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The Papa Files: Tea Rituals

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Back when the show NCIS was good, I was intrigued by an episode in which the character Doctor “Ducky” Mallard, played by David McCallum of Outer Limits and The Man from Uncle fame, made his morning cup of English tea in the morgue. He boiled water in an electric kettle, poured it into a ceramic pot with the tea—not tea dust, mind you—and then covered it with some kind of dome-shaped cloth thing. Hey, what’s all that about? I looked it up and found that the cloth thing is called a tea cozy. It’s used to keep the pot hot while the tea is steeping. Ah, well I wanted one and I wanted the kind of tea Ducky used; Dried and whole leaf. (I think that’s what he used. it certainly wasn’t bags).

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I then made the mistake of telling my wife. She has the habit of viewing my casual conversations about something I’d like to have as a hint that I want her to buy the thing right now. Recently I broke the swiveling hinge-and-spring lamp I used on my desk, and I showed it to her. Three days later I got one from Amazon. The one I had was three feet tall and had a knob on the top as the switch. The one she got me was one foot tall and had the switch on the cord. (Hey, lamp guys! NEVER, EVER put the switch on the cord)! I reminded her of our previous discussions about her not buying me anything without consulting me first, but she’s too intent on surprising me. I certainly appreciate the effort, but I have never liked surprises.

So my wife bought me a tea cozy, but it was the wrong kind. Instead of a dome that covered the pot from above, it’s a flat-bottom thing that you put the pot on, and in, and close the top with ribbon-like drawstrings; the handle, lid, and spout remain exposed. And she bought a box of Lipton “loose” tea, which isn’t dust but isn’t whole leaf; it’s somewhere in between, chopped small enough that not all the bits sink to the bottom of the vessel like whole leaf, or can be restrained from passing through the mesh of a simple tea ball. I prefer pulp in my glass of orange juice, but I absolutely will not tolerate bits of tea in my cup of brew, anymore than I care for grounds of coffee hiding in the bottom of my mug, waiting for a last slurp of what turns out to be strong, gritty sludge. When I pointed out her mispurchase, she bought me a huge bag of English Breakfast tea, which is good because it’s the whole leaf, but she also ordered a tin of Earl Grey, fine grind, which to me tastes like medicine, or like the coating of those rubbery vitamin pills I remember from years ago. The next day a box of Scottish Breakfast Tea came in the mail, and by golly, it almost tastes like it smells! (I suspect ancient humans at first ground and snorted coffee and tea because the watery versions of those plants do not taste like how their aromatics entice the nose).

I scarcely noticed them before, but it turns out my wife has three teapots with matching cups and saucers. They’re in a dining room cabinet, and apparently, they’re there to impress somebody other than me. Eagerly I took one of the pots down (the cups are way too small), snuggled it into the flat-bottomed cozy, added English Tea and a sprig of my wife’s garden sweet mint, poured in a mug’s worth of hot water, and let it steep for four minutes. I put a teaspoon of sugar (honey) and milk (half-n-half) into my mug as per the English pot-brewed preparatory convention, and when my timer rang, I poured into the mug and stirred, and oh my it was good! I put too long of a sprig of mint in, though, so it tasted like tea-flavored Mentos. But it was delicious!

And then I discovered how difficult it is to clean a teapot. (Continued next week.)

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