Monday, 6 October 2008

A nice cup of tea

Korea is a developing country. Quite literally, on a daily basis, all around the country, seemingly with no break between projects, buildings are torn down and new ones erected in near record time. Recently three coffee shops have opened on one street near my apartment not more than 1 minute apart. What the hell is the obsession with coffee? Maybe it is Korea's way of announcing that they are a developed nation and that you can now have a cup of Starbucks coffee whenever you want, just like in America. Downtown Jeonju has also recently opened its first Starbucks since I arrived here and coupled with dunkin' donuts and the plethora of other American style coffee shops we now either have an incredible choice of coffee options or an irritating number of shops that all sell coffee covered in a thick layer of cinnamon. I have lost count of how many we have and would plead for developers to relax and open shops that offer something slightly less homogenous, please it is time for a coffee break.

I am not really a coffee person and maybe that explains why I am getting a bit sick of coffee shops but I have, in the past indulged in a cup of coffee but my best experience, some years ago may have tainted my view of Korean coffee shops. Selfridges in London was the venue when a former girlfriend was shopping and I decided to have a cup of coffee and read the newly released Independent Berliner format. Selfridges, I hoped, would provide a fine example of coffee and so I decided to have a cup of coffee, a mocha. This particular mocha was made with coffee beans and milk with not a hint of chocolate syrup or chocolate flavoured powder. It was delicious and easily the best cup of coffee I had ever had up to that point and remains so. This is partly why I don't drink coffee because I will inevitably be disappointed.

As a British person I really enjoy a cup of tea with milk but no longer sugar as it is terribly bad for you and does detract somewhat from the taste of the tea, George Orwell said that you should probably just have hot water with sugar in it if that is what you want to drink. He would probably be horrified to think a good old cup of tea has been lost to people desperate to live the so called celebrity lifestyle, deluding themselves with a skinny decaf mocha light on the foam heavy on the syrup in a biodegradable cup with brown sugar and a plastic spoon, or something like that.

Here Mr. Orwell explains how to make a nice cup of tea.

A Nice Cup of Tea

If you look up 'tea' in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.

This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays--it is economical, and one can drink it without milk--but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase 'a nice cup of tea' invariably means Indian tea. Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities--that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad. Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water. Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes--a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners. Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly. Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference. Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle. Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup--that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one's tea is always half cold--before one has well started on it. Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste. Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.

Lastly, tea--unless one is drinking it in the Russian style--should be drunk WITHOUT SUGAR. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea-lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don't like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguide people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again. These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tea leaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one's ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

1 comment:

martypantsROK said...

Are you still around in Korea?

Looking for authors for an online magazine since the Korea Sun is no longer in business.

email me - Martin

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