Thursday, May 29, 2008

Fancy a cuppa?

Here's a little something that a grad student in my post-doc lab made for me back in 2003. I had a kidney infection and was banned from drinking tea for two whole weeks.
I don't know if you can read it, but the label below the tea bag says
"in case of emergency, break glass".
(The thing next to it is the plush lymphocyte that Mr E Man got me at Christmas. It's wearing a Nature Network button. Did I mention that I'm a geek?)

I love tea. Mostly what I would call "proper tea", which goes by the strange name of orange pekoe in North America. This caused me no end of confusion on my first day in Vancouver. Jetlagged beyond all belief, I stopped at a Blenz outlet on my way to my new lab for the first time, and asked for "a large tea please".

Barrista: "What kind of tea?"
CAE: "Just tea."
Barrista: ...?
CAE: "Normal tea. Tea tea."
Barrista: "You mean orange pekoe?"
CAE: "No, normal tea. Black tea. Not orange flavour."
Barrista: "That's orange pekoe."
CAE: "No it isn't."
Barrista: "Yes it is."
CAE: "No it isn't."
Barrista: "I'll just make some orange pekoe and you can tell me if that's what you wanted."
...

CAE: "Oh, this is normal tea. Erm, thanks. And sorry."

I did wonder what the hell I'd got myself into. The Bryan Adams CD I'd been subjected to over breakfast at my hotel didn't help either.

But worse was to come.

Did you know that some Canadians don't have kettles?!! Yes, it's true. I had to buy one in my first week. Apparently some of them make tea using a microwave, FFS. (Yes Dr G, I'm talking about YOU). There's no death penalty in Canada, but if there was... they'd be next in line after the folks who serve tea by giving you a cup of warm water and a tea bag. People! You make tea by pouring boiling (not boiled) water onto the tea. Any other way is unacceptable. You'll only get repeat tea-drinking business from me if you do it properly.

Thankfully, Canadian supermarkets sell Tetley tea (and Branston Pickle, no less) so I can make my own.

I also like all kinds of herbal tea. My usual weekday regime is a big mug of proper tea in the morning before work (with a little bit of milk and no sugar),

Home tea stash. The silver caddy is stuffed with proper (Tetley) tea bags.

a cup of fruity tea, a cup of minty tea, and another cup of proper tea throughout the day at work,

Work tea stash. I have my own kettle on my desk and keep my milk in the nearby fridge. The mug is a gift from Mermaid and the text inside says: "n. having more creative ability while drinking tea". This sums up my performance in my last job, where I had all my best ideas while either drinking tea or riding my bike.

and sometimes another fruity or minty cup in the evening. I'm drinking the last of the black cherry tea right now. I do drink green tea, but only very occasionally. I'm not quite sure why I have so much of it.

Most Saturday mornings involve sharing a big pot of tea with Mr E Man while we tackle the New York Times crossword in the local paper. This is the best part of the week.

What we're really missing over here is a tea blend that's optimised for the local water, a la Yorkshire Tea, Scottish Blend etc. Maybe this is an opportunity for me to develop my own blend and become the Tea Queen of Canada. Kneel before me, ye Colonials...

37 comments:

  1. OMG. Tea is such an issue in our household. EGM is a very low maintenance person, but he can be very fussy about tea. He drinks 3-6 cups every evening and each one has to be made with its own bag. Why can't he brew a pot? I make it for him sometimes, but I never seem to be able to get the sugar right. And God forbid we run out of milk for the tea.

    The selection of plain tea is pretty crappy at our grocery store (they have a lot of green and herbal teas, which he hates). Of the choices, he likes Twinnings English Breakfast best but they often sell out. So we'll stare at the shelf until he decides that yes, he can cope with the Irish Breakfast for this week.

    The most annoying part is that he always wants me to drink the tea with him. Somehow it adds to his experience if I have some too. Tea is fine with me, but I can't drink it all evening if I want to sleep. So now I drink hot chocolate, but only one cup. Honestly, you people and your tea!

    Can you tell you struck a nerve?! :)

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  2. I have to say the state of tea in America is deeply sad.

    Pet Peeve #1: When you got to a restaurant, and ask for tea, and they give you a cup of not-that-hot-water and a Lipton tea bag and charge you $2.00.

    Pet Peeve #2: When people call things "Chai tea." Um, chai IS tea you moron. Saying chai tea is like saying tea tea or bread bread or moon moon.

    Pet Peeve #3: When you go to a Starbucks and ask for tea, and they give you water so hot it burns the tea leaves and makes the tea taste gross.

    Pet Peeve #4: When people drink black tea without milk and sugar. Okay whatever, personal preference, but that's not how you drink tea!!! Tea is about the ritual as much as anything!!!

    Pet Peeve #5: When people think that microwaving tea is okay. It's NOT OKAY!

    I don't think normal tea is called "orange pekoe" in the US though. Mostly I think people refer to proper tea as "English Breakfast" or "English Teatime." Like the Brits invented tea. Yet another thing you people stole from us Indians!!

    Can you tell that I've had 8 cups of tea today?

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  3. I have a stash of Yorkshire Tea, but Taylors (of Harrogate) have done a good job of infiltrating the Finnish tea market anyway with their speciality teas. Actually, the whole Finnish tea market seems to be run from England.

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  4. Ah! Tea! Great post. I agree with most things that have been said except for one thing: I'll have my tea without milk or sugar, thank you. And that's why I find Tetley disgusting: it's too bitter to be drunk on its own... But I too have more sorts of tea than you can shake a stick at both at home and in my office. I also have a mug for tea, and a different cup for coffee. I could make up some romantic reason for it, but really it's just because it saves me some washing (shameful, I know).

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  5. Ooh, lots of tea rants! It's not really surprising, this is a VERY important subject.

    Eco, I don't really understand the concept of preferring multiple cups to a pot. I love making a pot of tea (and sharing it with someone - I definitely get that part of the equation!). I'll make a single mug if it's just me, but it's not quite the same. Some guests arrived from the UK last night and did the usual first-morning-in-Canada trick of getting up at 6. I was more than happy to get up too and make a nice big pot!

    Arduous, I agree with all your pet peeves, especially #1 and #5! I don't take sugar though, is that acceptable?! And I'm quite fussy about the amount of milk in my tea. I like my tea quite dark - somewhere between #3 and #4 on this chart. Mr E Man is more of a #1. I will drink mine paler if someone hands it to me like that, but you can bet that I'll bitch about it later!

    So Orange Pekoe is just a Canadian thing? Hmm, interesting. It's definitely distinct from the English breakfast tea blends though. What do you call Tetleys-style tea in the US?

    Oh, and on behalf of my country, I'd like to thank your country for the gift of tea. And curry. And bhangra. ;)

    Bob, that's funny! Taylor's stuff is pretty damn good, but a bit fancy schmancy for every day drinking. My sister used to work in one of their cafes/shops in York, complete with frilly apron and all, and she knows more about tea blends than anyone else I know!

    Stepwise girl, I have to agree with Arduous on that one, black tea is just not right! ;) But I do also have separate cups - one for normal tea, and one for everything else. And I never wash my teapot with dish soap, I just rinse it with hot water. You have to season a tea pot over many years before you get optimal tea out of it.

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  6. Did I just detect another Douglas Adams reference?

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  7. The "boiling, not boiled"?! Yes, well spotted! DA wrote the definitive guide to making tea (it's included in the Salmon of Doubt collection) and I've used that phrase ever since I first read it. It's the perfect description of how to do it right! I have been known to scan and print the entire article to given to people as an instructional guide before...

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  8. CAE, Tetley USA refers to their classic black tea as "British blend."

    I guess it's okay if you don't put sugar as long as you add milk to your tea.

    BTW, little bit of tea trivia, did you know that in the whole world, tea only goes by two names depending on how the tea got to the region? Chai if by land, tea if by sea. Kind of cool, huh?

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  9. Oh except for the Polish. They call it Herbata. Weird.

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  10. ehh.. I think it is a leukocyte rather than the specific lymphocyte...

    and before anyone gets the urge to slap me, I run away while screaming "I've had to learn the differences very hard in my last year ok so I'm geeky about it"

    sorry. ;)

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  11. I was just thinking about tea. Honestly, about two seconds before I saw your post I told the undergrad dishwasher that, "I think I make the worst cup of tea in the entire world." I'm a pretty hard core coffee drinker, but I can't have a cup in the afternoon/evening and still sleep at night. So, when I find myself tiring out in the middle of the day I make tea. With a cup of water, in the microwave, then the tea bag, and I drink it black. ::runs away::

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  12. CAE-

    I love tea... proper tea... every day...made with a kettle. Uncultured American, though I may be.

    When I was in london I bought a whole bunch and brought it back with me. My husband (DrMrA is strictly a coffee drinker) thought I was completely insane!

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  13. Amanda, no!!!! At least put the tea bag IN the cup and pour the microwaved water OVER the tea bag. But the bag must be in FIRST. Then you pour the water OVER it.

    Sheesh. Apparently I care more about tea than I care about ummm ... almost anything else in the world?

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  14. Arduous, do you care about tea more than used clothes? :)

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  15. P.S. I'm currently on my fourth cup. I was very tired this morning so I had three cups regular and then I switched to herbal for the fourth cup. Then I will continue drinking herbal until about five when I will have one more regular.

    I drink tea nearly constantly at work because my workplace is very, very cold.

    P.P.S CAE, sorry that I have totally spammed your tea post's comments. It's just I live in a land of coffee drinkers! No one understands me here and I'm not used to being able to talk about tea as much as I want! Sob!

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  16. Best. Comments. EVAH!

    Arduous, if they called it British Blend in Canada, my first morning might not have been so confusing! I didn't know about the reason for the two names - that's so cool! I wonder if any other substance has different names depending on the delivery method?

    Chall, you are no doubt right! I don't know what the different immune cells look like, just what antigens they express!

    Amanda, you must stop this despicable practice IMMEDIATELY. Either do what Arduous says, or buy a kettle. Do you need me to send you the Douglas Adams piece? I think you do...

    DrDrA, that's not insane, in fact it's completely normal. Please try to spread the word in the US about proper tea drinking habits so that I might be able to get a proper cup next time I'm there. The only good cups I've had in the US were in my (English-born) Auntie's house.

    Arduous again: there has to be a career for us in here somewhere. We could be Tea Cops or similar. Making the world a better place, one kettle at a time.

    You should check out this blog - not only is she another big tea fan but she posts great photos of the area near where I grew up!

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  17. Oh, and also, if you're making tea in a pot, put the milk in the cup first and then add the tea. Right, Arduous?!

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  18. I think you are maybe right, though I don't do this. *Hangs head in shame.*

    I put the milk in after because I'm so used to making teabag tea one cup at a time that I only know exactly how much milk to put on by the color that comes from pouring the milk over the tea. If I put the milk in first, I wouldn't know for sure how much milk to put in.

    The other thing my mom does that I never do? She heats the milk for the tea! It is much better that way, but I have do admit I take a shortcut and don't heat it myself.

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  19. Oh, I put the milk into the tea if I'm making it in a cup. Otherwise I'd need 2 cups to do it right!

    I don't like hot milk - it changes the taste completely. According to Douglas Adams, that's the reason for putting the milk in the cup first - the larger volume of milk cools down the first few drops of tea enough that they don't scorch the milk. If you put milk into hot tea, the first few drops of milk get scorched.

    I'm not convinced it makes all that much difference, but like you said, tea drinking is all about the ritual!

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  20. Oh, EGF, I just realized why EGM has to make each cup separately. It's because he's the only one drinking it, and tea made from the pot really needs to be drunk right then and there. Otherwise it becomes overbrewed, or even if you have one of those fancy infuser- thingies and can remove the leaves, it becomes cold. And then you have to reheat the tea in the microwave which is a major no-no.

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  21. Well, you're not wrong or anything... it's just that a lymphocyte is a leukocyte, but not all leukocytes are lymphocytes :)

    Regarding the tes thing. I miss my 'loose tea' that is very common back in sweden. Here in the states I haven't found it (I live in the south ok...) and therefore imported some leaves from the mother country. I dare not think of the carbon trail.... ^^

    But I have to say, the Ice tea bland that Lipton makes here actually is softer to make Icetea with than 'proper' English Breakfast or Earl Grey (my choice in the morning and hot!).

    ahh, time to get home and brew some good stuff :D

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  22. Chall, I buy my loose leaf tea primarily from the Indian store. However I'm going to assume you don't have one near you, so I asked my co-worker who is more fanatical about tea than I where he buys his tea. (My co-worker refuses to drink tea bag tea.)

    He buys it from Harney & Sons. The web address is www.harney.com

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  23. Yes, I knew that no milk would not be popular in this conversation, I'm sorry. It's just the habit I took...

    But I do love the milky spicy tea made in India. That's some cool drink.

    And don't forget that north African tea does not take any milk!! So there are other ways! ;)

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  24. Oh yes, not all tea needs milk. But Tetleys definitely does!

    Chall, IIRC there are parts of the US Midwest with a large Swedish population - time for a road trip to stock up?!

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  25. Oh, I couldn't miss out on the tea conversation! CAE, you'd be proud to see my tea collection - I just counted over 20 kinds. And I have a kettle both at home and at work (no tea nuking here!) I will even admit to Arduous's pet peeve with the "chai tea," but my biggest pet peeve is that where I live now, if one asks for tea, one will get iced tea. Now why would I want cold tea in a refrigerated (err, air-conditioned) room?!?

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  26. 20?! Sweet!

    I'm not a big fan of iced tea and I'm amazed that would be the default option! The commercial kinds are way too sweet. In summer I do sometimes make a pot of mint tea in the morning (in a different pot to the normal one, there can be no cross-contamination) and leave it in the fridge all day. Icy minty tea is a great refreshment when I get home all hot and sweaty after biking up the hill!

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  27. OK, as native Canadian I so don't understand that claim that Canadians don't use / have kettles. I grew up with kettles and have owned one since living on my own. Few comments:

    1) Chai is a the punjabi / hindi word for tea, don't believe it refers to the fact that tea came from land.

    2) Why do the English think they are the tea drinking experts when tea originally came from china?

    3) The habit of calling chai chai tea vs just chai I think comes from us 1st generation indians. We enjoy both english style tea and our traditional indian chai. Indian culture and food has only really taken off (in Canada) in the last 10 years, so prior to that we would clarify if guests wanted tea (being english tea) or chai (indian style). At least that is how it was in my family.

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  28. In my defense, I have only a coffee pot in my lab and one mug. So, I have two choices (1) cross contamination between the coffee and tea or (2) hot water in microwave. However, I'm now thinking about getting an electric kettle. Then, I can have french-pressed coffee. Yum!

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  29. Hi ScientistMother, and welcome!

    My statement that "some Canadians don't have kettles" is definitely true in my experience. The first two shared houses I lived in when I came here were kettle-less, as was Mr E Man's apartment when I first moved in. (He was doing better than his high school friend though - my friend from work moved in with him (this connection is how Mr E Man and I met) thinking that he'd have all the utensils and tools you'd expect from someone who's lived in one city their whole life. He actually had: one fork, and a beer glass. She'd been here 2 years and had pots, pans, cutlery, dishes and a tool set. But I digress). I have various friends without kettles too. All of the above are at least 2nd generation Canadians of various European backgrounds.

    I would never say that the British are the tea drinking experts, but I would say that we are experts! In our own style of course, just like the Chinese, Indians, Japanese, Russians etc. have their own styles too. And do I get to tell Arduous that her people stole tea from the Chinese before my people stole it from hers?!

    Sorry to disagree with you on your first comment, but as you can see from my almost record number of comments on this post, tea arouses strong emotions!!

    Amanda, cross-contamination is almost as bad as microwaved tea. I can see the dilemma. I highly recommend the kettle / proper tea / French press route!

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  30. Cae> Guess I could have done a trip... ut the mail service from th mother land worked ok last ;) that is, the guests bring a box or two with them ... anyway, it works kind of ok with that so far.

    Regarding ice tea. I buy the special "Ice tea bags" here which is just milder regular english breakfast and brew my own during the summer times. Make a large pot in the morning with hot water and tea bags and a pinch of sugar sometimes and lemon. Then ice and put it in the fridge :) Chep and not sweet....

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  31. Yep our people did steal tea from the chinese I will admit that. Now that I think about it, my in-laws never owned a kettle either...that may because us indians just make tea in a pot. Does that mean brits can't multi-task utensils? :))

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  32. Chall, I also get visitors to bring me various bits and pieces when they come over. Before I discovered a Canadian source of Branston pickle, my sister got stopped at customs with a HUGE jar of it. "It's a gift!" she squeaked, which made them look at her all the more strangely.

    ScientistMother, you may well be right about that given the number of single-use gadgets at my place! I do make tea in a pot while camping though. I once went camping at a weekend music festival in Scotland, and no-one brought tea bags. Most of us just bought tea, but one guy refused to pay 2 pounds (~5 bucks) a cup and managed to persuade someone to bring him some tea bags. Then he boiled the water in the same pan he'd used for cooking the bacon, with inevitable results for the taste of his coveted cuppa. He'd been so eager for his tea that he drank it anyway, with a puckered face and much teasing from the rest of us.

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  33. @ Scientist Mother, actually when I said that chai was called "chai" when it traveled by land, I was refering to the linguistic etymologies of the words for tea. There are really only two words (with a couple minor exceptions) for tea in the world: chai and tea. And which word a region uses depends on how it came to the country. China also calls their tea "chai." That's where we Indians got it from.

    I personally hate the "chai tea" thing because you see it in coffee shops all over America, and the drink they serve is really neither proper Indian chai, nor an English tea. Instead it's some bastard undrinkable hybrid of the two. It's too cold and has way to much milk. Most of the Indians I know will just ask if you want chai. They won't ask if you want a chai tea. And they will DEFINITELY never ask if you want a chai tea latte!

    Yes, I admit that we stole tea from the Chinese. I was totally joking when I yelled at CAE for stealing tea from us. ;) Though we do want that Kohinoor diamond back, CAE. ;)

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  34. Dear tea experts,
    I am looking for a wonderful tea that I discovered at Whole Foods. It's Taylors of Harrogate's Moroccan Mint Leaf Tea. I haven't been able to find it at Whole Foods lately and wonder if anyone in North or West Vancouver knows where I could purchase same. (Yep, boiling water from a kettle makes the best tea.)

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  35. Sorry, no idea... maybe Taylors would be able to provide you with a list of local retailers? There has to be somewhere in West Van that sells fancy tea!

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