A Warm Cup of Memories
By Um Yaqoob
We had my grandmother over for dinner at my parents’ house every Sunday. From mid-afternoon on my sister and I were busy with the table. We got out the good china and silverware, wiped and polished it, put on the best tablecloths, and spent literally hours setting the table. My mom has a set of antique teacups, each one different. My favorite part of setting the table was choosing who got what cup. Then we would make name cards (even though everyone always sat in the same seat every week!) and fold the napkins in fancy designs.
While the adults would talk after dinner, we kids would clear the table, all except for the candles. We challenged each other to pass our fingers through the flames without getting burned (It can be done!) Then we used the snuffers to put out the candles and played with the melted wax until it got cold. My patient parents would let us do this with a watchful eye...we never got hurt!
A treat on Sunday is we all got a cup of Constant Comment tea with milk. I still love this tea, with its spicy smell of oranges, cinnamon and cloves. Whenever we emptied a can, it became a treasure for me or my sister. The container never lost its smell. It became a jewelry box, a money can, something just to have and smell. I even liked the sound the lid made when it came off the container!
When it was time to take my grandma home we would get ready for bed and ride along. The feeling of dozing off in the car with the streetlights passing by, the big trees making shadows as we passed them...one of my best memories.
I had a friend in high school, Alka Kohli, who was Kenyan of Indian heritage. Her family was traditional Indian--her mom always wore a sari and kept a traditional house. She could speak no English.
Alka invited me to her house one evening. She seated me in the only piece of furniture in the living room, a large easy chair. I sat there with all these little black-haired and dark-eyed girls at my feet. All were looking at me with fascination and I spoke to Alka. She kept shooing them away but they kept coming back.
Her mother came in with a tray with a cup of tea and a plate of Indian sweets. The tea was sweet, milky and spicy--cinnamon, anise, cardamom and even black pepper. It was so wonderful! Alka explained that they drank spicy tea in hot weather because it forced you to sweat. The sweat would evaporate and you would cool down that way.
That whole atmosphere was a moment suspended in time that I will always remember--those little girls' smiles, the mother's warmness beyond language barriers, the taste of the tea and the foreign flavor of the sweets, Alka's joy at having me over. I lost track of Alka--all I know is that she is a doctor now.
of 21 entered a small street cafe in Abidjan, then the capital of the Ivory
Coast (Cote d'Ivoire). It was our first morning in West Africa and we were so
green we glowed!
ordered tea and baguettes, the simplest breakfast we could think of, to make
it easy for the proprietor. We waited and waited. The order took forever to
come. When it came, we were surprised to find that the sweet, milky tea was in
glass bowls. This was easier for us to dunk our bread in and we enjoyed the
novelty of drinking out of
one, we finished our tea and found the answer to our long wait at the bottom
of each bowl. The owner had gone out to buy brand new bowls for our group. The
price tags were still glued to the bottom in mint condition!
It was hard not to feel guilty and touched at the same time.
invited to the home of Mamadou Fofana, a poor West African bus driver, to
share in the joy of the birth of his first child. If it mattered to him that I
was American, white, and not Muslim at the time, he did not show it. All that
mattered was that I was his guest
Fofana gestured to a small couch, and took a seat on a wooden chair opposite me. Fofana's second wife, the mother of the new baby, appeared from behind the sheet that was the "wall" of her bedroom. His first wife carried a newborn boy. She handed him to
Fofana, who kissed the child and handed him to me. I held him awkwardly for several minutes. The women praised for my "obvious" ability to care for children. When the mother lifted the baby from my lap, Fofana thanked me for helping to care for their newborn.
Dozens of children had gathered at the open front door to look at me. Fofana gestured to one of the boys and whispered something to him. The boy and the entire crowd of children ran off as Fofana sat, smiling. The children returned proudly with a single tea bag and more of their companions.
Fofana opened a small china cabinet and removed the only items that were in it—a china cup and saucer. Still smiling, he made a single cup of tea with tremendous care. He brought the boiling water himself and poured it, then measured generous amounts of milk and sugar. He offered it to me with both hands. As the hosts themselves were not drinking tea, I felt ashamed and tried to refuse it. This obviously hurt them, so I drank the tea as they all watched.
When I excused myself to leave, they begged me to stay for dinner. I protested repeatedly before they understood that I truly needed to leave. They appeared neither relieved nor insulted. They thanked me, insisted I come again, and walked me to the edge of their compound.
We recently had a tea party/demonstration here in my tiny speck of the world. My friends form a mini-UN; we are from the U.S., England, Scotland, India, Pakistan, Oman, South Africa, Tanzania and Zanzibar, Egypt, Sudan. We were impressed and amazed at all the different ways people drink tea and coffee around the world. I did a little demonstration of the Omani coffee "ceremony," which has all its etiquettes and equipment.
We were rolling on the floor when we got to the "formal" tea party. A few of us are very casual about our tea manners while others are so ceremonial. We asked various questions (most of them just to get her goat) of our South African tea mistress, such as how to properly squeeze a tea bag, the etiquette of slurping, the little extended pinkie thing. Her final comment was: "I think I'm going to have a stroke!"
Come and share a pot of tea,
my home is warm and my friendship's free.
~ Emilie Barnes.
While there's tea, there's hope. ~ Sir Arthur Pinero
can never get a cup of tea large enough, or a book long enough, to suit me.
~ C.S. Lewis
are cold, tea will warm you.
If you are too heated, it will cool you.
If you are depressed, it will cheer you.
If you are exhausted, it will calm you.
~ William Gladstone 1865
There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice
cup of tea.
~ Bernard-Paul Heroux
man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.
~ Japanese Proverb
Remember the tea kettle - it is always up to its' neck in hot water, yet it
~ Author Unknown.
We had a kettle; we let it leak.
Our not repairing made it worse.
haven't had any tea for a week...
The bottom is out of the Universe.
~ Rudyard Kipling
Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time, the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company.
~ Author Unknown.
to be deprived of food for three days, than tea for one.
~ Ancient Chinese Saying
(Evening Standard, 12 January 1946)
If you look up 'tea' in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points. This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.
When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:
· First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase 'a nice cup of tea' invariably means Indian tea.
· Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
· Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
· Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
· Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
· Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
· Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
· Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one's tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
· Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
· Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
· Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.
Some people would answer that they don't like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again. These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one's ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.
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