Tom Parker Bowles on How to Make the Perfect British Cup of Tea

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Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Tom Parker Bowles swears there aren't any tea feuds in his own family even though his own step-father, Prince Charles, is said to be quite picky. But Bowles can talk for hours over the complex relationship Brits have with tea in general. "There is tea as a drink, tea as a meal, tea as etiquette. It is one of the few meals that you can say is wholly British," Parker Bowles says.

We are chatting about his new book, Time for Tea, with British food emporium Fortnum & Mason, which covers the history of tea as well as recipes developed by Fortnum's chefs, mixologists, and tea experts. "The story of tea is quite controversial and tied to the history of the British Empire, including imperialism and monopolies, which are not very good things at all," says Parker Bowles. "Yet today it is ingrained in British culture. So we started with tea's origins in China and Japan, and went up through the British East India Company—who were a pretty bad bunch actually, very greedy—and Americans throwing that tea into the harbor."

Photo credit: David M. Benett - Getty Images
Photo credit: David M. Benett - Getty Images

Personally, Parker Bowles likes to start his day what is called "builder's tea," a robust cup of black tea with a little milk and sugar. Prince Charles, it seems, prefers his tea with milk and honey, whereas the Queen likes a little milk with no sugar. The royal family has been a fan of loose leaf tea for years. Parker Bowles explains that the tea leaves are larger when they are loose and produce a more nuanced flavor than the bag. "Just like wine, tea has a terroir to it, and that is better expressed with the larger leaves."

He also recommends boiling fresh, filtered water (never microwaving the cup), since the taste of the water can infiltrate the taste of the overall brew. As for the rest, he waves a hand. "It is your cup of tea, it doesn't really matter if you add milk first or tea first or prefer honey over sugar." This doesn't mean Parker Bowles isn't particular. "It is very hard to find a good cup of tea in New York City," he says, citing Tea & Sympathy as a rare favorite. In London, "Any good hotel will do, but tea at Claridge's and the Ritz are classic."

For those who aren't in London, or New York City for the matter, Fortnum & Mason has put together a special edition of its famed hampers and tea to order.

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