My family are not tea drinkers. We had iced tea (no sugar – sweet tea was for communists), but we weren’t hot tea drinkers. Oh sure, the parents would let me order tea when I was 8, but they thought I just wanted it for the little silver pot. I did, but I also enjoyed the tea.
I got introduced to “Russian Tea” when I was 14. It was a dark black tea with cloves, dried oranges, cinnamon, star anise and something else. It was the first tea I ever had that was supposed to be lumpy and leave dregs. I’ve searched multiple states and multiple countries for it with no luck. Just last Christmas I found a reasonable substitute at a bookstore – Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice (with orange and cloves). It’s a lovely tea and I’ve grown fond of it.
I’m an unrepentant coffee drinker. Folks are astonished at the amount of coffee I drink. I’ve been told I’d fit right in at an AA meeting. I drink a pot of coffee before I even leave the house in the morning and another throughout the day. During the day, I’ll often also brew green tea. Or chamomile. Sometimes an Oolong.
I enjoy the ritual of tea – the boiling, the steeping, the pouring, and the accoutrements.
I like trying to “read the leaves.” I stir and watch the steam swirl. I deeply inhale the fragrance. Coffee is gulped, tea is savored.
I drink my coffee black except for the very rare occasion I have dessert – in which case heavy cream is required. But tea – now tea positively requires additives mostly because of tea sets – you have to put something in all those containers and if you’re going to put something in there then you have to use it.
I love tea sets and tea pots and tea cups. Coffee is everyday – utilitarian. Well, mostly it is. Sometimes coffee is just a caffeine delivery system and sometimes it is a spiritual experience. Tea, however, always provokes ritual. Sugar cubes, creamer, lemon, honey, Demerara sugar, spoons, tongs, pots, trays, kettles, shortbread cookies, and comfortable rockers.
Tea is not a beverage, it’s a mind/body experience.
I like a little Mozart with my tea.
My teapot collection, while not large, is diverse. Some of it is very formal even if I do almost always drink tea in faded jeans. The tea cup collection is far more sparse. I vow, now and again, to get more, but I’m usually overwhelmed by the choices.
Lipton’s black tea is fine. Cheap herbals are fine. Luscious imported teas, delicate whites, organic herbals and the like are, of course, much more appreciated. I love to hold the cup close to my face and breathe in the steam and aroma.
A couple of years ago I discovered in a magazine the “blooming teas.” These immediately rushed to the top of my “must have” list. Showing restraint, I did not order them and when Chef Boy ‘R Mine asked what I wanted for Christmas, I told him. My restraint centered on the fact that without the special teapot, the wonder of blooming tea is not fully realized.
Blooming teas are hand-tied bulbs of tea and other botanicals including dried flowers. When the boiling water is added, the bulbs “bloom” and one ends up with a floral arrangement in their teapot. It doesn’t get much cooler than this.
Said tea requires a glass teapot and a tea candle so that the blooming tea is visible. Brewing this tea is most spectacular in a dark room. The blooming teas are almost always one of the white teas; hence the tea is an amber color. With the tea candle shining upwards through the bottom of the pot, the view of the blooms is wondrous – a Monet water lily with a golden cast. The ritual of tea takes on a whole new facet with these bulbs.
Still, I like the old standbys. Oolong is a favorite because it has the same mouth feel as coffee. The cinnamon/clove/orange tea is great heavily sweetened and drunk on a cold winter night. Chamomile is spectacular with honey and lemon.
When in England in 1998, I learned to drink tea with cream. I was in a little tea shop complete with white table cloths and a platter of “biscuits.” The tea was served with cream and sugar. When in Rome and all that. It was quite lovely and there are some days I just I have to have tea prepared that way along with some Walker shortbread cookies.
It’s always been interesting to me how and why we acquire the habits we have. I’m not sure why I’m so entranced with tea, but I suspect it’s the cups and teapots. I have more dishes than any one person can justify, because I love dishes. Now there’s a habit I can’t begin to explain – fine china, hand-turned pottery, hollow-stem champagne flutes, sushi plates, whimsical turkey soup bowls – you name it, I have it.
Tea is ritual – it’s the very epitome of right here right now. It slows me down, centers and grounds me. It’s a lovely respite from real life.
[If you’re into tea and ever in the D.C. area, don’t miss Ching Ching Cha’s – it’s a Chinese tea house that will, I promise, rock your world.]