I used to be the biggest coffee junkie.
(The type that drinks two 16 oz mugs a day of strong black coffee.)
Coffee put me in a constant state of being anxious, strung out, and stressed.
My heart would pound over nothing; I was constantly jittery.
But who cared?
Coffee gave me the energy to get lots and lots and lots and lots and lots... done!
Then I travelled in North Ireland, Scotland and England for three weeks.
Visiting people in their homes required a good cup of tea.
At first I was hesitant; the American tea I had tried was weak and bitter.
But my oh my, did I change my mind.
Their tea was smooth, just a bit sweet, strong.
I could drink it before bed and still sleep.
The concoction didn't give me any jitters, just a nice energy lift.
I remember standing in the Seawright's kitchen in NI talking to Paul Seawright
about my very exciting new find.
He said, "Yes, it's a nice tradition. Stopping in the middle of your day to make a cuppa.
You can't be stressed, or do any work while you go through the ritual of making tea."
To people in the UK, tea is a way to provide a mental state of rest as well as a physical boost.
It's a restorative process, offering rest and life.
So when I came back to the States and I was trying to find that place of rest and restoration,
I emailed a few of the people who made great tea for their best tips.
Taking their expert knowledge in hand, these are my boiled-down tips for making an excellent cuppa.
1. Boil water in an electric kettle for ease.
You can also run water only through a coffeemaker in a pinch.
2. Twinings Irish Breakfast tea is the most comparable tea that I've found in the States. You must use milk and sugar; experiment to find out how much you like. Pour it in before your tea.
3. While you can also brew your tea in a warmed pot, I find that brewing it in a cup is simpler. Place the teabag in the cup, make sure the string is on the outside, and pour in fresh water at a rolling boil directly on the teabag with a bit of height so the water aerates.
4. How long you brew the tea is very important. I like strong tea, so mine stays in for about two minutes per small cup, three minutes per big cup, or four-six minutes per pot. If you leave it in too long, it gets bitter; but if you pull the bag out too soon, it will be weak. My best tip is to make sure it's a rich creamy brown color. When it looks right, take the bag out.
5. Stir the tea so the ingredients come together.
6. Enjoy while taking a short break from your day.
The tradition of tea in the UK is so much more than caffeine or even energy;
it's about community, restoration and comfort.
So on your next coffee date, invite someone to your home for a cup of tea instead of going to the local buzz joint.
Tea was made to be shared.
Special thanks to Gentry + Liz Morris, Paul + Sarah Seawright, Charles + June Harding and Dene + Ben Morgan
for their expert tips + genuine hospitality.
I miss our talks over a cup of tea and hope to see you again soon.