You cannot have first-rate tea or coffee unless you use freshly-boiled water. Water that has been boiled for an hour or more lacks life, and gives a dull taste to the decoction. Draw freshly filtered water and let it come to a hard boil before using.
Scald the pot and immediately put into it the tea-leaves.
When the water boils hard, pour upon the tea-leaves the required quantity of water. Shut down the cover of the tea-pot and let it stand just five minutes before serving.
To give the proportions of tea and water is impossible, as such different degrees of strength are demanded. One teaspoonful of tea to a pint of water, steeped five minutes, makes a weak tea. Two teaspoonfuls give the color of mahogany, if an English breakfast tea is used. Oolong tea does not color the water very much, so its strength cannot be as well judged in that way. Tea, to be perfect, should not steep longer than five minutes; it may continue to grow stronger after that time, but the flavor is not as good, and if the leaves remain too long in the water the tea becomes bitter.
The Russians, who are reputed to have the best tea, prepare it at first very strong, getting almost an essence of tea; this they dilute to the strength desired, using water which is kept boiling in the samovar. Water removed from the kettle and kept in a pot where it falls below the boiling-point, will not give satisfactory results in diluting a strong infusion.
Where a quantity of tea is to be used, as at receptions, it is well to put the tea into a swiss muslin bag, using enough to make a very strong infusion. Place the bag in the scalded pot; add the boiling water; after five minutes remove the bag. Keep a kettle of water boiling over an alcohol flame, and use it to dilute the tea as needed. The tea will then be as good as though freshly made. If, however, the leaves are allowed to remain in the pot the tea will not be fit to use after a short time, and no matter how much it may be diluted, it will still have an astringent taste.
Silver balls are convenient to use where one or two cups at a time only are to be made for the friend who drops in for the afternoon cup of tea. The ball holding the tea is placed in the cup, water from the boiling kettle poured over it, and the ball removed when the water has attained the right color.
Various preparations of tea are made by adding flavorings. The so-called Russian tea is made by adding sugar and a thin slice of lemon to each cup; tea punch by soaking the sugar first in rum or brandy. These, however, as well as milk, destroy the flavor of tea and change the character of the drink. Iced tea is a very refreshing drink in summer. It is served in glasses, with plenty of cracked ice, and should not be made very strong, or it will become clouded when the ice is added. Iced tea is improved by adding lemon. One tablespoonful of lemon-juice to a glass of tea is a good proportion.