Dear Auntie Ora,

Is there an art to making a cup of tea?


Pythia picked up the enquiry knowing that she should leave it for Sibyl. Tea etiquette was, after all, the old girl's specialty and the enquirer would be from England, no doubt. Still, Sibyl was a good old thing - she'd do this one for her to clear the backlog while the other two were away, and with a bit of luck no-one would notice. Taking a deep breath she poised over the keyboard and made a start.

My dear Sir,

I'm charmed that you should present this interesting point of etiquette to Delphic Research, Inc. as this is precisely the sort of thing that we are uniquely positioned to advise on.

A good cup of tea is one you can offer to a Yorkshire plumber with no risk that he will then link up your bathroom taps to your electricity supply. This rules out any kind of fruit or herb tea. The only possible exception to this is if your plumber shows up and says, "Any chance of a herbal infusion, luv?", but there has been no evidence of this happening so far in recorded history.

Other weirdo teas don't count, either. Earl Grey tastes like someone has dropped a cigarette in dish water, and people who drink it tend to wear loose clothing and get tired easily. Similarly, steer clear of teas that sound like a developing world folk band, such as Lapsang Souchong, Darjeeling or Assam. Real tea comes in bags - and that doesn't mean little raffia sacks in a delicatessen. If you haven't bought your tea in boxes of 240 bags, then you've been sold a pup. Real tea is what the army refers to as NATO Standard. This is a dark brown colour with full-fat milk and two heaped sugars. Anything less than this and NATO's military capability would be seriously weakened.

Here's how to make it. While waiting for the kettle to boil, put one bag in the bottom of your mug. Some people boast that they can make ten cups of tea from one bag - you'll find them hanging out the used ones to dry - and it's people like these who are mostly responsible for Britain's economic decline. Pour on the water and then add milk. Then get your teaspoon out and give the bag a good bashing. This is where the artistry of tea making resides. The trick is to swill the bag around until your tea is slightly weaker than desired, and then you give the bag a little squeeze with your thumb, to bring it up to strength - just squeeze until your thumb burns.

Give the tea a preliminary stir to check for strength. Add more milk only as a last resort, as it's impossible to add just a drop from a four-pint plastic bottle: unless you have the reactions of Zorro, a "drop" from one of these beasts tends to be about half a pint.

Finally, add sugar. Two sugars is the norm for working people. To take your tea without sugar is as good as an admission that whatever you do in life doesn't require that much effort. If someone else is making tea for you, then it's best to ask for three sugars, because people who don't take sugar can't stir tea properly (generally, because they don't have enough energy).

Yours etc.

Sibyl Stojay
Etiquette Consultant
Delphic Research, Inc.

This tea making stuff wasn't that complicated, surely. Thus Pythia signed off, hoping that no-one could tell it wasn't really Sibyl.