02 April 2011

Bring Back the Ritual of Afternoon Tea

I think it's a shame that we've become so busy that we don't stop for afternoon tea anymore. Life is much easier today than it was even 50 years ago, but at the same time it's more complicated and far busier and more stressful.

Wayne's Granny always stopped at 3pm for afternoon tea. Too bad if you were doing something, it was time for tea and that was it. On the farm we always stopped at 3pm for 15 minutes and had a cuppa and a slice of cake or a biscuit too. It was a part of the rhythm of the day, an ingrained routine that no one ever questioned.

That 15 minutes was refreshing. Something to eat and a drink revitalised us so we could finish off the day's work, it gave us an opportunity to take stock of what we'd been doing and what still had to be done. Afternoon tea may sound like a quaint, gentrified ritual but really it was a vital part of the running of the farm and our home.

I'll blame my generation for the demise of afternoon tea. We are the go getters of the world, we work longer hours and have more "responsible" jobs than our parents. We live a busier life, rushing from home to work to after-school activities to home each day, fitting in living around those chores. We don't have time for such old-fashioned past times as afternoon tea.

Which is a shame. I love afternoon tea. Sometimes we'll go out for afternoon tea. We might drive into the hills and choose a tea shop to stop at. Or we will find a little coffee shop somewhere and enjoy a treat. For a real treat we'll go into the city and have high tea at the Sofitel. But most days it's just me and my cuppa. Weekends Wayne is home and the kids may be. We'll sit and natter over a cuppa and a scone or a biscuit or a slice of cake. And then we get up and get on with whatever we were doing.

Why do we think we can't spare 15 minutes to sit and relax with a cup of tea? Will the world stop? Is what we are doing so absolutely life-threatening that we can't put it off for just 15 minutes? Perhaps if everyone took just 15 minutes for afternoon tea there'd be less war, less violence, less anger in the world.

Occasionally Hannah and I will have a tea party. We had lots of tea parties when she was a little girl. These days we'll invite friends for afternoon tea. We love an excuse to use the good tea set and set the table with a pretty tea cloth. Then we all sit around the table and chat and laugh and share. And everyone goes home refreshed.

Taking time for tea may not seem like it will save you any money. You may not see how it fits with the Cheapskates lifestyle, but it does. It's a part of a simpler, more gentle time, when people worked harder but enjoyed what they had more. They lived without huge amounts of debt and yet still enjoyed their families and their homes. They were content with their lot and it showed in their lifestyle, right down to the ritual of afternoon tea.

I guess most people use tea bags these days. My Uncle John however, just never accepted that a cup of tea could be made properly with a tea bag. It was always a pot of tea, made with real tea leaves and complete with tea cosy. He made the best tea I've ever had.

Tea bags have made life a little easier for some, but they have led to the loss of yet another homemaking skill - the art of brewing a pot of tea.

Here's how to brew a pot of tea, Uncle John style:

*Fill your tea pot with hot tap water to warm it up prior to adding tea leaves and boiling water.
*Fill your kettle with fresh, cold water and bring to the boil.
*Just before the kettle begins to boil, pour the water from the tea pot into a container to save it for later on, you can use it to wash vegetables or water indoor plants etc.  Add one teaspoon of tea leaves per cup to pot, plus an additional teaspoon for the pot.
*As soon as the kettle boils, pour the boiling water over the tea leaves. Only add enough boiling water for the number of cups of tea you are making i.e. tea for two, then two cups of water. You don't need to be exact and measure it, you can guestimate.
*This is the important step. Let the tea brew for 3 - 7 minutes depending on desired strength. In our instant society, tea bags are handy but we don't let the tea brew. No wonder some folk can go all day using one teabag.
*Add cold, whole milk to tea cups depending on preference of guests.
*Pour tea into cups using a strainer to catch loose leaves.
Any tea you don't drink can be used to make iced tea or to make Fruity Tea Cake. It can be frozen until you are ready to use it. If you don't want to use it for cooking, water your ferns or indoor plants with it. They'll love it.

Tea Brewing Tips

*Use a ceramic tea pot rather than metal. Metal can affect the taste of the tea and will cool the water more quickly. A tea cosy may look odd but it will keep the tea piping hot for a long, long time.
*Keep boiling water available for second cups and to dilute tea that becomes strong while sitting in tea pot. Rinse out the tea kettle and start with fresh, cold tap water. Never boil anything but water in your tea kettle.
*Bring the water to its first rolling boil. Never over boil. Over boiling takes the oxygen out of the water, which in turn creates a flat beverage. Modern electric kettles switch themselves off at the right point, if you use a stovetop kettle you'll need to keep an eye on it.
*Purists take the teapot to the tea kettle and rinse out the pot with the boiling water from the kettle. Never take the kettle to the teapot, as you lose one degree of heat per second. Water for tea should be 100 degrees.
*Use one teabag or teaspoon of loose tea per cup. Leaves enter the warm teapot and the infusion begins when the leaf opens.
*Allow the tea to brew for three to seven minutes, according to the blend of tea and how strong you like it.
*Never, ever wash your teapot with anything other than hot water. It may become stained inside from the tannin in the tea, but that's OK. Washing with detergents will leave a taste that will ruin any tea made in the pot ever after.
It's almost 3pm and time for tea. I'm off to put the kettle on and see what's in the cake tin.

1 comment:

  1. Bring back afternoon tea I say. Maybe some of the younger people of today might start to gain some basic etiquette and social skills. As an extended family this is always a part of our catch ups. My two girls have always loved afternoon tea (and morning tea) they are 18 and 21 now and love it.


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