Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Tea talk - so what's the big thing?

Now that the popular TV series, "Downton Abbey", has caught the imagination of people who wanna-be-titled-and-live-in-big-estates-with-servants, tea is hot stuff. We're not talking hot as in serving temperature because that goes without saying, tea has to be boiling hot. The term 'hot' as in popularity and more specifically, the repast of indulging in afternoon tea.

As a confirmed tea drinker, any time of the day or night is a good time to drop a tea bag in a mug and indulge in a cuppa, as the Brits say. Having lived in England during the formative years of my life, tea played an important role. Rules related to savoring the juice of the leaf were clear cut accompanied by a certain decorum. A substantial amount of attention was paid to mannerly conduct including the placement of wrists on the table, stirring the liquid, passing the biscuits and related goodies to the point that it was almost a relief when tea time was over. But I digress.

If indeed the afternoon tea ritual is gaining in popularity as reports indicate, hopefully new tea drinkers won't be penalized for not knowing or following the basic fundamentals of tea drinking. When it comes to tea rituals and every day etiquette, Debretts has it all. In fact, last year I shared some of their advice in one of my blogs:

The reason for alluding to this subject once again is a recent article I read focusing on the ritual of afternoon tea according to a chain of North American hotels that offers this repast. For example, the article advocates the British concept of pouring milk into a cup before adding tea. Presumably, we're talking here about brewed tea in a pot and not a tea bag. In theory, this is all well and good but, say for example, too much milk is poured into the cup and thereby turning the tea tepid. There is nothing worse than luke-warm tea. Actually, for me, there are worse things like using hot milk in tea. Somehow, biscuits don't seem to dunk well in tepid tea temps.  In spite of the accepted norms of tea drinking , it's my findings that milk is best added after the tea is in the cup in order to gauge the darkness of the contents, depending on whether one likes one's tea weaker or stronger. Right tea drinkers of the world?

The article also recommends the best way to stir tea would you believe, which would necessitate having a watch or clock nearby. One should hold the tea spoon at the six o'clock angle, moving it back and forth without touching the sides of the cup. This leads one - me - to wonder what would happen, say, if the tea drinker would hold the spoon, say, at the seven o'clock or even eight o'clock position? Is there a penalty involved?

"Eleanor dear," somebody watching me commit the heinous act of holding the spoon at the quarter to seven angle, could comment, "just want to point out that you're holding the spoon in an incorrect manner. I must now confiscate your tea cup as punishment."

I mean - gimme a break!

Last but certainly not least, there is also input focusing on - wait for it - how to hold a tea cup. Really. In case people reading this aren't knowledgeable in this particular area, the index finger should be placed in the cup handle with thumb on the top. Not on the side or bottom mind you but strictly on the top. Thinking further, never really noted as to where my fingers are placed .  Furthermore, the bottom of the handle should rest in the third finger. Not the second or pinky finger, but the third finger. Sometimes - keep this to yourself since this could be considered blasphemous by died-in-the-wool tea drinkers - I don't use the handle at all and hold the cup on the side.

There is nothing mentioned regarding the number of spoons of sugar would suffice or the common usage of sugar replacement but there is mention of the practice of blowing on the hot tea to cool it off, considered a no-no. My grandfather who was from "the old country" used to pour his tea into his saucer as a means of getting it to cool down in addition to copious blowing on the liquid, followed by the placing a cube of sugar in his mouth, before taking a sip of tea.. Wonder what the tea etiquette people would say about that!

After reading through the list of do's-and-don'ts and really in the end, a cup of tea is a cup of tea is... It's that wonderful feeling that flows through your body as the tea makes its way to the final destination of the stomach. The manner in which its consumed isn't as important - in my opinion - as the enjoyment it gives. To quote Monty Python: "make tea, not war."

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