


This recipe came in a King Arthur Flour free catalogue a number of years back. I've made it countless times over the years and I like it because it's not as plain as an English scone and not as over the top and heavy as most American style scones.


2 Cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup almond flour or 1/2 cup finely ground almonds
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
3 to 4 tablespoons sparking white or demerara sugar for topping


1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour(s), sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter until coarse crumbs form. Blend the milk and almond extract in a measuring cup, then drizzle over the dry ingredients. Toss lightly with a fork until the dough comes together; add up to a tablespoon additional milk, if necessary, to form a cohesive dough.

3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and fold it over gently a few times. Pat it into a 6x8, 1/2 inch thick rectangle. Use a deep cookie cutter to cut the dough into circles or heart shapes. Place the scones onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (I use a silpat mat).

4. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sparkling white sugar crystals. Bake for 10 to 14 minutes, until a light golden brown. Cool on a rack. Yield 6-10 scones. I typically divide my dough into 8 scones.

These scones are wonderful warm with butter and strawberry jam. But for an extra nice treat I like to eat them with strawberry jam and whipped cream, which is a wonderful substitute for clotted cream.

Whipped Cream Topping

Simply whip heavy whipping cream with a drop of almond extract and a teaspoon of sugar until a thick spreadable consistency. This can be made several hours in advance.

Why Tea Time Now?

I'm sharing these tea tips at a particularly opportune time as tea time in the Summer can be a wonderful way to share time with friends sitting outside in the shade of your garden or by yourself with your feet up watching that fine old tradition of Wimbledon Tennis. Either way, I hope you will enjoy a cup or two of tea this Summer and if you have any tips to share, I would love to hear them!


dogwithbooks said...

What can I say? You're a genius Mr. Puffy!! :)

t does wool said...

lovely...I love tea time and going to "tea" is a special treat...thank you for the tips...and I must try those scones!

Monika said...

Claudia! Thank you for this post! I have enjoyed it very much. I've printed out the Almond cookie recipe and will bake them today. Too bad I don't have whipping cream at home and now car to get some today. Still, I have strawberry jam. It's good to know I did my tea not totally wrong. I have to get myself a fine china tea cup though, instead of the mugs I'm using.
Your description of 1940's rescue brought tears to my eyes. It's so much more touching when reported by someone who's been there.
BTW - my mom loves to watch Wimpleton Tennis. She started playing tennis in her late 40 to late 50. :o)

katie lore said...

What a great post! Your mom is a treasure!

I have a collecton of teacups from my mother-in-law that's been packed away for too long. I need to get them out and enjoy a proper cup of tea...and those scones, with the whip cream...if I could reach into the computer and grab them I would...thanks for posting your recipe!

jillian said...

Thank you for the tips! This was especially nice to read when I did as I was enjoying my morning tea, a mellow oolong this day - on my second steep! Yum tea!

Tracy said...

Oh, this post was right up my street, Claudia...I've had a love affair with tea and taking tea and basically all things English since I was 12...Love Mr. Puffy's Essentials of Making tea here. He knows how to brew the perfect pot! ;o) I love the King Arther Flour catalogue--and they have such great recipes...mmm...Feel the need for a scone now--LOL! Thank you for the moving...That such things happened is almost unfathomable sometimes. But just loved this sweet, tasty post--thanks! ((HUGS))

Hilary said...

Thank you so much for the scone recipe and the tea-brewing tips. I'm one of those microwave, dunk, and go people, and I really need to reform my ways! Thank you also for sharing the WWII account and your mother's memory of it. What a wonderful post!

SissySees said...

Good thing I'm well-versed in brewing a proper cuppa', because my eyes went all misty during that little bit of (family) history. I miss hearing history from my grandmother's mouth, so thank you and your beautiful mother for sharing that with me!

I did blink enough to see another great recipe I'll have to try soon. Your pesto recipe has become my go-to version!

teabird said...

Dear Mr. Puffy, my favorite tea is the Yorkshire Gold, too! We have so much in common. Perhaps we could get together for tea sometime? I'll bring the tea, and some pretty napkins, and I hope we can share those scones.
Sincerely yours,
Ms. Teabird

Lisa said...

Dear Mr. Puffy,

Do you approve of PG Tips? Or Buckingham Palace Garden Party Tea? Brewed properly, of course, and today being enjoyed with a lovely slice of orange-infused Madeira cake. Because licking the scone on the monitor left me wanting.

Thanks for stopping by my blog. This post was a wonderful and charming intro to Mr. Puffy.

punkin said...

I am bookmarking this page. I want to learn the art of tea making, and I recently baked scones for the first time.

I am inspired by the rescue executed by those fishermen. Thank you for sharing that. I had known about it, but how you told it brought deeper understanding and appreciation.

Willow said...

I love this post about teatime. I am drinking my favorite, Earl Grey, as I type.

A question and a comment about tea and scones: where can I purchase almond flour? If you ever drive up Hwy 101 toward Santa Barbara (smile) you might enjoy stopping off in Camarillo at All Things Tea on Daily Drive between Carmen Drive and Las Posas.

I have a photo of that littlest fishing boat used in the Dunkirk rescue. It is on display at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Bridget said...

As far as I am concerned, there is nothing in the world better than a good cup of tea. It always will make the day/evening a better one.

The Almond Scones sound yummy, I'm going to have to give them a try.

P.S. Does Mr Puffy eat scones??

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post! We love tea here and I like scones that are not too sweet also. I'll have to try your recipe this weekend.

By the way, I've finished my very first crocheted sweater....
and it was all due to your inspiration. Thanks!

Mr Puffy's Knitting Blog: said...

Hi Willow. I don't have your email so thought I would respond here as others might also have that question. The almond meal I buy at Trader Joe's - it's next to the flour in the baking section. It freezes well and I have a terrific almond cake recipe that also uses it. Alternatively you could just grind up fresh almonds - a coffee bean grinder works great.

Cloudberry said...

The scones looks so good!!
I need to have at least one cup of tea in the morning to wake up ;)

Heather at Mad Rose Creations said...

Oh thank you for all the tips. How lovely of you and your mum to share them with us. Cheers!

Windyridge said...

Having lived In Ireland, your tea tips reminded me that I am taking the tea drinkers shortcut. However I do have all the necessary accoutrements and occasionally make a proper cup of tea.
I will be watching Wimbledon too having just watched the French Open I was bitten by the bug again. But I guess I will record it since I will be once again, working.

tiennie said...

It sounds lovely to sit down to a proper cup of tea! Me, I usually have it on the run in a coffee cup!

The Wooly Wumpus said...

What a lovely, imaginative post! And how nice to meet your mum! I agree, tea has become over-simplified in our hurly-burly world. I'm still gobsmacked that people actually drink tea out of styrofoam cups. Blech!

Kristen said...

I'm always so happy when you post. This was a good one. Cannot wait to try the scones!

knittingdragonflies said...

Thanks for the tea tips, and sharing the nice story about your mum.
Once again your tempting my waistline

Sherry said...

Oh, Mr. Puffy, you'll be so ashamed of me when you learn that I have never made tea without a tea bag. I chalk it up to laziness. I have been given all I need to brew my own, but I still use only teabags. Your teapot & cups are so beautiful!

Lovely, photo of your Mom. The story you shared of what she went through in WWII fits in with some of my recent thoughts.I've been thinking that for all the current economic struggles & difficult times, it doesn't compare to what people went through in the 30's & 40's.

As you say, on a brighter note, the scones look so yummy. I have a little scone cookbook that I've had for years. I haven't made scones in years, but when I did, the recipes were great.

Willow said...

Mr. Puffy, Thanks for the hint on where to purchase the almond meal. I found it one aisle over from the dog biscuits, right where you said it would be. Willow

At Home Mommy Knits said...

The story about your mother during World War II and the rescue gave me chills!!

Thanks so much for the tea tips. I received a beautiful teapot for Christmas complete with a cozy and it has languised in my cupboard. I think today might be the day I make scones and have tea :)

Willow said...

I made those scones this afternoon! They were wonderful, especially with my homemade raspberry jam.

I agree that smoking should be banned in any form on public roads. It's a fire danger.

When I was a little girl I saw a person in the car ahead of me flick a cigarette out the window. It fell to the side of the road and started a fire. And that was in green damp Oregon.

Ally Jay said...

Somehow a cup of tea has an air of refinement that coffee just can't compete with. No matter how sad I feel tea revives me.

amanda said...

Claudia, you would fit in so well over here! :)

raining sheep said...

Appropriate post considering I am still on Vancouver Island where there seems to be an innordinate number of Brits. Tea time is a formal a matter of fact the Empress Hotel where I stayed in Victoria has a famous high tea which is a formal affair attended by every visitor to Victoria.

Pat K said...

Lovely! Thanks for all the tips and I'm going to have to try that recipe.

Mary said...

I was just thinking about how nice a little tea party would be. Thanks for sharing your tips and the wonderful scone recipe!

subliminalrabbit said...

oh, what a wonderful post! i am currently in the UK on vacation (unfortunately headed back to the US this afternoon), and have had the opportunity to enjoy proper tea in london, bath, and several places in wales that i can't spell or pronounce. ;)

Renee said...

Tea time is a real pleasure. I think of tea time as "me" time to sit alone with poodle or enjoy with family/friends.

Thank you for the scone recipe ~ I'm going to have to try it very soon. :)

Needles And Ewe said...

Your WWII story is so inspiring. It certainly isn't what they share in history books (at least not any I have read), but those are the stories that make history interesting to me. Dates? Ehh, not that important; I can never remember the dates anyway.
Yay for fellow tea drinkers. It's good to clear up the misconception that tea is only for winter mornings. Tea...the anytime drink :)