The humble mug of tea; common ground that can unite creeds and cultures. A source of warming hope in times of despair, a staple reminder of freedom in times of conflict.
Indeed, at the outbreak of WWII Britain’s reserves of tea were redistributed from London warehouses to locations outside the capitol. Tea was crucial for British morale, and additional tea reserves were made available to the armed forces. And it was George Orwell who described tea as ‘one of the mainstays of civilisation in this country.’ Make no mistake, tea is a big deal. But you already knew that, of course you did!
I hold the belief that people are as passionate, if not more-so, about their tea preferences as they are about politics. For instance, I’m sure many of you have found yourselves in a communal tea-making scenario; let’s take an office kitchenette situation as an example. A colleague stands nearby as you throw a teabag into your mug. You continue your conversation about the spate of frustrating paper jams affecting the Epson on the second floor. The kettle reaches boiling-point and you pour the water into your mug; and that is the point when the current topic of conversation is abruptly severed. Their face contorts in horror, “Really? You put the water in first?” You roll your eyes, not this bloody discussion again. “You know you should always put the milk in first, it stops the mug cracking, and stops all of that scum forming on the top.”
We’ve all been there, right? A critique from a self-righteous tea connoisseur. “Of course, you know you should always put a little boiling water in the mug first, to warm it up so that the tea doesn’t get cold?” Really? Should I? You seem to have mistaken me for someone who actually cares. I’ve been making my own mugs of tea for almost twenty-five years, and I like the way I do it just fine thank you! I’ve not yet had any devastating tea-drinking experiences that have prompted me to urgently review my technique. Or, perhaps I have? Maybe I’ve experienced cups of tea that have been so psychologically disturbing I’ve mentally blocked them from my conscious mind?
How complex can such a simple procedure be made? And, how can such a simple procedure have the ability to trigger humans of all intellectual levels to become so incandescent with rabid righteousness? Teabag, water, milk. Simple, to the point. Do I stir the bag around the mug sometimes? Sure. Do I sometimes just leave it motionless for a few seconds before squeezing it dry on the side of the mug with the teaspoon? Guilty. Have I ocassionally dabbled in putting the milk in first? Yes. To my perception, none of these things made any bloody difference to the enjoyment of my cuppa whatsoever. I was recently reprimanded even for putting the teabag into the mug in the first place. It appeared that my ‘bag in mug’ approach was absolutely bang out of order. Instead, I needed to put three teabags into a teapot. Apparently the tea recipient always insisted on using a teapot, and swore that in a blind taste test they would be able to distinguish the subtle difference between mug-made and pot-made. I wearily reached for their teapot, but was again given a critique of my beverage manufacturing process. First, I was instructed to put some boiling water in the pot to make sure it was warm prior to use. You know, just in case the boiling water I would go on to fill it with lacked the potential to perform the same task in just one action. This brings me to yet another point of contention, temperature. I rely only on the accuracy the thermostat in a kettle to know when the water has reached optimum tea-producing temperature. I then simply pick up the kettle and pour into the mug where I have placed my teabag. Now, I’m going to assume that the majority of people are still in agreement with me to this point. Of course, there will be that small minority who are already crying “No, no, no! You’ve got it all wrong!” They are the folks who fill the mug with boiling water and then dunk a teabag in it to stew for half an hour; and it’s often not even regular tea, it’s something they’ve procured from Holland & Barrett that promises to cleanse their soul, or make their piss smell of mango juice.
Anyway, back to the simple act of pouring the contents of a boiled kettle into a mug. You’d think it would be impossible to commit a heinous crime at this point, wouldn’t you? You would be wrong. Nope, according to the wisdom of some folks I’m setting myself up to burn the tea to death, thus ruining its flavour. I should pause for a minute, and perhaps recite some ancient prayer to the tea gods, before I pour water that will still undoubtedly be at or very near boiling-point. So far no one has yet made an issue of my pouring speed, but I’m sure that such an anally-retentive cynic is out there. I admit, I’m a messy worker, and perhaps I do sometimes pour with a little too much gusto; I can accept a little criticism in that area. There can often be a small amount of splash-back from the puffed-up teabag, perhaps a small run-line down the mug that leaves a wet ring around the base. But, if you can’t handle that, stay the hell out of the kitchen. Are your heckles rising yet? I’m also the kind of guy that throws caution to the wind when it comes to any associated crockery. A plate of biscuits? Pah! I’ll just rest those Chocolate Digestives on the arm of the chair goddammit, and to hell with the consequences! So, the next time you’re tempted to add your two-cents whilst watching someone performing any state of their tea-making procedure just keep it shut, tea shouldn’t be a source of kitchen conflict. Let’s all work to keep the humble mug of tea in its rightful place as a uniter of nations.
Right, who’s for a coffee?