Archive | January 16, 2012

With milk and sugar

“Put the kettle on”. “How many cups?” “Cuppa tea love?”

This beats any stove top variety. A must for the multiple pots of tea made a day.

All these phrases are spoken more in my household and my families’ households over any other phrase.

For any tea loving folks or all my UK readers, this isn’t anything new. In honor of my big bro’s 50+ birthday, I am doing a ‘warm cup of caffeinated liquid” post. It’s like air to us. We can’t live without our warm caffeinated beverages.

I will give you a brief and somewhat boring synopsis of the way I grew up. I think tea was in my baby bottle. I jest. But really, I had cups of milky, warm, sweet tea when I was in my high chair. And not sippy cups. Those weren’t invented in the 70s. Regular stone wear or porcelain cups is all there was. I don’t even think one broke. My dad served it to me with a sugar butty. A sugar butty is bread with butter and a sprinkling of sugar on it. To this day, my kids and I still eat sugar butties. It’s a curse and a blessing all together.

The ritual of tea is in many civilizations. It has spanned centuries of time. The English do not have the corner stone on tea drinking. But, I get my rituals from that part of the world, so bear with me.

I think it’s funny when I see in movies or shows, or read in books when folks come home and the first thing they do is pour a drink. Like Don Draper. A scotch in a glass, or a brandy. James Bond’s martini. I love a gin and tonic. Sometimes I NEED a gin and tonic. But good or bad day, happy news or sad news; the first thing we do is put the electric tea kettle on. A pot of tea is like the capital letter of the first word of the sentence you write. It’s compulsory. Necessary.

Okay, yes, we’re addicts to the caffeine. But I think it’s the ritual.

Here’s the echelon of tea making in my family-

My dad. You come to my parent’s house. He will make you a cup of tea. He will brew the kettle, add the leaves, warm the cups, put in the milk and sugar, pour and stir. He will serve it to you in a white porcelain mug. Not a dinky cup and saucer. Then commences lively conversation with my parents around their kitchen table. There is no other way around this. If it was the Queen of England, a hobo off the street, your neighborhood cat lady, this is the service you get. It’s superb. They have you in their spell and you are part of the family. You drink it to the last drop and ask for another, you are now in the Will. Okay, no you’re not. But my point is that they are generous and comforting. This is home to me and my siblings. We could be thousands of miles in a desert, trapped on a deserted island, stuck in a cave; and we would be thinking of the warm cups of tea my dad makes. And if he grumbles and tells you to leave, he really is kidding. It’s his English dry humor he likes to use on people. Well, sometimes he’s not kidding, but you wouldn’t know the difference.

A stainless teapot keeps it nice and hot without a tea cozy.

My brother and I are in the middle of this echelon structure. We have the craft mastered. We know the steps. But it will never take place of Dad’s gifts. He’s the Michael Jordan of  tea making. The Dumbledore of the cuppa.

Then there’s the in-laws. My brother’s wife and my husband. They have been baptized into this ritual by marriage. They had no choice. The first few years were tough. Drills and seminars on tea making. It wasn’t fair, but Navy Seals have to go through training, and this is no less important.

adding the tea leaves to the pot

pouring the boiled water into the pot from the kettle (neither is black in this case)

Katherine, my sister in law, has had twice the years of training as James. I think she’s even surpassed my brother in the art. (I didn’t just write that.)

She knows the drill, has taught her children, and there is order. All is well in the world.

Dear sweet James. He is really good. 17 years of this obsession has finally transformed him. Poor guy. He knows now that you don’t heat a cup of water in the microwave and dump a tea bag in to it. Gasp. That would be a sacrilege. There is a method to this tea-ness.

Yes, the tea is supreme. But there is plenty of coffee and espresso consumption among my family. My dad has that mastered too. If you’ve picked up on anything, my dad does whatever he does- well. That’s my dad. So when he makes a pot of coffee, it’s strong and bold. Milk and sugar or black. But it’s hot and properly brewed.

One more anecdote. I admire and revere my dad. I know he’s not Jesus. BUT- he can turn water into tea like loaves and fishes to feed hundreds. More like dozens at my wedding brunch. The morning after our wedding, my parents hosted the wedding party, families and any out of town guests to their house for a brunch. My parents have a small home, so 15 people or more, makes it cozy quite fast. All the guests were seated in the living room watching us open wedding gifts, and it was the end of a long exhausting weekend. As the privileged bride I asked my dad to please make me a cup of tea. He asked who else would like a cup. I kid you not- 20 hands went up like in a class room of who wanted tea! Somehow, out of their 6 cup tea pot he kept producing cups and cups of tea for people. Some folks even had two! See? Like loaves to feed the 5,000, he made water in to tea.

So that’s my ode to warm caffeinated drinks in my family. An homage to the cuppa. Happy Birthday Chris. I’ll drink to you today.

The perfect cup