My lapse in blogging is due to nine pounds of baby called Gracie Mae, who arrived on August 20 in what has to be a most comedy birth. Some five hours after contractions started, my daughter was placed on my chest and a cup of tea in my hand. It is typical of the British and Irish to turn to tea for comfort and whatever the situation someone will always suggest putting the kettle on. My family has always believed that hot, sweet tea is a cure for all minor ailments, especially if a drop of whiskey is chucked in.
Therefore, in one of my latest features for ARTICLE magazine I explore our relationship with tea and the renassaince of purchasing loose leaf as opposed to teabags. ARTICLE is on sale in London stores right now but it’s available to order directly. Below is an edited version of my tea feature, but if you want to read more then email firstname.lastname@example.org to order your copy.
TO the modern mind, the concept of taking tea is a particularly feminine one; vintage devotees with Miss Marple tea-sets, and ‘It’ bag-toting girls spending afternoons in hotel lounges, munching on over-priced sandwiches and pouring one another Darjeeling.
Speak to Henrietta Lovell of The Rare Tea Company, however, and a different picture emerges. “Around half my customers are male,” she says, “and just as they would seek out the best olive oil or a really good wine, they want quality tea; the difference from the stuff you buy from the large, industrially-processed brands is the difference between malt vinegar and a really good balsamic.”
It isn’t just the quality of loose-leaf tea that is attractive; it’s also the experience. It requires a little thought and concentration — which means that, for those few minutes of preparation, all attention is on the task at hand rather than the world beyond, constantly demanding replies to emails, phone calls and deadlines.
Andre Dang, who runs an exceptionally busy communications agency, cites the almost-meditative process as one of the reasons for his love of loose-leaf tea. “I think Orientals had it right when they developed the whole ritual and ceremony around tea: sometimes it’s nice to just take a moment, and revel in a more languid time,” he says during a tea break. Dang, who favours The Rare Tea Company’s Silver Needle, or the Phoenix Honey Orchid Oolong from Jing Tea, always uses a teapot. “It allows better circulation through the leaves, giving a better brew. The beauty of these loose-leaf teas is that — although a little goes a long way — you need to allow time and the correct temperature to allow the flavours to truly develop.”
In a recent documentary series, the ever-wonderful Victoria Wood explored the British relationship with tea. One of the highlights of the series was her meeting with Morrissey; filmed in New York, the former Smiths frontman was in a jovial mood — rejecting Wood’s gift of a knitted cosy with amiable sarcasm, and sharing his passion for Ceylon tea. It comes as some surprise that he uses tea bags; one would have thought this man — almost a figurehead for nostalgia — would drink loose-leaf. But there you go; the perceptions of who it is that’s swirling the leaves are clearly not always correct.