Snobs turn their nose up at teabag tea, but that's just silly: the reason teabag tea is usually "gross" is because it sits unprotected on the shelf for ages and goes stale. I had a relative who complained that the "new box of Lipton" wasn't right, didn't have that nice "Orangey Pekoe" taste- when I discovered she had her "old" box for years and it sat mixed together with the orange flavored "Constant Comment" in her drawer. Fresh tea matters- and fresh tea bag tea from Orthodox BOP, dust, and fannings is indistinguishable to me from fresh Orthodox loose tea from the same field graded OP.
There's also a perception that the tea used in teabags is what is leftover from making good tea, and this is largely a myth. Dust and fannings from conventional manufacture don't tend to stay in a teabag, or worse, block the pores of a teabag and cause it to explode. Teabag tea is made specifically for teabags, and varies in quality as much as wine from grapes does. The tea leaves must be prepared in a way that reduces the size of the leaf but does not produce an excess of fannings or dust. In many cases fannings and dust are used to help fire the drying kiln, and are "waste".
One or two Americans have asked me why the English like tea so much, which never seems to them to be a very good drink. To understand, you have to make it properly.
There is a very simple principle to the making of tea, and it’s this—to get the proper flavour of tea, the water has to be boilING (Not boilED) when it hits the tea leaves. If it’s merely hot, then the tea will be insipid. That’s why we English have these odd rituals, such as warming the teapot first (so as no to cause the boiling water to cool down too fast as it hits the pot). And that’s why American habit of bringing a teacup, a tea bag, and a pot of hot water to the table is merely the perfect way of making a tin, pale, watery cup of tea that nobody in their right mind would want to drink. The Americans are all mystified about why the English make such a big thing out of tea because most Americans HAVE NEVER HAD A GOOD CUP OF TEA. That’s why they don’t understand. In fact, the truth of the matter is that most English people don’t know how to make tea anymore either, and most people drink cheap instant coffee instead, which is a pity, and gives Americans the impression that the English are just generally clueless about hot stimulants.
So the best advice I can give to an American arriving in England is this: Go to Marks and Spencer and buy a packet of Earl Grey tea. Go back to where you’re staying and boil a kettle of water. While it is coming to the boil, open the sealed packet and sniff. Careful---you may feel a bit dizzy, but this is in fact perfectly legal. When the kettle has boiled, pour a little of it into a teapot, swirl it around, and tip it out again. Put a couple (or three, depending on the size of the pot) of tea bags into the pot. (If I was really trying to lead you into the paths of righteousness, I would tell you to use free leaves rather than bags, but let’s just take this in easy stages.) Bring the kettle back up to the boil, and then pour the boiling water as quickly as you can into the pot. Let is stand for two or three minutes, and then pour it into a cup. Some people will tell you that you shouldn’t have milk with Earl Grey, just a slice of lemon. Screw them. I like it with milk. If you think you will like it with milk, then it’s probably best to put some milk into the bottom of the cup before you pour in the tea. If you pour milk into a cup of hot tea, you will scald the milk. If you think you will prefer it with a slice of lemon, then, well, add a slice of lemon.
Drink it. After a few moments you will begin to think that the place you’ve come to isn’t maybe quite so strange and crazy after all.
May 12, 1999
It was of such a beverage that Lotung, a Tang poet, wrote: "The first cup moistens my lips and throat, the second cup breaks my loneliness, the third cup searches my barren entrail but to find therein some five thousand volumes of odd ideographs. The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration, - all the wrong of life passes away through my pores. At the fifth cup I am purified; the sixth cup calls me to the realms of the immortals. The seventh cup - ah, but I could take no more!"
Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea
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