For fun, I’m running some posts from a few years back because, err, life is a wee bit busy at the moment (also, I’m feeling nostalgic, as I typically tend to in fall). This piece was first published on Nov. 8, 2011.
[Tea, October 2011.]
How I love coffee; I sincerely could count the ways: 1. I love it for its little zing of caffeine that, once it enters my bloodstream, delivers a hit of euphoria that can’t be beat; 2. I love it because I usually procure it elsewhere, meaning that I don’t make it myself (I’m lazy about it, and frankly I don’t make the best cup of coffee. I’m OK with that.) and thus must make a special effort to go get a cup, thus making it a bit of an event, which is fun; 3. I love it for its flavor; 4. I love it because c’mon, it’s coffee …
But I’ve been taking a wee break from coffee recently, because I am a delicate flower whose stomach can’t handle the acidity coffee can so delightfully impart. Well, I’m not really a delicate flower but sometimes I fall out of habit with things and find they are not serving their original purposes — the caffeine instead serves unhappily to make me jittery, the special effort feels less special and more, well, effort — basically, I’m just not feeling it for coffee right now (woe!). And so I’ve turned to my old standby, tea, to get me by until coffee and I are back on track.
I usually drink tea brewed in cups, like in that photo above. (I took it awhile back when I was spending the weekend out of town.) I love the reflection of the sky in the liquid, the branches of the oak tree. And truly it was a lovely cup of tea, savored on a Sunday afternoon with nothing much to do except soak up the late fall sun and stretch out my toes after a few miles run on a nearby trail.
But let’s be real: most of the time I drink tea gulped down in the morning as I’m trying to work up the motivation to pry myself out my comfortable and cozy bed. I’m brushing the sleep from my eyes and rather crankily contemplating wardrobe options and dreading the chilly walk to the bus (fall doldrums, I have ’em. Hopefully they’ll pass soon.). Meanwhile, the tea is used for necessary alertness rather than to create pleasure.
Once I get to work I make a cup of green tea yet again in-the-cup to eat with my oatmeal (this is the new thing; typically it’d be a cup of coffee to follow the early morning cup o’ black tea). If I’m feeling particularly daring I might have a second cup along with my mid-morning snack. Oh, my exciting life! But again, the tea is an accompaniment to work, my new friend alongside the keyboard and my trusty Sigg water bottle that is rapidly filled and emptied throughout the day (my beverages of choice include, in this order, water, tea [coffee usually], orange juice, Orangina, sparkling wine, red wine, beer, sparkling water). It’s all very utilitarian.
[Sunday, November 2011.]
Then, this weekend. I did have a few cups of coffee at brunch on Saturday at Nopa (I did!) which were scrumptious (as was the brunch) but which left me feeling a little too buzzed as I hadn’t had any coffee for a week. I jittered through dinner preparations (for four: roasted tomato and garlic soup, with a splash of milk added at the end; salad from the farmers’ market; stir-fry of chickpeas, broccoli, spinach, and feta cheese; fingerling potatoes baked with wild mushrooms in parchment with rosemary and thyme; a ‘fabulous’ — according to the guy at the fish market — piece of halibut baked with lemon slices and white wine –; flourless chocolate cake with whipped cream and strawberries) and luckily for me it was the ‘fall-back’ night because I stayed up too late reading due to all the buzzing. I swore off coffee once more.
And it’s not that I don’t like tea; I do. In fact I love it. Once upon a time my beloved Kate and I would slip down to Old Town Alexandria to the tearoom that was just around the corner from my brother’s second-floor apartment and linger long and happily over a pot or two of tea (and Branston pickle sandwiches, beans on toast, and the best scones I’ve eaten outside of Scotland). We were good friends before, of course, but those stolen afternoons drinking tea-pot tea sealed the deal for good and all. I think the tea pot in the photo above these paragraphs was obtained on a whim, again in Old Town, and I got a few matching cups and saucers, too, so enamored was I with the idea of making a pot of tea.
I do this all too rarely these days.
And so here’s where I get to the point of all this. Sunday afternoon, after a work-morning, after cleaning the house top to bottom (nearly), after doing laundry, after running myself out to the Pacific and back, my new husband suggested making a pot of tea (reinforcing once more why I’m lucky). To actually sit down with cups and pour it out like proper civilized people. To savor the moment and the tea and simply be. As I thought it a rather fantastic suggestion I immediately obliged. I brought out my Ahwhanee china and a few digestive biscuits and we sat in the blue chairs by the window and drank our pot of tea. And lo, it was good.
Here’s the thing: I know I can’t do this every day. Sit down with a pot of tea — or even a pot of coffee — and read the paper or talk or just be quiet — no, that’s a luxury to be delved into on free (read: weekend) afternoons when I’ve finished (or not) the 100 things or more I ‘have’ to do. But I wonder … what if I got up a little bit earlier? Or made a pot after work to drink as the early dark falls down? Is it more about the tea or the ritual of it — the slowing down to carve out enough time warm the pot, to select the tea, to let it steep, to fill up the pot once more. In the rush of the days — which are often filled with humdrum tasks — a pot of tea is a surprising gift. I go on and on and on about savoring the little things, the ordinary moments, but tell truth that’s usually what we’re faced with every day. Why not make them special?
I suggest starting with tea. To make a proper pot, I refer you to George Orwell’s essay, A Nice Cup of Tea, published in 1946, which argues that “tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot.” Or if that’s too detailed, try
Bring enough water to fill your (china or earthenware) teapot twice to a full, rolling boil in a kettle.
Bring the teapot to the kettle and fill it with about 1/4 cup of the boiling water. Swish it around in there to warm the pot (I suggest this variation, in the interest of water conservation, rather than filling the pot with hot water, letting it sit for 1-2 minutes, and then pouring out the water).
Put the kettle back on the stove and bring it back to a full boil.
Pour out the warm water.
Choose your tea (black, green, herbal — whatever you like best.). If you are using loose tea, add one teaspoon of tea per cup of tea to the teapot, plus one for the pot. If using bags, use one bag per cup of tea, plus one for the pot (I think you can get away with using 3 bags).
Add the boiling water to the teapot, put the lid on and cover the teapot with a tea cozy, if you have one.
Let the tea steep for three to five minutes.
Pour the tea into each cup using a tea strainer (for loose tea).
* I re-use the tea bags if I make a second pot … this might be sacrilegious to some, but to me it’s thrifty.