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How to make the perfect cup of tea

And should you add the milk first or last?

pouring a cup of leaf tea from a teapot
Last updated: 21 October 2019

Ask 10 people how to make the perfect cup of tea and you'll get 10 very different answers – and probably end up in an argument. People take their tea very seriously!

We asked CHOICE staff and our Facebook community how they make the perfect cup of tea. Here's what they said.

The best-tasting tea bags

Firstly, if you want to make a good cuppa, you'll need some good tea. 

We tested 16 black tea bag products to find the best tasting black tea bags in Australia, and the winner was… Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Tea Proper Black Tea. 

Not only did it score 80% in our taste test, it also won over the most tea drinkers: 32% of our taste testers said they preferred it over the tea bags they usually use. 

It even beat Australia's best-selling black tea bags: Twinings English Breakfast.

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Some kettles have specific temperature settings for making specialty teas.

Do I need a kettle with multiple temperature settings?

Some kettles can be set to a range of temperatures, which is handy if you're particular about water temperatures for making tea. 

If you're making green tea, for instance, the water should only be heated to around 70°C, while black tea needs water to be 100°C. 

"Preset temperatures are not for the average kettle user and can drive up the cost of your kettle," says CHOICE kitchen appliance expert Kim Gilmour. 

"Most models we've tested are inaccurate, with some missing the mark by up to eight degrees."

Some models are more accurate than others. If you're after a kettle with multiple temperature settings, check out our kettle reviews first to find the most accurate model. 

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Like coffee, people are very particular about how much milk they take in their tea.

Milk - first or last?

Turns out that the order in which you make your tea is a contentious topic. We polled our Facebook audience on whether you should add milk first or last when making a cup of tea, and ended up with nearly 4000 votes, plus 150 comments from avid tea drinkers. 

Respondents were overwhelmingly in favour of adding milk last: a full 91% of people voted for adding milk after the tea. 

Several of our Facebook followers had theories as to where the 'milk-first' method came from:

  • Milk was usually put in first if pouring from a teapot with no strainer. This allowed the leaves to settle to the bottom quickly for you to drink your cuppa sooner. If milk/ cream was added 2nd it would disturb the tea leaves & take much longer to resettle. - Rebecca
  • I vaguely remember watching a documentary about the 'good old days' when it was said milk in first because it sometimes contained potentially harmful bugs, and pouring boiling water on it first killed them. - Tracy
  • Milk in first so you can see the strength of the tea. You can always add more milk after the tea. We were taught this way from family, and aunts and great aunts the same. - Loraine

Rosemary then schooled us on the origins of milk being added first:

"The milk goes in last. Milk going in first comes from the days when it was the height of fashion to use fine bone china so everyone, rich or poor, used really thin tea cups. 

"The problem was the poorer people couldn't afford genuine bone china so they had really thin cups that were less strong than the genuine article. This meant that the sudden temperature change of pouring hot tea into their inferior cup would greatly risk breaking said cup. So they started pouring the milk first to affect the temperature change. 

"Thus, it became a 'low class' thing to do, pouring your milk first, as if you could afford real bone china, you didn't need to do this."

How do CHOICE supporters make the perfect cup of tea?

We asked our Facebook followers to tell us how they make the perfect brew. Here's what they said:

  • If you warm the pot, the tea has a smoother, rounder taste, with less tannin. If you add the milk last, the tea will stop noticeably brewing, as the temperature is too low. Always use clean water, fresh off the boil. Otherwise, brewing takes forEVER. - Gemma
  • 'Real' tea, boiling (rain) water, brew for about 5 min for white. Milk and sugar in cup first. - Noeleen

If you warm the pot, the tea has a smoother, rounder taste, with less tannin.

Gemma
  • I've lost count of the number of baristas to whom I've explained that if you're using a teabag, don't put milk in first or – more commonly – straight after adding the water. It stops proper steeping. I think I found a scientific paper years ago that said it wasn't true but I can't then help noting every time I drink a tea where the milk was added too soon with the bag, it tastes awful. - Antonia
  • If brewing in a pot use a tea ball so the tea leaves can be taken out when perfectly brewed, not left in to stew into boot leather. - Tanya

Evan shared an unusual method of tea-making:

"First sugar, then tea, then milk. Stir 3 turns clockwise, one anti-clockwise. Then pour it down the sink and make yourself a coffee."

CHOICE staff share their tea quirks

We asked the avid tea drinkers at CHOICE HQ how they make a cuppa, and received some passionate (and detailed!) responses.

  • Loose leaf, brewed for no more than two minutes. Warm the pot if it's winter and always take the pot to the kettle rather than the kettle to the pot in order to get the water on the leaves at its hottest. - Marg
  • Being English I have a few views on this topic! Tea bags should be left in for six minutes… minimum. Only then is milk added. Never before. Earl Grey with milk is, indeed, an abomination. As is any kind of weak, watery, beige-coloured brew. If it's not the colour of a summer sunset it's too feeble for human consumption. - Ian
  • Pu-erh tea [a fermented Chinese tea] is the perfect office tea. Break off a few leaves and you can just keep filling it up with boiling water and drink five cups a day! - Dean

Tea bags are the devil's work. Loose leaf all the way!

Marg
  • I love to make flower tea, and add goji berries for natural sweetness. - Jing
  • I have a weird process for making milkless black tea. I'll fill up the mug with water, stir in a teaspoon of sugar, and then carefully add the teabag. Once it's in, I don't touch the bag until it's ready to come out: there's something oddly satisfying about watching the tea colour slowly diffuse through the water. It doesn't affect the flavour, it's just fun to watch. - Dan
  • My strange/terrible tea habit is that I don't add water to my tea. I warm up the milk and let the tea bag steep in the warm milk as I find water dilutes the milk and the drink becomes not creamy enough for me. You could argue that I'm drinking tea flavoured milk rather than a cup of tea… - Isabel

Earl Grey with milk is an abomination.

Ian
  • I have my tea light brown (as someone referred to it). First I dunk the tea bag a few times in half a cup of boiling water and then tip that water out. Fill the cup with fresh hot water and dunk the tea bag a couple more times, but not too many. I was told by a chemist the first dunking gets rid of the caffeine and tannins and the second dunking just gives you the tea flavour. - Christine
  • My partner's tea habit amuses me greatly – he does not like milky tea, nor does he drink it black. He instead pours about 3–5 drops of milk into his tea so that it falls in neither traditional category. This is incredibly bothersome at cafes because he's quite specific about it, and will often ask the barista if he can pour the milk in himself because they are at risk of over-milking the tea. It's no simple task. - Linda

Lee's tea ritual

CHOICE's People & Culture Consultant Lee shared an in-depth method, passed on through her family for several generations:

  • Warm a teapot first with boiling water and rinse out
  • Add a teaspoon of tea leaves per person and one for the pot
  • Fill with freshly boiled water
  • Cover with a tea cosy
  • Leave for 3-5 minutes (depending on preferred strength)
  • Slowly spin the teapot three times (direction optional)
  • Pour the weakest tea drinker's cup first and leave the last cup for the person who prefers a stronger cup
  • Add sugar (if required) and stir
  • Add a drop of milk last (stirring after milk is optional)
  • Serve immediately on a saucer

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