The Tea Lady: Part I, Builders’ Tea
It took me a little longer than most British people to really get the hang of tea. When I was growing up, tea was just something that went on in the background whilst I was racing around, playing with my friends. Later, lying on my boyfriend’s mattress staring up at a Smith’s poster he had attached to the ceiling, whilst he and his friends played Atari computer games.
We were always drinking cups of tea, but only when I arrived at University did I really understand why.
That first day after our parents had left, people moved from door to door in the college introducing themselves and inviting their neighbours in for a cup of tea. Each term, the first thing to be unpacked was the kettle and mugs, and the first thing we did was run to the corner store for teabags, chocolate digestive biscuits and milk.
Unlike coffee, which is supposed to be drink quickly (think espresso), tea is supposed to be sipped slowly, with accompanying morsels of food, both sweet and savoury. Tea invites contemplation and conversation, the savouring of flavour and of company and distils friendship into a companionable hour, tea-time (which in England usually takes place twice a day, at 11 and at 4).
Since moving to New York, I have been increasingly dedicated to keeping a little part of each day for tea-drinking, to stop in the middle of work, boil the kettle and invite those around me to pause and drink a cuppa. Unlike office drinks and dinner parties, tea-time lasts the length of a cup, but it’s an important chance to take stock of the day, to develop closer relations with those around you, to find out what people are really thinking and doing.
Builders’ Tea: Moving house is a huge effort, and inspired by British builders who will not work in a house without a kettle (and who drink tea made with two tea-bags per mug and with three or more sugars), tea-breaks are a good way of structuring the hard work of painting, unpacking, cleaning and organising. My favourite is PG Tips, the best-known brand of British tea, endorsed by Wallace and Gromit. It’s a blend of Indian and African teas bought with ethical trading policies. A smooth, mellow tea, works especially well with digestive biscuits or toast. In New York it can be bought at the kitschy British food stores, Myers of Keswick and Carry on Tea and Sympathy.