Saturday, January 26, 2008

Tea, Anyone?

Tea. One of the world's oldest beverages.

My bloggy friend from the Duckabush Blog posted about an adorable tea party and craft that she enjoyed with her older daughter. She is a big Starbucks coffee fan, as am I, but was talking about tea and asking for our favorites. As much as I adore coffee, I probably am addicted to the CEREMONY of tea much more. And I've wanted to blog about tea for a while, so I decided this dreary Saturday was just the day!

Here is my stash of tea. Okay, so at least half of it is not REALLY tea, but herbal teas, which aren't really really teas at all, but tisanes. Minor technicality. I have quite the collection of blacks, greens, whites, rooibos, honeybush, and herb teas. We love tea - can you tell?

Whoops! This little guy got left out! He's one of my favorite holiday teas, I mean tisanes.

So today I decided NOT to have coffee with my breakfast, but one of my very favorite breakfast teas from Upton Tea Company, River Shannon. This tea was a gift from one of my dear friends, Ashley, for my birthday, along with another favorite of mine, Black Currant. Yum! One thing that Upton does when you buy a gift of tea for someone, that is love, is a personalized label! So every time I pull out my tea, I see Ashley's greeting and remember our lovely friendship.

Here is my River Shannon tea from Ashley, as well as my tiny little teapot she gave me this year for Christmas. It's perfect for making tea for two on a "regular" afternoon when I'd rather not pull out the china pot. I also love the fact that it has the little basket, so I don't have to pull out a strainer to strain the tea leaves. And it even came with a nifty little scoop. I don't know where she got this little pot, but I love it. Thanks, Ash! And it's PINK - the color of my soon-to-be scrapbook room!

Another thing that I love about Upton Tea is their catalog! Each one contains a "chapter" on the history of tea. Their catalogs come out quarterly and I love reading it from front to back. They also have great information for those of us who aren't well versed in the Art of Tea - like not to bring the water to a boil if you are making green, white, oolong, or jasmine teas, and information like that.

Here's my little tea caddy that I won at a Louisiana Family Forum silent auction a few years ago. I bid on it because I thought the girls would like it. My girls love "taking tea," although Brooke prefers to take her tea in jeans and boots rather than a dress and a hat.

For years, my experience with tea parties was limited to ones held in a tea room that sat in the middle of an enormous antique store in Baton Rouge. We would go there for girly family events, such as bridal showers and such. I had a bridesmaid tea there for one of my very best friends. Unfortunately, the tea room closed perhaps ten years ago.

Here's my little tea set my MIL gave me for either Christmas or a birthday a few years back. I would love to collect china teapots. But not while in this house - I don't have anywhere to put them! My MIL and SIL, Connie, both have a lovely collection of teapots. Oh - and, no, I do not use the little spoon with the flowers and pearls to stir my tea. :^D

So we had to learn to do it on our own. Our first "home made" tea party was held for the First Ginger of Steve's family - his aunt. (Yes, I'm the second Ginger C. - and we are both "officially" Virginias.) Aunt Ginger's tea party was a lovely affair at my SIL Connie's and got us really hooked. A few years later for my MIL's 65th birthday, we held another one. This one was really fun because Connie looked up all sorts of interesting trivia about the history of taking tea and everyone had a little card beneath their plate that they read at different times.

Look at that lovely, loose tea! It smells heavenly! While I have quite a collection of bagged tea, I really prefer the loose stuff. Whenever we have tea parties, we always use loose tea and there is quite the production in the kitchen of warming the pots, measuring the tea, steeping the tea, straining the tea, etc. Organized chaos and I love it!

One of my favorite stories is about the origin of afternoon tea. The credit goes to the Duchess of Bedford — one of Queen Victoria's Ladies in Waiting — who came up with the idea of a late afternoon meal of tea, thin sandwiches, and small cakes to overcome the "sinking feeling" she felt. The notion caught on, with Queen Victoria's enthusiastic support. Now the phrase, "I have that sinking feeling" is our way to say we need some tea and a snack in the middle of the day. It's become a "family-ism."

To make the perfect cup of tea, start with cold water in your kettle. Put some hot water in your teapot to warm the pot while the tea water is boiling. Right before the water reaches a boil, dump out the warming water in the pot, and add your tea - one teaspoon of loose tea per cup and, no, if you are using a properly warmed teapot, you don't need to add an extra scoop, as common lore suggests. Don't let the water in the kettle continue to boil - the minute it starts boiling, take it off and pour it into your pot.
One thing that bugs me here in America is when places advertise "High Tea" and it's at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. High Tea in the UK is later in the day and would be basically the American equivalent to "supper." But many tea rooms advertise their afternoon tea as a "high tea." I guess they think it sounds fancier than "low tea."
Let your tea steep for just a few minutes - my River Shannon suggests 3-4 minutes - I go for three minutes by the timer. When the timer goes off, I remove my little tea strainer basket. If you are using bags, pull them out, or strain your tea into another (warmed) pot before serving. Don't let the tea leaves/bags sit in the tea, as it will make a bitter brew. And that would be tragic indeed.

We also have had lots of tea parties with our Birthday Club. Those are ALWAYS fun. We will start with a four-course tea at noon and rarely do we have enough room for the fourth course! Of course, our noon tea is only the start of things - Birthday Club Meetings always last for 12 hours. Say, I think we have one coming up next month! Fun, fun, fun!

Shall I pour out?

All tea comes from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis. Black tea consists of leaves that have been withered, rolled up to 6 times, then fully fermented. Green teas are produced by allowing the leaves to fully dry, then they are quickly heated to prevent fermentation. You aren't supposed to have milk or sweetener in a green tea, but I still add a bit of sweetener. Sometimes you just have to break the rules. White teas undergo the least amount of processing. The leaves are simply allowed to wither and then are roasted at a low temperature to remove most of their moisture. White teas have a very pale color and a delicate taste. I have a yummy tangerine white that is packaged in pyramidal silk bags. Very fancy. (I got this from Target - not so fancy.) There are also other types of processing that yields less common types of tea (such as oolong, lapsang souchong - Winston Churchill liked this kind - with scotch of all things - and pu'erh), but you'll have to read about those yourself. I can't do all the studying. ;^D

My cup of tea - no yak butter, thank you.

I like my tea with a little sugar (or Splenda or Stevia if I have some) and milk, never cream (cream brings out the astringency of tea). How do you take your tea? With milk or with lemon? With yak butter? (That's how they drink it in the Himalayas - I've not found yak butter at the grocery stores in Louisiana, so I skip that part.)


Jennifer said...

That was a fun post! I actually take my tea plain thank you! :)

Ginger said...

What, Jennifer? No yak butter? :^)

Belinda said...

WOW, this is great information! So, I shouldn't be taking a packet of Raspberry Zinger or whatever it's called out of the office freezer, adding water, and zapping it in the microwave. Hmm.

And where have you been all my bloggy life? Horses? AND poodles? AND Louisiana? We're practically KINFOLK.

Ginger said...


Now, I confess I've zapped my share of Raspberry Zinger my own self. :^) Now, though, I at least just zap the water and add the tea bag afterward.

My youngest loves seeing pictures of your daughter on your blog - she has such animated expressions! She's just a doll!

Cynthia said...

GREAT post, Ginger! Thanks for all the info. Love your cute little teac cups and serving tray.