“I like the pause that tea allows” Waris Ahluwalia
At school I had to attend church four times a week; junior chapel on a Monday and Friday, a short service in the Abbey on a Wednesday, and a full scale Abbey service on a Sunday morning.
I remember the rambling sermons from an over enthusiastic Reverend, mainly about God forgiving our sins. The Reverend was also the owner of extremely large hands which became the focus of my attention. I would watch these giant slabs of meat elegantly float through the air like sumo wrestlers dancing a ballet in space.
Sadly for the Rev. the only effect of these forays into God’s house was a nudge towards atheism. This really is a tale for another day, but it is relevant because, despite my scepticism about the divine force, I have, ever since school, practised Lenten abstinence.
Except for my dear, dear friend Mr.Alcohol, I have over the years given up every available vice that a shady selfish chap like myself delights in.
This year I am taking a sabbatical from coffee, lager, and bread; I enjoy the abstinence greatly and I am sure that there must some health benefits.
What I have discovered this year is not so much the Ascetic in me, revelling in flogging away at my cravings. One unexpected benefit of this particular abstinence is that I have rediscovered the joy of tea. There is a delightful ritual of taking a cup of tea, which distinguishes it from making an amped-up mug of milky coffee. When I talk about tea, I am not referring to that orange red muck from a triangular bag of PG tips, or builder’s tea as my grandmother called it, with four spoons of sugar and a gallon of milk.
Indeed the ceremonial aspect of the tea begins well before the choice of leaf. The pompous figure that I am prefers to put on all the lights and dance as opposed to “putting on a brew”.
A cup and saucer is imperative to drink tea. A mug just will not suffice – I have dainty cup with a pink rose and gold rim. I apply the technique of holding the saucer up as I drink in preference to that of leaving the saucer on the table. The rattling noise of rattling China, like a vicarage hosting an old ladies funeral, is like a Chopin prelude to me.
Though I’m more than happy to take milk from the carton (a milk jug is just fabulous but often unnecessary) a proud tea pot Is mandatory. The other essential piece of equipment – often sniffed at but is very important – is the cosy. It is particularly important if one is taking tea alone – it does exactly what it says on the tin, keeps the liquid hot!
So, once all the paraphernalia is arranged and the waistcoats are on, it is time for the most important performer in the ritual – the bloody tea!
I am fan of all the exceptional herbal teas available but I usually don’t veer too far from the icon that is the bergamot infused Earl Grey. Loose leaf tea is of a far higher quality and it produces a much more delicate cup; my preferred combination is one heaped tablespoon of The Earl with a pinch of Lapsang Souchong – the latter adds a slightly smoked edge.
Like a decent Guinness, good things come to those who wait, and the tea must be left to infuse for three minutes. Once the golden minutes are up, it is time to pour. This must be done through a strainer; I have a personal revulsion to tea balls! Once the golden liquid is nestling in the cup it is time for my favourite moment – the drop of milk. There is a beautiful reaction when the cold milk diffuses into the waiting hot tea. Whilst many revel in reading the leaves after the drink, this is the reaction that fascinates me; it reminds somewhat of a rolling thunderstorm deep out at sea.
If an Englishman’s house is his castle, a splendid cup of tea is surely his Prince. I really must thank God for reigniting my passion for the wonderful drink!