October 10, 2006

Tea and Me

Hard to tell us apart really. Steve says my DNA is 75% tea…when I’m on low.

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.

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.
Now...moving on.

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.



Julie said...

Why is it that America is so much more into coffee than tea? Tea seems such a more civilized ritual. Putting the ketlle on seems like the perfect way to handle almost any crisis or trauma.

Nicola said...

I almost kept going on my love of coffee, which is second only to my love of the cha...tea...cuppas...but it's funny that coffee doesn't have that same notion of comfort and safety that having a cup of tea does.

Pam said...

I think coffee can be just as companionable as tea but no one in America will simply sit and sip - we're much more likely to grab a cup and take it in the car with us - big mistake!

Thanks for a lovely post about all the things you like about well-made tea. Just one question - how do you know how much milk to put in the cup before you pour the tea? Do you just pour enough tea until it's the color you like? Or is there some specific amount ordered by the powers that be?

Nicola said...

ahhhh Pam the milk question - that becomes a matter of experience. One woman I know likes her tea strong, but milky. Not for me. But rest assured, despite my despotic post, there are no tea police. It's just a matter of finding the right balance for you and the cow.

And I never even touched on the lemon or milk question - my friend (and occasional post-er here)Tox Man brought that up tonight.

I've also noticed that coffee is a work-it-through kind of drink. I LOVE coffee and it seems to be part of my work. It can be part of a meeting, an interview with a new boss, a work-through-my-problem kind of drink - it's not cuddly like tea, it's kind of tea with steroids/attitude/adrenaline...but it's wondrous all the same - and I've finally found a strong brew that's fair trade, so i'm happy.

Pam said...

Well, except I _love_ a cup of really fragrant coffee as an ending to a meal - not espresso, that requires too much fortitude - but just good coffee with cream. Better after a heavy meal than dessert and I can just feel myself relaxing and enjoying that marvelous smell....! Heaven!

Thanks for the answer re milk and how much to add. I have always wondered...

Julia said...

Ahh tea...I enjoyed that and was inspired to make a pot of tea...twice today already. It does have all those cuddley, cozy,comforting social attributes. My daughter Olivia will ask with glee if she should 'make tea' which an algory for the family sitting togther enjoying each others company. It's often at the end of the day and so I'm sad to say it has to be decafe or nothing.

If love is the indispensable ingredient of home cooking, then is Tea the indispensable drink of love?

Nicola said...

Wow Julia...I love that question. Had to think about that one. I think a few drinks fall into that category: wine...champagne...hot chocolate

But I do think tea is the drink of resolution, peace, meeting of the minds (and maybe palates).