Though I enjoy many types of herbal infusions, they are not tea; they are tisanes. I sometimes enjoy a green tea or oolong or some of the specialty teas that have recently come to the fore. But when I say "a proper cup of tea," that means a good black tea, such as Darjeeling, Earl Grey or English breakfast--organic, if possible.
I usually prefer loose teas, but occasionally use teabags. I particularly like the "sachets" from Harney & Sons. Not only can you see the quality of the tea through the fabric, there is room enough for the tea leaves to unfurl properly. I had the pleasure of having afternoon tea with the charming John Harney (the Harney of Harney & Sons) last September when he gave a presentation on my favorite subject to a small group of tea aficionados. His knowledge of tea is amazing!
You will need a tea kettle and a ceramic teapot, both of a capacity to make the quantity you desire. I have a 4-quart kettle and a 3-quart teapot for large crowds, but I mostly use my nearly 30-year-old 1.8-quart white enamel-on-steel Chantal Classic tea kettle and one of my average-size teapots. Everyone loves the Chantal's two-tone Hohner harmonica whistle!
To make a proper pot of black tea, just before a kettle of freshly drawn water comes to the boil, warm the teapot with hot water, empty it, add one teaspoon of tea leaves for each 8 ounces of water. Immediately (that's why the teapot is on the stove in the photo above) pour in the freshly boiling water, let it stand for 5 minutes, stir, and then strain into cups. If you prefer to use a tea ball, be sure it is large enough to allow the tea leaves to unfurl. Serve with sugar or sugar cubes, thin slices (not wedges) of lemon and a small pitcher of milk (never cream).
A proper cup of tea and a warm scone (scone recipe) make a delightful repast!
Update 12/07/16: For how to throw an afternoon tea party and a roundup of afternoon tea recipes, see Afternoon Tea Party Tips.