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Hot enough for you? Seven tips for serving tea properly in restaurants – or anywhere

UPDATED: Tue., June 29, 2021

After a year of working from home and rarely eating in restaurants, it suddenly struck me again how difficult it is to get a good cup of tea when dining out. Every now and then, there’s a wildcard restaurant that nails it – I’m looking at you, Park Lodge, with the tiny cast-iron pots and perfectly steeped loose leaf tea.

But, more often than not, you’re safer braving the coffee. So, in hopes of helping out my fellow tea lovers, here’s a list of do’s and don’ts for serving tea in restaurants – or anywhere, really.

1. If a customer asks for black tea (Earl Grey, English Breakfast, etc.), immediately ask whether they would like milk or sugar. Herbal teas (excepting chamomile) and green teas, on the other hand, do not go well with milk; teas with citrus will curdle it.

2. Try to use filtered water – tap water will corrupt the flavor. For similar reasons, avoid boiling water again. Water that has been boiled several times in the same room will begin to absorb surrounding odors.

3. Make sure the water is boiling before you add it to the pot, and, for the love of God, never bring a cup to the table with water in it if you’re also bringing a full pot. I say this because if you only have one tea bag, you can only steep your tea properly in either the cup or the pot, never both.

I understand the rationale, “Well, they’ll probably ask for more hot water anyway, so why not bring it at the get-go?”

Because it takes 3-5 minutes to properly brew a cup of tea and another 5 to drink it comfortably.

In other words, by the time you get to the extra water in the pot, not only will it be too cold, but it will also dilute the remaining tea, making it doubly undrinkable.

4. If you bring more hot water, always bring a new tea bag. If a customer doesn’t ask for a new tea bag, they’re wrong – and they will regret it. Think about it this way: If you were serving coffee and were asked for more, you would never just add hot water to the mug. The same goes for tea.

5. If you really want to go above and beyond, steep the tea before you bring it to the table. The tea box should tell you how long to wait. Black tea should generally steep for 4-5 minutes in boiling water; times and temperatures for herbal teas vary.

So, set a timer, wait the required time and, when the time has passed, remove the tea bag with a spoon, stirring slightly.

6. Lighter teas will require a lower steeping temperatures to avoid burning the leaves. Jasmine tea, for example, should steep between 170 and 175 degrees.

7. Lastly, tea can go bad, so remember to check the expiration dates on opened boxes.

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