Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tea and sympathy



In which  Mary Jane Maffini/Victoria Abbott rambles on about a favorite beverage


Cup of tea anyone? Seems so simple and comforting and yet, I can imagine that wars have been fought with less vehemence than the correct way to make a ‘cuppa’.

Up here in Canada, we merely refer to tea and assume it’s hot. If we want ice tea, we’ll ask for that.  The first time I heard the expression ‘hot tea’ in the USA, I asked what other kind there was. Feel free to chuckle.  I can take it.

Tea has a long and occasionally fraught history since back in the Shang Dynasty, about 1500 BC, but who’s counting.  It’s a soothing tradition and one that apparently can build a strong, proud and brave nation.  Think of those Londoners during ‘The Blitz’.  “Never mind. Put on the kettle and we’ll have a nice hot cup of tea." Take that right in the eye, Luftwaffe. 

These were given to me by my daughter, Victoria Maffini the other half of Victoria Abbott

My grandmother taught me to make tea.  She was clear on the way to do it and offered kind and precise instruction.  First you must ‘hot the pot’.  That meant, before you add the tea, warm the teapot, then make sure the water is back on ‘the rolling boil’. 

When my mother got married, brides received tea cups as shower gifts. That’s because married women gave teas as a way to entertain friends, neighbors, allies and enemies and, in our town, to get coverage in the local newspaper.  I never hosted a ‘proper tea’, but I did use my childhood memories of my mother’s teas, to write a murder mystery short story.  But let’s not go there now.
One of my mum's - a fave!
I know that some of you (hello Lorraine!) love teacups. Many of you love the rituals. 
To this day, I enjoy every tea cup, every teapot and every ‘cuppa’.   I let the tea steep for exactly four minutes, before whisking away the tea leaves or bags.  My grandmother’s lovely voice echoes in my head. And also the startled shriek of one of my friendless (I won’t name her!) who thought I’d forgotten the tea in the pot after the crucial four minutes.  

My friend, Audrey's teapot: a memory of happy times

Then we get to the key part: the long-running dispute about what to put in first. Milk or tea?  When I was in college, you could define yourself as a MIF or a TIF.  I am a MIF. Don’t ruin my experience by putting the tea in first.  

Of course, there are also controversy about whether to use loose teas or tea  bags.  Then there’s strong or weak tea.  Feelings run high on this topic.  My hubby used to call the tea served by my relatives Cape Breton Paint Stripper, so you can see where he stands on the strong/weak issue.  I am of the ‘life is short ‘persuasion, so I think everyone gets to make their own decisions here.  Ahem.  
My hubby's teapot. Manly or what? 

Tea shops are springing up in these parts with wonderful exotic and special teas. I like mine bracing and plain.  I’m not that big on the special teas. We’ve discovered Yorkshire Tea (an orange pekoe currently a great deal) and its big brother Yorkshire Gold. My grandmother would approve. 


Although, I love the chance to experience a ‘high tea’ and I love my cups, the most relaxing moments are when the tea is in a capacious mug, enjoyed with feet up, relaxed and happy.  So, sit a while with me and have a cuppa. You can tell me what you like about tea; how you feel it should be made and served and any other secrets you want to share in a warm and happy moment.