Monday, April 26, 2004

"What did the world do before tea? I am glad I was not born before tea." -Rev. Sidney Smith

The proprietress of Fiat Mihi has compiled in this one short post all you are ever likely to need to know about tea.

You all just clicked away to read her post? Good. Then this will make perfect sense. Or as much sense as I ever make.

There are reasons for some of the anomalies mentioned. American tea is referred to as "sweepings". This is true; it is weak and relatively flavorless. This is intentional. Very few Americans put milk to the tea. Without milk a cup of tea of the proper British/Irish/Canadian strength would put the Yankee mouth into a permanent pucker. Ordinarily it might not be necessary to blend a tea this weak if the producer could rely on Americans not boiling water. Lukewarm or hottish water would produce the desired insipid cup even with a good spoonful of tea. However, it isn't all or even most Americans who don't boil the water. It is really only the restaurants and other commercial establishments that don't boil the water, relying on tepid coffee-maker water (which usually doesn't make a good cup of coffee either. But that's another post.) Real people in their homes put the kettle on and, as everywhere else, it boils. So relatively flavorless tea leaves are necessary.

And that is why you will often see the tea bag left in the cup. Some actually do want some tea flavor and let it continue to steep in an unconscious effort to coax a little more taste out of it. Even if more flavor is not wanted, there is conversely no need to remove it to keep it from getting too strong. American tea won't get too strong. Ever. Not like, say, Barry's, which if you left it in the water long enough would eventually become strong enough to unclog the drains.

In addition, removing the tea bag will cause the cup of tea to cool down faster. Remember, it may not have been boiling in the first place.

My wife's solution is to avoid tea altogether outside the home. She was born and raised in Ireland and acquired a taste for coffee in this country principally because restaurant and "office" tea were useless.

If she's in a restaurant that serves espresso, a friend of ours asks them to use the steaming water from the commercial espresso machine to fill the tea pot with the tea in it. That makes a decent cup, especially if they serve a good brand of tea. Twinning's is actually fairly common in restaurants out here.

The English people she mentions who bring not only their own tea with them but their own water have a point. Teas in the U.K. and Ireland are blended bearing in mind the type of water in the location where it will be marketed. Barry's is blended with Cork water in mind. Bewley's assumes the type of water found in Dublin. (I think that they also have regional blends that are marketed elsewhere in the country but I could be wrong about that.) Taylor's "Yorkshire" tea has the water found in the Yorkshire dales in mind.

In my occasionally humble opinion, you can get the best out of whatever brand of tea you're using by brewing it with a filtered water - no hard water or "minerallly" tasting water. If a chlorine scent is in the tap water, try bottled water.

My own favorite is Yorkshire Gold with Bewley's Clipper running a close second.

Thanks for bringing up the subject, Hilary. I enjoyed pontificating on one of my favorite subjects.