Tea and Me

My name is Lea Wait, and I drink tea. That’s right. No coffee. No soda (although the protagonist in my mystery series is devoted to her Diet Pepsi). And since January is (yes, really!) National Hot Tea Month,  it seemed a good topic for today’s blog.

I probably inherited my love of tea from my grandmother. A Scot from Edinburgh through and through, despite the fact that she’d been born in Boston in 1890, her life had taken her back and forth to “the auld country” often as a child. For her, no afternoon was complete without tea. It didn’t necessarily have to include shortbread or scones … but sometimes it did. And since my grandparents lived with my parents and sisters and I for most of my childhood, I have warm memories of coming home from school and enjoying a cup of hot tea (with milk and a teaspoonful of sugar) with my grandmother.

Lea Wait

Lea Wait

And we had wonderful tea.  As a young child I knew that every Christmas we would get an unmarked carton of tea (in bags) from one of my grandmother’s brothers. I was a teenager before I understood that this was, indeed, “special tea.”  I have no idea what kind of black tea it was. It was a private blend.  You see, that great-uncle who sent us the tea each year had (yes, I’m telling the truth) invented the tea bag. Somewhere in my family files I have a copy of the patent, which I believe was dated in the 1930s. His name was William Patterson, should you want to check it out. And Uncle Bill had sold his patent to Lipton, who, as part of the deal, agreed to send him select tea each year for the rest of his life.

That annual tea supply in my house ended when my grandmother died … but her brother lived to be 98. That’s a lot of tea bags. And I’ll admit I was spoiled. I never got used to most brands (including Lipton) of “supermarket tea.”

In high school, sitting on the floor in candle-lit darkness and listening to Bob Dylan with my friends, we all drank coffee. Me included. But I sipped it slowly and suffered shortly after from stomach pains.  It was hard to be a rebel when you didn’t drink coffee, though, so I kept trying.

By the time I got to college I was a bit smarter, and had officially given up coffee experimentation. My drink was tea, although the water in Pittsburgh, where I went to school, tasted awful, so I added Diet Pepsi to my list of approved drinks for those four years.

When I started working at a corporation, coffee, again, was the politically acceptable drink. Water (hot or cold) or tea had not yet appeared in conference rooms. It was coffee. I was already obvious enough — I was usually the only woman in the room — so I filled my cup with plain water or milk, if it was available, and at meeting breaks (“coffee breaks,” of course) I’d head  to the company cafeteria where they did have tea.

By the time I left the corporation, 30 years later, tea was always available at conferences and meetings, and, although there still weren’t too many of us drinking it, the biggest danger was putting a tea bag in a cup and then pouring hot coffee on top of it. Usually the carafe of hot water was unmarked. Most recently, when I was at Bouchercon last fall, I did that again. And a fellow tea drinker watched, sympathized … and offered to share his tea bag with me. (They were running low.) A truly generous soul!  But I carry my own now. Just in case.

Today, sitting in my study in Maine, I’ve expanded my tea preferences.  I begin my day with a cup of blueberry green tea, with added lemon juice.  (For a couple of years I only drank green tea. Perhaps virtuous, but, especially in winter, I missed black tea.) Now my noon cup may either be green or black. Perhaps Earl Gray. Mid-afternoon calls for caffeine, so that cup is definitely black tea. But any caffeine after 4 p.m. ensures that I won’t sleep well that night, so after then I move to herb teas. “Sleepy time” or chamomile when I’m trying to relax.  Red or Lemon zinger if I’m still working. Or maybe another cup of green tea.  In the summer, of course, I brew my own iced tea:  a mixture of black and herb teas. And on a very cold winter’s afternoon, I’ve been known to add a touch of brandy to my mid-afternoon black tea.

Today others have discovered the joys of tea, and any supermarket has diverse and wonderful selections. Happily, studies have also shown that teas of all kinds have varying amounts of anti-0xidents, and might even help in weight loss.  I haven’t noticed any major differences … but, then, tea has always been a part of my life.

I suspect it always will be.  So … Happy Hot Tea Month!


13 Responses

  1. National Hot Tea month? Hot dog, I’m in. What a fascinating story about your grandmother and uncle. I’m blessed to have a wonderful shop, The Cozy Tea Cart, with amazing teas nearby. Those special teas I reserve for times of great need (as in, three deadlines today and not enough sleep) or for very dear friends. Otherwise, I prefer herbals. My son is so enamored of proper tea that he has an app for timing the steep.

  2. Ohhhh… I envy you The Cozy Tea cart! (I loved doing research in Edinburgh a dozen years ago, where all the tea was delicious … and TEA was an afternoon event. Scones and clotted cream …..mmm,

  3. Just might take you up on that, Nikki!

  4. I always thought the Brits were whinging (good English word) when they said they couldn’t get good tea in America. I’ve just returned to the US after living in Scotland for 5 1/2 years and I can testify that the tea is definitely different. Regular supermarket tea bags over there are much stronger than your run-of-the-mill Lipton. You can still get a decent cuppa if you buy Twinings or Bigelow. I like Harney and Sons Assam black tea, which I made for my Scottish husband and he pronounced it “nectar” (I think that might be why he married me!). It’s not true you can’t get a good cup of tea in America, you just have to know someone who knows how to make it properly. You can’t get a good cup of tea in restaurants, usually, just like you couldn’t get a good “cup of Joe” (regular coffee) in the UK. And forget finding the “house wine of the South”–sweet iced tea–in the UK. They don’t understand at all the whole “cold tea” concept! I’m an equal opportunity hot beverage drinker, I love coffee and tea. Lea, have you tried Rooiboos or red bush tea? It doesn’t have caffeine but has a flavor reminiscent of regular tea.

  5. Loved your post and the history, Lea. When I stopped smoking 17 years ago my coffee consumption dropped to one cup a day. These days my favorite afternoon break is with Twining’s Prince of Wales tea (which I order from Amazon because local grocery stores never carry it) and crumpets with lime curd (which I order from The Vermont Country Store because local grocery stores don’t carry either item).

    I love scones but don’t do enough cooking to make them. The only place I know to buy one in my small Central California town is at Starbucks.

    • If you’ve ever made buttermilk biscuits you can make scones, just add more sugar. It’s pretty much the same recipe & the same process.

      • Thanks for the tip, Janet.

      • Here is the recipe I adapted from Mary Berry (the English Queen of Baking–as familiar in the UK as Nigella). I used raisins in mine and soaked them in tea while mixing up the scones and added them at the end.

        Mary Berry’s Devonshire scones recipe
        The definitive recipe for traditional scones from the queen of baking

        Makes eight to 10
        The secret to good scones is not to handle them too much before baking, and to make the mixture on the wet, sticky side.
        4 cups self-raising flour
        2 rounded tsp baking powder
        1 cup butter
        ½ cup sugar
        2 large eggs
        about 1 cup milk
        Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7. Lightly grease two baking-sheets.
        Put the flour and baking powder into a bowl. Add the butter and rub it in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar. Beat the eggs together and make up to 300ml (10fl oz) with the milk, then put about 2 tbsp aside in a cup for later. Gradually add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients, stirring it in until you have a soft dough. It is far better that the scone mixture is on the wet side, sticking to your fingers, as the scones will rise better.
        Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface and flatten it to a thickness of 1-2cm (½-1in). Use a 5cm (2in) fluted cutter to stamp out the scones by pushing it straight down into the dough (as opposed to twisting it), then lifting it straight out. This ensures that they rise evenly. Gently push the remaining dough together, knead lightly, reroll and cut out more.
        Arrange on the prepared baking-sheets and brush the tops with the reserved beaten egg mixture to glaze. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until well risen and golden, then transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool, covered with a clean tea towel to keep them moist.
        Serve as fresh as possible, cut in half and spread generously with strawberry jam. Top with a good spoonful of thick cream as well, if you like.
        From ‘My Kitchen Table: 100 Cakes and Bakes’ (BBC, £7.99), by Mary Berry

  6. Janet — that’s a great idea! And .. I love Prince of Wales, too. Used to be able to get it locally. Thanks for the info about Amazon!

    • I order everything from shoes to walnuts from Amazon. My Prime membership pays for 2-day shipping and I have never had a problem. Amazon isn’t just for books anymore. Some people “diss” Amazon, but it seems to be human nature to thumb your nose at the guy on top of the pile.

  7. Thank you for the recipe, Janet! I am definitely trying those. (After I make my next deadline.) 😉

    • Paul Hollywood, Mary Berry’s companion judge on The Great British Bake Off show has a tutorial on YouTube where he instructs a school class on how to make scones. He is known as being a master of breads. He actually uses a stand mixer and a dough hook. It does show the mechanics. Really, very much like making a baking powder biscuit. As with biscuits, if mixing with your hands make sure you have cold hands so you don’t melt the butter (when I lived in Scotland I ALWAYS had cold hands!) Oh, and I better translate: when he says “strong flour” he means bread flour and “sultanas” are what we call raisins.

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