I make a nice cup of tea.
I know exactly how to do it, too; I've been given precise, if not superfluous, instructions any number of times. I've also been told with wearying frequency that Americans don't know how to make tea properly, and desperate to show people that this isn't always the case, I have become an expert. For what it's worth, here is how it's done. (This is for Americans, of course, who don't know how to do it. If you are British, go ahead and skip this whole spiel unless you're game for a little tongue-in-the-cheek British bashing and a serious rant. My apologies to all of you who have lived, or live, in America. You'll know what I mean.)
1) Pour a little hot water into your teapot and swill it around. Leave it to sit and warm the pot thoroughly, then dry the pot and pop in some loose tea. One teaspoon for every tea-drinker, folks, and don't forget the extra spoonful for the teapot! (Tea bags? What are those? Promise me you weren't even thinking about using them!)
2) Boil a kettle of water. And don't dare turn off that kettle until it has reached a rolling boil.
3) Pour the rapidly boiling water over the tea leaves as fast as ever you can. Go on -- risk burning your wrist; it's that important.
4) Immediately put a tea cosy on that teapot! Don't let it sit uncovered for a single second!
5) Steep for at least five minutes. Pour tea into a mug that already has milk in it. That last part is important; it drives people in my husband's family wild if there isn't milk in that teacup first! (Putting milk in the cup first, I am told, is to protect one's fine bone china from cracking. Our fine bone china happens to be crappy old mugs from Tesco, but never mind; it's the idea.)
6) Smile graciously at the kindly British family member or friend who has been watching your every move with an eagle eye and offering helpful tips, such as "Wait until it's at a rolling boil, now!" just as the water is furiously boiling and you have timidly raised a hand, or "Remember the extra spoonful for the teapot," drowning out your murmured "And now a spoonful for the teapot."
I'll never forget the first time I offered to make the tea at my father-in-law's house. Other relatives were present, and no sooner had I innocently suggested taking over this ritual than there was an obvious hush in the conversation. Covert glances were quickly traded, and if there had been thought bubbles over everyone's heads, all of them would have read Uh oh.
I won't bore you with the details of how often I've had someone follow me into the kitchen issuing precise instructions. It is hard to be gracious and receptive about this; I always reassure people that I will not bring them a cup with a teabag in it and -- horror of horrors! -- an indifferently heated cup of water for them to steep it in. Because no matter how many times I tell them I know how to do it, I still get the exact same reaction as I did that very first time I offered to make the tea. Someone will look meaningfully at someone else and murmur, "Go with Mary, dear. Make sure she knows where everything is." Because they don't trust me with the tea. Without their supervision, God only knows what I might get up to in the kitchen.
Being the family's sole American can be a tiresome business. My husband's nephew is bound to tell me about the obnoxious, loudmouthed Yank who kept everybody at the airport waiting or an inebriated guest is sure to diss the American education system as being vastly inferior to the British. American racism, American obesity, and the unfortunate American fondness for SUVs and the effect this has on world oil prices are also favorite themes and ones that get trotted out at every other dinner party.
And when all else fails, someone will invariably remember that time they visited Houston or Atlanta or Orlando or San Francisco and -- would you credit it? -- they were given a cup of hot, not boiling, water and a tea bag -- and expected to drink it! And boy oh boy oh boy oh boy am I tired of hearing it.
Because I make a nice cup of tea, damn it, and don't you forget it.
Friday, 18 April 2008
I make a nice cup of tea.