The Rules Of Tea

The other day I had a conversation with someone about coffee and how i like everything about it except the taste.  I like the idea of it: the beans, grinding the beans, the nerdy people who make grinding the beans into a fine science, the sound of it percolating, the smell, the SMELL (got it’s so good), and i like how my parents turn coffee into a big ordeal every morning “doctoring it up”.  I realized as soon as i moved here that by not drinking coffee, i am a total minority in america.  But never fear – I have tea!  The canadian equivalent!  It has all the fun of coffee, but with a taste that is actually enjoyable for me without having to add a ton of sugar, chocolate syrup, and whip cream.  Tea is, hands down, my favourite beverage and because I feel sometimes like making tea is more of an art form than just a drink, I think I can put this in the blog.  Executive decision.  So my disclaimer is that this post doesn’t have anything about the animals, actual art, or any of the other usual things I write about… just sayin.  Below is a letter I wrote to a friend a while ago when i was at her house and discovered that she did not own a tea pot <gasp!>

So take note, everyone:

The Rules Of Tea

Per our conversation yesterday, and because I believe this to be one of the most important things you will ever read in your life, I am going to now share with you the coveted secret of all Canadians (and the British too) regarding the ritual of drinking tea.

There are a few important things to remember that the whole philosophy of tea drinking is based around:

1) Tea is not just a drink, it is a customary ritual.
Let me elaborate: brewing tea contains steps that are like unwritten laws… steps that progress in a certain reliable order that we will elaborate on later.  Making tea involves unique cultural practices that regulate our social conventions and customs, and brings us together as a society and nation.  Tea is a powerful thing…

2) Tea is sacred and when brewed properly you can harness the natural powers of its contents.
What i mean by that is: if you need to relax and go to sleep, there is a tea for that.  If you need rejuvenating energy, there is a tea for that.  Want to lose weight?  Want to focus more?  Prevent illness?  Etc? Tea can be a portal to happiness, health, and wisdom.

3) Brewing tea involves a series of steps, vessels, and accessories
To make the best tasting tea in the world, and to not be shunned by Canadian society (gasp! a horrible thought!) there are a few important things to remember: tea kettle, tea pot, tea cup, tea bags (or loose leaf if you want to be extra fancy), sugar (granular or cubed), milk (1% or 2%), tiny elaborate spoons, fancy napkins, optional: scones (golden brown, with rock sugar on top…), and a tray to put all that on. If you provide all of these things to a canadian, they will know what to do with it, and you will be a hero for offering it to them. You don’t even have to make the tea, just having all the right stuff will make you a superstar. BUT I will give you the steps below so if you ever find yourself hosting a tea party for canadians you will pull it off like an old pro…

The Steps:

Boil the water in a whistling tea kettle – in some cases, a full boil is too hot for the type of tea you are making, so you want to turn the stove off right before the kettle whistles.  You will know when the time is right when the pot is making a lot of ‘pre-boil’ noise but not yet whistling.  I can show you sometime… recognizing the pre-boil is a skill that takes time, practice, and fine-tuning.  OR you could just say ‘screw it’ and let the kettle whistle so you know for sure the water is ready… besides, all canadians love the sound of a whistling tea kettle.

Pour a small amount of water into the tea pot.  Just a half cup or so.  Swirl the water around in the tea pot to warm it.  Dump out that water.  Pour in new water all the way to the top of the tea pot.

Add a tea bag (or loose tea in a tea-ball).  You always want to put the tea in after the water, because there is something about burning the tea leaves with the boiling water if you pour the water right over it, but I don’t really get it because what’s the difference if the tea goes in the water AFTER  it is poured?  It’s ending up in near boiling water either way… i don’t argue with it, that’s just the way it is.  Says my Nana.

Let the tea sit (steep) for 3-5 minutes. If you have a tea cozy, put it on your teapot to keep it warm. Tea should be served as hot as possible, and only allowed to cool down in the tea cup.

Give the tea a little stir before pouring to make sure the tea has evenly infused in all the water. Pour the tea into some small and dainty tea cups. Take the tea, sugar, milk, spoons, napkins, and scones (that you baked earlier) out to the guests and then the fun part begins – adding milk and sugar.

This is also the part that is easiest to mess up… so don’t be in a rush.  The color of the tea after milk is added should be a pale tan.  Too much milk and it will look like a biscotti cookie color, too little milk and the color will be more like watery coffee.  You want somewhere in between.  I wish i had an image of the perfect cup of tea to add to this section, but I will just have to demonstrate for you sometime.  Sugar is added to each person’s individual taste.

Stir it all up with the tiny elaborate spoon.  Then: pinkies up, sip, and enjoy!  And eat some scone.  And partake in some social gossip: “did you hear about all the things?!”

There you have it, Canada’s social ritual all summed up.  Each vessel you use and each process is like a step along a sacred pathway to the “perfect cup of tea” and no part may be compromised or altered.  It just isn’t the same otherwise (i mean, it might actually be the same, but it’s not the SAME, you know?!) Sooooo the moral of this elaborate lesson on tea is: buy a tea pot.

Update: she bought a tea pot.