Whole wars have been fought over tea. The Brits thought opium was a good thing to trade for Chinese tea. The incipient ‘muricans thought they’d teach the Brits a lesson (somewhat passive/aggressively IMO) by throwing tea into Boston harbor rather than paying the tax necessary to bring the tea off the ship onto the dock (I think that’s how it went). The first ship belonging to the new nation of the United States of Murica went to China carrying furs to trade for tea.
I always found tea to be an insipid, pale watery beverage especially compared to coffee. But in my current life, tea has an important place. Tea is social. My neighbors and I have tea parties — sometimes planned far in advance, sometimes occurring at the spur of the moment, just, “Come over for a cuppa’.” I love this. It’s absolutely sweet and important and a custom to be cherished and nurtured. Where once I didn’t even have any tea in my house — well, maybe a faded package of Celestial Seasonings Assorted Herbal Teas — I now have a pretty fancy selection. All tea bags, except for a fresh can of Chinese Jasmine Tea with its evocative and nostalgic fragrance. I’m never going to be an artist of tea, and I like people to choose what they like.
I can’t make tea without thinking of Arthur P. Dent (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxie, etc.). His determination to get a machine — the Nutri-Matic — to make a REAL cup of English tea, causes the system of the Heart of Gold, the most advanced spaceship in the universe, to crash.
He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea. The way it functioned was very interesting. When the Drink button was pressed it made an instant but highly detailed examination of the subject’s taste buds, a spectroscopic examination of the subject’s metabolism and then sent tiny experimental signals down the neural pathways to the taste centers of the subject’s brain to see what was likely to go down well. However, no one knew quite why it did this because it invariably delivered a cupful of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
As a kid, I remember my mom and friends organizing “coffees” and they were along the same lines, I think, but there was a lot more fussing involved than goes into our tea parties. There was a light, friendly competition over who could make the fanciest dessert AND the women really dressed up for these events. Of course, it was the early 60s so, in general, women dressed up.
In China — well, it’s impossible for me to even describe the importance of tea. It was everywhere. I’ve written about “all the tea in China” before on this blog in a post called, “Hot Drinks in China.” I had coffee while I was there — I made sure of it — but tea was much more common and easier to get. The most common tea in the United States is called “Hong Cha” in China, or red tea. It’s black tea, but a pretty red in the cup. It’s still the tea I like the best. The variety I acquired in my new tea-drinking life is Constant Comment. I like the oranges mixed in.
In the early 80s in China having coffee involved good luck at the export store, a gift from someone who happened to have coffee from Hainan Island, or a trip to Hong Kong. I had no coffee pot. I used a kind of tea pot that had a basket in the top. I lined the basket with toilet paper and poured boiling water through slowly. It was a very successful method even if it looked a little odd (and probably sounds a little odd). No milk, either, except powdered. I got used to that, and I developed a taste for soy milk in my coffee. And in my tea.