Tea: Aug. 24Th, 2011
Bunn-O-Matic is the enemy of tea drinkers everywhere. Well, not the company, though that can be argued, but the devices on which the tempered glass crock sits containing tepid water that has usually been sitting for days. Here is the standard for commercial tea preparation in North America: you ask for tea in any average food establishment and the servers go to the service counter where there usually exists the most sophisticated coffee makers, capable of turning out espresso, lattes, cappuccino, and draughts of no- caf, lo-caf, medium- caf and full blast in any number of exotic varieties of coffee bean from all over the planet in dark, medium and light roast with options on a shot of real vanilla and from free trade organic to planet sensitive shade grown, all so that the average coffee drinker can be satisfied. The world has done a good job on this. I commend the makers of devices which have enabled the coffee industry to put their beverage in the hands of coffee lovers everywhere, but we aren’t all coffee drinkers. Oh, yes I occasionally I have a cup and I do enjoy it but I’m like the Italians, I never put the stuff in my body after noon, only the most crude and uneducated do. Anyone who is the least bit refined knows that in the afternoon though to the end of the day a more civilized restorative is needed, if only to salve the recovering digestive tract from the dose of morning coffee, to heal the wounds if I may offer that. Even if you didn’t drink coffee in the morning, as most tea drinkers don’t, well tea is simply a better all around beverage.
You’d think that here in Newfoundland, with such ties to the old country, as we beat the Bodhran, wail on the pipes and fiddles, sing the dirges and call our offspring D’Arcy and Seamus our populace might have remembered about tea. This is not so. You’d think, given that most residents in the Capitol identify themselves as Irish and even sport a flag one shade off the Irish emblem, they would at least pay some respect! The best tea on the planet can be found served in that noble country. The Irish know tea, and take great pride in doing it right, one thing that rubbed off from the association with the British, who when they have good water do it as well, and isn’t “British” our other great heritage? So what happened?
Only two days ago I went into a St. Johns restaurant, and like most every establishment in the province they served me up the standard, a Mother Parker’s tea bag in a stainless steel tea pot with ill fitting lid, sloshed liberally with tepid water from the enemy. For this you pay the regular fee of a few bucks which of course is like opening the window and tossing a fiver to the wind.
I’m confounded that the best cup of tea to be had in St. Johns can be found at Starbucks! Yes! How disgraceful is that? An American coffee chain selling elaborate coffees decided to get into doing a good job on tea and yes! Go there! The only other place to go (a sad commentary indeed) is to any Tim Hortons and ask for Steeped tea, stuff that they make on a… guess what… A Bunn-O Matic! So, what is their secret? Hot Water and good tea, that’s what! It comes down to a few simple things, no big expensive machines necessary, no steamers, diffusers, grinders, roasters or great huge things with magnificent dials and levers, no, nothing like that. The only investment needed is a kettle!
In hoping I might have the eyes of a few more considerate restauranteurs, here’s the secret recipe… ready? You boil fresh water (because it’s aerated and has lots of oxygen in it) pour it over “good tea” (not the sweepings from Sobeys and Dominion stores such as the Lipton Sales people hawk you with every visit) in a porcelain or glass pot and let it steep. It’s dead simple, however almost nobody in the restaurant business in this province, or any of the rest know how to do it, or if they do they have a reason why they can’t. The most ridiculous reason I hear is “ liability”. To serve hot liquid puts one in a position of being liable to people who would sue if scalded. Yes, here too the imprint of a heavily litigious American society weighs heavily on the establishment, “sue everyone, everywhere”. Well now…. that’s not hard to get around, you simply tell customers that tea is hot! Then the onus is upon them to act like adults. You can even put a sign on the table, saying – “Tea is HOT! Don’t throw it over babies and older people…. if you want to burn yourself go outside and set yourself alight, however this establishment does not permit it indoors!”
“Is there anything else?” you ask. Well how about a nice tea cup, or at least bone china if it’s got to be the shape and size of a mug. Let’s face it, to suck all the heat out of your tea warming up a half pound of pottery or ceramic is not the best way to keep the drink hot. Other than that, serve it with a bit of cream or milk, lemon and or honey and Bob’s your Uncle.
So – I’d like real tea next time, or would you rather I start giving you back counterfeit fivers?