Tuesday, September 12, 2006

On Tea

I drink tea all year long. I drink a lot of tea when it’s cold out, I drink tea in the summer, though not as much, and I drink it by the gallon when I’m sick. Tea revives me when I'm tired and comforts me when I'm sad. I bring a thermos of tea on long trips and to work.

Some tea-lovers have fussy rules for making tea. I don't. I don’t filter my water; I buy reasonably priced tea; all in all, I don’t know much about different sorts of tea and I don’t really care.

That said, there are a couple of basic guidelines to making tea. No teabags is one. See this and this on why tea bags are inferior. I’ll use tea bags if nothing else is available and I’m desperate, but I usually avoid them. I buy loose leaf tea at Indian, Chinese or Russian grocery stores. For everyday tea-drinking, I use a 50-50 blend of loose leaf black tea and green tea.

This is how I brew my tea: I bring a kettle to a boil. I swirl some boiling water around in a tea pot. Then I add the tea leaves—I use about one teaspoon per two cups of water. I pour the water over the tea leaves and leave them to steep for 5-6 minutes. I usually drink tea straight up, but sometimes I'll add a slice of lemon or a little honey (never sugar). Very rarely, I’ll have tea with milk. Jam that's not very thick makes a good sweetener, too. (Sometimes I like to defrost a bag of frozen raspberries, mix in 1/2 cup to 1 cup sugar, and add the berry liquid to tea. The rest of the berries I eat with yogurt.)

I’ve never had good tea in a restaurant or a coffeehouse, so I don’t order it anymore. Run-of- the-mill restaurants give you a lukewarm cup of water with a tea bag; “nice” restaurants give you a pot of hot water and a selection of tea bags; coffeehouses, from Starbucks to the locally-owned neighborhood place, give you a paper cup of hot water and a choice of herbal tea bags. Why bother?
I drink water with meals, but for dessert I need tea, or coffee, at least, if I can’t get decent tea. That's one of the few things I’m picky about. There’s just more pleasure in eating something sweet when you're cutting it with a hot beverage that verges on bitter. (The French practice of drinking coffee after dessert is mystifying to me. As for soda with dessert--no.) Besides dessert, other foods that demand a good cup of tea are toast/bread/bagels slathered with anything sweet or salty, any kind of pancake, sandwiches and breakfast eggs.


Pyewacket said...

I hate tea (reminds me of being sick), but love coffee, and I agree completely that desserts need something hot and bitter. Or at least a little bitter. Every year I give myself a treat when doing my Christmas shopping and stop into a cafe in Harvard Square for Turkish coffee and honey cake. In an ideal world, this would be delivered to me every afternoon at 4. Dark, intense, bittersweet coffee, then sweet, crumbly, sticky cake, then the coffee again. Bliss.

Some American-style sweets (peanut butter cookies, for example) go best with milk, and some not-very-sweet desserts (biscotti) are ideal with a really good dessert wine. But generally coffee is the thing, and, as you say, soda is right out.

Kisa said...

I love your blog, and follow your food exlorations with interest.
Tea drinking is something that brings back the memories of long summer afternoons (why summer now that I think about it?), and my family around the table drinking tea. Now that I am an adult myself, I sometimes make a huge pot of tea, take out some homemade varenye from the fridge and enjoy it with my spouse. What a great way to waste away a lazy afternoon!
Thanks for your blog, it keeps fresh the tastes of my childhood.

P.S. Being a gourmand myself, I derive enormous joy from reading anything about food (including reading cookboks for entertainment). You might like the magazine called Saveur. They also have a web site, and have a fairly large recipe base (you do not need to subscribe to search recipes). The magazine itself has outstanding articles about food.

Helen said...

Hi Yulinka,

Finally, someone understands my obsession with tea with sweets. I've lived in France for a while, and I don't get this espresso after dessert thing. I love coffee with my sweets too and often order that in restaurants because the tea as you say is pathetic. And it's great to hear that someone else brings a thermose to work when they are sick :)


Mrs. M. said...

Pyewacket--I like milk with chocolate chip cookies and some other gooey desserts. I like coffee with dessert, too. I can never make good coffee at home, though, so that's what I always order when I'm out.

Kisa--I'm glad you like the blog! I sometimes have nostalgic fantasies of going back to my childhood dacha and drinking tea all afternoon. I don't even remember if we lingered over tea back then, but just the idea of that is so appealing. Tea with varenya (jam) is wonderful--I spoon into the tea or just eat it as dessert.

Re: Saveur--do you mean the Epicurious site? I use it a starting point for recipes pretty often.

Helen--I don't only bring tea to work when I'm sick; I bring it almost every day! I didn't drink much during the summer but now that it's getting cold I often leave work with an empty thermos. Good to hear that other people share my tea/hot beverage with dessert preference!

Kisa said...

Saveur online can be found at www.saveur.com, navigating from there is quite easy :)

the chocolate doctor מרת שאקאלאד said...


I feel the same way about the Elixir of Life. I have found that the tetrahedral "pyramid"-shaped bags from PG tips make a decent enough cup in a pinch.

Katrina said...

tea and sweets - can't believe I am not the only obsessed (and possessed) person in the world who CAN NOT and WILL NOT do 'naked' tea. my husband has been calling me bonkers for years now. and I thought that the local tradition (ie British) serving drinks after dinner was a world-wide phenomenon.

shall we organise a groupie group in favour of tea with sweets?:)

Mrs. M. said...

Katrina--In Russian, "naked tea" is called "empty tea." Why you'd drink coffee or tea after dessert, I don't know. Probably some sophisticated palate-clearing thing, but I don't support it. ;)

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