Sunday, 16 August 2009

Tea Snobbery

I was just reading Rhondi's blog "Rose Coloured Glasses" (or "R. COLORED G. if you're American) in which she's showing us a gorgeous tea pot she' bought. It made me think, you know, what a lot of tea snobs we still are here in England.

You would think we invented the stuff. Crikey, we can't even grow it! How you store it, how you warm the pot, how many spoons of tea you use, whether you stir it or just leave it to infuse (or 'mash' or 'brew' depending on where you come from in this sceptred isle), what temperature the water should be, milk into the cup first or last, sugar lumps or granulated. It's a minefield!

Now I wouldn't presume to tell you how you ought to mash tea - my term of choice. I just want to lead you gently through some of the pitfalls, then you're on your own.

The first Enormous Question is "Tea bags or leaf tea?". Now I have to say that even here most people use teabags. Purists will by now have shot me down in flames because, as EVERYBODY knows, teabags are just the sweepings-up from the packing room floor. Incuding the dust and ants and spiders and leftover sandwich crumbs. OK, following? So leaf tea it is then then.

By common consent, you keep tea in a cool, dry place but NOT in a tupperware box even if it has "Tea" printed on it in pseudo gold-leaf. Not in anything made of plastic. A wooden tea caddy for choice but a china one if you must. Eons ago they used to line their wooden tea caddies with lead but someone must have set them right on that score. The lady of the house also used to keep her tea caddy locked so the dastardly servants didn't pinch it because tea was almost literally worth its weight in gold. We might do well to consider this idea again. Oh, I forgot, we don't have servants! So, it's in an unlocked wooden box. Are you with me so far? It's a wonder Tupperware hasn't gone out of business seeing as it seems not to be recommended for anything very much.

How much tea to use - that's a tricky one. If you use the 'one for each cup and one for the pot' rule of thumb you're setting yourself up for tea you could stand your spoon up in! Some people actually like it like that - there's nowt so queer as folk! Ooh, my friend Marcy is going to have a field day with that last statement! I say, make it how you like it and if anyone wants it stronger, stick a tea bag in their cup for them to stab at.

When the water hits the tea in the pot it has to be boiling and you must "...always use freshly drawn water.". The tea is supposed to be in a dry pot. It's important, apprently. It's also important you warm the pot by putting some of the boiling water in it. By the time you have done this and then dried the pot and put your loose tea in you'll be lucky if it's even lukewarm by the time the water hits.

Whether you put the milk in first or last is a knotty problem which has long occupied the purists. Personally, I don't put any milk in at all, not in mine, but this has maybe made me a bit selfish because if you put the milk in last it means you have to mucky a spoon stirring the tea (more washing up) when your guest might not have bothered if he/she didn't want sugar. Put the milk in first and it's self-agitating. Of course you always get the guest who can't possibly get on and drink the stuff until he/she has stirred it within an inch of its life. I had an uncle like that. He did all his best thinking while gazing blankly into space stirring his tea. No doubt he had a learned tome on the origin of the species within him only Darwin stirred his tea first.

Sugar lumps or granulated is a matter of personal choice too. People like my uncle are better off with lumps as they take a little while to dissolve and gives some purpose to their labour. Don't give such people the best china cups through - a thick mug will do - as, once done stirring, they absolutely HAVE to rap the edge of the spoon sharply on the rim of the cup. Twice. Your best Spode won't stand it.

Arrogantly, we are always surprised to find other nationalities do drink tea. We thought it was our sole preserve. They don't half do some strange things with it though.

My German friend likes hers made in a pot and the pot then perched on a stand with a tea light (a little candle thing) under it. That saves using a tea cosy and is fine if you like stewed tea. Then she pours some cream - CREAM - in her cup, followed by a couple of spoonsful of white candy sugar. Then she pours on the stewed tea into the mix very carefully but doesn't stir it. She drinks the tea, being careful not to disturb the syrupy sediment in the bottom. Then it's in with the teaspoon and she EATS the sugary mess! Then she does it all over again.

An Indian bloke that Keith worked with didn't use water at all in his. He infused a cinnamon stick in boiling milk to make it. Well, it did at least solve ONE problem! You would think he'd know better, coming from the same place as the tea. It couldn't be US who's wrong could it?

I favour this method, as long as no guests are coming: TYea bag in mug, boil the kettle up - for the umpteenth time - and leave tea bag i while you find a nice biscuit to dunk. Fish tea bag out and enjoy.

How do you drink yours?


FrankandMary said...

My friend Audrey bought me a tea ball and lots of exotic teas while she was in Europe many years ago. She was Ms Tea and I was Ms Coffee and she was looking to convert me. I must say they were DELICIOUS, but that was many years ago, and I am a Starbucks coffee devotee now.

Thanks for the tea education :). I love: I wouldn't presume to tell you... ha ha ...sure you would.

Marie said...

Ohhh, what a wonderful tutorial on the niceties of a good brew. I don't really drink tea at all now, but when I did I used to love leaf tea, and Earl Grey please or English Breakfast, but my favourite of all was Bigelow's Constant Comment, infused with sweet orange spice. No milk. No sugar. No lemon. Pure tea.xxoo

Jasper said...

What an interesting post! You can't beat a good old cuppa. We make ours the same way you do. ALTHOUGH an interesting variation, pot-wise: one ordinary teabag + one Earl Grey and/or Lapsang Suchong teabag in the pot. Lovely.

Did you know that, in Jane Austen's Chawton cottage, Jane herself was in charge of the tea and the sugar. A big responsibility in those days, as both were so expensive and a real luxury. She used to jokingly boast about having the key to the tea-chest in her pocket! Just a l'il bit of trivia for you. xx

Jasper & R xxx

Joyce said...

I have a huge collection of tea pots and honestly if I am home alone with my husband we just boil water and pour it over a tea bag in a big mug. When company comes I make a big deal out of letting them pick the pot and the cozy etc. They seem to have fun with all the hoopla associated with tea. Yes I do have a wooden tea chest:)

I'm mostly known as 'MA' said...

When I used to have time...before I worked everyday I'd take the time to put the tea in a pot and use the tea cozy to keep it warm. I use bags as it is convenient, but I've tried the leaves too and didn't find much difference. In the summertime I drink pitcher after pitcher of iced tea. Now I usually just put the bag in a cup and pour the boiling water over it or even nuke it in the microvave for a minute. I always have my coffee in the morning, but then switch to tea later on. I may stop using the bags though after your description of them...

Grammy Staffy said...

Angie, come back and visit me again. My post is working now.

I must run but will come back and visit you soon. Love, Lura

Eileen said...

I used to drink tea all the time, for years and years I was off coffee, it was only tea for me! But I just used a tea bag, and I worked with a girl from Scotland at the time and she was aghast at that! She had a whole ritual she went through, with her little tea strainer bob or whatever it was called, and then she'd 'read' the tea leaves left at the bottom of everybody's cup!
My brother once had tea and took his saucer and covered the mug to let it sit a spell and his Irish father-in-law said, "Son, what's the matter with you? Sure, you haven't turned English on me now, have you?"

Now I'm back to strictly coffee. But thanks for the tips, I may one day go back to tea again!
All the best,

Diana said...

Wonderful tea post Angie. Your german friends way with tea seemed a bit odd though!
I have my tea several different ways as I like several different teas! It just depends on which one I have a flavor for at the time! However I will say that the only tea that I put milk in is black tea.

Mindy and Ernie's Clan said...

Hi Angie,
I like to have tea partys.
I am claire.
I am at grammys house.
I put new pichirs on my blog.
Please come an see them.
Love, Claire

Eddie Bluelights said...

Great to meet you at last Angie and thanks for you lovely comments at my place. We had some fun at Marcy's place even though I get only one party in my entire life!!

With all the anticsat Marcy's I would have thought you might have held a "Mad Hatter's Tea Party" but glad to see it was highly civilised and cultured as good English do's go.

I am sigbing up as your humble and obedient follower - please be gentle with me! ~ Eddie

Eddie Bluelights said...

Having difficulty signing up on blogger - will try again soon ~ Eddie

Joan said...

Good Morning Angie, what a lovely refreshing entry loved reading it and it did make me chuckle. I don't drink tea I'm a coffee person and so is hubby but he does drink tea if he is ill for some reason or another. When I get unxepected guests I have to search at the back of the cupboard for the teabags as they have drifted there since the last time a tea drinker visited. Have a great day. Love Joan

Patchwork Dragon said...

What a great post Angie! I do like to make mine in a pot, even if I use teabags. If I do that then it's milk in first.

I must be getting lazy in my old age as I increasingly make it in the cup....and then the milk goes in last as I don't like the idea of pouring the boiling water onto the milk, you're in effect scalding it, so I figure it must affect the you know how much you need once you've made the tea!

Patchwork Dragon said...

Just a thought about the tale that tea bags contain the sweepings....just think about how many tea bags are sold in UK every year, or even every week....that's an awful lot of sweepings....probably more sweepings than "good" tea!!

bron said...

I'm a coffee person through and through but me muvva thinks a pot of tea is the answer to all life can throw at you. Absolute obsessive about warming the pot, right amount of tea (from a wooden box with a lid that slides out sideways) only adding boiling water, has to have cosy, letting it sit till it's strong enough, right amount of milk in first... Could be why I'm a coffee person :) All of this in Oz.

I've lived here 25 years now. For each time my parents come to London I run about like a mad thing to be sure I have tea leaves and a pot and a cosy that fits. It is getting increasingly difficult to buy leaf tea - my corner shop sells EVERYTHING from treacle to callaloo but no longer sells loose tea. All of this I do to be sure that she is happy. Then about 5 years I go on a visit to Oz and I offer to make her tea.

And lo - she has tea bags in the cupboard. Tea bags.

Blessings each day said...

Can't believe I didn't post here, but both my computer and blogger have been driving me nuts (can you get driven nuts in GB?)

Not being a coffee drinker, tea really is my cup of tea. I do love my green tea and even had just the leaves to brew and some other stuff that was floating down there in the bottom (a tad scary...why do they put those extras in there?). It was very good but the bags are much less messy.

Thank you for all the great information...think I will treat myself to reading it all again!

By the way, I finally posted about the dock leaves today. You can even brew them too!

Amazing that tea was considered so valuable at one time...should we try paying for our gasoline (petrol?) with tea bags now?

blessings and hugs,


Queen B. said...

My sister in law was on business in London, and sent me tea from Harrods...
It was divine, and I'm sooo sad it's all gone :(
I drink tea with a splash of milk and sugar...

joolzmac said...

Hi Angie

I'm waiting for a blog about you Poms stealing the Ashes back off us poor Aussies. Lol!

I personally like my tea hot, strong (as in leave the tea bag in, thanks)and with 2 sugars. I can have it black or with milk, doesn't matter. I think hot tea is refreshing on a hot day too.

I like Bushells black tea, Twinings Earl Grey, Lady Grey, English Breakfast and Peppermint tea. I like Twinings Chai - yummy on a cold day.

Cheers - Joolz

Sage said...

I enjoyed reading your take on Tea Snobbery; I am a tea lover, so was my mom. I have no use for coffe which Canadians are addicted to.
I have gone through every kind of tea you can think of. At the moment I am in love with Higgins & Burke Green tea. It is what makes me happy at the moment. can't buy anywhere in Canada anymore, but they serve this in all the good reataurants. My problem is now solved; one of my son is a chef and he orders the tea for me where he gets his products. I think this might be a good subject for my blog; what do you think Angie, should I do it?
Take care,