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?


  1. Leroy Kendell says:

    Good description Buddy! Tea must be brewed hot but can be served or drank at any temperature! So simple yet so hard to get.

    • Kevin Blackmore says:

      Simple, yes, but care is needed to do it right, something most people have forgotten. It’s one of those things that belongs in the world of ” expect to pay a lot for little or nothing”, as is modern housing, fast food and bank services.

      • Dave Connolly says:

        I’m the only one in my family that seem to have inherited the tea gene (though I like a good cup of brewed decaf coffee too), and I echo your thoughts about how hard it is to get a good, hot, cup of tea in many parts of Canada, but all the places where I’ve eaten out at on Prince Edward Island still know how to make a good, really hot, cup, or small teapot of tea, and when you come on tour again (which I hope is fairly soon) you can once again enjoy a good cuppa. There’s also nothing better than a good mug-up in the woods on a nice winter day 🙂

  2. Brittany Vardy says:

    Hi there !

    Well I hope we (the DAVIDsTEA staff in Corner Brook) supplied you guys with some good tea 🙂 And anytime your around (meaning there are at least 55 stores all over Canada) you are more then welcome to stop in for a cup or a tin full of tea! We take pride in our teas and are more then happy to answer any and all questions you may have about the teas we serve.

    Hope your having an amazing tour and it was great meeting you guys !

    • Kevin Blackmore says:

      Hi Brittany: Nice to see the tea shop in Corner Brook, and indeed while we were doing our book signing at the mall on Sunday your store employees spotted us there and supplied us with a nice cup of exotic brew of our choosing. The selection looks nice, the store has great presentation but the key to any business success are its employees. Those we me were great. We wish you all the success. I’ll stop by for supplies.

  3. It would seem like you have good knowledge about a great cuppa tea.
    I normally do not like to order tea when I am in a resturant. You hit the nail on the head for good reasons not to drink it outside the home. Just shows you that it is just wrong. thanks LOL

  4. I hear you on the tea rant! Whenever I’m back in Canada I’m surprised at how BAD tea can taste in restaurants! I’ve been living in South Korea for the last decade and while they can make great pots of green tea or others from corn, barley etc they seem to think Lipton is the only flavour of so called ‘red/black tea’!! People seem genuinely shocked when I say that Lipton is NOT good tea!

    • Kevin Blackmore says:

      Right Cathy! Exactly! I remember when Red Rose tea was bought out by that big American company, Lipton, and suddenly the quality went out the door. Then loose tea was no longer available. Like so much of what our world is developing into – quality sacrificed for profit. Good Tea is actually hard to get! And don’t even look for it in London restaurants any more, having spent a week there I was wondering if tea even exists any more!

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