I am departing slightly from the main road here today, or rather going off-piste, to use a meteorologically inspired metaphor, and am going to do a blog post all about tea.
I do this for two reasons - one, to show you a lovely Christmas present I received from my sister, who crocheted me a mug-warmer! A mug-warmer! Isn't that just fantastic?
And two as a Special Service Announcement for our American friends, inspired by a very daft conversation I have been having with LollyChops, that fabulous blogger from big old Texas, which I suspect is a good deal warmer than here...
Her latest blog post, which has a title of which she can be rightly proud - The Mad Tatter's Teabag Template (her sister is learning tatting, which in very basic terms is a form of lace-making using knots and loops; the post is all about teabag holders; Lolly's a bit mad etc and well I mean, it's all come together in a perfect headline hasn't it? It's the stuff tabloids dream of, no?)...is all about tea. In my comment at the end of her blog I got rather over-excited, because I think it's fair to say we do like a drop of tea in this country. There's no-one can say we ain't fond of a cuppa.
And therein began a dotty email thread all about making tea, and the intricacies involved. In which Lolly said "I have always heard about the English and their tea! I would love to try it so I can see if it's any different from how we make it (I think we might boil it or something too long...)"
So, here it is - the definitive guide to making tea, as per MY method of making tea, which does not, you shoddy good-for-nothing teabaggy slatterns, you - involve putting a teabag in a cup. Get a teapot people, get a teapot. You know who you are.
How to make a Luvverly Cup of Tea
1. Find a beautiful teapot. Swish some nice hot water into it to warm the pot.
2. Boil your kettle - now I interrupt myself here to ask a question....do you have kettles, you Americans?? You know, a thing you plug in to an electricity socket to boil water in? Or one you put on the hob/cooker/stove? One of these....
I'm not being rude, I promise, it's just that I remember when I lived in France there was not a one to be had. They were all about their coffee, and used other machiney things for that, percolators or whatever. Failing that, they just boiled water in a pan. So I boiled water in a pan for a year, and when I came back to England I was all "Ben, non! Mais qu'est-ce que c'est que ca, hein? C'est super ca, non?" - which translates as "...like oh my God! What's that thing? A kettle! Oh my god, what a great idea!"
Ok, so, getting back to the point then. If you have no kettle, simply fill a pan-type vessel with um, say, 4 cups of freshly drawn water Although I'm not totally up on what a cup is, and equally I'm hopeless at pints, litres, fluid ounces etc. Thank heavens I'm not a recipe writer, hm? and using heat of some description from a cooking type appliance, begin to boil the water.
3. While the water is heating up, place 2 teaspoonfuls of English Breakfast Tea leaves (if you're posh, but I won't pretend many of us actually do use tea leaves, even me - so teabags are allowed, because I say so, so we're talking 1 bag per person) and one teaspoonful for the pot. (We have an expression 'one per person and one for the pot', since presumably the pot is thirsty too. This makes the kind of cuppa my grandad would have said is 'strong enough to get itself out the pot', ie, "Ahh lovely. Can't stand tea that's not strong enough to get itself out the pot". In this house, my 'one for the pot' is a cheeky little Earl Grey teabag. Oh yes - I'm so fancy aren't I?)
3. Wait until the water is BOILING - actually BOILING; not just about to boil, or boiled, but BOILING, BOILING I say - and then pour in to your teapot, and put the lid on.
4. Make a lovely tea-cosy, (or perhaps try and find one you made earlier, or your tea will be what we call 'stewed', in other words mighty strong and probably cold...) and place over your teapot to keep your tea hot, as demonstrated here.
4. Allow your tea to stand for a few minutes, and then with a teaspoon, stir 3 times round.
5. Find a dainty teacup, pour in a little milk - (ok, I'm prepared for the unleashing of a barage of disgusted tea-drinkers saying you should pour your tea in first and add the milk after, and I agree that in The Ritz and other lovely hotels you would do that, lest the waiter turn up his or her nose at you, you common little oik. But look here; I think we have let it lie with the teabags; let's all admit we pour the milk in first, shall we, hm? - and gently pour in your tea trying not to mutter and swear too much at the drips which will inevitably come off the spout on to your worksurface. Get a cloth, and learn to live with it; that's what the British Stiff Upper Lip is for.
6. Add a spoonful of sugar if you wish, or 2 if you are very bad, and drink, sipping delicately.
7. Alternatively, use a dirty great mug so you get a big washdown of tea to keep you going, which is what most of us do.
8. Go "Ahh! Now that's a nice cup of tea..."
And there you have it, the definitive guide to making tea. Many of us Brits would have to admit to drinking far too much of it, especially in these wintry climes, which have us racing headfirst to the kettle every hour, wishing we also had crumpets, teacakes, or scones....
But they really are beyond my culinary expertise to explain, so I leave you instead with a nice picture of the kind of Afternoon Tea you would have a right to expect at a London hotel, or indeed any self-respecting top hotel the world over. When I worked in media, and was bored of expensive boozy lunches, I started instead taking clients out to Afternoon Tea, which was cheaper, but felt like such a treat. Nothing quite like seeing a grown man who works in the computer industry picking up dainty sugar lumps with tongs.And it is easily one of my all time favourite ways to spend an afternoon. Ah, you lapsang suchong, you ceylon, you Russian Caravan tea...ah you little tiny cucumber sandwiches, oh the cakes....