Archive for the ‘Tea’ Category

If you have to ask…

Posted: 25 May, 2018 in Grammar, Language, Medium, Tea
Tags: ,

(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.


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.