By Sarah Pridgeon
It’s amazing that I’ve managed to make it this far into writing about being an Englishwoman in Wyoming without discussing the makings of A Nice Cup of Tea. It is, after all, the very lifeblood of the Brit and something not a lot of Wyomingites have had opportunity to appreciate.
Because I feel you are missing out on one of life’s greatest joys, and in homage to the reader of this column who this week surprised me with a gratefully received gift of teabags, I have decided to share the secrets of tea making. It’s a knowledge that seems to be passed among my countrymen through cultural memory, but over here you’ve let your tea go cold and you keep putting bits of lemon in it.
To an Englishwoman, iced tea is the embodiment of the severe disappointment of making yourself a cuppa and then forgetting about it, retrieving it later only to find it’s tepid and undrinkable. To commit such a crime on purpose is, to me, a terrible thing to do to a teabag.
Tea ought to be piping hot and fragrant, full of the comforts of home. Unlike coffee, it can be drunk at any time of the day, and usually is. I suspect that most inhabitants of the British Isles would happily hook themselves up to a tea drip, should such a thing ever be invented.
Talking of tea innovation, we’ve come a long way in England since the days of the boring standard teabag. These days, you can buy round ones, square ones, loose leaves or the most gasp-invoking invention of all: the pyramid bag.
My first recommendation is therefore to purchase PG Tips, a U.K. brand I have thus far only found in Safeway. Their pyramid shape is intended to give the leaves more room to move during the brewing process, apparently leading to a tastier cup of tea.
I found myself in a tea-based conversation with a tourist over the summer who, upon hearing my accent, saw an opportunity to check he’d been brewing his tea correctly. He had not.
My second recommendation restates what I told my tourist friend: to brew a cup of tea, boil fresh water in a kettle. Because tea leaves love oxygen, water that has been boiled previously or allowed to stand will lead to a flat cup of tea, which is of no use to anyone.
Pour your boiled water over your teabag in a mug (or a cup with a saucer if you’re feeling posh) and stare at it for up to three minutes while it infuses. The longer you leave it, the stronger it will get, but avoid the temptation to stir because this will degrade the taste.
While strength is a preference issue and I’ve seen people’s likings vary from black as tar to, “Just show the teabag to the water, please,” weak, there is a fine line between Nice Cup of Tea and stewed beyond drinkable. My personal preference is just one minute, while five minutes is generally regarded to be the cut-off point after which your tea will transform into swamp water.
Finally, add a splash of milk and remove the teabag. I recommend two teaspoons of sugar or sweetener should you enjoy sweet beverages, while a couple of cookies are mandatory for dunking into your finished cup.
These are the basics of tea but, should you wish to develop your skill further, you could always experiment with alternative brands. If you really must add lemon, for example, you’ll do well with an Earl Grey or a Lady Grey, while Chai tea is an excellent choice for those who enjoy spices.
Once you’ve perfected your technique, you will be ready to host Afternoon Tea. Typically held between 3 and 5 p.m., this traditional meal of the wealthier classes should be accompanied by egg, cress or cucumber sandwiches using thin bread and butter with the crusts cut off, followed by scones with jam and clotted cream.
Tea is the beverage of comfort, entertaining, warmth on a winter’s morning and, because contrary to popular opinion it can actually cool you down, relief on a summer’s day. It is such a vital part of my culture that, upon a great deal of thought, I cannot name a single British movie or television show in which a crisis is not dealt with through administration of a cuppa.
My final recommendation is therefore to consume at least three Nice Cups of Tea daily, to keep bad health and bad feelings at bay. The tannins in it will lengthen your life, while the joy of its taste will brighten your day.
Of course, a lack of tea is, in itself, considered a crisis, as you will soon discover if you embrace it as part of your routine. I shall hand over to the incomparable Rudyard Kipling to illustrate:
“We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe.”