Tea and Me

Whole wars have been fought over tea. The Brits thought opium was a good thing to trade for Chinese tea. The incipient ‘muricans thought they’d teach the Brits a lesson (somewhat passive/aggressively IMO) by throwing tea into Boston harbor rather than paying the tax necessary to bring the tea off the ship onto the dock (I think that’s how it went). The first ship belonging to the new nation of the United States of Murica went to China carrying furs to trade for tea.

I always found tea to be an insipid, pale watery beverage especially compared to coffee. But in my current life, tea has an important place. Tea is social. My neighbors and I have tea parties — sometimes planned far in advance, sometimes occurring at the spur of the moment, just, “Come over for a cuppa’.”  I love this. It’s absolutely sweet and important and a custom to be cherished and nurtured. Where once I didn’t even have any tea in my house — well, maybe a faded package of Celestial Seasonings Assorted Herbal Teas — I now have a pretty fancy selection. All tea bags, except for a fresh can of Chinese Jasmine Tea with its evocative and nostalgic fragrance. I’m never going to be an artist of tea, and I like people to choose what they like.

I can’t make tea without thinking of Arthur P. Dent (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxie, etc.). His determination to get a machine — the Nutri-Matic — to make a REAL cup of English tea, causes the system of the Heart of Gold, the most advanced spaceship in the universe, to crash.

He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. The way it functioned was very interesting. When the Drink button was pressed it made an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject’s taste buds, a spectroscopic examination of the subject’s metabolism and then sent tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centers of the subject’s brain to see what was likely to go down well. However, no one knew quite why it did this because it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

As a kid, I remember my mom and friends organizing “coffees” and they were along the same lines, I think, but there was a lot more fussing involved than goes into our tea parties. There was a light, friendly competition over who could make the fanciest dessert AND the women really dressed up for these events. Of course, it was the early 60s so, in general, women dressed up.

In China — well, it’s impossible for me to even describe the importance of tea. It was everywhere. I’ve written about “all the tea in China” before on this blog in a post called, “Hot Drinks in China.” I had coffee while I was there — I made sure of it — but tea was much more common and easier to get. The most common tea in the United States is called “Hong Cha” in China, or red tea. It’s black tea, but a pretty red in the cup. It’s still the tea I like the best. The variety I acquired in my new tea-drinking life is Constant Comment. I like the oranges mixed in.

In the early 80s in China having coffee involved good luck at the export store, a gift from someone who happened to have coffee from Hainan Island, or a trip to Hong Kong. I had no coffee pot. I used a kind of tea pot that had a basket in the top. I lined the basket with toilet paper and poured boiling water through slowly. It was a very successful method even if it looked a little odd (and probably sounds a little odd). No milk, either, except powdered. I got used to that, and I developed a taste for soy milk in my coffee. And in my tea.


17 thoughts on “Tea and Me

  1. I noticed you had Lapsang Souchong on the photo, hope you enjoyed it. I used it to flavour meat dishes. My son told me “you won’t like that one mum” and he was right. As a Brit I was not really a tea drinker, but with the years I could no longer digest coffee so well. Now I drink tea, from a bag soaked in hot water and that’s that – pure and no sugar. I don’t like herbal tea and thanks for the Boston Tea party explanation, I always wondered why they threw the tea away, now I know. My family thrived on a cuppa, english tea with milk and sugar and not just now and again. It was their elixir of life.

    • I used to like Lapsong Souchong a lot back in my 20s, but when I got this and brewed it, I thought, “Who WAS that girl?” It does have an interesting story… Yeah, the Brits didn’t let ‘muricans vote or have a seat in Parliament, but they/we still had to pay taxes to Britain and didn’t get much benefit from the taxes or any say in how they were used. I think it was the story of the goose who laid the golden egg and maybe England learned a lot about how to treat their colonies after losing us…

  2. When I met my hubby’s family for the first time, I was greeted with tea and milk. I’ve been forewarned that there will be lots of tea drinking around.
    Ok, for me since I drink tea. But I like mine plain with mint. So, having it with milk was a different experience (esp if lactose intolerant). What an unforgettable way to be introduced to the family! Haha

    • Kind of the same with me and my second husband. His mom — a very Scots Canadian — was an avid tea drinker, but she did introduce me to Constant Comment which I like. She visited us in China and LOVED experimenting with all the tea!!!

      • Had to look up ‘Constant Comment’ (not familiar with it)! I remember I used to have a co-worker and we used to argue about tea almost everyday because of its price per gram (he can be very passionate about it!) I love tea but not that much when I have to shell out $45! Hahaha

        • Dragon Well Tea from Anhui Province in China is absolutely wonderful fragrant delicious and historic green tea. I love it and the real thing can cost a lot of money and I’ve ordered it and gotten it and it was fake or old. 😦

  3. Although there are cafes everywhere now, a cup of coffee can cost anything between 18 and 30 RMB, but an endless pot of tea usually costs 6 to 8 RMB. There are two Chinas you see: one that sits in coffee shops with a laptop or a phone and another where people sit with friends and chat over tea.

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