Breaking the coffee habit in favor of tea is tough and seems
to involve several challenges.
The first is trying to remember that I want to drink tea.
It is so automatic, so American, I suppose, to say yes to coffee
when asked in a restaurant. I doubt if I will ever switch from coffee to tea in the morning.
Does a waiter ever ask if you would care for tea? Perhaps in England that is a standard request, but certainly not here. Exceptions are Chinese restaurants where a pot is brought to the table.
The turn to tea is not a hasty decision. I have been thinking about it for some time as an alternative to coffee. When I do steep a pot of tea as I did before beginning this column, it is always refreshing and soul-satisfying; a clean taste you could say.
Notice that I said steep a pot. I believe that s the best way to go with tea. Even if you only want two cups, it should be in a pot and steeped. You don t make tea, you steep it.
Dunking a tea bag in and out of a cup of hot water is not the same. Then what do you do with the teabag? Where did the string go? If you are home, it s no problem, but in a restaurant, do you fish in with your fingers and retrieve the bag, or use a fork as a grappler, then gently rest it on the saucer without, one hopes, dripping on the tablecloth? Having a saucer for the teabag s resting place is a rare service in
an age of mugs.
As food editor, I always looked forward to the annual visit from the representative of the Tea Council of America. His job was to remind food editors across the country the proper way to make tea. The key word was boiling hot, not just hot, but boiling hot. It is imperative
that the water is boiling to make good tea. The ambassador advised
that the pot also be heated and kept hot with a tea cozy.
Wouldn t it be great to bring tea cozies back into vogue? He lamented the abuse of tea drinkers in American restaurants. Twenty years later I can t say the situation has improved. To be served a cup of lukewarm water and a teabag is an insult. For today s tea service I had to wade through eight mugs to get to a nice china cup in the back
row of the cupboard. It is my souvenir from Ireland, purchased at the Shannon Airport. A thin china cup just seems essential for tea. I don t use it for coffee because it is trimmed in gold and upsets the microwave.
That may be why I am getting tired of coffee. I keep heating it up until nightfall when, as my grandmother would have said, it could hold up an egg. I have yet to go to the store to buy tea. Right now, I am using the teabags brought home from hotels and motels and others stored in a tightly covered jar. Naming teas is obviously a marketing ploy. The one I am drinking is Feeling Free. There s a cranberry-apple fl avor in the jar that I must use this fall along with several packages of English breakfast tea. I still have the box of tea brought home from Peru. A wooden box labeled Liberty tea will be a chance to use the tea caddies bought at garage sales.
Like wine, the language of teas is fascinating. As an example, orange pekoe has nothing to do with the flavor but size. Orange pekoe is the grade for the smallest leaves; pekoe
is medium size leaves. My first tea purchase will be green tea. Since paying $4.50 for a package of green tea gum recently I have decided to reap the claimed nutrients from green tea in a cup with hot water.
Mary Alice Powell is a retired
Blade food editor.
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