Okay. I drink tea (hey, I’m Anglo-Irish, born Northern, resident Southern, and this little island drinks more tea per capita than the place everyone defaults to…) so I have an opinion based on 26 years experience and a lot of very bad “tea”:
Americans in a non-domestic setting, i.e. in a restaurant, diner or anywhere you can’t supervise the process (like, I suspect, this Starbucks-backed Teavana place), don’t know how to treat the stuff.
Chuck it in harbours, yes, produce an acceptable hot beverage, no.
I suspect this is because coffee made properly doesn’t use boiling water. Tea, however, does. So that mug of not-as-hot-as-it-should-be water you’ve just been brought, yes, the one with the teabag beside it, is already a dead loss. That teabag should already be in the mug, in fact it should have been there when the water went in, because the now-cooling-by-the-second fluid might actually have been hot enough when it was poured out. But probably not, because of coffee.
What you do with Maharaja Samurai Chai I don’t know: wear a turban while making it and gut yourself if you get it wrong? Unless you’re dealing with some herbal tisane like Rooibos or Honeybush, or a dainty pinky-stuck-out variant like Oolong, Lapsang Soochong (in fact most Chinese teas) or our old friend Earl Grey, hot*, the process is very simple.
Water that goes on proper tea shouldn’t be boiled, not even freshly boiled. It should be boilING.
Here’s what I mean, using our conveniently-transparent Sherlock kettle…
Photo 4, where the power has just gone off but the water is still “lively”, is when you wet the tea (bring the teapot to the kettle, not the kettle to the pot.) Non-existent Photo 4.5, which would be like Photo1 without the blue light, is just about acceptable, but Photo 5 simply will not do. If you have a whistling kettle, it should be shrieking like the Flying Scotsman passing though Carlisle, if it’s a bog-standard stove-top, it should be rumbling and bumping like Vesuvius just before the Pompeii unpleasantness.
(*Earl Grey, hot, isn’t quite the tautology it sounds. Captain Picard has clearly had some bad experiences with an American-programmed food replicator and is being specific. Earl Grey, iced, sweetened with honey not sugar and sharpened with a squeeze of fresh lemon is quite pleasant on a warm day, but not in November when you want a hotwet to take the chill off.)
My Grandad had a grocery shop…
…and those “choice blends of tea” weren’t just bought-in prepacks. He used to make his own three blends as well, measuring with two sizes of scoop from three sizes of tea-chest into three mahogany-topped bins lined with zinc, a bit like this.
The shop ones were a yard tall, meaning waist high to an adult, which meant that when I was occasionally given the honour of The Final Stir, I had to be held over the bin to do it and there was always the exciting risk of falling in. I never did. Nobody needs tea with that much body. But I still remember the wonderful aromatic scent of being head-down over so much freshly blended dry tea.
When someone bought tea - “half a pound” was the usual order - it was scooped from the appropriate bin, weighed, then poured into heavy paper bags a bit like this…
…with the shop name on them. Those chests of tea were delivered every couple of months, which gives some idea of the rate it was sold and consumed!
Grandad died in 1966, so the last time I saw him doing the tea-blend thing must have been at least 50 years ago and my recollections are a bit vague, but he used various proportions of Assam, Ceylon and Darjeeling. His “Breakfast Tea” had lots of Assam, while “After Noon Tea” and “All Day Tea” - yes, three separate words both times - had, respectively, more Darjeeling and more Ceylon.
I’m trying to recreate what my taste-buds might recall more clearly than my memory, and in the meanwhile Lyons teabags aren’t bad for a regular hotwet. Oh, and since people fuss about this, for me it’s tea first, milk second. Otherwise how do you know there’s enough/too much? No sugar, except in a comfort cuppa, and then two heaped spoonfuls please. It’s probably the sugar rush, but associating sweet hot tea drunk by the fire as a kid with the world as a smaller nicer place, works as well. (There’s no right-way/wrong-way: your best tea is tea the way you like it best. Nobody else drinks it on your behalf.)
Meet the lab equipment - various sizes of steeper, two pots, an As-Ce-Da tea leaf trio, and my first experimental blend at the back, near the breadcrumbs. (Not there yet. Try again later.)
While a Rockingham Brown Betty (warm the pot!) is still the most traditional teapot (silver and bone china is usually brought out For Best at weddings and funerals) that EMSA glass teapot is a great piece of kit - and it matches the kettle! Despite this and the number of elegant, cute, amusing or good-idea-at-the-time accessories (a tea cosy in the shape of late-reign Queen Victoria seems so obvious) the actual making of tea is refreshingly free from gadgets.
Or used to be. What you certainly don’t need is this thing, a snip a veritable snip at $250.00 (!) chiz (which is a swiz or swindle as any fule kno.)
Spot of tea, anyone?
I am so fond of tea that I could write a whole dissertation on its virtues. It comforts and enlivens without the risks attendant on spirituous liquors. Gentle herb! Let the florid grape yield to thee. Thy soft influence is a more safe inspirer of social joy.
James Boswell. (via thoughtcollections)
“Yet Byron never made tea as you do, who fill the pot so that when you put the lid on the tea spills over. There is a brown pool on the table—it is running among your books and papers. Now you mop it up, clumsily, with your pocket-hankerchief. You then stuff your hankerchief back into your pocket—that is not Byron; that is so essentially you that if I think of you in twenty years’ time, when we are both famous, gouty and intolerable, it will be by that scene: and if you are dead, I shall weep.”
The Waves, Virginia Woolf(via nunccognosco)