Perfect tea brew follows simple rules

GOLDEN QUEST: Where is the tea equivalent of a barista?
GOLDEN QUEST: Where is the tea equivalent of a barista?

"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me," said CS Lewis, and I am a bit like Lewis. I am also a bit like Mick Jagger who asserts, "I got nasty habits; I take tea at three".

My ideal cup of tea is made by putting loose leaf tea into a pre-warmed teapot, pouring in boiling water, stirring, covering with a tea cosy and leaving to brew until it is the right strength. I serve in a large, but not too large, china cup. To complete the experience I share tea with a friend.

I have tried to replicate this tea experience in cafes around Nelson. But maybe this is what Mick was referring to when he said "nasty habits". Invariably, I get a luke-warm cup of tea made with a stale tea bag, steeped too long or not long enough. And the milk has been sloshed in as an after-thought. Where is the tea equivalent of a barista?

For $4 I expect better. After serious tea tasting, I have found a few gems to share in the hope that other cafes will read this and be inspired to lift their game.

Just out of the CBD is Melrose House Cafe in a grand historic building. Melrose offers "high tea", a genteel occasion for indulging in homemade savoury and sweet delights. The menu said French Champagne was also available but, as it was 2pm and close to school pick-up time, I settled for fruit herbal tea. It came in a large pot with delightful service and a veranda overlooking beautiful gardens. It was so good that next time I'll come earlier and indulge more fully.

Last week when yoga was cancelled, we visited a cafe called @bridge–st. Part of the Bridge Street Collective, it has trendy concrete floors and an industrial-looking interior.

Cool-looking, but by no means cold inside, this cafe is warm and makes great tea and coffee. The tea comes in a pot, the milk in a jug, the cups are attractive and the tea of the leaf variety sourced from Pomeroy's. There's also good collection of magazines and tasty morsels made on the premises. Bliss.

In Montgomery Square is Pomeroy's, who describe themselves as coffee & tea specialists. You can drink tea at their cafe or buy exquisite teas such as Bai Mu Dan to brew at home.

My tea experience at Pomeroy's was pretty good with the tea coming in a lovely green pot-for-one and the milk in a separate jug. The teapot was so gorgeous that I have bought one for a friend and am wondering if I need one for drinking tea at home.

A place to get loose-leaf tea to make a perfect cup of tea at home is Millefeuille, the House of a Thousand Leaves, on Nile St East. This boutique shop sells premium leaves from all over the world and there are teas from China, India, Ceylon and Japan as well as blended teas, herbal teas and fruit teas.

Other Nelson contenders for best cup of tea are Devilles, Oasis and Cafe Olive. The tea was just how I like it; and I was able to pour tea from my pot when I was ready.

How do you know when to pour?

The Twinings website says to pour a cup of water over the tea bag the moment it boils and steep for three to five minutes. Dilmah advises adding a cup of freshly boiled water to one of their tea bags, stirring after one minute, and then brewing for another two to three minutes before pouring.

A British "tea panel" says the best tea is made with English breakfast loose-leaf tea steeped for 3.5 minutes in a pre-warmed china pot. Research by a British university concludes that you should add 200ml of freshly boiled water to a tea bag, steep for two minutes, remove the bag, add 10ml of milk and then wait for six minutes before drinking. I wonder if the Queen has views on the perfect cup of tea?

And that's the thing about tea: no two people will drink it the same way or make it the same way. Therefore cafes should provide a teapot, a jug of hot water, a jug of milk and leave me to make my exacting brew just the way I like it.

The cafe at 111 Bridge Street is on track to become my favourite place for a cup of tea at three o'clock or any other time.

But I suspect there are other gems out there that I don't know about.