Thursday, March 05, 2009

My History with Tea

Unlike my son, who says he hates the taste of tea, I acquired the tea habit as a child. Other families may have served a beverage like milk or juice or soda with their meals. For my mother, she served us tea. It was a habit that she acquired growing up in Northern Ireland.

Whenever we visited our Irish relatives, we were served tea from a pot of loose leaves. The tea was often poured at the same time as the milk, creating a beverage containing half tea, half milk. With experience, one learns not to drink the last inch or so because of the loose tea leaves. The tea remaining in the pot gets stronger as the second or third cup is served.

Offering a guest a cup of tea is a sign of courtesy in Ireland. Even if there aren’t any little cakes or cookies to go with the tea, offering someone a cup of tea is the slightest that one can do for someone coming inside the house. Not getting that courtesy is an insult that isn’t easily forgotten. Recalling the memory of someone can be summed up with the remark, “She wouldn’t even offer me a cup of tea.”

In this country, my mother usually only made a pot of tea with loose leaves when someone came to visit. More often, we brewed our tea individually with teabags, waiting to add the milk and sugar until we achieved the desired strength. My sister and I learned through practice to fish out the teabag with the spoon and to use the tab of the bag to squeeze out all of the liquid. Wrapping the string around the bag as it sits in the spoon is another option for squeezing out the liquid.

My mother gave me a Brown Betty when I left home. Most often when I was single, I used it to store my teabags. At times, however, when money was tight, I used loose tea instead of teabags and put this Brown Betty to use. To this day, thirty-five years later, I still have this Brown Betty and used it recently to brew a pot of tea using five bags of PG Tips. Having a potful of tea on the stove, covered with a tea cozy to keep it warm, makes it possible to grab a cup in the midst of grading or cleaning house.

There were few options in this country other than Lipton thirty or forty years ago. Lipton, in fact, has been my tea of choice for most of my life. Occasionally, when I had to watch my money while living on my own, I resorted to using Tetley or Red Rose, but I switched back to Lipton whenever I could. A year or two ago, I bought some of the tea at a local store of imported English foodstuffs. Since then, I have grown more fastidious in my choice of tea. While I still use Lipton and Tetley sometimes, I have been trying some of the other tea available at the grocery store. Beginning with Bigelow English Breakfast and Twinings’ Irish Breakfast, my choices have also included Ahmad English Breakfast and Tazo Awake. Probably my current favorites, other than Tazo Awake and Ahmad English Breakfast, is, surprisingly, a generic blend of organic black tea that is distributed by the Associated Wholesale Grocers in Kansas City. A box of 24 bags sells for $2.34 at some stores. This tea actually seems much stronger than the other teas I’ve tried and gets my highest recommendation. When served with milk and sugar, it’s a bit of heaven at a reasonable price.