My husband, Simon, is English and one of the first habits that we began enjoying together was sharing a pot of tea with each other in the morning while preparing for work. Now this may sound like a very inconsequential ritual but it has grown into far more than that for me. I think that I now enjoy the act of making a pot of tea far more than does my hubby.
It all starts with the right teapot. Since I am a collector at heart, some would say a pack rat, I have several different teapots that I use in various ways. There is the vintage glass coffee maker pot that I like to use in the morning. I can tell immediately if my tea is the right “color” or strength. I have a teapot that is a caricature of a boiled egg with toast “soldiers”, a teapot that is part of my wedding china set, several Christmas teapots, a giant red teapot for large groups of people, and two very, very special silver teapots, one of which belonged to my grandmother and one that was given to me by my mother-in-law
Next is the right kind of tea. Growing up my mom would make some kind of de-caffeinated tea and would put milk and sugar in it. I always assumed that the milk was to cool the drink down enough so that you wouldn’t burn your tongue when you drank it. She also made the tea very weak; it pretty much was warm, sweet milk and I didn’t really see the point. Why not just a nice cup of Ovaltine? Personally, I like what the English call “builder’s tea”. It’s dark, strong and tasty.
The English really do know how to do their tea. First of all, their tea bags don’t have strings on them. I’m not sure why American tea bags come with strings. Sure you can dunk away to your heart’s content, but the string always seems to get in the way and all tangled up in the cup or around the spoon, or makes the to-go lids leak. The string-less teabags simply sink to the bottom of the cup, stay out my way, and don’t bother anyone.
For our morning tea, my hubby and I prefer PG Tips, which is an English brand of tea. Through the wonders of the Internet we can order hundreds of tea bags and have them delivered right to our door. We no longer have to rely on relatives or friends who are traveling back or forth to England. PG Tips is your bulk standard black tea similar to English breakfast tea and is always consistent. I don’t really go in for herbal teas, flowery teas, flavored teas, or funny colored teas when I am looking for a nice cuppa to wake me up. These all have their places and I’m happy to serve them in different fashions for parties, but to start my day off on the right foot and keep a smile on my face I need simple black tea.
If I’m having a special occasion tea or if I feel like pampering myself, I break out my loose leaf Assam tea from Fortnum and Mason’s in London. Assam is a black Indian tea that is very fragrant while still very tea like. I like to breathe in the aroma when I open up the tin. I have a special little silver spoon that was purpose built to scoop loose leaf tea from the tin into the pot. This spoon ensures that just the tealeaves and none of the dust gets into the pot so that my tea comes out clear and not cloudy.
The next component of my tea ritual is my choice of sweetener. For my breakfast tea I really like to use honey because it gives me just the right amount of sweetness without being too sweet. For a special tea or pampering teatime I prefer Demerara sugar cubes. Demerara sugar is traditionally used to sweeten coffee, but I really like its less refined, more molasses-y taste. Plus, the sugar cubes are these beautiful organic, imperfect shapes and you never know how many pieces you will need for the perfect sweetness. The imperfect cubes add a sense of fun and whimsy to the affair.
My tea is not ready to drink until I have added cream to it and I have to admit that I love my cream. The more fat, the better as far as I am concerned. When I am in England, people look at me funny when I ask for cream for my tea. Cream is usually reserved strictly for coffee because milk is what you use for tea. I am not bothered by the funny looks since I simply love, love, love English cream. I also like how tea with cream feels in my mouth. The texture is just richer, silkier, and heavier somehow.
The final element that I must have for my morning tea is a giant mug. I know, I know, there are all of these beautiful, delicate teacups and saucers. Nope, not for me! To get my day started right, I need a mug and it has to be big. I have these great pint mugs that look like they came from a quaint English pub. The kind they serve beer or lager in. To me, that is the perfect morning cup of tea and it’s enough to get me going and get to work with my eyes wide open.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I also seriously enjoy a fine, proper English tea as witnessed by the accompanying photo, which I took at the Gainsborough Hotel in Bath, England in February of this year. This beautiful treat was brought to me while I was enjoying sitting by a cozy warm fire, reading the newspaper and watching the rain as it fell quietly in the Georgian era street outside my window. What a wonderful way to relax after a day of sightseeing and shopping in this, one of my favorite English towns.
So you see, tea can be many things to me; a wonderful ritual that I share with my husband each morning, and a relaxing indulgence that I treat myself to when I feel the need for some pampering or me time. Ah, tea. Isn’t it lovely?