ï»¿ï»¿There are few scenarios in life that are not enhanced by the simple presence of a steaming pot of tea. Simply, nothing comes close to its sheer, humble perfection. Imagine crashing, drenched, through the back door after a day's trudge over rain-streaked moors... think of moving into a new house, and that moment following the first box of belongings being dropped to its bare floor... think of sleepy Christmas afternoons, and the inexorable circling of the Quality Street tin... think of Monday mornings, and waiting bleary-eyed for the toast to pop up... ...whenever time momentarily stutters, we put the kettle on. There's nothing more appropriate, nothing more welcome.
I like my tea to be strong. Yorkshire Tea for preference. I fill the kettle with fresh, cold tap water, and watch it like a hawk, for I must catch it as it boils. The bag is already in the mug (which must have a pale interior - dark mugs give the tea a greyish tint and inhibit the accurate measuring of milk), and the teaspoon lain calmly beside it like a patiently waiting servant. And it has to be patient, for to make a properly strong brew the tea must be given exactly three minutes in which to exude its precious juice into the water. After three minutes, the bag is given a robust "bash", as my Granny calls it, upon the side of the mug, and thrown from a distance into the gaping mouth of the bin. If it misses, I worry not, for it can be dealt with later. I then pour semi-skimmed milk in slowly, whilst steadily stirring the tea with the teaspoon. As soon as it hits the optimum colour, which should be that of an old-fashioned toffee, I stop, take a breath, and take the tea to the next room where I sit and sip it quietly.
You will have noted that sugar never comes anywhere near my cup of tea. George Orwell has said that such is the destructive force of sugar on the taste of a proper cup of tea, one might as well eschew the tea entirely and drink only hot water, milk and sugar. And who am I to argue with George Orwell?
Tea, of course, is much more than a drink to accompany a nice sit down. It is the most worldly of drinks, appreciated across the globe more than any other, and in an incredible variety of ways. In Japan, for example, the ceremony of tea drinking acquires a religious significance. In China, where tea was first drunk over 3000 years ago, one might find scented flowers unfurling like mushroom clouds at the bottom of the pot. In Mongolia they add salt and mare's milk, whilst in Russia they sweeten black tea with jam. In America they drink it cold (?). And by no means is the tea bag ubiquitous, either. Tea may come in the form of a solid brick, which is crumbled into hot water, or as a green powder which is slicked into a garish emulsion with a little wooden whisk. And tragically I have more than once seen tea being prepared in cafétiere.
But what is tea to me? Well, I like to think of it as a friend; a constant companion, and one I know will never let me down. The same old clichés attached to dogs I attach to tea. Man's best friend? Well, tea will never bark, bite, or wee on the kitchen floor. Tea. I should never be without it.