This is Richard, my late brother, having tea during one of the family caravan holidays, before I was born. We were weaned on tea. I’m almost not kidding. I had a splash of tea and sugar in my bottle occasionally.(Just got word from my Mum after she read this that it wasn't actually my bottle, but rather the 6os version of the sippy cup - I apparently was stretching the truth...)
I’m quite normal, apart from an authority disorder on tea.
I’m not saying I think about tea a lot. It’s more reflex than reflection.
And it doesn’t affect me at all, until someone does it wrong - crosses the moralitea line. I mean, there are rules for a reason. No good reason, but for me, there are rules.
Tea may be as close as I come to a religion. And like the trappings of centuries of imposing buildings, asexual robes, funny hats, smelly smoke, and gruesome art, that require more faith than reason, the rules are there to control rabble rousers – in the tea world, those I call non-tealeavers.
The bag.I converted to loose leaf tea a few years ago. Not the snotty stuff that’s expensive enough to trade on street corners at night, but regular tea (like Tetleys) – without the bag – the stuff that clogs your teapot, then your drain. Tea with attitude. Tea that goes commando.
Let’s be frank. The bag just gets in the way.
The water.Tea demands boiling water. Not just off the boil. Not simmering. Boiling. So all those restaurants that have those evil water simmerer things, the ones with the red lever – be gone. There was a deli and coffee shop downstairs from where I once worked. Lovely, lovely people who got to know me and everyone else in the multi-storied tower. Anywhere from 3-4pm Nancy would fill up the water pot, put it on the burner, and turn it up to high. For me. Because if you pour non-boiling water into a cup of tea, the water gets foamy on top. The tea doesn ‘t steep properly, you might as well just tell me to throw it in the microwave.
Moving on, almost.
Another thing....tea cannot be boiled. It cannot sit on the stovetop all day and be reheated when people pop by. Yes, I've seen it.
The pot.I have a gorgeous stainless steel pot, with a very smart filter that sits inside and is easy to remove and clean. The thinking person’s pot…whoever designed that deserves an award. It wasn’t cheap, but it was on sale. However, I see the merits of ceramic pots – the tea does shine in there. Tastes better, gets richer. But the danger of ceramic pots is that you can be seduced by the $7.99 price tag before you test it out. And you just can’t tell. You remove it from the box, approve the colour, the size, the lid, but the danger that lurks for anyone who isn’t really looking…is the spout.
I think there are workers out there making these things for pennies a day, who are frustrated joke cup manufacturers. Pouring tea from a malformed spout is like discovering politicians lie and waste your money. It looks good as you pick it up, then it dribbles onto everything between you and the cup.
And the pour is the important part – both art and science. It’s lyrical, it’s beautiful – and practical…it’s at that point you can test the strength of the steep, and retrench if it’s not ready. A fine spout is all.
The steeping.Weak tea is a crime, surpassed only by weak, milky tea. Tea should be almost mistaken for coffee, but not gone so far as to be mistaken for varnish – if it smells like it could strip wood, it’s gone too far – tannins run amok. I call it crunchy, because it almost won’t go between your teeth.
The cup.Nope none of that fancy cup and saucer for me, though you might be surprised. I want a mug. Although I really do prefer a bone china mug. It does seem to taste better. And no, that doesn’t really make any sense.
The milk.This is not science. The milk for tea goes in first. The cream in coffee goes in last.
Herb tea is not tea.
Well, it might be. But I prefer the name tisane, then I can get my brain around the cranberry, blueberry, cinnamon, thrust of the hot drink on my tongue.
The biscuits.Good for dunking. Not for too long. A dunk can turn to disgust once the biscuit disintegrates into the murky depths.
Is this a little obsessive?
You’ve probably already come to that conclusion. If you’re still reading it’s either because you are fascinated by the weird, or agree, and are trying to figure out if it’s a disorder or just a control issue.
I know we're feeding an addiction. I know it's caffeine (don't start me on decaffeinated tea). But tea means something. It means sitting down - slowing up - sipping - allowing heat and sweetness to calm us. Shall I put the kettle on indicates the termination of trauma. The distilling of disaster. The panacea of panic.
It signals comfort, warmth, love - an assurance that life has moved on. "Fancy a cup of tea?" is one of the friendliest-sounding questions in the English language.