Posted by: daviemacdonald | January 29, 2011

Queen Mary and the French Foreign Legion

cookingThe No Tea Bag Zone or how to brew the Macdonald perfect cup of tea.

N.B. Look for the  red star in this for a track of politically inspired music.

Yes, you can brew a great slow-but-fast cup of tea without resorting to a tea bag, which is full of tea dust anyway.

So what we want to do is to brew a great cuppa in the morning or any time we are moving fast.

Many years ago 1965/66 (a time of my mixed up youth) I was told this simple process by a British cook in  the French Foreign Legion.

The need was for a good cup of refreshing tea while stuck in the sand dunes somewhere in North Africa. Especially on a bitterly cold desert night or equally revitalising in the heat of the day, with the added benefit of washing the gritty sand from the teeth while in hiding from the local resistance.

What you need

A good leaf tea. Yes, leaf tea is a quick as tea bags if you follow the method. Remember, this is a “no tea bag and slow food for fast people Zone”.

My favourite is Queen Mary tea.

Twinnings Queen Mary TeaThis used to be widely available from Twining’s until they discontinued it in favour of cost reduction and increased profit and so ended 300 years of quality.

All is not lost, however, with help from the Canberra Tea Centre you can still get the blend. Just pop along there ask for Casey and she will be happy to help you.

Okay those from the other side of the universe in [Sydney], London, Rome , Paris or New York, here is the recipe for Queen Mary so you can blend your own. In equal amounts you need:

  • Scottish Breakfast Tea
  • Kandy from Sri Lanka
  • Sungma a Darjeeling tea

You will need a good air tight storage tin to keep the tea dry.  You can get something like this:

Queen Mary tea tin

Or something like mine:

Marquis of Queensberry tea tin Marquis of Queensberry tea tin
marcella tea tin

Next you need sugar — but not just any old sugar. We must have French in keeping with the origins of this brew.

sugar cubes

La  Perruche sugar lumps You will find these quite irregular in shape and can be obtained from any good delicatessen Yes really this is the secret to making a slow infusion brew fast and it brings a smoothness to the tea notes.  You can choose either white or brown lumps depending what you

find your taste to be. Since variety is the spice of life have a pack of either in your kitchen. But to be authentic it must be La Perruche.

Okay let’s brew.

A kettle with water. Not more water than you need — no need to waste. Who cares if it is absolutely fresh after all it would have been made from what was available from legionnaires canvass or later aluminum water bottles. Just so long it isn’t green.

A pot should be stoneware china or as our cook had, enamel.  Ideally it has always been said you need to warm the pot to delay heat loss. I have never been convinced of this and as we are in a rush we wont bother. We don’t need to waste water either in the desert with Beau Geste or where water is a scarce commodity and we need to get moving.

We then need the tea.

3 teaspoons for the pot of usual size. You may ask why not one per person and one for the pot? The simple answer is no. You will now add the special ingredient sugar. This is the catalyst to brew quickly and efficiently Shock horror to all the purists I know but it saves on the amount of tea we use and saves time in the morning

Add 1 lump of the sugar to the post or if you have no lumps use half a teaspoon of raw sugar. Unlike the La Perruche, normal white sugar is simply not delicate enough for tea.

Now pour the water right to the top because you are bound to want more than one cup each.

The sugar now dilates the membranes of the tea leaves and speeds up the brew and extracts a superior flavour fast. However a good tea still needs (tea bags included) time to brew. This is usually between 4-6 mins. Here you can reduce the time to 3-4 mins  Here is the time  advantage over a tea bag where the process has to be repeated

In the morning this gives you time for to clean your teeth, wash under the armpits, feed the cats, check your email, iron a shirt and then time to pour.

tea tray

Oh milk goes in first.  If you do it last it will have a cloudy appearance and won’t be so smooth. You can use a tea strainer but you will not be able to read the leaves to check if you are going to have a good day or if you ought to postpone it  due to lack of interest and have another cuppa. If you use tea bags you have to repeat the process which doubles up the time and reduces the quality. What quality?

About the milk. I recommend organic and it doesn’t have to be full cream. Having recently lived in Canberra I had a wholesale account at Capital Milk. You could  perhaps via twitter organize some friends into a small Co Op buying group if you don’t need a large quantity yourself. I was buying for a family of 4 so the savings were substantial. The people at the back door of the dairy in Fyshwick were always very helpful. If you like full cream, though not organic Canberra Gold is amazing for an illicit swig while no-one is looking.  A bad habit I have.

If you are a traditionalist about tea, not in a hurry and not cowering behind some sand dune hiding as an uninvited guest from some very annoyed Bedouin or Tuarege freedom fighter  you could go here.

politics Had the French remained in North Africa we may not have music from the resistance  like the band Tinariwen who played at the opening concert at 2010 World Cup. Many members of this band spent time as refugees in Libya


By  mid morning you might want a biscuit or two for dunking. I don’t recommend biscuits at breakfast, but tea is great with a bowl of porridge. Actually I don’t recommend bickies at all if you are carrying too much pudding round the waist but what the heck let’s imagine we are in a perfect world

So what biscuit?

This pie chart may help you decide if you want to go with the minority or the majority your choice of biscuit

dunking data

I recommend in the afternoon a good old Ginger Nut after a hard day’s work or a lift mid afternoon.

Mid morning try rich tea. Nice and light.


[Aren’t pie charts great? You can share all kinds of things with the world – I’ve even seen people post them  too show how much time they spend skiving off work … true]

My X of over 5 years and while we were living together blogged (I wasn’t to know she had a blog) such a pie chart in June 2010 boasting of her weekly time spent flirting with the landscape gardener and with whom according to their twitter had commenced an affair in May duh

Now that’s pretty stupid…….

Okay Happy brewing and I confess I have never ever written a recipe or instructions so this is going to be an interesting journey over the hill for me.  I have a great Bolognese recipe and a Maggie Beer inspired sweet to share sometime soon

Hope you enjoy or had a laugh or two



  1. After my much too short of a time in Australia, it left my life changed in many ways. One of the ways was my newfound preference for a nice hot cup of tea over coffee (rather unAmerican–but becoming much more common lately or maybe I’ve just noticed it now that I shun coffee.) I’ve especially kept up the evening tradition of tea and bickies for the family (however, actually its tea and homemade coconut custard pie for the master of the house, which makes it easier for me to refrain from the sweets since I’m not a fan of custard pie, but apparently I make them well!)

    However, I have always been intimidated by the loose tea and tea pot. So for the past three years in Boston, I have been subsisting on tea bags and an electric kettle. While good, I always knew there was better. Therefore, I especially appreciated this easy ‘how-to’ on making a quick pot! Thank you Mr. David for inspiring me to head over to the tea shop this weekend!! I will certainly let you know how that experience goes. I’m glad you opened this blog, I miss all the little bits of wisdom you have acquired and freely share!

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