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.

Loose leaf tea

Loose tea leaves -v- tea bag shavings

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.

Informal hospitality

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!

Teapot

There’s always time for tea, biscuit or cake and conversation here

 

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§ 6 Responses to Tea: reflections – take 2

  • jackiemania says:

    It’s true — when I was growing up, my grandmother’s sister or cousin was always over, or we were at their house, in the day, having coffee or tea and a little treat. It was usually in the day time, and they all worked within the home. I wonder if that’s part of it, too. Now at work people go for a walk for coffee I guess — the modern version?

    We have birthday lunches at work were we share a meal and cake in the office, “food days” where we all bring in food to share, and one of us usually brings in muffins, or bagels, some chocolate, or such — probably once a week. Maybe that’s a modern day work outside the home version too. I prefer the homey ones, though!

    The teapot in your photo is very beautiful.

    I love loose leaf tea and part of my 2015 tea coupon pledge is going to involve no more tea bag purchases now that I know about how plastic gets sneaked (and not so sneaked) into them. I should have known “silken sachets” had nothing to do with silk from the get-go!

    • I think you’re right: the rise in women in the workplace, rather than working from home, may partially explain it. I suspect attitudes to hospitality have also chained. I grew up a Brit abroad so hospitality was a key thing, both as a way of extending ourself to the community we had settled into and as a way of working on ties with other expatriates, but it was simple, down-to-earth hospitality: tea and cake, maybe a potluck supper.

  • My daughter was home sick for part of the week and I brewed her lots of herbal tea (I drink Earl Grey myself). I told her a couple of times (probably several actually, as my kids say I repeat myself…) that tea makes everything better, whether it’s a cold, a cold day or a bad day. I drink loose leaf tea also, but I don’t have a beautiful pot like yours. That picture looks lovely and so inviting 🙂

  • goele says:

    Skyping with scones and tea at hand on both sides of the globe at the same time we can build the most extent tea party ever. Lovely blog to read though, if not with my english friends, I resort to bland strong coffee for my elevensies….

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