The exploding tea-drinker

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“She’s going to blow!”

The gentlemen may have found it amusing. I did not. We had often stopped at this particular place for a pot of tea mid-afternoon and it was always a pleasant pause beside the fire of the old coaching inn. It had been bad enough when they stopped serving pieces of fudge with the tea, but you can understand the economics of that. What I couldn’t understand was the move away from teapots.

The first time I spotted this aberration, I was too shocked to voice my disapproval…for at least a minute. The waiter brought out the customary tray with cups, saucers and the usual accoutrements…. but the tea was in things that looked like mini-cafetiΓ¨res. A novel idea… but it was all for show, wasn’t it? The tea would still brew in the glass contraptions.

Not so. It was not to be allowed to do so. With a deft plunge, the brewing process was stopped in its tracks, the tea poured, and the contraptions removed before I had time to protest.

This was almost as bad as the lukewarm water that is served with a tea-bag on the side…but not quite. It only got worse from there…

Most people are aware of the Boston Tea Party of 1773. It was a protest against those in charge of tea and the wider implications of how that beverage was delivered that led directly to the American Revolution. Well, much more of this, and it will happen here too. And I’ll be holding the banner.

I am not, by and large, a tea drinker these days. Coffee is my usual tipple and as long as it is strong, full of flavour and caffeine, I’m not too fussy how, where or in what it is brewed. From the IV infusion to the tiny espresso; providing it is decent coffee, I am happy.

Tea, on the other hand, is not so much a drink as an institution. Especially to a Yorkshire lass. There are only two types of tea that are acceptable… none of your fancy fruit or herbal things, none of your Earl Grey perfumed with bergamot… they have their place and can be delightful. But not when you want a proper cuppa.

Growing up in the north, there were, as I said, only two types of tea and both began with black tea leaves. The first is served in huge mugs. This is known outside of my home county as ‘builders’ tea’. In the north, it needs no such picturesque description. It is a beverage strong enough to fell a team of builders. In my childhood, tea was something I associated with great-granny; there was always a pot of the stuff stewing beside the black-leaded range. Most of what didn’t get drunk went on great-granny’s hair… which, incidentally, stayed black until she was in her nineties. The tea-leaves were given to the hydrangeas to preserve their colour. The inside of the tea-pot was encrusted with a permanent layer of tanin and when you had a cup of tea from that pot, you knew about it.

old japanese style tin tea caddy

The second type of tea was completely different. It was still the same rich mahogany colour… the strength varied little… and always had a vague hint of the orange peel that was placed in the tea caddy to keep the leaves in perfect condition. There were several tea caddys; one, the chinoiserie tin that everyone had, lived in the larder and was used daily. The other, more elaborate caddys, lived on the big mahogany dresser and were relics of a time when tea was even more of a ritual than in my youth.

painted tea caddy

The difference was in the way it was once-brewed, never stewed. It was made in the other pot and served in the best bone-china cups and saucers, usually with the ‘apostle spoons’ nestling beside the cup. It would have the starring role in afternoon tea and was as much a ritual as the cha no yu.

The table, laid with starched, white linens, held small sandwiches and huge scones, fresh from the oven. Probably a slab of fruit cake with cheese (you can’t have one without the other) and possibly something else…often granny’s feather-iced coffee-cake. The china sparkled, the sugar came in cubes with silver tongs and the milk in its own china jug. Everything matched… except the teapot, a great earthenware affair in shades of brown, swaddled in a knitted tea-cosy to keep it warm.

These are my memories. This was my education…my induction into the mysteries of the tea-table. This was tea as it ought to be.

Now?

Well…

Our next visit to the coaching inn elicited a sigh of relief. There had obviously been some mistake on our previous visit. A new tea-boy, perhaps… a lack of teapots… an attempt to go upmarket that had been abandoned in favour of common sense. Whatever it was, when the waiter brought the tea… still sans fudge…. it once again came in teapots. I smiled, I thanked the waiter, I lifted the lid of the teapot to stir the tea, encouraging the leaves to release their aromatic essence…

File:Apostle spoons six.jpg

Apostle spoons. Image: lady alys

There was no tea in the tea. Not a leaf, not even a tea bag. I looked at my companions…

“Take cover!”

I was not amused.

Now, a pot of tea is a Great British Institution. You cannot even contemplate any attempt to run the country without tea. But the true beauty of tea is as both a perfect, unassailable right and rite of individuality and self-expression. Everyone takes it differently… everyone has their own vision of perfection. Yet it all stems from a humble leaf. A pot of tea (and it always comes with a pot of hot water for the necessary adjustments) is the one beverage that canΒ  be relied upon to adjust itself to your tastes and requirements. And yet this Great British Institution is being undermined.

Why? Economics? If the inn wanted to save a few pennies, why not offer cups of tea, instead of pots? Why dirty four teapots to serve a bland, pre-determined beverage that robs us each of us of choice and self expression?

Or is that the point? Yet another avenue to force us into a placid conformity that accepts the pap it is offered without complaint? Striking at the very roots of our national beverage, this lack of tea in tea has me questioning what exactly we are being served… instant tea? Is it even tea at all… fake tea?

And being British, we smile sweetly and do not complain. Yet another institution that is being insidiously whittled away in order to edge us into mindless compliance?

I know, it is a small thing… just a pot of tea. But is that all it is? It would be bad enough on its own, but added to the regimentation our societies are adopting, the Orwellian Big Brother nanny-ism, aligned with the large percentage of mindless oblivion that is fed to us via the media and it makes you wonder…

Is this just a minor blip or part of the move herding us towards sheepledom?

Therefore, I believe that someone must stand up for the humble pot of tea and state their unwillingness to let it disappear into the mists of memory. And, as an outright act of rebellion (and in the hope that a certain, nameless establishment might take note), I hereby offer you…

…how to make a pot of tea….properly

1. Boil some water… pour it into the pot to begin warming it. You can warm the cups too while you are there.

2. Run the tap and get fresh water… getting oxygen in the water helps the flavour. Don’t ask me why, but it does. Never boil the water for tea-making more than once, for the same reason… keep the oxygen in there. Put water on to boil.

3. When the water is almost boiling, empty the now-warm teapot and add one heaped teaspoon of tea leaves per person… and a generous ‘one for the pot’. You can use tea bags… if you must.

4. When the water boils, pour it immediately over the tea leaves. Tea needs heat to release its full flavour.Β  Stir and wrap in something warm and wooly… then wait… this is crucial… wait. At least five minutes.

5. Pour cold milk, if you take milk at all, into the cups before straining the tea into the cup. You can add hot water to weaken the tea, if that is your preference…it takes all sorts… but at least start with something decently brewed! (If you are using a tea bag in a mug, the same steps apply, but only add milk after the tea has brewed.)

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About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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99 Responses to The exploding tea-drinker

  1. Anisha says:

    Good one…i had a similar experience with their tea while in Scotland… πŸ™‚

    Like

  2. Really loved this! These ‘little’ things DO matter, and there’s something about care, awareness, patience and honouring tradition/ancestry here as well…all through something as simple and every day as a cup of tea. Didn’t Gandhi drink tea with the British, and save a nation? Didn’t Satish Kumar deliver tea from a lady working in a factory in the then soviet union to the three leaders of the nuclear nations (UK, USA and FRANCE) during his walk for peace? Tea matters!!! Time to put the kettle on…with FRESH water πŸ˜‰ Blessings, Harula xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! I am a firm supporter of the institute of tea drinking and your post was a joy to read! πŸ™‚

    Like

  4. Ritu says:

    Of course these things matter! Tea, or Chai is an institution to us Indians too! Though our way of making it, traditionally, may be slightly different!

    Like

  5. I can’t imagine you getting so fired up, you seem so quiet. πŸ˜‰

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  6. davidprosser says:

    Ugh, to be served a mug with a teabag in it and nowhere for the teabag to go.All you can taste is the tannin. A proper cup of tea is served from the teapot (even if it has teabags in it) so one can adjust strength to suit and where the tannin stays in the teapot as the drink is poured.Proper job.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    Like

  7. Reblogged this on Ladyleemanila and commented:
    πŸ™‚

    Like

  8. jenanita01 says:

    I do enjoy a cup of tea, usually in the mornings. But unlike you Northerners, I have it weak. My stomach just cannot cope with the type you can stand the spoon up in!

    Like

  9. AJ.Dixon says:

    I felt a stirring of indignation and pride as I read through this! Say NO to bad tea, Britain! I’d say that it’s worth getting irate about πŸ˜‚ Thanks so much for your informative, amusing and rightfully-miffed post. It’s made my day!

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I am generally a coffee drinker, so tea holds a very special place for me. I am quite happy to dunk the odd tea-bag at home, when it is just me, but if I go out and order a pot of tea, I expect more than just the shiny, fashionable surface show…and I definitely expect tea in my tea!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. stevetanham says:

    Reblogged this on Sun in Gemini and commented:
    Please help us reduce the explosions!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Mary Smith says:

    Brilliant post. And you perfectly described afternoon tea at my gran’s house!

    Like

  12. quiall says:

    I speak from the colonies (Canada) but I’m with you! You have just described, in detail, my youth! I still only use leaves and particular pots for particular teas. I am a Tea Snob and proud of it!

    Like

  13. Ian Hutson says:

    Even coffee is not immune these days from such commerical nonsenses. There’s a lovely place a couple of miles walk from me at the moment and they serve great coffee – but they serve it in those heavy pottery all-style-and-no-ergonomics mugs, huge thick rim too wide to stretch a pair of human lips around, tiny little handle too small to get a grip on. It really ought to be a criminal offence punishable by a ruddy good public thrashing. πŸ˜‰

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Why do they have to do that? It makes a perfectly good cup of coffee into a nightmare. Almost as bad a serving the stuff in cups the size of buckets that you can’t lift, or that are too small to dunk a respectable biscuit.

      Like

  14. Jean Reiland says:

    Reblogged this on 307.

    Like

  15. Bernadette says:

    There are certain rituals in eating and drinking that add to the flavor and should never be abandoned. Funny, my grandmother kept a pot of coffee on the stove all day and always allowed me to have a grown up cup with plenty of milk in it. One of my special memories.

    Like

  16. Fascinating, Sue. You have exposed my tea-naivete. πŸ™‚ Someday I’m going to have a proper cup of tea and I’ll think of you. ❀

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  17. Good for you Sue. Fight for proper tea. πŸ™‚ — Suzanne

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  18. Good that you’re quite relaxed about all this, Sue…

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  19. The old ways have fallen by the wayside as we humans become more relaxed and less formal. Have you seen the way people dress these days? Where’s the crisp suit and starched shirt? o_O
    Way too passive and relaxed…

    Like

  20. adeleulnais says:

    I remember an old lady on the island had her tea pot on the go all day, hung on the black range. Tea is very special to me and I agree that it should be served properly. We still get teapots up here in Scotland, good news for the weekend that the gathering is being held.

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  21. I am with you on this Sue. NNobody should mess with our tea! It is rare that I drink it from a pot, but that does give the best flavour. I agree that milk should be added before if using a pot and after if making it in a mug with a teabag.

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  22. TanGental says:

    Bugger this had me thinking. When the Vet went to Uni in Bristol (where I met the Textiliste) we wandered the streets reminiscing. We found this cafe – no, correction, a tea shop – promising us a quality tea experience – ok one should have known better. They described themselves as tea connoisseurs and they had this notion of the perfect cup – the heat of the pot, the heat of the water, the length of time brewed, the amount of stirring – different for each type of leaf. They then decanted it and offered you their version. Nice but, you know, a bit like an M&S ready meal – the same every bloody time. They did make good cakes, though. After two visits we moved on to the Boston Tea Party (a Bristol chain very worthy of our custom – their coffee blend was sooo good); after three they were out of business. Why do this? Is it the same arrogance that has Marco Pierre White attack customers with a carving knife if they ask for more salt? It has to be enjoyed their way or not at all? Sure you can kill tea with ignorance but to remove all variety, all personal choice… Nope, stuff that. You are 100% right.

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      This urge to impose uniformity is an insidious stealth-attack, not only on tea, but on creativity, thought and behaviour. Every High Street looks the same… enter a shopping centre and you could be anywhere…
      And I thought zombies had fallen from fashion…

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Rae Longest says:

    Here in Texas along with one’s BBQ, one drinks “sweet tea.” Brewed hot, in a heavy pitcher over about two inches of real sugar. Then it is allowed to “sit out” at room temperature until it is completely cool and is poured over pure water ice cubes. I have never acquired a taste and am, as a matter of fact, one of the few people “round these parts who enjoy a bracing cup of hot tea. Many friends have brought me teas as souvenirs from their travels (London, India, Mexico, to name three) because it is an inexpensive gift that they know will please me and will “keep on giving.” Peppermint tea at Christmas is a staple for those who are caught up in the hustle and bustle as they take a quick break at my house. It is usually accompanied by some homemade cookies or other sweets which I love to make, but don’t need to be eating in large quantities. Tea time (around four) is a “habit” I would find hard to give up.

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  24. mhembroff says:

    I liked the picture of the little jewelry box. It is identical to the one I have. Mine might be a reproduction. The music box and dancing girl don’t work anymore though. Yours might have been a tea container. I learned a lot about tea. I am a dunking the tea bag into the cup and taking it out quickly person. I did have an English Mother-in-law who did make tea following your instructions. Restaurants give out little tea pots to each person who is having tea. My aunt-in-law always insisted tea be made properly and served in tea cups with saucers and not the mugs we have gotten used to here in Canada.

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      The box in the picture is a tea caddy. though similar ones were made as jewelry boxes I believe.
      Most homes here use mugs too… though the old ones in Yorkshire used to be much bigger. I still prefer a big mug of really strong tea…or a cup f good tea πŸ™‚

      Like

  25. Widdershins says:

    I’m with you wholeheartedly!!! … one of my greater shocks when I arrived in Canada was the prevalence of teabags, and them being far cheaper than loose tea. In OZ (Australia) loose tea was everywhere and those ‘american’ tea-bag thingys were scorned for the mass produced trash they were. πŸ˜€
    I have mellowed somewhat in my attitude, but still prefer loose tea … IN A TEAPOT!!!

    Like

  26. paulandruss says:

    I’m not just a tea drinker, I’m a tea junkie! You give ’em hell Sue for all of us!!!!

    Like

  27. I’ve been a tea drinker most of my life though lately, I’ve gotten into coffee. I have tea leaves, here we use a little ball to confine them, but the darn thing keeps breaking on me and I end up with leaves in my drink! Lol. I need to find something better to strain them with. By the way, your way sounds fabulous! My mom says I inherit my love of tea from the English side of my Dad’s family. However, I’ve come to discover that the Cherokee loved their tea too and that’s my mom’s side.

    Like

  28. Eliza Waters says:

    Definitely worth taking a stand! (I have that same exact tea tin with the Chinese ladies, btw. I bought it when I was in my late teens.)

    Like

  29. And me, here in America, have not one but three different tea infusing pots — actually five, if i count the two single cuppers because there’s no point at all in drinking bad tea. I try not to look when my husband drinks something vaguely herbal and vanilla scented from a TEABAG! Criminal! it’s like those horrible “one cup” machines that make very expensive instant coffee. Yuk.

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      I quite like some of the herbal ‘teas’, but still call them by the name I first learned for them in french…a tisane…unless there is actual tea in there. And I still have the small tea-pot my French employers gave me for a wedding present long, long ago, knowing me well enough by then πŸ˜‰

      Like

  30. Anne says:

    L loved this post!

    Like

  31. Reblogged this on Kate McClelland and commented:
    Indeed! Tea is a serious business Sue :0) I love my Earl Grey, but I do also love a good strong cup of Yorkshire Tea

    Liked by 1 person

  32. noelleg44 says:

    Clearly making tea is a serious undertaking to you Brits! I don’t like tea (grew up near Boston, so maybe a holdover from the Tea Party?) but I was fascinated with the tea making ceremony in Japan. This is similar but without the whisk and the hand movements!

    Like

  33. Pingback: Writing Links 2/13/17 – Where Genres Collide

  34. I still can not get the tradition of adding milk to tea. I am fine with the fact that it exists, but I can’t get why it became so popular? First of all, it has nothing to do with tea tradition of any country where tea growth. Second, I find it hard to find a good milk these days. When people refer to tea with milk as memories from their childhood, I wonder whether those people remember the quality of milk even like 15 years ago?

    Anyway, it was really pleasant to read this .. essay πŸ™‚ It has a warm feeling to it. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      The story is that when tea came to Britain it was very expensive and served in delicate porcelain cups. Adding the milk first cooled the tea and stopped the cups from shattering. That may, or may not, be true πŸ™‚

      Like

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