You are invited for tea. What a wonderful thing to hear. Is there anything more comforting or healing than a real English cup of tea? It is relaxing yet invigorating and tastes so delicious. I love the tradition, the whole ritualistic sacredness of tea. It's not like grabbing a cup of "Joe" as we Americans are fond of doing. It's not a hurry up - get to the next meeting - kind of affair. Over it, you are invited to linger and breath a little, maybe sigh or smile.
I was raised on taking tea. I had a sort of English nanny when I was young, who was also our housekeeper. When I was ten she was about my size. I thought of her as old, though she was probably no more than fifty. She was a quick, small, sparrow of a woman, who danced the highland fling in my kitchen and spoke of ghosts and hauntings and fanciful things like that. She came from Yorkshire. and had been a young woman during the 2nd world war and remembered how hard life had been then, how hard it was to get food and tea on the table. When I was little she started me on something called Cambric Tea which was just hot water with milk and sugar - no tea in it. I called her Auntie Sarah, though we were not related. I learned to love all things British because of her, or maybe its genetic, for there were alot of Norman British folk in my background.
Just a bit of history, the Norman's came to England as part of the Norman Conquest, fighting the Saxons, you know, the Normans were the "bad" guys in the movie "Braveheart." They came from the area of France back in the 1000's. I don't think they even had tea back then, as tea came from India to the Western world sometime later. Tea plants do not grow in England!
But lets talk of taking tea, and not history, which I like, but am rather vague about. Okay, an elegant tea is nice, you know the kind, served with lemon on linen cloths with finger sandwiches and petit-fours? I much prefer the country morning sorts of teas on a bare wooden table, with nary a napkin in sight, and lots of warm sun pouring in. I've tried many different brands of tea, but my favorite is Tetley. It's good black tea with a strong flavor just like something you'd get in a real English tea room. You'll see the necessary elements for tea in the picture: a teapot in a quilted cozy; tea cup; sugar; cream or milk in a pitcher, a spoon. The cozy is important to keep the tea hot of course. Milk and sugar are just as important as the tea. Americans don't seem to get this: it drives me crazy! Black tea without milk and sugar is like toast without jam. A cute cockney term for white toast with strawberry jam is "Holy ghost and rosie." I learned that bit of slang on one of my vacations to "jolly old."
I admit that the use of a tea bag is rather inelegant and doesn't lend itself to fortune telling like Auntie Sarah did. But for my money, bags are are the most convenient and economical, and Tetley only comes in cute round muslin bags. The water is another element important to a good cup of tea; it's got to be good water without alot of chlorine. Heavy in lime deposits is the kind of water they have in England. The flavor of their water is probably hard to come by in America where the water is hard. Lime in the water makes it softer, I believe, think of the cliffs of Dover. Anyway, I think it's lime. By that I mean the chemical compound of lime - the stuff that makes garden's grow that you till into the soil that makes it more base than alkaline - not the small green citrus fruit for heaven's sake!
Turn on the tea-kettle once you've poured in some fresh water. The water must come to a full boil which will make a good tea-kettle toot. Besides the tea, the singing teakettle is the next most comforting thing about tea. When life gets hard it will make everything easier just hearing the welcome toot that says someone put the kettle on. Revere makes a great style of tea kettle. It is stainless steel and has the strongest voice of any I've seen. Just don't heat the water in the microwave or have it in a plastic or, God forbid, paper cup. It's just not done, and gives the tea a limp, weak and watery taste. Now pour the tea into a china teapot with two or three bags and let it steep until it's a nice rich brown color that is almost thick and not transparent. You might want to remove the bags at this point.
Then you become, what is called in England, "mother" or the person who pours the tea. At least a teaspoon of sugar and milk must be added. Some Brits even add this to the cup first, but I don't like to, as it cools down the cup. Now sip slowly, don't gulp it down like my Dad does. One must have time to savor, and converse. And don't forget the Holy Ghost and Rosie!
Thank-you for your company and lets do more tea tomorrow.