Sunday, 21 February 2010

Fancy a cup of tea, mate?

Throughout my life, people have offered me tea, at times forcibly. We moved to the Deep South when I was 13, and an old family friend insisted on pouring me a cold glass of the ubiquitous Southern sweet tea. Protests that I didn't like tea brought a laugh and a glass pushed into my hand, as though I'd made a little joke, because who doesn't like sweet tea? To me it looked like rusty water and didn't taste much better. I grimaced and left it on the table.

People went on offering sweet tea and shaking their heads in bemused amazement while muttering about "Yankees" when I turned it down time and again. By my early 30s, I was still a staunch tea-loather when an English boyfriend convinced me it was quite good hot if brewed properly. I wasn't totally convinced, but he was cute and I'm easily swayed. I started drinking hot tea now and then, mainly if I was freezing in an arctic workplace and wanted something with less calories than hot cocoa. (Why are offices kept cold enough to cryogenically freeze the staff, anyway?) I'm pretty sure I wasn't preparing it properly, but at least I was willing to give it a go.

Fast-forward several years and I'm living in England, the land where tea is so popular that many even call the evening meal "tea." It took me quite awhile to figure out that when someone said they were having company for tea, they actually meant dinner and not cups of tea served with scones and jam. And wonder of wonder, no one forces tea on me here.

But as of last week, they don't have to, I actually want it. Thanks to a little glass teapot I bought at Poundland (care to guess the price?), I love making tea, watching it change color, and pouring it out into a big mug. It even seems to taste better than ever before.

The hangup for me was always how to actually make the tea. I knew how to hang a teabag out of a cup of boiled water, but I couldn't figure out those ceramic teapots. Did people put those on the stove to heat the water? That didn't seem right. Did you pour boiling water into it (bingo!), and if so, where did the tea go (would you just leave loose leaves inside, or what?) Turns out there are various methods to deal with that (here's a nice tutorial for other tea numbskulls like me).

However, my magical little cheapie teapot comes with a built-in infuser (a little strainer that fits inside). I can put a teabag or leaves in there. It's especially lovely because the one time I always loved tea was if I went to a restaurant that brought my own small teapot to the table -- I'm totally charmed by that concept, like having my own little tea party. And now I have my own cute teapot and even know how to use it. I've even found a few teas I like, such as white tea and a specialty blend of blueberry and yogurt.

Now if I can only figure out the appeal of dry, dusty scones...