Friday, November 14, 2008

Not my cup of tea.

Tea is a big thing here in England. i've known since i was a little girl that tea is very English and queenly, pinkies held high, full of mannerlyness and whatnot. And aren't tea parties pretty much the symbol of childhood imagination?

Tea is no imaginary happening here in the damp U.K. And tea has rules. To do tea properly there should be a teaPOT, not just a cup. Aforementioned teapot should be heated before making the tea, milk should go in the cup at a certain point... It's not simply a drink, it's an event. And there must be biscuits. And how much do i love a place where a "biscuit" is a cookie!

The weather is overwhelmingly conducive to the idea of a warming beverage. The boiler man comes in from the average gale force wind and rain to fix your boiler, and you offer him a nice hot cup of tea with biscuits. The moving men carrying boxes in the rain are offered tea. It is a polite and thoughtful country that way.

During this visit to England the house's boiler went out. Now, a boiler going out in winter England is like the time we rented a convertible in mid-summer Las Vegas--a bad idea. In England, the boiler is the source of not only hot water for bathing and dishwashing, but heat for the radiators. So, no boiler, no heat. No heat in this passage of autumn to winter in England? A bad idea gone tragic.

So the boiler guy comes in from one of the more thoroughly nasty days i've seen--freezing cold rain coming sideways, trees blowing, wind howling. He's covered in mud from waist to toes from his previous job.

"It's been quite a day!" he greets me cheerfully, wiping his feet. i am wearing two shirts, two sweaters, jeans, a scarf, two pairs of socks and am clutching a blanket around me.

Daughter Shawn says to her English hubby that she's going to offer the boiler man a cup of tea. Jon says, "Let me make the tea." Apparently there is some discussion in this household over what constitutes the proper cup of tea. Shawn has had a bad experience with tea-making for her fully British husband. He explains.

"When I have tea, I want it strong. And you should never use full fat milk, that's too creamy. You should taste the tea." i flashed back to a memory of my first cup of tea at his parents' house when we came to meet them years ago. His grandmother offered us tea and after pouring asked if we cared for milk in it.

"Oh no," i casually waved the idea away, "i usually drink it black," i smiled at her. One sip and i understood the offer. A serious cup of English tea peals the taste buds right off your tongue.

For Shawn and i, a cup of tea is sweet comfort. Creamy with milk, sweetened with honey, warm and soothing. i guess that for any proper Englishman or woman, if you come away with taste buds and without extra hair on your chest, you haven't had a proper cup of tea.


Anonymous said...

I remember Jon's grandma's tea too. I didn't have it with milk either; a mistake I did not make again. And this is coming from a girl who likes her coffee STRONG.

limbolady said...

I remember my very English grandmother complaining ab/ the church ladies at her VERY conservative church making the tea too strong because the ladies wanted to prove how English they were! I always laughed at that one. So I'm assuming the boiler got fixed?

julia said...

i wonder what they thought when we had milk every other time? (i think i added sugar too.) Mel, yes, we got the boiler fixed, hallelujah. Too funny about the church ladies. i just met an English friend of Shawn's who likes her tea "weak, please!" So it does happen in those rare cases.