Friday, February 10, 2006

Tea Digression

When I was a young child and couldn't sleep in the night due to some worry or another, my mom would come into my room and tell me to think of something nice, like Santa or the Easter Bunny. I rarely thought of those exact things, but the advice has made sense to me since that time and in the interest of distracting myself from current worries, I have for you a riff on tea:

Since the last failed cycle, Partner and I have given up morning coffee. Cold turkey. This surprised my parents at the funeral we attended last weekend when we both declined the carafe of amazing smelling coffee. I've actually felt a lot better since giving it up, but this is not to say that we don't occasionally partake of the delightful bean. I'm just not addicted to it anymore.

Instead we're drinking tea like a couple of Brits. When I first moved home from Ireland, I stocked up on Barry's tea. It was hard to get Irish or British tea over here then, and after drinking Irish and British tea, the stuff we got stateside tasted like, pardon me, shite. I would stock up on tea when coming back from a trip: Bewleys, Barrys, Lyons, Typhoo-- whatever I could find before I left and usually came home with at least three boxes.

We're lucky now that we can get all sorts of great tea here now. For awhile all we could find were PG Tips, but personally despite the very cool pyramid bag, PG never gets quite strong enough for me. Now we're an all Typhoo all the time house. Mmm. I'm parching for cup right now.

When I lived in Ireland, I had to be taught the proper way to make tea. My family was aghast that I didn't know the correct procedure, including the very important and not-deletable step of warming the pot. My first night there I made the tea but didn't warm the pot. We threw the whole thing out and started over. Boil the kettle, warm the pot, (of course there was a well worn metal pot) put the tea bags in, and place the pot on the hob, turn the hob on low, and wait for about five minutes. Sometimes longer if we got talking. The house I lived in was very much a working class house and we spent hours in the kitchen at the table just talking about the craic. We'd put the milk into the mugs and pour in the tea. We'd eat lemon biscuits or Boland's Custard Creams. (I can taste them now!) Often it was raining and the dog was barking to come in and the girls were in the front room watching TV, which always was loud and it felt like they were always watching either Home and Away or The Bill. The kitchen windows got steamy. And sometimes we'd sign songs. And then we'd make another pot and occasionally get the washing up, and then I'd go down the pub to meet my friends. When I came in at night, I'd brew myself up a cup and go upstairs with the mug, read a little even when I was feeling very blurry, drink my tea and smell the smoke from Fergus having his last fag of the night in the next room.

I went to visit a friend in Yorkshire when I was living in Ireland, and his mother was from Dublin and when she made the tea, she pour everyone else's and then put the pot back onto the hob for me. John, my friend, and his siblings felt this was totally disgusting, but luckily his mother understood me. My friend, John, called it "builder's tea," and I find a very pleasant description now.

Flash forward some time and now I'm living in London with a not very nice man. For years I thought I hated London because of him, but now that I've been several times since then, I realize I adore London. This particular guy fostered fear in me about the city, mostly to control me. (Oh well, another story, another day.) While living in London, I learned about loose tea. Two cups and one for the pot, mash the tea, put the milk in the mug and strain your tea. When I lived in London, we were poor poor poor. On Sunday, it was the treat to go the chippie. M***, the ex in question here, made us walk to the Elephant and Castle shopping centre to shop because he thought we were too poor to take the bus. The walk down was nice enough, but coming back with a big sack of potatoes was no fun. And lugging the sacks up the steps in to get to our flat, on the top floor, was no fun either. The prize was a pot of tea and toast. I never ate so much toast in my life. (This is where I also developed the a liking for Marmite. Oh GOD, I love Marmite and toast.) And we drank lashings of tea. (Incidentally, this relationship prepped me for Bridget Jones, because like her paramour, mine also liked to close all the blinds and watch cricket all weekend.) The only time we took a bus or the tube is when I paid. And like I said, we drank a lot tea.

The most used appliance in our house is the electric kettle. Now I don't have a good Irish metal pot, but a well used Brown Betty. Every once in awhile, someone will give me a flowery tea pot, which I like and they feel very pretty and special, but I love my Betty. We don't have a proper tea cosy, so I fold up a tea towel and put it over the top of the pot.

A few years ago, we were discussing the merits of tea while at the pub. (What can I say? I'm surrounded by Brits.) My friend N is rather posh, which of course he never told me, but from various hints dropped, I've figured it out. He noted that his grandmother had very definite opinions about milk in tea in first or milk in tea after it was poured. He maintained that his grandmother said she could taste the difference. The conversation moved forward before I could stop and ask him: which was proper according to her?

And so began and progressed my love affair with a properly made cuppa. I love my tea. Manhattans are still number one, but I haven't quite figured out how to continue drinking them if I get pregnant, whereas with tea, well we're already stocked up on the decafe Typhoo.

But my final question for you, and comment please, is when do you put in the milk? What does either signify?

Off the boil the kettle... thanks for diverting me!


Anonymous Jenn said...

I always put the milk in last, but I have no idea what difference it makes. I've tried it both ways and can't tell the difference.

5:47 PM  
Blogger Katie (WannaBeMom) said...

Jenn, me neither, but I gathered from my friend N that it is some sort of class marker... Which is interesting in and of itself. Those little tags people keep, you know?

9:29 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

That was fascinating! I drank tea every night with my host family in Sweden, but it wasn't quite the production you describe. We, incidentally, put the milk in after, and I would have to say my host family was rather upper crust -- but Swedes, so maybe they have their own rules.

Now for my question: can you explain your time in Ireland a bit? Every time you talk about it I think I've figured it out but then I get confused again. First I thought you were Irish and had emigrated here. Then I thought you were a student there. Now I am just confused. Also, where does London fit in?

Nosy Jen :)

9:00 AM  
Blogger eryn said...

When I am drinking black tea I put the honey in first, then the boiling water and stir. Then I put in the tea. Soy milk is the last thing to go in - and by then my tea is ready for a whirl.

I love your tea drinking stories. I was taught how drink tea by my very old, grandmother-like-neighbor growing up (she is 93 now). She'd warm the pot and our tea cups, always used a tea cozy and put out many treats.

These days we often make a pot of tea and use our tea warmer that my mother brought back from germany. it's wooden round thing that the pot sits on and there is a tea light lit below it to keep the tea warm.

6:27 PM  
Blogger Firefly said...

Well we drink a lot of tea too,since Jase is a Brit(it has to be decaf or I would be bouncing off the walls) and I have been schooled on tea making in 4 different countries. I have been told you are to put the milk in the cup first(and of course warm the pot), but when it is just the two of us we put the milk in last. I like to see what colour the tea turns and that is how I judge how much to add, when I put the milk in first it is never right.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Soul Searching said...

I just started adding milk because I thought my plain tea was a little boring and wondered what all the hype was surrounding milk in tea. I had to throw out the first few cups because I put as much milk in as I would creamer in coffee and it tasted like milk water. yuck. I don't think I've gotten it right yet, but I'll keep trying. Right now I'm still more in love with the idea of tea than the tea itself.

10:28 PM  
Anonymous nismat said...

I'm British (English-British), and yes, when you add milk does indeed have class connotations (although like most things, these are less defined). Supposedly, it's "posher" to add milk afterwards. The reasoning behind it is that which firefly outlines, i.e. you want to check the strength of the tea first, before judging how much milk to add. That's what I do anyway, but not as a "posh" thing ;o)

BTW, in our family we all call regular tea (i.e. Typhoo-type) builder's tea; we mostly drink snooty Earl Grey.

6:28 AM  
Blogger Emma in Canada said...

With both family in Ireland and England I was raised to put my milk in after. That's the way both my Nan and my Granny did it. And grandparents are always right.

7:02 PM  
Blogger PortLairge said...

I loved this post. I saved it up for nearly a whole week so I could really enjoy it. My Nanny (Grandmother) used to say the English put the milk in first and the Irish way was to put it in last. However, my Mother often puts the milk in while waiting for the kettle to boil and my husband who is English has a mickey fit if I put the milk in first so in our house the milk always goes in last. I'm off for a cuppa.

10:35 PM  

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