by Simon Lavarack on
June 6, 2020

How to make the perfect tea with milk for High Teas

The BBC has reported that online searches for ‘cream tea’ home deliveries are up 750%, and searches for ‘afternoon tea’ are up 650% since the start of lockdown.

I couldn’t agree more with everyone’s thinking. In these uncertain times, tea, scones and the odd crustless sandwich are a comforting British tradition. Done well, they bring a sense of occasion – and just a hint of glamour – to our lockdown days.

But how do you do elevate your cream tea or indeed your breakfast?  Getting the tea right is a good start!

To do this, there are just five simple steps to consider:

1. Breakfast Tea is Best

It’s usually taken in the afternoon, but with cream tea you really want to be drinking a breakfast-style tea with it.

We asked Ed – JING founder and tea guru – what he would recommend. He immediately said: “a rich and malty breakfast-style tea is the best counterpoint to scones with thick clotted cream, sweetened with sticky strawberry jam. And for such an occasion, it’s ‘a must’ to make the tea loose in a pot with good quality milk.”

In our search for the perfect tea for this occasion, we’ve narrowed down three things: the best type of tea (leaves), the right type of milk and the simple steps to make the perfect cup.

After looking at black teas from India, China, Sri Lanka and Africa, we choose Assam because its teas are strong, rich and robust, and big on malt flavour. Milk and Assam tea go better together than with any other tea because the milk softens the assertiveness of the Assam tea without losing the tea’s flavour, resulting in a distinctive and comforting cup. The maltiness also compliments the naturally occurring sugars in the milk.

Picking Assam tea – notice the large, deep green leaves. Teas from Assam are rich and robust with loads of malty flavour
Picking Assam tea – notice the large, deep green leaves. Teas from Assam are rich and robust with loads of malty flavour

2. Free Your Tea!

The best way to make any tea is to use loose leaves. Infuse them in a pot that has plenty of space for them to move around and release their full flavour and richness – you’ll get much more depth than you will from a teabag that’s trapped all of the leaves. For the infusion itself, you’ve got two options…

If you like your tea lighter:

  • Use 4g of Assam Breakfast per 250ml cup of filtered (and ideally softened) boiling water.
  • Infuse it for 3 minutes and pour out the entire infusion, including the very last drops.
  • Use 30ml of a good quality milk (we recommend organic whole milk).

If, like us, you like your tea stronger:

  • Use 6g of tea per 250ml cup of freshly filtered (and ideally softened) boiling water.
  • Infuse for 4 minutes and pour out the entire infusion, including the very last drops.
  • Use 50ml of a good quality milk (we recommend organic whole milk).

We like it this way because you get loads of strength from the tea which perfectly complements the thickness of the milk, resulting in a super-satisfying, decadent cup.

Thinking of milk…

3. Milk First, Tea Second

When making loose tea in a pot, add the milk to the bottom of your chosen cup before pouring the tea. This results in a better taste – the flavour of the tea and milk combine together more seamlessly. If you add milk second, the flavours of the tea and milk separate. And the other benefit of adding milk first is that you don’t need to stir!

However, if you’re making your tea with a bag dropped into the bottom of your mug, you’ll probably know that you need to add milk after tea. With a 3-5 minute infusion, the strength and flavour of breakfast-style teas depend on very hot water – so putting milk together with a tea bag in your mug will cool the water and give you a weak cup of tea. So if you are making tea in a mug with a tea bag – you have to add the milk second, once the tea has fully infused.

English breakfast teas go best with whole dairy milk, as it adds a thick, creamy texture and a natural sweetness to the tea’s malt and honey notes.

Alternative dairy-free milks work too – we recommend Oatly Oat Drink Barista Edition and even Oatly’s Creamy Oat for something even thicker.

4. Sideline the Silverware

Glass and ceramic are the best materials for teapots. Unlike metal, including silver, they do not conduct heat away from the water. Metal teapots can inhibit the infusion and taint the flavour. They also collect residues.

If you go for a glass teapot, you can watch the leaves as they unfurl and dance around the pot and see the bright colour of the infusion. Our glass One Cup and Two Cup Tea-ieres are designed for exactly this purpose.

Warm the pot before you add the leaves. By doing this, you’ll get an incredible aroma from the leaves, as the heat activates them. But most importantly by warming the pot in advance, the heat from the water will not be conducted away; all of its energy will go on getting the flavour and strength from the tea.

5. Pour It All Out

For the complete, perfect cup to accompany your afternoon tea, be sure to pour out the whole infusion into your favourite mug (or bone china cup and saucer). You want everything from the infusion down to the final drops – these are closest to the leaves and therefore contain a huge amount of the strength and flavour that you want in your cup.

om, head of tea, tastes his way through some fresh teas with Mr. Satyajit Bhuyan, manager of Harmutty Tea Estate.
Tom, Head of Tea, tastes fresh teas with Mr. Satyajit Bhuyan, manager of Harmutty Tea Estate.
Don't forget to pour out the entire infusion (including the last drops) to get the best strength and flavour
Pour out the entire infusion to get the best strength and flavour

For something completely different…

Breakfast-style black teas are the classic accompaniment to an afternoon tea – and rightly so, as we have just seen. However, lockdown has clearly been a time for lots of people to experiment with at-home cream teas, if nothing else!

For anyone who wants to try something new with their afternoon tea, I’ve got two exciting alternatives to Assam Breakfast…

The Milk-Free Option

Phoenix Honey Orchid is an oolong tea with a good texture on the palate – which provides a light bitterness or refreshing bite to it – and fruitiness. Much lighter than a breakfast-style black tea, it is incredibly fragrant with complex aromas. The fruitiness is sharp and stone fruit-like.

A cream tea needs a tea that is strong enough to stand up to the intensity of a scone with loads of cream and jam. Phoenix Honey Orchid has that strength and a wonderful texture in the mouth that off-sets the cream, working almost as a palate cleanser. Its fruitiness complements the jam.

To make this one:

  • Use 4g of loose leaf Phoenix Honey Orchid per 250ml cup of freshly filtered (and ideally softened) boiling water
  • Infuse for 3 minutes and pour out the entire infusion, including the very last drops.
  • No milk needed.
  • Remember to use every last drop each time and you can re-infuse the leaves up to 3 times.

The Caffeine-Free Option

My second alternative is Rooibos. For a herbal infusion, Rooibos packs great richness and strength and it’s the only herbal infusion I enjoy with milk. With a cream tea, the tangy fruit flavour in Rooibos refreshes the palate after the creaminess of the scones. The vanilla notes in the infusion also pair well with the floral qualities of the fresh red fruit in jam. That said, I enjoy this pairing most when I replace the jam with marmalade as the Rooibos with milk tasted sweeter and its Seville orange fruitiness really came out.

To make this one:

  • Use 3g of loose leaf Rooibos per 250ml cup of freshly filtered (and ideally softened) boiling water.
  • Infuse for 3 minutes and pour out the entire infusion, including the very last drops.
  • Use 50ml of milk (optional).
  • You can re-infuse the leaves twice.
Don't forget to pour out the entire infusion (including the last drops) to get the best strength and flavour

And Finally…

Scones are easy enough to make fresh at home, and they always taste best when they are still hot from the oven. No doubt some of our favourite chefs will be sharing ‘how to’ videos in time for the great British summer.

Can’t wait that long? I tried scones from my local Gail’s, which is delivering around London and to some lucky places in the South East. They were generously portioned and baked in the classic way – no raisins! They had a rich, buttery taste and the all-important perfect crumb that I was looking for to match my strong Assam Breakfasttea. Gail’s will also deliver you the jam, marmalade, and good quality milk. For the perfect, indulgent mid-week afternoon tea break, all you have to do is not forget the clotted cream.

For the perfect, indulgent mid-week afternoon tea break, all you have to do is not forget the clotted cream.
For the perfect, indulgent mid-week afternoon tea break, all you have to do is not forget the clotted cream.
  ,