Have A Drink On Me

Careful now!  Don’t trample anybody!  All I’m going to talk about is tea.  All you Americans can kneel facing Starbucks now.

Tea is actually enjoying a resurgence now, even in the United States.  Because of movies and TV, the ubiquitous coffee has been adopted by many Canadians.  Specialized teas, like special wines, mean that more and more folks are trying it, and staying with it.

The wife and I watch a lot of transplanted British TV, including some English police shows.  One takes place in Cambridge, and the police Inspector gets tea wherever he goes.  I could understand a female ex-policewoman, now living in a dock warehouse where she repairs boats, brewing him up a *cuppa*, for old times’ sake, but a society doyenne, living in a mansion big enough to need four servants, personally making and serving a pot, with biscuits, stretches credulity.  The catering services must be kept busy.  You can see steam rising from the cups and mugs.  That’s real live tea, take after take.

How people make and take their tea varies widely from person to person.  The British blogger, from whom I took the inspiration for this post, insists that his milk and sugar be added to the cup after the tea is poured.  The strength of brew/length of brew-time is also quite different across the tea-sipping spectrum.  An office manager I worked with claimed he drank tea, but used to go to the vending machine and pour himself a Styrofoam cup of 180 degree F. water, and dip a tea-bag in it twice – maybe three times, if he was feeling adventurous.  Weak tea??!  Dear Lord, the bag’s not even wet.  You need boiling water to make tea!

I shared an office with a Russian, who introduced me to Russian-style tea.  He had a tall cup which was like a glass, with a handle.  He also had a stainless-steel drinking straw with a sieved bulb on the end.  He poured loose tea-leaves into the glass, added boiling water, stirred with the straw, and then sipped his tea through it.  If he wanted a second glassful, he’d add a pinch of new tea-leaves and another cupful of boiling water.  When you sip tea from a cup, you take the coolest portion off the top, and mix it with air, to further cool it, as you take it into your mouth.  I know from experience that drinking hot liquids through a straw concentrates the heat and can easily burn your tongue.

Since the wife is allergic to milk products, she whitens her occasional coffee with non-dairy powder, or flavored liquids.  As Tim Horton’s continues to achieve the strangle-hold of being the Catholic Church of Canadian coffee-shops, one of the most common orders is for a double-double, a double shot of creamer and a double shot of sugar in the take-out coffee.  When we picked up a new container of Coffee-Mate powdered creamer the other day, we saw that they had come out with a new Double-Double blend.  No more fumbling for two dispensers.  This one does the double job in a single try.

My mother was Scottish, and believed in good strong tea.  When she began to make supper, the first thing she did was boiled water to make tea.  Then she’d start peeling the potatoes.  By the time the meal was served, you could almost tap-dance across the top of your tea, and you were well wise to stir in lots of milk and sugar, and then remove the spoon.  I’m sure there were days I could make one stand up in the cup.  If you didn’t take it out, you risked getting only the handle back, the rest being dissolved by the tannic acid.

I grew up used to strong tea, and was allowed to drink it from an early age.  In high-school I acquired a girlfriend whose family lived in an old brick farm-house, which had an add-on frame kitchen out back.  In the kitchen was a wood- or coal-burning stove.  Dad had to be to work at the factory by seven AM, so he was up by five-thirty.  He’d get the stove burning hot, to warm the kitchen in the winter.  They owned a 12-cup coffee percolator, but no-one in the house drank coffee.  They pulled the guts out of it and used it to make tea.

Dad would put a couple of tablespoons of loose tea-leaves in cold water, and put it on the stove to boil.  He’d pour himself a cup or two with breakfast, fill his thermos for break, and set the pot at the back of the stove and leave for work.  Mom would get the kids up after he left, add a bit of fuel to the stove, another tablespoon of loose leaves to the pot, fill it with water and bring it to a boil again.  Mom and the older kids would have tea with breakfast, and then off to school.

Mom might have a cup or two during the morning and then, just before lunch, she’d add more fuel, more loose tea, and more water, and boil again.  Dad and the kids came home for lunch and the pot nearly went empty.  Add more leaves and water.  Dad took another thermos for afternoon break, and Mom had a mid-afternoon cup.  Are you starting to get the sequence here?  Suppertime, more tea, more leaves, more water….and leave it to warm on the back of the stove.

The girlfriend and I would go skating or tobogganing.  Even just a cold walk home after a movie and Mom would insist that I come in and have a hot cup of tea to warm me before I headed home.  This was before Chernobyl, but I’m pretty sure this stuff glowed in the dark.  Then they’d rinse out the pot and start all over again the next day.  Tea and biscuits, anyone?