Will You Have a Cup of Tea?
For me, having a cup of tea is a part of my daily life, my ritual every morning and throughout the day. I have my favorite mugs and a few porcelain teacups that really do make the tea taste oh so much better. Tea is my “go to” when I am feeling overwhelmed, or sad, or celebratory or just need a quick pick me up to soldier through an exceptionally long day.
I have often said when asked why I love tea so much that I honestly believe that my mother must have put tea in my bottle because I really can’t remember a time when “having tea” wasn’t part of my life. My mother’s family was English and tea was not only a hot beverage we drank but part of a tradition that was so strongly upheld in our home that you might think the Queen would pop in at any moment for a spot of tea.
My grandfather, an inventor and a brilliant engineer responsible for creating one of the first auto-pilots for small aircraft among many other things even went as far as creating a special metal device to dunk in our tea to cool it down to the right temperature so we wouldn’t burn our little tongues. I can imagine him working away on his lathe and attaching a beautifully turned wooden handle for this lovely no-named device that you would keep in the freezer until you needed to dunk it in your teacup a couple of times. This might give you a little indication of the importance of tea in our family.
"This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round."
A properly brewed pot of loose tea was something that you could always find in our kitchen. Remembering to put an extra spoonful of tea for the pot was drilled into my head early on. Always starting with fresh water in the kettle, so the tea is properly oxygenated and letting it steep so you get just the right taste and then, of course, adding milk. While the battle of milk first and then tea or tea first and then milk may continue to rage on in many parts of the UK, we were brought up putting the milk in last. I did a little research, and the origin of this practice is also a little conflicted. According to some historians, the art of making fine porcelain had not quite been mastered in England when tea was brought over from China around 1660; adding milk to cool the tea helped eliminate the cracking of teacups. Another common story argues this was a way to get workers back to the job after their tea break because the tea was cooled quicker by the addition of milk. Either way, I am with George Orwell on this one!
“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
The concept of afternoon tea came into vogue in England thanks to the Duchess Anna of Bedford in 1840 because she needed something to stave off her hunger in the long gap between lunch and a fashionably late dinner. Before Duchess Anna’s brilliant idea tea was taken after dinner. She was definitely on to something, and any trip to London isn’t complete if you haven’t done afternoon tea at a posh hotel. The ritual of having afternoon tea in my family wasn’t quite as glamorous but was just as special. You would often find us sitting with my grandmother and great-aunt Winnie out on the lawn under one of the massive cottonwood trees with a cup of tea and bread smothered with butter and oozing with strawberry jam. Probably the closest thing my mother could find to Devonshire clotted cream and jam considering I grew up on the Mexican border of southeastern Arizona.
My memories of sharing tea with family and friends make it so much more than just a beverage. When I visit my cousins and great Aunt Betzy in Arizona, there is no doubt that sharing tea will be at the center of our visit. In fact, my Aunt Betzy who is Danish, and nearly 99 years old will be quite upset if everyone isn’t sitting with a fresh cup of tea within minutes of their arrival. While her memory is failing her sense of graciousness has not. Her tea is always served in a beautiful Royal Copenhagen porcelain teacup by my cousin who has been appropriately schooled over the years in the fine art of tea-making.
A package of special English Breakfast tea is one of my favorite gifts to stick in my suitcase when traveling abroad. A gift of proper English tea feels like bringing back a little bit of my trip to share with my family. My mother, grandmother and great Aunt Winnie are long gone, but I think of them often and am so blessed that this simple act of having a cup of tea keeps them close to me. I do hope that if you have time to visit us at the farm, you can stay and share a cup of tea with me.