Archive for the ‘Tea’ Category

Cream or milk?

Posted: 9 August, 2018 in memories, Tea
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The older I get the more I find myself agreeing with George Orwell.

At least, when it comes to tea.

I was raised to enjoy tea the traditional Irish way: brewed strong, and served with milk and sugar. I grew up thinking that was the proper — and therefore — the only way to make tea. This belief stayed with me through most of my life.

I felt the first breath of heresy when I moved into my current home. I rent a room in my landlord/friend’s house. I call my room My Lonely Writer’s Garret™.

Ed (my landlord) is probably the only person I know who drinks as much tea as I do. He tutors private students in French, and whenever he has a student over he makes a pot of green tea.

Which he always serves sans lait.

Even when he’s drinking black or herbal tea, he adds only sugar or honey. He thinks that I am a barbarian for drinking my tea with milk.

I, on the other hand, am of the sure and certain knowledge that truly civilized people adhere to my method.

Nothing lasts forever

Very true. Which is why my method has changed. I’ve finally decided to try my tea without milk or cream.

(An aside: cream is quite possibly the worst thing you can add to tea. The fats in the cream and the tannic acid in the tea do not play well together.)

This is what Orwell had to say about tea:

“[O]ne should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.”

Orwell, crotchety old Irishman that he was, also had this to say:

“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 tealover 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.” ¹

My new tastes

Over the past several days, I’ve been cutting back on the amount of sweetener I add to my tea. I should be completely free from sweeteners by the end of next week.

The only exception is when I brew a pot of strong Assam tea and add Masala tea spice, thus making what far too many people call “Chai tea.” Chai means “tea,” so “Chai tea” is redundant.

On the other hand, I live in a country that calls the southern California baseball team “The Los Angeles Angels,” which translates to “The the angels angels.”

It’s enough to drive a woman to drink.

Which drink, right now, is a nice cup of Earl Grey. WITHOUT milk or cream!


¹ — The Orwell quotes are from A Nice Cup of Tea, by George Orwell. You can read his essay in its entirety at: A Nice Cup of Tea, Evening Standard, 12 January 1946.

tea quote

For me, there’s no worse way to start my day than coming downstairs and finding the kitchen full of people who all want to talk to me. Out-of-town visitors. Local friends. Complete strangers to me. My roommate knows better.

I’m not a “morning person.” It usually takes means a good 30 minutes to wake up enough to even begin to be sociable.

And a crucial part of my morning routine involves a tea ritual: I empty the tea kettle, fill it with fresh cold water, and put it on the stove to boil. While it heats up, I carefully measure out 2 teaspoons of my choice for the day: either a strong black Assam tea or a spiced version of the same blend. I always use whole-leaf tea.

I add the tea to the pot and wait for the kettle to boil. While waiting, I look out the kitchen window to see how the garden is doing. This week, the lilies are in bloom. In the evening, as the temperature falls, their aroma wafting through the house can be intoxicating.

Finally, the kettle comes to a boil. I pour the water over the tea leaves, set the timer, and wait patiently for the water to work its magic on the leaves.

This morning it’s Cardamom Spiced Assam. It’s a lovely blend from India. In fact, it evokes such memories of other times, other places, that I can almost hear Ravi Shankar performing a morning raga is the leaves steep.

Finally, the tea is ready. It’s a deep brown liqueur, hinting at hidden delights. I pour my cup and add a bit of sweetener and a splash of milk. I still haven’t managed to replicate the tea served by my favorite Indian restaurant, but it’s close. It, too, is intoxicating.

“In Ireland, you go to someone’s house, and she asks you if you want a cup of tea. You say no, thank you, you’re really just fine. She asks if you’re sure. You say of course you’re sure, really, you don’t need a thing. Except they pronounce it ting. You don’t need a ting. Well, she says then, I was going to get myself some anyway, so it would be no trouble. Ah, you say, well, if you were going to get yourself some, I wouldn’t mind a spot of tea, at that, so long as it’s no trouble and I can give you a hand in the kitchen. Then you go through the whole thing all over again until you both end up in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting.

In America, someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, you say no, and then you don’t get any damned tea.

I liked the Irish way better.” ― C.E. Murphy, Urban Shaman

I close my eyes, raise the cup to my lips, and let the first sip perform its magic.

Now  I am awake. Now I am human. Now  you may speak.

If you have to ask…

Posted: 25 May, 2018 in Grammar, Language, Medium, Tea
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(Originally published on Medium)

It’s 7:30, and the temperature has already begun its climb towards its predicted high of 84. That might not be such a big deal to you folks in the South, but here in Rochester, NY, it’s kind of a big deal — after all, we had snow on the ground less than a month ago.

Both the current temperature — 66 — and the predicted high might make some of you wonder: “Why on earth is she drinking a cup of hot tea?” To which I reply, “If you have to ask, you know nothing about tea, and even less about me.”

To say I’m obsessed with tea would be an exaggeration; on the other hand, we are in a committed relationship.

Many people have specific morning routines, rituals if you will. I’m retired, and so I’m in the perfect place to exercise my own morning ritual: tea and Medium. I stumble downstairs to the kitchen, fill the tea kettle, and put it on to boil. Next comes measuring out the proper amount of leaves. This amount may vary, depending on how sleepy I am.

Finally, the water comes to a full boil, and I pour it over the tea leaves (only rarely do I use bagged tea, and even then it’s a premium brand), set the timer, and sit quietly as the minutes and seconds count down. I remove the leaves from the pot, carry my cup to my easy chair, take the first sip, and open Medium on my iPhone.

As I said, I’m not obsessed with tea, and I don’t follow this ritual religiously. Sometimes I’ll be up for more than an hour before I start jonesing for my fix. And it’s almost always for a cup of strong black Assam tea, grown in the foothills of the Himalayas and then packaged and shipped to my favorite local Indian food store.

In Rochester, we’re blessed with several Indian restaurants and food stores; my favorite is The Spice Bazaar, just a short drive from my house. It’s my source for fine teas, Basmati rice, and Tea Masala spice blend.

I’m on my soapbox now…

…so pay attention, class. There is no such thing as Chai tea! Yes, I know the so-called experts call it that (I’m looking at you, Starbucks), but here’s the secret: Chai is Sanskrit for tea. So when you’re ordering your Chai tea, what you’re really saying is “I’d like a cup of tea tea, please.”

What you really want is a cup of Masala spiced tea, Tea Masala being the particular blend of spices used to make that delicious cup of tea.

Okay, enough pontificating

No more soapbox. I agree: I can be a real jerk sometimes. But I’m a writer, so the nuances of language and grammar mean a lot to me — as they should to you if you’re even on Medium in the first place.

That’s not to say that I think you need to be an expert on writing in English if it’s not your first tongue; it is indeed a difficult language to master. So difficult, in fact, that many who speak or write in it as a second or third language do a far better job than a lot of native speakers. And HEY! everyone I’ve encountered on Medium is far better than I am in, say, Mandarin. So I make allowances.

Disclaimer

You can find my standard disclaimer right here.

You Had Me at Tea…

Posted: 22 May, 2018 in Hope, Tea
Tags: ,

“Tea or coffee?” If you’re offering me a choice and the first option is tea rather than coffee, we’re going to get along well.

Between the 18th century and today, we’ve gone from a nation of tea drinkers to one of coffee lovers. Where we once dressed up like Red Indians to protest an increase in the tax on tea, we now proudly part with our cash for an overpriced cup of something so loaded with sugar and flavorings that I don’t even dare call it coffee.

A smart-alec reply has now inflated to “Yeah, that and 7 bucks will get you a cup coffee.”

The irony is that I’m not above drinking coffee when I’m out and about: after all, it’s all but impossible to find a restaurant that knows how to brew a proper cup of tea. Even those places that do still use bagged teas (I’m looking at you, Starbuck$).

I prefer the magic of measuring out the right amount of whole tea leaves, boiling the water, and watching them expand and become a beverage.

My tea of choice remains a nice black Assam from India. I first encountered this magical substance when I bought my first bag of imported Irish Breakfast tea, which used Assam as its base for the blend. And no, drinking imported tea didn’t make me a snob — it was simply cheaper than buying it locally.

Now I live in Rochester, NY. I buy my tea locally now, at my favorite Indian (Indians from India) food store. I have two blends I alternate: straight black Assam, and black Assam lightly spiced with cardamom.

When I really want to get fancy, I’ll brew a cup and add a teaspoon of Masala tea spice. This results in what most people mistakenly call “Chai tea;” mistakenly because chai means tea. When you order chai tea, you’re ordering tea tea.

Then again, you also tune in on your television set in order to watch “The The Angels Angels” (a direct translation “The Los Angeles Angels.)

Bagged teas

I rarely buy tea in bags. That’s mostly because most of them contain “fannings,” which are the bits and pieces that are left after the whole leaves are removed. They’re the tea world’s version of floor sweepings, except they’ve not actually been on the floor.

An exception is PGA Tips. This is a quality tea made from the tips of choice tea leaves, blended and then packaged in unique pyramid-shaped packets. PG Tips is the only bagged tea I ever buy.

For more information about PG Tips and their commitment to sustainable farming, visit their website.

I just realized that this tale is starting to sound like an advert for PG Tips, so I’ll close now and return to enjoying my latest cup of Assam tea, which I always brew strong. How strong? My Nana always said that a proper cup of tea should be so strong “that a wee mousie might trot along the top of it.”

Why did I list “Hope” as one of the categories for this entry? Because as we all know (or should), “Where there’s tea, there’s hope.”

As I was growing up in a tea-drinking family, my mother’s universal remedy for just about every conceivable ailment was a cup of tea and a side of cinnamon toast. This was so ingrained in me that even now–at the age of 67–I still find comfort in a cup of tea.

"There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea." ~Bernard-Paul Heroux

Changing Tastes

But as George Orwell tells us,

"…I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than 20 weak ones. All true tea-lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes…." ~George Orwell, "A Nice Cup of Tea," Evening Standard, 12 January 1946

In my own case, I find it to be true. Oh, I’m not ready to go full-on Orwell in my habits–I still prefer milk and sweetener in my cuppa–but neither am I content with the tea of my youth: weak, insipid tea brewed from a bag and served with so much milk and sugar that it might as well have been called tea-flavored milk.

But I’ve slowly been cutting back on the additives. Less sweetener, less milk result in a more astringent taste. A slight bitterness. Sometimes I’ll add some Tea Masala, that Indian blend of spices that results in what I call Masala Chai, and most people erroneously refer to as "Chai tea," not realizing that the very word "Chai" means "tea." So they’re ordering a cup of tea tea.

Then again, what else would you expect from the nation that gave us the baseball team called "The The Angels Angels"? And just why in the hell did they move them from Brooklyn in the first place?

But I digress.

Flavored Teas

With the exception of Masala Chai, I find the idea of adding flavors to tea quite abhorrent. You are no longer drinking tea but rather some watered-down Kool-aid substitute.

And that’s why, with rare exceptions on the even rarer exceptions that I go to a restaurant, I won’t order tea. This is simply that American restaurants don’t know how to make a proper cup of tea. And why do we spell it "rest-o-RANT" but pronounce it "REST-ront," anyway?

These are but a few of the thoughts I have whilst enjoying that all-important first cup of tea of the day. There are some mornings when all that gets me out of bed in the first place is the whistling of the kettle when my roommate boils his own pot of water to pour over the coffee grounds in his French press coffee maker.

And not even that works all of the time. Sometimes my depression is as black as my roomie’s coffee.

Still, I continue to find beauty, comfort, and bitterness in a cup of tea.