Come On In My Kitchen
Have a Cup of Brendan Benson’s Tea
Originally published in Arthur No. 15 (March, 2005)
It’s nice to know that the meticulous and charming nature of Brendan Benson’s songwriting carries over to his kitchen as well. Thanks to the track “Tea” on his debut album, letters from die-hard Japanese fans are usually coupled with a bag or two for Benson’s boiling. His latest album, Alternative to Love, is out March 22 on V2. Here’s how to make the perfect cup of tea, as told to Ben Cass.
What you’ll need
Water: This is the most important ingredient. It should be clean, but not loaded with chlorine or other such additives. I take it from the tap, but I’m fortunate to live in a city which boasts a premium grade drinking water. Others may not be so lucky and therefore should substitute using bottled water (just remember: no Coke or Pepsi products, as they undergo a heavy treatment process and are stripped of all character. I recommend Evian or Volvic). Water has flavor, however subtle it may be, and a little of that “regional essence” in the water is a good thing when making tea. If you dislike the taste of your tap water, you might try letting it stand or “mellow” in a clean glass for an hour prior to boiling, thereby allowing the detergents to evaporate and the particles to settle. Pour the water into your kettle, taking care to not disturb the sediment.
A kettle: I have the electric variety which I like very much. You may also use the stovetop variety. I don’t recommend using a cooking pot as it only provides for a poor aesthetic. Attention to such detail is critical in the tea-making process.
Tea bag: I’ve chosen to use the tea bag over the teapot for our purposes. Although the teapot method is more desirable, the tea bag will do just fine as long as it is of the highest quality. Twinnings, Red Rose and Lipton, contrary to popular belief, are not teas suitable for drinking at any time by any man. Avoid these brands at all costs. Ideally your tea should be purchased somewhere in the UK from an ordinary grocery store. Brands such as PG Tips and Tetley are good. Barry’s is a wonderful tea but not as common. If it’s not convenient for you to travel abroad to buy tea then I suggest you search the Internet. I’m sure there is a service from which you can order tea from the UK. Yet another option is to buy Tetley “British Blend” bags if you can find them. Nothing else will do.
Milk and Sugar: Your tea must contain milk in order for it to be deemed proper. Milk neutralizes the tannic acid found naturally in tea. Cream should never be used. Organic, 2% milkfat is ideal; whole milk may be used, but often eclipses the delicate flavor of the tea. Skimmed milk should be avoided. If you are lactose intolerant perhaps you might try an herbal tea (which I personally despise) instead, but under no circumstances should lemon be used as a substitute. Sugar, on the other hand, is an option which you may choose to forgo. I take a little sugar to excel and enhance the effects of the tea.
What to do
Bring water to a rolling boil and let stand for 30 seconds. Swish a little in your cup to warm it and pour it out. Drop the tea bag in and pour the water gently over the bag. Let steep, undisturbed for exactly four minutes. Do not stir. Use a small spoon to remove the tea bag, letting the water drain from the bag. Do not squeeze the bag and do not let the spoon remain in the cup, as it conducts precious heat and will prematurely cool the tea. Add sugar if you’d like, then milk. Stir and enjoy.
Some thoughts about tea: Tea has been enjoyed for centuries throughout the world by the elite and affluent as well as pauper and common man alike. For this reason, I believe its reputation should be upheld, its tradition maintained and the very ceremonious and calming properties, for which it is so loved, preserved.