Friday, June 17, 2011

The Blessings and Comfort of a Cup of Tea

It's true. I have become a wee bit obsessed with taking farm fresh produce, adding sugar and storing it away in pretty glass jars for gloomy winter mornings. Or a June-gloom morning in Los Angeles. Jam is my new favorite pass time. My kitchen is always a little bit sticky, and the jars of golden peach and ruby tomato jam (yes - tomato. It's delicious!) are piling up faster than I can give them away. But in the morning, before the preserving madness begins, I like to have a cup of tea. I used to drink coffee, but following a nasty cold, I realized that a cup of tea was a slightly less aggressive way for me to start the day, and have been enjoying a nice "cuppa" for a few months now.

I have heard more than once from Anglo-philes and the English themselves the hilarious assumption that a cup of tea can cure a broken leg. While I'm not convinced, I knew that Mrs. Black would have some strong views on tea. Indeed.

"Much has been said and written regarding the uses of tea. And without presuming to discuss its effects upon the system, we may remark that it is certainly possible to abuse the use of tea as many other blessings are abused. Many men and women, however, tired in brain or body, have gratefully acknowledge the blessings and comfort of "a cup of tea." Tea contains a volatile oil, which has a peculiar effect upon the nerves, reviving the body, and driving away drowsiness, while at the same time it has a soothing effect on the heart and circulation, and is thus beneficial in removing nervous headaches. It also contains a peculiar substance called theine, which Leibig says "plays a part in the nourishment of the body." It causes perspiration, and weak tea is useful on that account to persons suffering from cold. Tea is nearly always acceptable to invalids, to whom it is extremely refreshing. It can also be used as a means of conveying nourishment when necessary, such as a well-beaten egg in addition to milk or instead of it."

A quick check of Wikipedia reveals that "theine" was later identified as being the same thing as caffeine (winning that scientist - Hermann Emil Fischer -  a Nobel Prize in 1902). And as we all gratefully acknowledge the blessings of caffeine, we may also cringe at the idea of adding a well-beaten egg to our tea.

Everyone who drinks tea has their own little rituals. I add the sugar first, along with a tea bag, fill the cup with boiling water and let it steep for as long as it takes me to put away dishes from the dish rack or some other menial kitchen task better done while half asleep. A little milk, and I'm ready to go. My parents, who instilled a love of tea in me at an early age, actually set the timer for one minute, fifteen seconds, or some other very specific amount of time before removing their tea bags. Others prefer loose tea, as my mother in law did until she too realized the convenience of tea bags, despite the unsightly appearance  of a soggy tea bag on a saucer. (Quickly whisked away)  She preferred lemon in her tea, generally preferring Earl Grey to English Breakfast. The hint of bergamont going much better with citrus than milk any day of the week.

There is something about these rituals that are, in themselves, calming. And the never ending supply of tea accessories appeals to the consumer in us all. The subject of tea is as vast as the oceans that bring tea leaves to us from around the globe, but as drowsiness has now been driven from my body by a nice strong cup of PG Tips, I'm off for the day. The jam jars are sending out their siren call...

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