Monday, March 1, 2010

The Tea Chest - My History with Tea

"Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world" – T'ien Yiheng

I never liked tea as a kid. Perhaps it was because we were running around making so much of a din that we didn't want or need to forget it. Whenever someone tried to introduce me, it was this super milky, bitter concoction, forever turned down in favour of Quick or Milo. My paternal grandfather always intrigued me with his little ceremonies for making a pot of tea - a level teaspoon of leaves for each cup and one for the warmed pot, heat the whistling kettle until it's just starting to whisper, leave it to steep for exactly 3 minutes, no more, no less, then turn the pot three times clockwise, and pour though a tea strainer into the waiting warmed cup. Maybe if Pop has not died while I was still so young, my discovery of tea would not have been so long coming. As it was, the only other regular tea drinker in my family was my maternal grandfather, whose tea drinking habits were most likely what drove me away at an early age – rapidly boiling water poured over a stale teabag in a cold, thick -lipped mug, sit for however long, jiggle a few times to spread the colour, then add sugar and milk.

My tea story really started on my 19th birthday. I had gone to visit a friend, who gave me a beautiful bright red teacup and saucer, a mesh infuser, and a packet of black tea flavoured with berries from T2 in Melbourne. I remember the moment well – the sweet, fragrant scent of the dry leaves, the burst of juicy deliciousness rising on the steam of the boiling water when poured over, and that first, hesitant sip from the still steaming fine china, the smooth, slightly woody taste over the tongue. It was a revelation, and one that would lead me to discover my tea obsessed self. That first introduction quickly led to acquiring T2's Chilli Kiss, and the two assisted me on many a late night during my first year of uni. Unfortunately, I was still a novice to tea drinking, and aside from developing a habit of brewing horrendously dark, strong tea that you could barely see the bottom of the cup with, I probably burnt many a tea leaf from using rolling boil water. We live and we learn, eh? I have since learnt to appreciate a delicate brew, lightly steeped to allow the various flavours to evolve without being overpowered by the main player – the tea. Whilst occasionally adding honey or fruit to tea, I cannot abide milk, or the strange, over-sweet quality given by sugar.

Fully embracing my new found passion, the next time I was home in Alice Springs, my Mum and I popped in to The Tea Shrine, which was our local tea shop. After spending a good half hour sniffing various blends, I'm sure we spent a huge amount on starting our small collection. I was quick to discover that just because something smelt delicious dry did not mean it would be 'my cup of tea' once wet in the cup. This is particularly true of many of the fruit tisanes that dominated the early days, many better suited to punch bases than cup-sipping. A trip to visit family in Canberra yielded a trip to The Tea Centre, and another, much more successful, expansion of our stores, from the 'Earl Grey Special' with beautiful blue cornflowers, to the all-time favourite 'Carlton Ritz', with its citrus zing and warm caramel tones. Good thing that as a teacher, Mum drank a ridiculous amount of coffee, because the Moccona jars quickly became the perfect size storage for each new bag bought home. Whilst the acquisition of tea has slowed greatly while we strive to get through what we have before it goes stale, our combined collection currently stands at 30, with black teas, fruity tisanes, and rooibos all gracing our collection. I am looking to soon rectify the sad lack of green teas, with some prime candidates in mind.

Along the way, I've become familiar with all sorts of tea paraphernalia, become hugely interested in the traditions of brewing and drinking different teas, and have had people complain extensively about the weird brown staining on the inside of the majority of my mugs (please don't judge, I'm a uni student, and fine bone china can be quite expensive!). Whilst I apparently make an alright coffee (required skills for my job), and don't mind making them for others, I avoid the stuff like the plague. I just don't understand how people can abide the burnt, bitter taste, but then, perhaps one day I will learn to appreciate it as I have tea. In the meantime, coffee drinkers in my house will have to make do with the rather stale jar of Nescafe while I'm tenderly preparing my loving cup.

Now that you know a bit of my tea background, you will note that I have no qualifications for blogging about tea except for my avid interest and love for this amazingly yummy, insanely diverse drink. Forgive me if I stumble around in the dark for the first few weeks trying to get a handle on the correct lingo (I'm working with my knowledge of food and wine, and an rather untrained palate over here!). Who knows, if I somehow get the hang of it, and get some more followers, we could be doing giveaways and guest blogs by Yule!

Signing off for another night on the wrong side of the bar,

Neysa xoxo

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