Saturday, January 16, 2010

Tea By Any Other Name

I am told that January is 'hot tea month', so I decided to write a little about tea. My Grandmother and Mother both loved hot tea and I remember my Grandmother trying to get me to drink it a couple times when I was young, but I didn't like the smell of it and refused to try it.

I went along happily as a coffee drinker until in my twenties I was working as a bank auditor. My boss was from Scotland and loved tea. He also liked to take long chatty tea breaks in the afternoons and would fix me a cup of tea. I finally gave in and tried it. The first few times I wasn't enthused, but eventually I got used to the smell and strange taste. He put lots of milk in his tea, but I drink mine black.

So I became a tea drinker, hot tea only. I never have developed a taste for iced tea or coffee. I found it was an enjoyable practice to invite someone to have tea. People seem to like to relax, sip tea and chat. I still prefer coffee, especially in the morning, but tea was a good reason to take an afternoon break.

Then I met my best friend, Sue, who is from England. We had the good fortune to live next door to each other for ten years and we had afternoon tea almost every day for all those years. One or the other of us would appear on the other's doorstep mid afternoon and the kettle would go on. Sometimes our tea breaks lasted all afternoon and even continued when our husbands walked in the door and were handed mugs of hot tea.

Sue also taught me the British habit of reaching for the teapot when something stressful happened. Bad news or bad weather, we made tea for each other. When her daughter became school age, Sue would leave to meet the schoolbus at the end of the block and I would go into her house and start the tea so it would be ready when she returned. Now we talk for hours on the phone, each with a cup of tea in our hands.

The last few years I've been hearing people mention 'Chai' and I was somewhat confused. They seem to be talking about a mild tea mixed with spices. I'm not sure when this became so popular. My confusion came from the fact that the Russian word for tea is chai. We drank lots of chai while we were in Russia, because the coffee resembled mud in appearance and taste.

Here is a box of chai that I brought home from Russia. It is delicious, but it isn't what most people today refer to as 'Chai'. The mug is probably my favorite way to drink tea. It allows the lovely color to show thru and has a nice feel. It also resembles the Russian way of drinking chai.

In Russia we were served our chai in glasses inserted into these lovely silver holders. We would hear a knock on our door in the morning and our floor lady would hand us each a steaming glass of chai in holders like these. She would also hand us a long sugar cube. We were instructed to hold the sugar cube between our teeth and sip the hot chai thru it. It was wonderful on those cold mornings. I couldn't resist bringing a pair of tea glass holders home with me.

Of course in Russia our tea was prepared in a samovar. They were usually less ornate than these, but at a couple of receptions we attended there were some decorative ones on display. Again I couldn't resist these. They fit in with my Dr Zhivago image of Russia.

These two samovars now reside in my library. They are in working order, but would need to be rewired for US currents. Besides, they're just too pretty to use. I enjoy just looking at them.

I don't drink the popular 'Chai', I drink Russian chai. I also like certain flavors of tea. I love mint tea and so did several of my dogs. I have a vanilla/almond tea that I like a lot and for Christmas I received one that smells just like sugar cookies. All in all tea evokes certain wonderful memories for me and who can ask for more?


Sam said...

I'm not a tea drinker, but I love your stories!

Are you Russian? All this talk of Russia on your blog brings back fond memories from when I studied the language through my four years in high school. Can't speak a word of it anymore, though.

Martha and Bailey said...

Such lovely memories! Tea has certainly been a part of my life. My mother was English and my father Scottish.
In Scotland the kettle is immediately put on to make a pot of tea when you arrive to visit.
Like yourself I have memories of every life event requiring tea!
I was interested to hear about Russia - I have never visited.

Marjie said...

I drink good old hot tea all the time, but often it's just Lipton - time constraints and all that. I enjoyed your pictures and story; I wish I had a tea glass like that!

Nichole said...

Great post!

The OP Pack said...

I am a tea drinker too, and it has to be hot, very hot. I even heat my cup with water in the microwave before pouring my tea into it. And my water for tea HAS to be boiled, not nuked.

But I only like pekoe tea or English Breakfast tea. I can't quite take a liking to the flavored ones or the herbal ones.

Nice post.

Channon said...

What a great post! I love that chai is also a Russian tea, and the Russians clearly know how to serve tea with flair!

gaylen said...

I have those princess house dishes! Aren't they fabulous. I love drinking hot beverages from them. And those silver tea glass holders - beautiful.

Love the samivors - especially the second one you showed. I too love vanilla and almond together. lovely combination. Although Chan send me a fabulous chocolate mint tea for my birthday. g

soulbrush said...

my hubby is a real englishman -he loves his cuppa. for me just water. interesting post.

Maggie and Mitch said...

What a wonderful post! I've never had Chai but I do drink tea almost every day. I love the Celestial Seasoning's Mandarin Orange and Twinings Earl Grey!

Persephone and Buster said...

Our mom is an unreconstructed tea-drinker! You're right about its positive effect upon stress. The samovars are beautiful--Bailey said she used to sip chai with Princess Anastasia before those uncouth Bolsheviks auctioned off the Royal Yacht and ruined everything...

Personally, we like Earl Grey best!

Buster & Persephone

Scrabblequeen said...

Yeah for Hot Tea month! This post is worthy of a Link-up on our little Blog-a-thon...don't you think? Lovely tea things you have, too. Do you read Ellen, The Happy Wonderer? She has posted lots of nice pics of Russian Tea things...

LizzieJane said...

I don't think I could survive without tea! Every afternoon promply at three o'clock if I am home I have to stop and take a break and have some tea. I do like my tea hot too, lukewarm just doesn't cut it for me. Lovely post Sue!

Stella said...

Let me be the one to speak for spicy Chai tea. I do love it and even have a cookie recipe that you use the tea grounds in! My favorite is Bigelow Vanilla Chai. I also like a simple green tea with just a little lemon.

Great post, Sue, and your samovars, glasses, are just lovely.


Jo (and Stella)

Tee said...

Hello Sue,

When i was a student in england i drank so much hot tea it left stains on my teeth!

Now that i'm back i've become more of a coffee drinker. I do like my one cup of hot green tea in afternoons. Also like English teas - the smell is as aromatic as freshly brewed coffee! Yum!


dreameyce said...

Tea makes EVERYTHING better. I'm an avid tea drinker, and have a nice collection I indulge on from which is I'm sure the BEST online tea shop! Mmmm

Now to brew another pot ;)