On this blog, only one hot, caffeinated beverage gets the love (see: coffee), but what about the other hot, caffeinated beverage? No, not boiled Coke, I’m talking about tea.
Funny story: the other day I Tweeted, “I think I’m ready to own a teapot.”
I Tweeted that because we do drink tea here at Chez Amateur Gourmet; and though we went for a while buying whole tea leaves at McNulty’s and stuffing them into metal tea balls that we dropped into our mugs, we’ve now reverted back to tea bags. And I like the idea of using a tea pot. Several times, over the course of writing my cookbook, chefs would serve me tea and they’d always do it from a tea pot. And I thought that was really nice.
So I Tweeted what I Tweeted, and rather quickly I got a response from someone named Alexandra King (@Alexandrasking on Twitter), a U.N. journalist & writer: “FYI,I am an nyc dwelling english girl,and it took me forever to find one, but I finally got the perfect pot in chelseamarket.”
When I responded that I wanted to know more, she asked for my e-mail address and wrote me a wonderful e-mail. It’s such a wonderful e-mail about tea, by a real live Brit-in-exile, that I asked if I could publish it here. So here it is. Read it over and then share YOUR thoughts about a proper tea in the comments.
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Subject: A nice cup of tea.
Firstly, I love your blog. I read it even before I moved to New York.
Secondly. Some background on tea. Now the Chinese think that they are awesome at tea. They have a ritual that takes approximately 5 hours dedicated exclusively to it. And admittedly, they do grow tonnes of the stuff. But let me tell you, if you need to know about tea, you need to talk to an English person. Every person from the UK hears the words ” I’ll put the kettle on darling” at least 5 times a day. We grow up with a standard 4 cups daily. We have biscuits (cookies) specifically DESIGNED not to crumble when they are dunked into a hot cup of Earl Grey.
You make a pot of tea when someone gets engaged, when someone dies, if you know bad news is coming or if you just want to show them you love them. I find it physically impossible not to ask anybody who enters my house for even the tiniest of milliseconds if they want a cup of tea. I have boxes of English teabags sent over by ever-loving mama and my friends. My American boyfriend is baffled but has still taken to the odd cup every now and then.
Now for the nitty gritty.
Firstly, I direct you to George Orwell’s brilliant essay “A Nice Cup of Tea”:
Bear in mind this is a man who spent most of his life allegorizing the Russian Revolution, highlighting the plight of the English working class and writing his own personal vision of a dystopian nightmare. He wrote this with the same level of passion. This is how important tea is to English people.
As you can see from George, tea absolutely should be made in a pot. Sad lonesome teabags in mugs make me feel terribly sad. What he says about warming the pot is CRUCIAL. Never put hot water into a cold pot. My Grandmother used to send me into the garden for doing this.
Milk is imperative, unless your tea is herbal. Your milk should be at room temperature before you put it into the cup, NEVER straight from the fridge. This instantly has the effect of committing the cardinal sin of tea making, which is that it makes your tea cold. To an English person, anything less than palate scaldingly hot is too cold. Sugar should be avoided (a true English response to the offer of sugar is “nahhh mate, sweet enough already.”)
As for the tea leaves versus bags argument, I’m fine with both, as long as you have a good strainer, but frankly, and I know this because I’ve tried it, paying 15 dollars for fancy tea leaves from Dean and Deluca is a mugs game. The only tea that tastes better in loose leaves is Jasmine. But that’s just my personal opinion. What you want is a good STRONG tea. As soon as the water hits the bag, the water should instantly turn a strong brown. In the US, Twinings is still the best brand in my opinion (though it’s not as good as English Twinings.)
As for the pot itself, I got mine from the big cookshop towards the end of Chelsea Market. It’s a plain white pot with a handle. A handle is an excellent idea for obvious reasons. But another crucial teapot accessory is a TEA COSY. Do American use them? I’ve never seen/found one and use one from home. They are crucial because they keep your pot really nice and warm and make your tea hotter longer. Before I shipped my cosy over, I just used an old wooly hat. (This actually turned out to be a thoroughly brilliant idea, as, after it was done warming the pot, it did a doubly excellent job of warming my head. How’s that for ingenuity?)
I hope this helps. Now I’m off to cover a story about Libya. Keep up the good work.
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