There really is nothing like a good cup of tea. I remember my first one vividly – which I’ll grant you is a pretty weird thing to remember, but let me explain…
As a California baby, I was not a fan of hot drinks. Ours was not a coffee household, not even hot cider in the fall. When I moved to the UK at 10 years old, I was confused by a great number of things : why people would say “a quarter to” when you asked them what time it was (a quarter to what?), why I had to call lunch “dinner” and dinner “tea”, and then there was tea, the drink, not be confused with the meal. Cups of tea served all through the day and night. You couldn’t take a breath without being offered a cuppa. Family members were always announcing that they were “putting the kettle on”. Every time I was sad, a cup was plopped in front of me with a couple of biscuits. I would always dutifully dunk my biscuits in the paperbag-brown brew and (having used the tea for its only useful purpose) let it sit and go cold.
When I finally agreed to a cup of the boring grown up’s drink (that didn’t hold any of the allure of alcohol or even coffee), it was quite a memorable occasion. I (a sulky 10 year old with a won’t-quit American accent) was slouching in my great uncle’s home – Laura Ashley wall paper, velvet couches sunken with use, faux-coals burning in the the gas fireplace, a cable-free TV for entertainment – when he offered me a cup of tea. I don’t know why I finally said yes (boredom or a need to be nice to elderly relatives) but I did. Sometimes I think this cup of tea was actually fated for me. If for example, it hadn’t been made by my Uncle Johnny (a War time baby who has a notorious sweet tooth and no patience for “health food”) then this cup of tea probably wouldn’t have included a good glug of full fat milk and no less than three teaspoonfuls of sugar. Three teaspoons I tell you! There’s nary a child in the world who will say no to a dairy laden vehicle of three sugars.
Thus began my love affair with tea. Granted it was “builder’s tea”, PG Tips or Tetley, nothing that would be accepted by Will and Kate. But, it was possibly the first and only thing I loved (for a while) about living in the UK. Upon my return to the States for college, it would become my security blanket (brought to all conferences with teachers to soothe my nerves), my trademark (made specially for teary-eyed friends in my dorm room) and my replacement for coffee which was much cooler, but something I despised the taste of.
In the end, tea has become ritualistic. The ritual of drinking it every morning, of a sweet cup on a hard day. Ironically, when I am in the UK now, the most comforting thing is the cup of tea I am offered upon entering any home, or the obligatory cup I drink when someone drops by our house. Here in New York, it has become a tradition of it’s very own. I go for tea once a week with my dear friend Christina. The teas with her aren’t the sugar-laden one’s of my childhood, but fine and delicate varieties like Lapsang Souchong and Matcha Green. Our tea time is different than when we go for a glass of wine, or shopping, or out with our friends. When we plan for tea, everything else falls away. We are able to be open and honest. We are safe in the warmth of the hot cup between our hands.
Recipe for the Perfect Cup of English Tea
1 PG Tips teabag
Full fat milk
Sugar (no sweetener, no agave, just commit to it)
A good cozy mug
It’s really best if you have a kettle, electric or stovetop, but if you don’t make sure your water is at a rolling boil. Black tea should be brewed at 99 degrees Celsius (210 Fahrenheit). Put you tea bag in first! (It is essential to the brewing process). Let your tea bag sit for a couple of seconds and before you take it out give it a good squeeze with your spoon. Add your milk – I go for a classic british paper-bag brown. This mug is the funnest and it’ll help you make your perfect cup. Add one teaspoon of sugar (I’ve mellowed out in my old age). Stir. Drink hot with a couple of chocolate digestive biscuits if you can get your hands on them.