“There is no problem so great or so grave that cannot be
very much diminished by a nice cup of tea.” Bernard-Paul Heroux
I’m on my first cup of the morning. Well, of the day, actually, since it’s 2 in the afternoon. My brew of choice today is P&G Tips, the most popular brand in England, and one I have just discovered. Although I really shouldn’t say “discovered,” either, as I’ve been aware of the brand for a few years. But today the FedEx man came knocking at my door with the package my cousin Augusta sent me from New York City, and in it were several of the distinctive pyramid-shaped tea bags.
Naturally, the second thing I did upon opening the box (the first was to text Augusta and let her know the package had arrived safely) was to brew my first-ever cup of this tea. While I don’t consider myself a connoisseur of tea, it is my favourite beverage. I dare say I drink more of it than does your average American: whereas you might drink several cups of coffee every day, I drink the same amount of tea.
This tea is quite forgiving; that is, unlike so many other teas, it doesn’t get bitter if you happen to let it steep beyond the recommended 5 minutes. This is important to me, because I will routinely pour the boiling water over the tea, go back to the desk and continue writing, and remember the tea 15 or 20 minutes later.
Another thing I like about this tea is that while it is manufactured by a large multinational corporation (Unilever), it is still socially responsible: according to Wikipedia, “In May 2007, Unilever became the first company to commit to sourcing all its tea in a sustainable manner. To that end, the company asked the Rainforest Alliance, an international environmental NGO to start certifying tea estates in East Africa. Since April 2012 all of the tea used in PG Tips has been Rainforest Alliance certified.”
Something else about it is that while it is more expensive than most of the teas I’ve tried, it may end up saving me money in the long run: I currently use 4 tea bags for a 16 ounce cup of tea, and I get the same brew with only 2 bags of P&G Tips.
I suspect this is because of the unique pyramid shape of the bag, which it is claimed allows the tea leaves to circulate better than they do in a traditional tea bag. Regardless, if won’t be that much more to buy than my current favourite, Red Rose Irish Breakfast Blend.
All in all, now that I’ve finished my first cup, a thoroughly enjoyable tea, and one that may well become a regular inhabitant of my cupboard.
Tea. It’s a bit of heaven in a cup or, if you’re an American, it’s more likely to be a mug. Again, if you’re an American, you probably prefer coffee. I have nothing against coffee; in fact, when Stacey and I are out, it is my drink of choice. But that’s not because I prefer coffee over tea; rather it is almost a necessity when you live in a country where a restaurant or other eatery that knows how to brew a decent cup of tea is a rarity.
Thomas De Quincey wrote, “Surely every one is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a wintry fireside; candles at four o’clock, warm hearthrugs, tea, a fair tea-maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies to the floor, whist the wind and rain are raging audibly without.”
Stacey and I live in a part of the country (New York’s Great Lakes region) that knows winter. Here in Rochester we are intimately familiar with Lake Effects Storms; that’s when cold air from Canada comes down over Lake Ontario, picking up moisture and dumping it on us in the form of heavy snows. At such times, four o’clock is much too long to wait for a cup of tea.
And what I said earlier about it being almost impossible to get a decent cup of tea in the United States? If you’ve ever eaten in any commercial establishment, you know that “tea” consists of a carafe of not-quite-hot-enough water with a tea bag on the side. If you’re lucky, it comes with a wedge of lemon. Why do I say the water isn’t hot enough? Because if you are brewing tea (real black tea, as opposed to green tea, or a tisane, or an infusion), the water should be boiling when it hits the tea leaves. But don’t take my word for it; here’s what no less an expert than George Orwell had to say:
A Nice Cup of Tea
by George Orwell
Evening Standard, 12 January 1946.
If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.
This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.
When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:
· First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.
· Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
· Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
· Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
· Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
· Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
· Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
· Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
· Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
· Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
· Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.
Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.
These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.
(Taken from The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3, 1943-45, Penguin ISBN, 0-14-00-3153-7)
I’m Not George Orwell
So I don’t follow all of his rules to the letter; as a descendant of Irishmen, I drink my tea in the Irish manner: with milk and sugar, than you very much. Incidentally, the Irish are the Western world’s greatest tea drinkers. Here in Rochester we are blessed with the Wegman’s chain of grocery stores, and they stock P&G Tips, as well as imported Irish Breakfast Tea. We also have a few Indian (as in East Indian) food stores that stock a variety of teas.
In closing, let me bid you adieu with a few choice quotes about tea:
Enjoy life sip by sip not gulp by gulp. – The Minister of Leaves
Thank God for Tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea. – Rev. Sydney Smith
I always fear that creation will expire before tea-time. – Rev. Sydney Smith
Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. – Henry Fielding
Remember the tea kettle – it is always up to its neck in hot water, yet it still sings! – Unknown
There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. – Henry James
While there’s tea there’s hope. – Sir Arthur Pinero
Tea- the cups that cheer but not inebriate. – William Cowper
There is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world. – Tien Yiheng
Ecstasy is a glass full of tea and a piece of sugar in the mouth. – Alexander Puskin
I am in no way interested in immortality, but only in the taste of tea. -Lu tung
Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage. – Catherine Douzel
Come oh come ye tea-thirsty restless ones – the kettle boils, bubbles and sings, musically.
– Rabindranath Tagore
One sip of this will bathe the drooping spirits in delight, beyond the bliss of dreams. – Milton
As long as it is hot, wet and goes down the right way, its fine with me. – Sarah Fergerson, Dutchess of York, On Tea
In nothing more is the English genius for domesticity more notably declared than in the institution of this festival – almost one may call it – of afternoon tea…The mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose. – George Gissing
[I am a] hardened and shameless tea drinker, who has for twenty years diluted his meals only with the infusion of this fascinating plant; whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea amuses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and with tea welcomes the evening. – Samuel Johnson
What part of confidante has that poor teapot played ever since the kindly plant was introduced among us. Why myriads of women have cried over it, to be sure! What sickbeds it has smoked by! What fevered lips have received refreshment from it! Nature meant very kindly by women when she made the tea plant; and with a little thought, what a series of pictures and groups the fancy may conjure up and assemble round the teapot and cup. – William Makepeace Thackery
Tea had come as a deliverer to a land that called for deliverance; a land of beef and ale, of heavy eating and abundant drunkenness; of grey skies and harsh winds; of strong nerved , stout-purposed, slow-thinking men and women. Above all, a land of sheltered homes and warm firesides – firesides that were waiting – waiting, for the bubbling kettle and the fragrant breath of tea. – Agnes Reppiler
…For tea, though ridiculed by those who are naturally coarse in their nervous sensibilities, or are to become so from wine-drinking, and are not susceptible of influence from so refined a stimulant, will always be the favored beverage of the intellectual… – Thomas De Quincey
If you are cold, tea will warm you;
if you are too heated; it will cool you;
if you are depresses, it will cheer you;
if you are exhausted, it will calm you.
– William Gladstone