Tea Time

4 Jan

A tea mug I brought back from Sri Lanka in 1981

World wide, tea is consumed more than any other liquid, other than water, and since I was a child I’ve been surrounded by it.  The tangy citrus flavor and warmth it brings are one of the most pleasant parts of my day, and my longest “foodie” memory.    My parents didn’t drink much coffee, but tea, with milk and sugar, was a staple in our home from my earliest days.  Evening tea with my parents, as we sat around watching the boob-tube, and getting ready for bed, was a ritual in our home.   Despite the caffeine, significant in tea, I grew up having a cup of tea while watching the eleven o’clock news in the dark of our paneled “den.”

Our tea of choice at the time was, as you might expect, either Lipton or Salada.   I will admit that I liked Lipton better for the taste, but would always choose Salada if I was shopping because of the “taglines” included with each tea bag.  (Apparently now Salada isn’t even RED any more, but the previous links are to “history” pages on their site.)

During this time our family hosted a number of exchange students through the American Field Service program, and between my sophomore and junior year, the summer of 1981, I was fortunate to spend seven weeks in Sri Lanka.  At age 16 spending seven weeks anywhere other than summer school was a dream come true, but as luck would have it I landed on the south east coast of Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, in a small town called Matara. I was placed in a wonderful host family who not only shared my enjoyment and history with tea, like the rest of the beautiful island, but my host Father was a travelling salesmen for a tea company in town.

The Kandamby's of Matara, Sri Lanka

Yeah that is me second from the right ...

In the early 1800’s coffee was introduced to Ceylon, first known for its Cinnamon production, and by 1840 a “coffee rush” had taken place and the island was covered with coffee plantations.    At the same time, 1824 exactly, the first tea plant, from China, was brought to Ceylon but for non-commercial purposes.  By the late 1860, at the same time a coffee blight hit Ceylon, the initial tea plantations had been established and the first shipment of Ceylon Tea arrived in London, England in 1873.

Thomas Lipton, see above, was already a millionaire grocer by the time he looked into tea prospects in Ceylon in 1888, and decided that the best way to make money in the lucrative European tea market was to eliminate the costly middlemen and develop a direct source for tea.  Lipton’s genius was not in the area of growing tea but in the marketing and distribution of the final product, and his tireless capacity to invent and popularize clever slogans and effective advertising campaigns.

Just like in today’s world, a celebrity endorsement by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle promoted Ceylon Tea far and wide, and that combined with the demise of coffee plantations, it propelled Ceylon onto the world scene, and by 1965 it was the worlds leading exporter of tea.

Although it is still very difficult to get a good cup of tea at a diner or in most restaurants these days, thankfully you can still have great tea at home or in the office, and even find it in some select Tea Houses in the area.  Good tea, like much of anything in the food world, is made from good fresh ingredients.

There are a number of online places you can get loose leaf tea if you don’t have local acces, but for me, Upton Tea is by far the best place around.  The best part for folks located around Boston is that Upton is close by, right out the pike in Holliston, MA.   Because of this, if I order tea before 11 am I’m almost guaranteed to get it the next day with no extra shipping costs.  Upton Tea has a huge selection of teas, from black to green to white as well as all the tools you can ever need for tea nirvana.

The other major ingredient in a good cup of tea is simply water, but how that water is prepared makes all the difference in the world.   At home we boil our water in a pot on our gas stove.  It is important to use fresh drawn tap water each time you make tea, because, as I said before, fresh ingredients are what make things stand out.  At work I have an electric kettle made by Russel Hobbs, which I love.

Russell Hobbs Electric Kettle

A rolling boil is what you need when you introduce the water to your tea, and an electric kettle does that quickly and efficiently.   The other thing you really want to understand is that tea needs room to release all of its flavor.  Tea leaves need to breath, and one of the reasons (besides that it is the lowest quality tea available) the typical tea bag you think of does not taste that good is because in the tiny little tea bags there is no room for the water to flow over the leaves.

Loose tea from Upton Tea

Your choices at this point is to either use a tea pot with a strainer built in (my favorite), use a larger more spacious tea bag with your loose tea, (shown below) or use a pot that you then pour the tea thru while you hold a hand strainer over your cup.   I find tea balls or infusers to be difficult to work with and not really a great option.

Loose Tea in a lage tea bag

Once you introduce the water to your tea, it is best to cover the vessel if you can and let the tea steep for 3-5 minutes.  This is where getting a “taste” for your tea, and what you are using comes in handy.  Some tea can easily steep for 5 minutes, and other kinds of tea start to really release too many tannins when held in the water for such a long time.

Thankfully Upton Tea includes on their packaging suggested times for brewing, and as you can see below, it can be dramatically different based on the tea you are using.

8 Minutes suggested brew time!

2-3 Minutes for this blend of black tea

So as you can see, it makes a big difference how long your tea is exposed to the water.  The last thing to consider is what you put into your tea before you enjoy it, and that is something that is of personal taste.  I always took milk/cream and sugar in my tea growing up because that is what my parents did, but when I arrived in Sri Lanka it was solidified as “the way” to take tea.

In Sri Lanka tea was often made in advance and kept in a thermos, and it was sweetened with sugar  and liberal amounts of Nido.  Powdered milk has a special flavor that when added to tea really sweetens it up with altering the flavor you are looking for from the tea itself.   I’ve lived in Europe and Guatemala as well, and Nido is a world wide constant that we over look here in the States.

Finally, with your tea in hand, relax, feel the warmth and enjoy the comfort from it knowing that you are not alone in what you are drinking!

Remember, Food is Love!




7 Responses to “Tea Time”

  1. Chris January 4, 2011 at 8:28 pm #

    Great story, really enjoyed the history of Lipton and specifically the Ceylon/Sri Lanka connection.

    Keep these coming, perhaps a lobster ravioli post!

    • Justin Ide January 5, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

      Chris – I got some great KitchenAid attachments for making pasta for the holidays so Lobster Ravioli will be in the works soon I’m sure.

      Thanks for following F2% – JI

  2. Tania deLuzuriaga January 5, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    I now understand why you got so upset when you caught me microwaving tea!

    • Justin Ide January 5, 2011 at 10:41 pm #

      Tania – I understand that it is a simple education issue, and not an outright offense against tea, so we’re all good.

  3. Liz January 9, 2011 at 9:20 pm #

    That mug at the top is fantastic. There’s something great about tea/coffee mugs that instantly bring back memories.

    Also, thanks for the Lipton history, very interesting!

  4. Tania deLuzuriaga January 10, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    Just stumbled upon this. George Orwell on tea. Made me think of you:


  1. Sunday at Dorado Tacos « F2% - February 8, 2011

    […] to see an electric hot water kettle behind the cash register.  As I’ve said in previous posts, it is often very difficult to get a good cup of tea at most places, but Dorado’s offers MEM […]

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