Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cup O'Tea

Although I am not Irish or English, I have to say that tea has been part of the fabric of family life for me since I was young. It is not unusual to still gather my sisters, brother and mom around the table for a "spot".
The tea at my mom's house is straight forward and to the point. Decaf, non-flavored, served in mismatched mugs collected over the years (we all gravitate toward our favorites) and served with evaporated milk or regular milk and lots of sugar. The children in my family are practically weaned on tea. When they are young, it is really mostly milk warmed by a hint of tea, and usually is only a vehicle to deliver wet, sludgy sugar to eager, waiting lips.
As I got older and decided what tea time was going to be like at my house, I had to decide if I was more of a mug, or refined tea cup kind of gal. While I had a full set of china when I first got married (the china outlasted the husband) it was beautiful, but not fussy. A Mikasa pattern that had a very modern straight up and down tea cup.
I probably stopped drinking tea with milk when I became suspicious of those large machines dispensing milk in college. I considered myself more 'low maintenance', since I only needed sugar and I was done prepping for my tea experience. I also enjoyed herbal teas, and started to collect them. I do not collect mugs from various places. All my mugs are large, look handmade (even if they aren't), match and have shapes that I enjoy drinking out of, while I curl up someplace cozy.
I acquired a taste for a type of tea in Paraguay, while I lived there for a year as a missionary, that the locals call terere. When I came back, we Americans had discovered it and made it all the rage, here, in the trendy form of Yerba Mate. You can drink it warm or cold. But the Paraguayan way is with herb flavored cold water, poured over loose tea, sipped from a community filtered silver straw. That is community... as in, we all share. It is sort of like smoking a peace pipe. It is a great honor to be offered terere. The "pourer" holds the jug, and fills the cup, passes it, that person drinks it all without a word (not moving the straw around) and hands it back to the pourer. Now it is the turn of the next person in the line or circle. This actually goes on during church services! Because there is no talking, it is very unobtrusive. It has a natural stimulant in it that is far less jitter producing than caffeine. And man, those Paraguayans can work in the heat, with a jug of cold terere nearby!
In the winter, Paraguayans drink it hot. Their preparation is Cocito. Cocito is actually the yerba burned in a pot with sugar, and tons of milk. It is an unusual smoky, sweet, delight on a cold morning. I never learned how to make it. But most families make a large pot on the stove, and leave it to be ladled into smaller, rounder shaped guampas (cups) or hollowed gourds. I was a big fan, and drank it every time it was offered to me.
I have recently started to drink all decaf teas at all different times of day. I will zap a mug of water, in a pinch. But there is something about the act of filling the stainless kettle, getting out the mug, selecting the flavor, and waiting for the glorious whistle sound, that prepares the body for the act of ingesting tea. It seems to whisper excitedly, "It's tea time! It's tea time!" And with all the health benefits of tea, what is not to like? I actually found myself choosing tea over ice cream for it's own particular type of satisfaction!
There are many ways to enjoy tea, for sure. Whether you skip the fancy pot, and go straight from the kettle, enjoy flavored or non, like yours with lemon or with milk, one thing is for sure-- the best cup of tea, is a cup shared with a friend or loved one!
The next time the chilly night air blows and you are looking for something that won't blow your diet, but will cap off your night without guilt, grab someone you love and ask, "Care for a cup o' tea?"

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