Tea: reflections – take 2
November 8, 2014 § 6 Comments
It’s a couple of months now since I radically changed my intake of tea, and new habits, routines and tastes have definitely replaced old ones.
Drastically cutting my tea consumption has certainly improved my sleeping patterns as I’m no longer tossing and turning until the early hours. And after decades of being a night owl, I’m increasingly crawling into bed before midnight and waking up feeling more refreshed. My mother was right (again): an hour before midnight really is worth two after midnight!
Besides feeling better rested, I also enjoy tea much more these days. I now really look forward to each cup and experience them as markers in the day. Elevenses mean I have broken the back of the writing and my afternoon cup of tea means I’ve almost finished my research for the day. There is also something really lovely about the ritual of making a proper brew rather than robotically popping a teabag in a mug. The few extra seconds it takes to warm the pot and decant tea leaves turn a quick cup of tea into a proper break from hours in front of the computer screen.
Flavour or convenience?
The biggest revelation, however, relates to flavour. Now I have depleted my supply of English Breakfast tea bags and have switched to tea leaves, I realise how much better loose leaf tastes. There was nothing wrong with the teabags I previously used but, in hindsight, they were just a little… bland. My new Fairtrade® English Breakfast tea leaves are nothing out of the ordinary but do produce a richer, more interesting brew.
Intrigued by the difference a humble tea leaf could make, I compared loose leaf tea to the tea from my remaining Earl Grey teabags. Even discounting the different shades of these distinct blends, the difference between loose leaf tea and that from a tea bag is instantly apparent. Loose leaf tea really looks like it has come from a shredded, dried leaf. By contrast, tea from a perfectly respectable brand of tea bags looks like shavings or dust. The finer consistency is intended to infuse faster but definitely does not produce as interesting a taste. By shifting to loose leaf tea I have realised, yet again, how easily we are seduced into sacrificing flavour for perceived convenience.
For in reality, tea leaves really aren’t an inconvenience! I still use an old fashioned mesh strainer but I also own a little red teapot with a removable metal infuser, which some may find more convenient. Pouring tea leaves out of either of these pots into my little recycling tub is less inconvenient than sieving plastic teabags out of well rotted compost. And for those who prefer tea in a mug rather than a pot, there are mesh or pierced loose leaf tea holders that are easy to fill and clean.
Brewing tea with leaves has another unexpected benefit. As loose leaf provides a more robust cuppa, it’s entirely possible to brew a second pot from used tea leaves. The result is a little weaker but perfectly fine in the afternoon, and a welcome lower caffeine option.
In a related tea development, I’ve also been pondering the use of teapots, and especially pots of tea offered to impromptu guests.
As I shared my father’s aesthetics – think Regency and Art Deco – I was the only siblings who was interested in my parents’ bone china. On his recent visit to the UK my brother kindly brought over two boxes of plates, terrines and yes, teapots. As a result, I know own five teapots (as well as an elegant china coffee pot). This is obviously more than anybody needs but three were gifts from Mr M and the others belonged to my parents and I am loathed to part with any of them!
I use the small ones that Mr M gave me regularly: the red one-person pot for English Breakfast, another little one for the distinct flavour of Earl Grey and a traditional bulbous brown one at the weekend when my husband and I share a pot of tea. My parents’ old teapots outshine these little ones in style but as they serve four to six people, they don’t see much action in our home.
One weekend as I served Mr M tea from one of these larger than necessary teapots, it occurred to me that during my childhood we often shared tea and cake with friends, whether it was chums coming over after school or my mother’s friends popping by at the weekend. Maybe it’s due to the size of London, with local friends dotted over miles of this sprawling city; or busy schedules; or catch-ups being scheduled in the evening over wine rather than on a weekend afternoon… Whatever the reason, I really miss having a good chat over a cup of tea and some homemade biscuits or cake. In my book, it’s a pleasant tradition that is due a comeback!