When I moved to California from Great Britain nearly two decades ago, the request for hot tea prompted more than a few raised eyebrows and puzzled looks. Of course, I had never encountered iced tea before. But lately I have noticed the ready availability, not only of hot tea selections, but also of tea-making accoutrements (electric kettles, tea pots, novelty tea strainers, etc.), all happy signs of an evolving tea-friendly society.
No longer do we need to take our own stash of tea on visits to our friends’ houses (a one-time staple of our car’s glove compartment box). According to a 2011 statistic from the Tea Association of the USA, “on any given day, over 160 million Americans are drinking tea.” We could not be happier that this home comfort is at home here, too; the famed British cuppa (aka. cup of tea) is worthy of its longevity.
Growing up in 1970s Wales, the tradition of tea fit into my somewhat culturally eclectic Afro-Caribbean Adventist family life. In fact, there was tea and tea: the beverage on the one hand and the social interaction over a drink and light refreshment on the other. In my home, the label “tea” was broadly applied to include any hot beverage (except soup), for enjoying in company or alone. A bite-size savory or sweet accompaniment that was quick and easy to pull together complemented it. Sometimes, it came out of the packet, like biscuits (cookies) or better still, was homemade, like Welsh cakes. These stone-cooked teacakes have a history steeped in Welsh tradition.
Fond recollections of Friday-night worship capture tea as the central attraction. We often had a variety of people gathered together, including church members, overseas college students, neighbors and sometimes school friends. After closing prayer, my mother would head for the kitchen to prepare the tea tray, while everyone fell into relaxed conversation and fellowship.
When the tea tray made its appearance, complete with a filled-to-the-brim teapot, a wonky tower of stacked teacups, and a plate of freshly griddled Welsh cakes, we had the fixings to fuel the fellowship late into the evening. We ate, we talked, we sang and we drank tea.
In my emotional memory at least, tea embraces everyone, which makes it not only a great idea, but also an apt metaphor for inclusiveness.
Fruit and herbal teas, of course, long featured in our pantries and with key ingredients that are somewhat ubiquitous in our daily fare, likely need no introduction. The taste of apple, for instance, gets around in so many different ways—a pie, a tangy chutney or refreshing pressed cider. The mint plants that grew through rain and shine at the bottom of my childhood garden never failed to find their way into a hot and soothing mint tea when called for. Here in the States, I have been delightfully surprised by berries I never knew existed until I saw them on a box of fruit tea. The blending of herbal teas (chamomile and vanilla) offers exciting possibilities to explore.
Popular blends of black tea also have their decaffeinated counterparts. Since practically all the caffeine is safely rinsed out of the leaves (97 percent caffeine-free is the international standard for decaffeinated tea or coffee), try several different brands before settling on the one that has the distinctive flavor you enjoy. Black tea has an acquired taste, but once you find the right brand, you can fine-tune it to your taste buds like anything else. Since the customizing of tea takes place right in the individual cup and not in the communal pot, everyone can—with a little practice—create their perfect cup of tea.
Norma Borrett is a high school English teacher in an independent charter school. She lives in Newcastle, Calif., with her husband and two children.
Photo credit: Norma Borrett
This week’s recipes feature tea and Welsh Cakes (both pictured). The latter comes from a traditional recipe, and is one of the first things that Welsh children learn to cook. Norma writes, “Welsh cakes can be split and spread with butter and jam. They can stored on the countertop for a week in an airtight container, and the dough can be refrigerated or frozen until ready for use.”
1. To warm, fill a 1-quart teapot with hot water, then let it stand for five minutes. Add three tea bags per pot, or four, if using decaffeinated tea bags. 2. Make it as strong or as weak as you’d like; add a slice of lemon; a splash of milk (or your preferred dairy-free alternative, such as almond milk); drink it black; sip it plain; or add sugar or another natural sweetener, such as honey.
Makes: 10 Total time: 40 minutes Active prep time: 25 minutes
2 cups flour (all-purpose or whole wheat, or half of each) 1 cup sugar 2 sticks (1 cup) butter or non-hydrogenated butter substitute, such as I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter or Earth Balance Buttery Sticks ½ teaspoon nutmeg A pinch salt ½ cup raisins or dried sultanas (a pale green seedless grape variety) 1 egg, beaten 2 tablespoons milk (a little more milk might be needed to soften) A smear of cooking oil for the griddle, and more to replenish as needed
1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, salt and nutmeg
2. Cut the butter into small cubes and rub it into the flour using your fingers or a spoon.
3. With a fork, mix the crumbly concoction, then gradually stir in the beaten egg and the milk to form a stiff dough. Be sure not to make the dough too sticky to handle or to roll.
4. Roll out dough on a floured surface to just over 1/3-inch (1 cm) thickness, then cut with a pastry cutter into rounds roughly four inches in diameter (the rim of an 8-ounce glass works well for this).
5. Place rounds on a hot, oiled griddle and cook for eight minutes on each side, until the rounds are various shades of mottled browns and tans and creams. Vary time as needed to make sure the inside is cooked through.
6. Remove from skillet and place on a cooling rack. Sprinkle with sugar (both sides) and let cool.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5302