Monday, June 22, 2009


"There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea."
~ Bernard-Paul Heroux

As I thought up and prepared to write this entry, I had the opportunity to put the above adage to the test. I heard some distressing news, of the sort that looks at first to be completely out of hand, and which at the point of my writing this, may as yet be unfixable. We'll see. In any case, I was drinking a cup of tea at work (Earl Grey that I'd brought with me from home...the ever-present Lipton lemon [DECAF no less] is an abomination to me), and I found that it not only helped diminish the shock and anger at this news, but enabled me to laugh at it. (Indeed, I may continue to laugh at it, forever, and never stop. In that case, straitjackets may be the answer, not tea.)

My experience with tea has not been long. I did not grow up drinking it, since coffee, which I still despise, was the drink of choice in my home. Spanish coffee, which most people know as espresso, was normal (my dad always did and still does drink it before bed). I recall once having spearmint tea--I found it nausea-inducing. Sometimes when I was sick my mom made me try to drink Lipton tea with honey. This all led to my associating tea with illness and I avoided it as much as possible.

I discovered proper tea-taking in Europe when I was 21. This isn't as cool as it sounds. My friends were all taking advantage of the beer-cheaper-than-water policy of the Czech Republic (with the result that I was always thirsty) as well as that country's lenient attitude toward the "Green Fairy"--absinthe. (This stuff makes some artists feel more like, well...artists. I just thought it tasted like Listerine.) Basically they went and hung out in pubs every night, which is pretty boring unless you intend to get wasted. I didn't, so I stayed in at the hotel, reading Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five (did not like) and drinking the only free beverage available in the room--Earl Grey tea with bathroom faucet-water boiled in one of those automatic teakettles. I put sugar and powdered milk and found it tasted like flowers. Thus my love affair with Earl Grey tea began. It still makes me think of Europe, along with cobblestones, crepes and the smell of expensive cigarettes. I found that I like taking tea the English way, very sweet with real sugar and milk (no honey).

In Victorian times it was considered bad luck to give an unmarried girl tea-ware as a present. The reasoning behind this was that one of the few consolations of spinsterhood was a good cup of tea. Not sure where this came from. I'm pretty sure married ladies can enjoy tea as much as the next girl. Maybe husbands are averse to tea-taking, and take great pains to upset the cup every time the missus prepares to take a sip. "Hey! Pay attention to ME, not your tea!" I've never noticed this phenomenon among my good married friends Mr. and Mrs. Byrd. Mr. Byrd even drinks tea himself. Perhaps this is due to his mother's being a great tea aficionado, or his British ancestry. The point is, the Byrd couple takes their tea together, and nothing seems to be amiss. But in a way I do get the Victorian idea of tea being a remedy for low spirits. I drink it when I'm sad, cold, tired, excited, relaxed, happy, awake, writer's-blocked, artist's-blocked, prolific, early, or late. Earl Grey is the best for all situations, but chai works well, as does vanilla and other flowery flavors. I'm not a big fan of herbal, but I hail it as a worthy tea.

For Tea the Way I Like It:

A china or glass teacup is best. Styrofoam really ruins the taste! :P

That sage of wisdom, Anonymous, has said, "The perfect temperature for tea is two degrees hotter than just right." This is exactly true. If your tea is just perfectly hot, it will be disgustingly lukewarm in all too short a time. Heat the water in a teakettle or pot. A microwave on high for 2 minutes is fine for a single serving, but be sure to use a microwave-safe cup. My brother once made the mistake of using an aluminum mug in the microwave.

Make sure you mix the sugar in while the tea is too hot to drink. First sugar, then milk. Please do not use Equal, or anything with ingredients you don't recognize. Mrs. Byrd enjoys Splenda, as it is a sugar derivative. I like white sugar. My sister likes soy milk or coffee creamer in strange and exotic flavors, and GOBS of sugar--I find her tea methods a bit barbaric, but I keep an open mind when it comes to personal tea preference.

Tea is best with French madeleines, better than anything else. (Scones with clotted cream--oh joy--make a very good rival. My sister and I once took tea at a Manhattan teahouse with our friend Miss Murphy, and it was there that I first tasted clotted cream. I have yearned for it ever since....) If you take your tea sweet, any really sweet thing like doughnuts or Entenmann's crullers clash with the taste. If you take tea unsweetened, I imagine anything could be paired with it. Except, you know, French fries. Tea is one of the only things in the world that you cannot take with French fries.

And If It's Too Hot for Tea:

"Iced tea is too pure and natural a creation not to have been invented as soon as tea, ice, and hot weather crossed paths." I don't know who John Egerton is, and this post is too quote-heavy already, but I heartily agree.

Don't try to mix sugar into already cold tea. Many restaurants will give you unsweetened tea under the guise of normal iced tea, so always ask first! Unless, of course, you like it unsweetened. More power to you. But for the rest of us, sugar in cold tea is just grainy and nasty.

Olive Garden once gave me a raspberry iced tea with slices of peaches in it. I approved of this, especially since I could suck up peaches and have them stick to the end of my straw. Fruit can give such endless amusement when eating out.

Favorite iced tea recipes, anyone? Or further thoughts on tea?


Brittany Ann said...

I am a total tea barbarian. I also gulp it down. I am such a lumberjack. Sorry.

And I now want to dip french fries in Early Grey. Sweet and salty, greasy and flowery. Oh yes.

Jenn said...

I thought your post about tea was indeed lovely!

It is really quite true that tea is comforting (although I often find coffee nearly as equally comforting on occasion--especially when I'm by myself and hope to be prolific).

I need to find us more of that fantastic Earl Grey in the wooden box that I had received as a present. It was pretty much the best Earl Grey I'd ever had! I wasn't a huge fan of it until you re-introduced me, and that magical wooden box yielded some incredible tea. I'm going to try to get some before Mom's house this week--we can enjoy some and then leave it with her so when we go there, we'll have something comforting awaiting us!

Love you.

Regina said...

Well, since we're talking about iced tea here, you have to read this post with a southern accent, which I have. ;-) I'm from South Carolina and we like it strong and sweet down here. I make good iced tea. My secret is a few drops of good vanilla. Use the real stuff.

Other things I like is a handful of fresh mint from the yard steeped into it while it's cooling. Or a few cinnamon sticks or lemon slices. I've cut it half and half with fresh sassafras tea, too.

I do agree with Jenn...I love me some Earl Grey. I dont' know how that would be iced, though.