Tuesday, June 07, 2005

On tea

Neil Gaiman grumbles about America’s lack of tea-making skills:

In America, you have a country filled from sea to shining sea with people in the food service industries all of them convinced that a person can somehow make a drinkable cup of tea using only a) a teabag and b) a cup and c) a container holding water that was once reasonably hot.
Very true: tea, or at least hot tea, just is not culturally significant here. Coffee will usually be decent; tea’s an inconvenience. And getting milk for tea is difficult, as it’s so unusual here: tea’s usually drunk with lemon.

But to be fair, the teabag-and-pot-of-hot-water routine is pretty much standard in the UK too. The only places you’re guaranteed a properly-brewed mug of tea: greasy spoon cafés.

Gaiman’s followup addresses the much-asked question, presumably from his large American audience: “How do you make tea then?” His answer is pragmatic:

This is the biggest, most important thing to know: For a black tea, you pour boiling water on tea leaves. That’s ninety percent of the art of making a decent cup of tea. […] It’s the final ten percent of the cup of tea that you’ll get people calling each other heretics for.
And finally, his respondents note that, in the grumbling about tea stakes, it’s hard to beat Douglas Adams: “Americans are all mystified about why the English make such a big thing out of tea because most Americans have never had a good cup of tea.”

Lipton teabag envelope: Lipton, the “BRISK” tea, 100% natural. But American tea itself is not bad. No need to pay through the nose for imported English tea, unless you’re a real tea snob. Lipton is the most common brand here, and it’s good; and I rather like the retro quaintness of its description as the “BRISK” tea. Another oddity: in America, teabags always come individually wrapped in little paper envelopes, and with a string and tag attached to make the bag easy to dunk.

America does have the best tea invention: iced tea, the best and cheapest cold drink ever. Lipton’s website claims that 80% of teabags sold in the US are used for making iced tea: *boggle*.

Anyway, iced tea my way: two or three teabags in a big jug. A kettle’s worth of hot water — or two kettles’ worth, from our dinky American kettle. Cool. Drink from a pint glass with lots of ice and a big squeeze of lemon.

Melinda likes Nestea iced tea mix, which reminds her of her childhood: instant freeze-dried tea, which you mix in cold water to make iced tea. Can’t stand it myself: it has a very distinctive chemical tang which, to borrow from Douglas Adams again, tastes almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

As the Nestea page suggests, iced tea is very frequently either sweetened or flavoured, both of which result in something too sickly-sweet to be really refreshing. Iced tea in restaurants, at least here in California, is typically unsweetened. Iced tea from fast-food joint soda fountains is usually one of the sweetened varieties: and when it’s unsweetened, it’s often hard to find the necessary lemon. Melinda’s tips for decent fast-food iced tea: Nordstrom cafés; Jack in the Box restaurants.

Categories: Food