I’m sitting here bequeathed in the fluffiest blanket I own directly under our overworked heater. Our “springy” winter has turned faces on us wickedly and the wet chill goes straight to the bone. Nothing helps to bring warmth except for heating the water as hot as it can get and taking a long shower or heating the tea water multiple times a day, which is my habit. I have turned into some sort of a tea fanatic or crazy tea lady over the years. I love it more than coffee and drink it every single day.
I’m going to share what I do for the perfect cup of tea because I believe it is an art like bread-making and painting and can be developed as a calming routine that brings comfort to yourself and anyone that gathers around your teapot.
The history of tea is fascinating. It was first considered a medicinal beverage, and then slowly became a common drink and a lucrative trade. Legend has it a Chinese emperor named Shennung was boiling water beside a tea tree when he realized that leaves steeped in water infuse into a wonderful drink. The withering, drying, rolling, and fermentation process became common. China had the best tea so one man even smuggled Chinese teas out of the county to spread the joy. The Dutch brought it all the way from China to Europe and due to the long journey it was extravagantly expensive, 6-10x the price of coffee. In September 1958 England’s first cup of tea was sold, described as “The China Drink.”
Tea really started with the Chinese, although we always think of the Brits perhaps because of the infamous Boston Tea party, where 342 totes of it were thrown into the Boston harbor as a revolt against tea tax, or maybe because of the Duchess Anna Russel of Bedford who found herself getting hungry in the late afternoon. She decided to have tea, sandwiches, and cakes and invited her friends. Afternoon tea became high fashion, a common practice for the upper class. When tea spread to India and steam ships were invented the price dropped, allowing for both the palaces and the slums to be ardent lovers of afternoon tea. When the Tea Act was done there were 17,000,000 lbs of tea stored in England. No wonder they wanted to sell it to the Americans!
Tea has become one of the finest routines of comfort around the world. The Japanese drink it in ceremonies, the Indians mull it with spices, and the Tibetans drink it with salt and butter. The Middle East drinks it nonstop all day piping hot in tiny cups, while the Southern Americans order giant icy glasses of it with a side of sugar.
It has been such a delight for me to develop my own art of tea making, as I regularly share cups with friends from Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and America. Depending on the culture, I serve it piping hot in tiny glasses with a bowl of sugar as soon as they arrive, or in larger pottery mugs with a dollop of honey after we’ve chit-chatted a while. For my Afghan friends I buy looseleaf black tea and add whole cardamom and clove. This is served immediately when they arrive, and then after the main meal is served at least twice.
Arther Wing Panero said once, “Where there is tea, there is hope.” My husband says that’s not a theologically correct statement and I believe him, but you get the gist. So many times these past years I did not have the words, answers, or solutions for my friend’s grief and frustrations. There are no words to say when one is weeping in desperation because of exploitation, or wracked with sobs because of hearing tragic news again. There is so much hope in presence however, and the soothing sounds of tea water boiling, the fragrant smells of lavender and mint, clove and honey, and finally the gesture of handing a hot cup to your friend and sitting in close to sip in quiet solidarity. Tea has more healing properties than we think and it enhances not only physical health but emotional as well when served with a whole heart of affection.
So with no further adieu let me give you some tips to incorporate my favorite tea time routines.
1. Buy pretty looseleaf
I have four glass containers to store my tea and love how they look. Looseleaf is healthier and much more economical. We love spiced black teas, black tea with lavender, any mint and camomile combinations, and green tea with berries. In the summer we infuse Hibiscus and in the morning Eric adds ginger, mint, and lime with a little stevia. It’s sublime.
2. Invest in some large wooden tea trays and a large glass tea pot
The trays are so helpful when serving a crowd so you can carry tea, sugar, and milk for 10-12 guests on one tray. The glass teapot is very impractical and breaks very easily when children handle it, but in my opinion is half the joy of tea making as you can watch your tea steep.
3. Have a set of mugs you love
Recently when I was at an Airbnb with friends, we quickly checked the mugs and found only funky loud styles hiding in the cupboard. An emergency telegram was immediately sent to the last friends coming, “Bring mugs if you want to drink your tea in peace.” Honestly, it makes my delight reflex so much stronger when I have a lovely mug to sip from.
4. Serve your tea with some simple sides
I love to add fresh sliced oranges to my teapot. It infuses a sweet citrus note into the looseleaf. You can also slice up some lemons in a little glass dish. Invest in high quality honey to sweeten your herbal teas. I love to have something freshly baked to serve at tea time like a plate of scones, gingerbread with whipped cream, or a simple butter pound cake.
5. Have Afternoon (and evening) Tea
Last year I started being very intentional about afternoon tea. When guests are here, I love to pause around 3:00, grab something sweet or a little chocolate in my drawer, and just cease the scurry. Eric and I also started having tea every single night a few years ago. I bought a small bamboo tea tray for our bedroom, a small glass pot, and some wooden stir-spoons. I love to unwind with my hands wrapped around a mug and chatter nonstop to my poor tired husband at the end of the day.
Also, I don’t consider myself to be a very crunchy mama, but I do brew my own kamboocha and I have a very healthy gut. I fed it to my husband consistently and relentlessly until he succumbed to loving it. I love a nice cold glass of it at dinner time. Come grab a Mother from me! Mine has been having a lot of offspring recently.
I have two new delightful ways to enjoy tea so I’ll wrap up by sharing these.
Last year Mama Zina was gifted some Blooming Tea, a small dry ball of dried tea leaves that literally blooms into a lovely flower right in your teapot (another reason to have a glass pot)! We loved them, but didn’t know of a place that sells them. I was ecstatic when I stumbled on some in a small local tea shop yesterday with my friend Brittany. I came home and immediately had afternoon tea with a neighbor girl. You should have heard us fuss when that flower bloomed right into our tea, and we sipped the subtle jasmine flavor.
Sometime recently someone told me about Yuzu Blood Orange Lemon Tea. I was intrigued because we have BEAUTIFUL and delicious citrus here all winter. Oranges are 25 cents/lb. My friend Becca even has blood oranges in her back yard, which make a very pretty salmon pink drink and are absolutely delicious. So the other afternoon I bought some very pure and local honey and then sliced 5 oranges and 2 lemons as thin as possible and packed them into a quart jar. I warmed the honey on the stove until it was very runny, and then poured that over the top. Let it sit covered at room temperature for 24-36 hours, and then refrigerate it for one week. The honey preserves the citrus and it can be kept in your fridge for months. When you want a hot cup of citrus and honey tea just add a tablespoon or two to hot water. I can’t wait to try mine.
Maybe you’re feeling a little blustery and wintery and drab today. Maybe you’re even thinking nothing you do makes a real difference. Join me in the kitchen this afternoon choosing to delight in tea-making and serving. Maybe even join Duchess Anna at 3:00 by nibbling some sandwiches like a real royal. Incorporate tea-time discipleship in your home by delighting in the flavors God has given us, serving it beautifully, and inviting candid open conversations any time of day. Maybe you’ll find yourself as full of tea-time joy as Anne of Green Gables.
“I can just imagine myself sitting down at the head of the table and pouring out the tea,” said Anne, shutting her eyes ecstatically. “And asking Diana if she takes sugar! I know she doesn’t but of course I’ll ask her just as if I didn’t know.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash