Sep 15, 2010

#30before30: Drink Tea

My mother swears by the restorative power of a cup of tea. She’s not the only one. Indeed, one could say that Britain’s addiction to tea really powered its Empire and slave trade back in the 1700s. They liked tea, so they bunkered down in the subcontinent, and they liked sugar in their tea, so they needed to steal a bunch of Africans to work their cane plantations in the Americas.

Yes, there are many reasons to dislike tea.

Weapon of mass destruction.

But historical indentured servitude and the treatment of humans as beasts of burden aside, I’ve just always hated the taste.

“It’ll relax you when you’re wound up, and pep you up when you’re feeling down,” enthused Dan, as we relaxed on his white sofa with a cuppa. “It’ll warm you up when you’re cold, but also cool you down when you’re hot.”

I’d made the trek to Dan’s Moorooka abode to take part in the simple act of “having a cup of tea”. For at least 12 months, Dan had been on and on at me to drink a bloody cup of tea with him. “I've never drunk tea, it’s horrible stuff,” I’d say. “But there’s a ritual, and an atmosphere and a mood, and a real delight to share a cup of tea with someone,” he'd flounce back. I’d tell him to put his skirt back on, the big girl, and the conversation would stop. Until the next time he brought it up.

"Go on, go on, go on."

When I decided to do #30before30, I knew that “drinking tea” would inevitably be on the list. Dan would have been a teary mess had I not agreed to it. I just couldn’t face the prospect of all that EMOTION. Sheesh. So, I decided to step forth and think of England, and wrap my laughing gear around a cuppa.

“I’m so excited you’re here!” Dan greeted me with a big goofy smile. “This is going to be so much fun.” I rolled my eyes and put down my handbag. Dan just put down his handbag.

He began by pouring some boiling water into a Styrofoam cup, topping it up with milk, then placing it on the kitchen bench. I was a bit put off, but this was intentional.

“This is WORST cup of tea you will ever taste,” he said. “We’re going to use it as a base test.”

“But I’ve seen you drink tea out of styrofoam cups,” I replied.

“Yes, well,” he said. “Once you’ve got an addiction, it doesn’t matter how good the smack is, it’s still smack.”

He left the styro tea to “steep” on the bench while he got to work with the kettle. He told me that the best cup of tea is made with water that is just about to hit boiling point, but doesn’t actually do so. It’s something called a “rolling boil”. As soon as the electric kettle clicked off, he grabbed it and poured the almost-boiling water into a small blue teapot. He’d put regular black tea leaves inside, having decried teabags as “a sin”.

“Some people say you have to spin the teapot nine times,” he said. “But those people are insane. You just leave it for a few minutes to steep, then turn it one-quarter. That ensures the hot water is evenly distributed.”

As he waited, he grabbed fresh milk from the fridge, and poured about a centimetre into the bottom of two mugs (yes, mugs. He apologised for that, and told me ideally I should be drinking out of smaller china cups). The milk goes in first, he said, because then it will be a big enough mass to not get burnt by the incoming hot tea.

He followed it up with the tea itself. But before I could taste this properly brewed cuppa, I had to taste the base line stuff first. I took a sip.

“This just tastes like flavoured hot water,” I said, wrinkling my nose.

“Yes, yes it does!” Dan replied. "Now try the proper stuff. You want to drink it straight down, don't swirl it around your mouth. And you'll have to blow on it first, as it's very hot."

I blew soft ripples across the surface of the drink, then held it to my lips and drank.

"This just tastes like flavoured hot water too," I said.

Dan's face fell for a moment, but then he perked back up. "Ah!" he said. "But let's try with this."

He put two teaspoons of white sugar into the drink and stirred. "This completely changes the drink."

I sipped again, and I must admit, he was right. The sweetness made the tea was much more bearable, even verging on the almost pleasant. It had also cooled slightly, allowing the flavour to be released from all that hot water. I wish I had the adjectives to describe what I thought of it, but my vocabulary seems to be as under-developed as my palate. Slightly bitter, I guess. Light, but with a heavy edge. But it wasn't awful. My temples tingled slightly after a few more sips, which I assumed was the caffeine making its way through my synapses.

"So what do you have with tea?" I asked Dan. He clapped his hands in delight, and produced a packet of Gingernut biscuits.

"These are great, because they're very firm," he said. "Most other types of biscuits, like shortbread, will just crumble."

He told me dunking your biscuit into tea was an acceptable, if not entirely polite, habit, and so I followed his lead and dipped the gingernut into my now half-empty mug. "Now this is good," I said. "The strong ginger cancels out the taste of the tea."

For Dan, it seemed to be a dream come true. He insisted we sit and relax, and have a conversation about our day. "You see, it gives you something to bond over," he declared while crossing his legs. "You have a cup of tea with someone, and it's not two people nattering. It's two people sharing an experience."

Eventually my tea got cold, and I couldn't face anymore. But I couldn't help but be inwardly touched by Dan's reverence for this simple act. Of course, I didn't say that. I didn't want him jumping up and insisting we hug and make plans to see a chick flick. But I was pleased that I'd made the effort to have this cup of tea with him, and when I said I'd do it again, I was only half-fibbing.

I'm sure he'll be happy to do the washing up.


  1. Girl Clumsy should be no stranger to caffeine. She drinks Pepsi Max TO THE EXTREME. It's my theory that the tingling in her forehead was the normal stresses gentry loosening and giving her an experience that is very uncommon for her.

    That of feeling, a little bit relaxed.

  2. Too much bloody pepsi max has ruined you tastebuds. And milk? Are you mad?

  3. Hey, I was just drinking what the guy gave me, and he said milk was important.

    And the more you hate on Pepsi Max, the more I love it... :)

  4. Milk is a matter of taste and given Girl Clumsy's description of her dislikes of tea I believe it was the right choice. If she does try it black I would suggest honey instead of sugar.

  5. If I were to suggest a further experience, it would be Chai from T2.

  6. Dan actually did make me a cup of something call "Desert Star", some sort of tea infusion. The smell from the packet was delicious, all raspberry and vanilla. But it didn't taste like that! I found the added flavours very artificial, almost medicinal. It reminded me of lozenges I buy when I have a sort throat!

    The plain cup was enough for me at this point. :)

  7. This is possibly my new favourite GC post, I really liked it!

    Personally, I'm partial to an Earl Grey, black with no sugar. Unless I have a sore throat, then I'll add honey and lemon.

    Actually, I think I'll have one now.

  8. Lovely post GC. Milk is also added first to make sure it's not off (not major problem now but then it was). As it's easy enough to get another cup another matter to remove the milk from the tea.

  9. Oh I love tea *Irish accent*. Tea is such an important drink - releases the toxins and is so refreshing! Persoanlly, I love Twinings English Breafast tea, or a good cup of hot green tea. Simply heaven, and a great way to relax! You must try the traditional Japanese green tea - the ceremony for making the tea is so intersting, although the tea itself looks and tastes like grass, however still refreshing.

  10. Thanks so much for your comments, guys, I'm so thrilled people are enjoying this project!

    Maybe I'll have to work on drinking other teas as well. I figure people are probably going to offer it to me more now!