Saturday, 23 October 2010

Best Things Ever #1 Tea

“It’s a cure for hepatitis, it’s a cure for chronic insomnia,
 It’s a cure for tonsillitis and for water on the knee.”

                                                                          The Kinks

Ray Davies’s homage to the good old cuppa may seem like hyperbole, but it isn’t so far fetched as you might think. In the nineteenth century the slums of Manchester and China were found to have lower mortality rates than expected. The commonality? Green leaf tea. Apparently, the anti-oxidants in tea kept swathes of the poor alive.

I love tea. It revives me in the morning and soothes me come evening. As a child, the pot was rarely empty. When I’m at home, one cup is barely finished before the kettle is refilled. If I’m in a rush of a morning, and that first cup is delayed, the day is already ruined. When I travel abroad, the tea bags get packed even before the clothes. Should I forget and travel to a non-tea friendly country, I suffer from withdrawal. To become Arthur Dent, all I lack is a dressing gown. My thirst not slaked, ‘til I return home and my habit can be satisfied. In a world, a life where continuity is all too rare, tea is a constant; a comfort.

A couple of years ago, I gave up smoking, after fourteen years. Since the initial withdrawal, I have not missed tobacco a single day. I could never drink  again and survive. And I have gone for extended periods of time without getting lucky, with few deleterious effects. Of course, with the exception of nicotine, I’d rather not go without any of these things. Life would get incredibly dull. However, the one substance, the one experience I could never, would never forgo is my twenty a day tea habit. It is a pacifier, a Linus blanket. Simply put, tea is not a luxury; it is essential.

Tea has taken a central role in religious ceremonies. It has been the driving force behind empire and been symbolic in declaring independence from imperialism. Perhaps that’s why it so hard to find a decent cuppa in the U.S. For me, the preparation of tea is the epitome of the Eponymist ideal. How a person takes their brew can be as individual as the drinker. Orwell’s classic article, ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’ outlines eleven points he believed would ensure the perfect cup. Though I don’t agree with trying to impose your ideals on others wholeheartedly, I do agree with Orwell on a number of key points (both being left wing, there may well be a Socialist model for tea preparation). The water should be poured directly from the boil. The milk added last. And definitely no sugar.

The tea should be strong, but not stewed. Quite a bit of milk. Enough to turn it light brown in colour. Semi-skimmed only. Whole milk leaves a layer of skin on the surface. Skimmed is far too watery. For anyone concerned enough about their weight to use watered down milk, may I suggest you try, well water. Also, tea should ideally be served out of a mug with straight sides. Mugs which tapir outwards allow the liquid to cool too fast. There are well established physical laws for why this is so. For all hot drinks, there is an optimum temperature for it’s consumption, which is all too easily missed, if it allowed to cool too quickly. But again, this is a matter of personal preference. My father would leave his ‘til it was stone cold. Cold tea makes me gag. I prefer it slightly above lukewarm.

But however you take it, the best advice I can leave you with once again comes from the genius of Ray Davies: “For any old ailment or disease, for Christ’s sake have a cuppa tea.” Hallelujah!

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