The first time I had tea with milk I thought it tasted icky. I was raised in Southern California. Tea was supposed to be clear. Tea with milk was murky and icky. But there lot of things that seem icky the first time, and you end up loving them. Girls, you know what I mean: Yoga. Caviar. Outlet malls.
Good thing I had my "milky tea" initiation before college, because I took my junior year abroad in the UK, and that’s the only way one drank tea in the UK: with milk. The Brits in college didn't drink coffee, except for instant. If you got “proper coffee” it was out at a fancy dinner. And you only got one cup. This was the 1980s. Long before Starbucks.
In the UK you drank tea. It kept you warm, it kept you awake, and it kept you social. I arrived at this teeny liberal arts college in London, made friends with a group of Brits in a church club, learned to drink tea, and I was set. Weekends we did pub crawls but weeknights we went on tea crawls, from one person’s dorm room to the other, dragging along their electric kettles, a pint of milk and a box of tea bags. And it was always PG tips.
I know you Americans may think “tea is tea,” because you’ve been ruined by Lipton. I don’t know why Queen Victoria bothered to knight him Sir Thomas Lipton. Maybe because he found a way to export the crappy tea out of England. Americans are used to the crappy Liptons, or the overrated Twinings, or Celestial Seasonings passion flower/cranberry zinger/lotus blossom/eco harvest. That’s not tea, that’s what your lawnmower ran over.
Tea and Caffeine
If you use the word “caffeine” as a generalized word for stimulant then yes, tea has caffeine in it. But Caffeine comes from the bean of a coffee plant. Coffee: Caffeine. But tea comes from the leaf of a camellia bush. It’s not a fruit or a bean, it’s a leaf. The chemical structure of a camellia leaf and a coffee bean are different. Both are stimulants, but they are not the same. And they affect people differently.
For me, coffee stimulates me physically. It wires me, it makes my nerve endings light up. It enervates me and constricts my blood vessels which raises my blood pressure and heart rate and makes me feel awake. It’s great. Which brings up a point: it’s not just the caffeine: it’s the sense memory association of groggy, tired, coffee smell and taste, wake up, blood pressure up, life is good.
Tea stimulates me mentally. The buzz is more subtle, and affects my brain more than my body. Tea never makes me jittery. It only makes me feel awake and humming.
Which brings up another thing. Tea is the drink of afternoon visits, friends, sitting down for a visit to chat.. There’s a british expression, “A nice cuppa tea and a sit-down.” That’s definitely a tea association for me: sitting down with friends. Or sitting down to the computer to write. For me, tea is social, and creative.
PG Tips Tea
PG Tips is the best selling brand of tea in Britain. And there’s a reason. It’s just so good. I'm not sure why PG Tips is so good. PG says 's because they only harvest the top two new-growth leaves on the bush, or the tips. PG Tips is strong and full, but It won’t get bitter on you. If you brew it right. If you don’t know how to brew tea, Tips will still be better than the refuse you’re used to drinking. But you need to know how to brew tea.
First of all, you must BOIL your water. It needs to boil to get the best flavor. Think of that wimpy coffee machine at work that spews tepid water and weak coffee. Same with tea.
Pour boiling water into your teapot (or cup). Swirl it around so the cup/pot is heated. Dump that water out. Add our tea bags. Bring the water back to boil and pour new boiling water into the cup/pot.
Let it steep 3 – 5 minutes. Stir so the water can get in and around the leaves.
DO NOT dip your bag for 30 seconds til you get what you think is the right shade. Tea needs HEAT and TIME to develop the whole range of flavor Think of your tea like a Polaroid. It needs time to develop the mid tones and the edges. Better to get an overly dark cup of tea in five minutes ( you can add hot water) than the right shade but wrong color in 30 seconds.
After five minutes, take the bags out so it doesn't get bitter. If you cover the pot with a "tea cozy" it'll stay warmer.
In Britain, one person “plays Mum” and serves the tea to everyone. Typically Brits put the milk in first, then the tea. Add sugar if you want.
Brits don’t put milk in Earl Grey. It's supposed to be drunk for the Bergamot flavor, which gets masked by milk. But whatever, Brits have a rule for everything. One morning I was eating breakfast when my British roommate giggled.
"You're eating your breakfast back to front.”
"I’m doing what?”
"You've eaten your grapefruit first. You're supposed to eat your toast first, then the grapefuit to clear the palate."
"And then go outside and smoke a Rothmans?"
Put milk in your Earl Grey if you want.
Just make sure you use boiling water, warm the pot or cup first, and let it steep for at least three minutes.
Give yourself the gift of a box of PG Tips, a nice tea cup, and a good half hour to really enjoy. Add a scone, a friend, and Bob’s Your Uncle, you've got yourself a nice cuppa tea and a sit down.
Here are some famous quotes about tea …
But we had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven't had any tea for a week...
The bottom is out of the Universe.
If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.
Never trust a man who, when left alone in a room with a tea cozy, doesn't try it on.
You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.
Now if you think I've been persnickety about the making of tea, read what George Orwell wrote about it back in 1946 ....
A Nice Cup of Tea
By George Orwell
Evening Standard, 12 January 1946.
If you look up 'tea' in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.
This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.
When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:
* First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase 'a nice cup of tea' invariably means Indian tea.
* Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
* Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
* Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
* Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
* Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
* Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
* Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one's tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
* Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
* Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
* Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.
Some people would answer that they don't like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.
These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one's ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.