Serving English tea doesn't require wearing a fancy hat, or holding your pinky out just so. But here are a few bits of insider knowledge that will make your tea serving experience royally approved.
Step One: Boil water
Most English people I have observed do not boil their tea water on the stove top in a whistling tea kettle. Instead they use electric kettles which roar to a boil in about 3 minutes. I love this, and tosses out the old kitchen wisdom of "a watched pot never boils."
Step Two: Scald the teapot
Once the kettle boils, swish some of the water around the empty teapot and tea mugs and then dump it out. This warm up the pot and mugs a bit and will also work loose any tea scum leftover from the previously made pot, because in general no one washes out their utilitarian teapots with soap. Why bother when all it serves is tea?
Step Three: Add the tea bag to the empty pot
In most American restaurants, an order of tea will deliver a cup of hot water to your table with the tea wrapped in its pouch on the side. This is completely wrong. Do not practice this at home! English tea bags, which are string-free and come in shapes such as pyramids and circles to better allow flavors to flow into the hot water, are settled into an empty pot, and then the boiling water is poured in. Loose tea is less common now because of the mess, and tea balls are used occasionally. The English do not approve of "useless strings" on American tea bags. Very important: Lipton is not recognized as a legitimate tea by the English. I'm still fuzzy on this point, but at all costs avoid serving Lipton tea to English friends.
Step Four: Let it 'rest'
Tea is not ready to pour for at least 3 minutes. But this is your preference really, as to how strong you want to serve your tea. Right before you are ready to pour, lift the top of the tea pot and stir clockwise three times to even the flavors. Do not crush the tea leaves! This will release bitter tastes into your tea. And if you are still using tea bags with strings absolutely do not wrap the string around the bag and squeeze. The English consider this a Cruel and Unusual treatment of tea leaves.
Step Five: The order of milk
Milk (or if you must, cream) should cover just the bottom of your tea cup or mug before you pour in the tea. If you are skipping the teapot step, scald your mug, add your tea bag, and then the boiling water. Milk will go in last.
Step Six: Weakest cups are first
Serve anyone who doesn't like their tea strong first since the brew in the pot will quickly gain strength.
Step Seven: Add more hot water to your teapot
One cup of tea is hardly enough so after you have poured the first round, add more hot water to the tea pot and let it steep.
Congratulations, you now know the secrets of making a "real" cup of tea. This will enable you to win friends and influence enemies with aplomb.