Friday, April 23, 2010

Tea, Glorious Tea

I think I may have started to figure out what it is I need for the rest of the book. It's been difficult because I've been very "Squirrel!" all week, so easily distracted and with difficulty focusing. I haven't even been able to focus on the book I'm reading, which is very dense and complex, so I maybe manage a paragraph at a time before I get sidetracked by something shiny. I should probably put it aside and read something like Dick, Jane and Spot until my brain starts working again, but then I'm afraid I'd have to start over from the beginning because I'll have forgotten what already happened. On the up side, my kitchen is cleaner and the dishes are all done because that's one of the things that sidetracked me. Usually, I would say that when I get like this it means that my subconscious is busy working things out, but I really hope my subconscious has something better to offer than cake in the face.

It was so gratifying to see the response to my post about tea vs. coffee. My people! I'm not entirely sure how I turned out to be a tea drinker. My parents are coffee drinkers. We had iced tea with meals (we're southern -- as they say in Steel Magnolias, iced tea is the house wine of the south), but for breakfast, for breaks or for caffeination purposes, it was coffee. My parents let my try coffee occasionally when I was a kid -- like a splash of coffee in a cup of warm milk -- and I thought it was nasty. I assumed it was one of those things you'd start to like when you were an adult. I do recall going through a phase when I'd insist on having my iced tea without ice, so it was still warm from being freshly brewed, and I really liked that. The first time I had real hot tea, as in tea that was meant to be hot, was the summer between sixth and seventh grade. We were living in Germany and were on vacation in Bavaria at an American military recreation center there. It was cold and rainy the entire time we were there. We'd been out walking around, got drenched, and ended up in one of the little AAFES cafes in the rec area. The choices for warming beverages were coffee or hot tea, and I got hot tea -- the cup of hot water and a tea bag. I think the next time I had hot tea, it was in seventh grade when a friend invited me over after school for tea. I was a raging Anglophile even then and had read way too many books set in England or with English characters, and I thought that having tea after school was the height of sophistication.

I don't think I really got into drinking tea as a matter of course until I was in college. I needed caffeine in the morning but I still didn't like coffee, so I availed myself of the hot-water spigot at the coffee service area in the dorm cafeteria and got in the habit of having a cup of hot tea with breakfast every morning. When I was out of college, I bought a teapot and started making brewed loose-leaf tea on occasion. I still generally go with a tea bag in the morning, but otherwise, I prefer loose-leaf tea.

But it's very difficult being a hot tea drinker in this country. At most breakfast-type places, like IHOP or diners, they're very generous with coffee but act like you've asked to see their wine list if you ask for tea. They'll put a small pot of coffee on the table, or else the friendly waitress will constantly come by with a pot of coffee and say, "Can I warm that up for you, hon?" But if you get tea (and if you're lucky enough for them to have it), you generally get a cup of warmish water and a tea bag, without even an offer of more hot water. I have even been in a situation where the best they could do was fill a mug with tea from the iced tea dispenser and microwave it for me (I was desperate). I carry tea bags in my purse because I can generally obtain a cup of hot water. When I went to England, I was astonished that when they served breakfast at the guest house, if you asked for tea, you got a whole pot brought to the table and got offered refills, but if you got coffee, you were brought a single cup. I had to restrain myself from doing a dance of glee in the middle of the room and shouting, "Ha, take that coffee drinkers! How do you like it now?"

I have learned to drink heavily doctored coffee mostly because of writing group meetings and conferences. At meetings, they may have urns of coffee and decaf. If they have any provision for tea at all, it's a pot or urn of hot water and a basket of tea bags, and the urn is also usually used for coffee, so that the water looks, smells and tastes like weak coffee. Making tea would be like sticking a tea bag in a cup of coffee. Eww. At banquets when they go around serving coffee to go with dessert, often you get told that tea isn't on the menu, or else they'll come back half an hour later with a metal pot of lukewarm water and a selection of tea bags that's mostly flavored tea. Because of this, I learned to add enough sugar and milk to coffee, and I found this coffee flavoring that comes in little tablets in a container like Tic-Tacs come in, and this way I can add a bit of vanilla so I can drink the coffee.

As for finding brewed tea, made from leaves, where they bring you a pot of tea instead of water and a tea bag, you can just about forget it unless you're at a tea shop or having "tea" as a meal where it's expensive and they make a big fuss about it. I know of a few in New York, and I think there are a few around here, though I haven't tried them yet. Generally, at nicer places you just get nicer tea bags. At a fancy restaurant, if you order tea, they'll bring this big box of tea bags for you to select from (lots of flavored stuff, little real tea). My neighborhood coffee shop has really nice tea, and it's in silk bags instead of paper, so you don't get that paper taste, but they don't brew tea.

I'm not crazy about flavored tea because I just really like tea. I can deal with spicy chai, and orange and spice tea can be nice on occasion. I have a honey and lemon tea that's good for iced tea, and there's a mint green tea that works if I have a cold. Lipton used to have an amaretto tea that I loved. But raspberry is right out. I like vanilla, but it doesn't work for me in tea. Herbal tea is not tea. It's an herbal infusion and doesn't contain tea. Contrary to what seems to be popular belief among non tea drinkers, Earl Grey is not a generic, plain old tea. It's a very distinct flavor and something of an acquired taste. If you can only offer one kind of tea, Earl Grey is not the one to offer. One of my favorite teas ever was the Ceylon tea my dad brought me from Sri Lanka when he was there for a disaster relief project after the tsunami. It was divine. Considering that I have two Indian grocery stores within three blocks of my house, I really ought to look to see if they carry that brand.

And now it's time to brew a pot and get to work.


Anonymous said...

Wow, I wish that when I get distracted from what I'm supposed to be doing that I do the dishes instead. Definitely my least-favorite chore. Wanna trade kitchens?

Kinda neat hearing from somebody who is as addicted to hot tea as some people are to coffee. I pretty much just like iced tea, never liked hot tea. Until one day I discovered that you could put lemon in it. Ah-hah! My favorite is just to heat up iced tea, that way you have your sugar and lemon all set. But I totally know what you mean about meetings and conferences where they only have coffee. I usually just drink water or orange juice, ugh.

Chicory said...

Horay for tea! I have to have a nice cup of tea with milk and sugar in the morning, to help wake me up.

I'm lucky in that I also love chai, which is fairly easy to find at most coffee houses. But it has to be made with hot milk. If someone dips bagged chai in water and expects me to drink it they're deluding themselves. :)