Each and every morning, I delicately ladle hot water from the singing kettle over some tea leaves. In everyday life I am clumsy, but I like to think that this is one action I undertake with grace. The movement is part of the joy of it: nothing is rushed.
Making my morning brew is meditative and deeply relaxing: it’s a rare slow, considered process that brings a moment of calm in this fast-paced, constantly-connected world. As a ritual it is deeply sacred, something that feels as close as an atheist like me will ever come to prayer. Earl Grey is my companion, sometimes my saviour: my romance with it is well-worn but everlasting – unlike with coffee, the bad boy of the hot beverage world, who leaves my heart fluttering before the cold sweats and anxiety kick in. Whatever my worries or my wars, a simple cup of tea always offers comfort and calm. It gives me the best chance I’ve got at setting myself up right for the day ahead.
I’ve recently gotten into Japanese tea, and it’s something I can recommend wholeheartedly. I read about The Book of Tea, which was first explained to western audiences when Kakuzo Okakura penned it in English in 1906. The tea ceremony is about so much more than just the cuppa you end up with. The process of making it is deliberate, slow, mindful: it encourages you to detach completely from the here and now. Quiet reigns with nothing to break the silence except the soft beckoning of the kettle. The concept of roji’ is explored, too: the art of creating a sacred, separate space for tea drinking. I reckon we can all embrace such an idea, even if it’s in a simple, small way, such as leaving your work space for a break and curling up in a favourite armchair with a well-loved mug.
The Swedish have a similar idea: the concept of ‘fika’ is a traditional break from work usually involving a drink of tea or coffee. In Swedish offices, you’re strongly encouraged to take a pika, no matter how busy you are. You shouldn’t discuss business, but instead socialise pleasantly with whoever is around. It’s democracy and community in miniature.
But it’s in Britain that tea is really part and parcel of who we are. Brits love tea. And it’s a wholly benign love, because nothing bad ever happened as a consequence of tea. Ever. There are no side effects from tea, save a soothed constitution and digestion. It’s the best weakness a country could have. How adorable of us. How sensible. Aussies and Americans love a cup of coffee: the go-go-go adrenaline rush suits the frantic pace of New York or Sydney. But in Britain, tea will always have the nation’s hearts. And I don’t feel patriotic particularly often, but I think that’s something to be deeply proud of.
So, in honour of our country’s brew-mance, with some help from The Rare Tea Co., here is the perfect way to make a brew – so you can unwind this afternoon in the very best way possible:
A good rule of thumb is to use one heaped teaspoon of tea and one teacup (150ml) per person.
Got good tea? Infuse it several times. Each time different subtleties of flavour will be released – though make sure that tea leaves aren’t left to stew once they have been infused, as straining the tea completely between infusions will stop the leaves from becoming bitter. In China it’s thought that the second or third infusion of tea is its finest (though don’t try this with Tetley tea bags!).
For good leaf tea, water should be below boiling as the amino acids (which produce the tea’s flavour) dissolve at lower temperatures. Tea made with water at 100°C will be more astringent and less sweet. Ideally stop the kettle before it reaches the rolling boil – when the small bubbles form along the sides of the kettle – or splash out (pun intended) and get a temperature controlled kettle. However, once again, this is only for the good stuff – if you try to have lower temperature water with industrial tea bags you’ll end up with something that looks disturbingly like dishwater.
Want to splash out on your next brew? Get 15% off any product except subscriptions at The Rare Tea Co with the code THEKNOW15.