'Tea is a cup of life...'
Now well into my second pregnancy I have been meditating much of late on the act drinking tea [particularly in light of currently avoiding coffee] and the opportunity it provides for a special moment. In his book Present Moment Wonderful Moment, Thich Nhat Hanh [Thay] demonstrates how one can develop a series of gathas [or verses] to help oneself become more mindful of many of the things that we do in our day. The idea is to recite a relevant verse whist undertaking the action [however mundane], as a way to remind oneself to focus on the present moment, rather than being caught up in thoughts of other things at the expense of connecting with our selves and our world ...
Here is Thay's gatha on drinking tea...
'This cup of tea in my two hands -
mindfulness is held uprightly!
My mind and body dwell
in the very here and now.'
[thich nhat hanh]
With a keenly motivated seventeen month old it can be a challenge to find time each day to sit down and mindfully drink a cup of tea, and the temptation is to resort to making a cup on the run. What I have found though is that this reality actually requires the opposite approach. I do not now try to find time to have a cup of tea each day - I make time. And, rather than resorting to a cup on the run, I go to the extra effort of brewing a pot of tea, pouring it into a special cup, and sitting and drinking my tea with an awareness and appreciation of the tea, the pot, the cup and the place in which I have chosen to consume it...
As a result of my recent efforts I now have three tea drinking gatha's of my own...
appreciating the tea
Brewing a pot of tea
I hold the pot between my hands
I think of the many hands assisting this tea
On its journey to this pot
appreciating the tea cup I
Pouring tea into the cup
I think of the hands responsible for its crafting
Of the many teas this cup has held
Of the many hands that have held this cup
appreciating the tea cup II
Drinking tea from my worn enamel cup
I delight in the warmth of the campfire
And recall the many beautiful places
This cup and I have shared
|my much loved and well travelled enamel camping cup|
Cape Leverque - Jan 2009
|a vietnamese tea pot and cup in the foreground - a gift from a past student|
in the back - tea pot with pink anodised metal tea-cosy
i have had this pot since art school days - twenty years or more now...
'Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company.'
... and for those who are looking for guidance on how to best prepare a brew; below is author George Orwell's guide to making A Nice Cup of Tea. Orwell's passion for the perfect cup can come across as quite intense in present times; remembering of course he was writing this piece during a time of rationing. The rarity of tea at the time creating the desire to have each cup be the best experience it could. I am particularly partial to points 5,7,10 and 11!
A Nice Cup of Tea
from The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell,
Volume 3, 1943-45 Penguin
If you look up 'tea' in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.
This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.
When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:
1. First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase 'a nice cup of tea' invariably means Indian tea.
2. Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
3. Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
4. Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
5. Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
6. Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
7. Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
8. Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one's tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
9. Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
10. Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
11. Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.
Some people would answer that they don't like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.
These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one's ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.