A cup of tea with George Orwell; or how tea has, and hasn’t changed in 70 years.
Posted on July 26 2015
My sister sent me a link on Facebook today. A reminder, from 6312 miles away, of our reluctantly British mother’s many cups of tea. The link, which I will attach for your perusal, is part of an essay by George Orwell, published in the mid-1940’s on “The 11 golden rules to make a perfect cup of tea”.
I’ll preface this by saying I’m a big admirer. George Orwell was a remarkable man, a gentleman and a scholar, and I have not, since my early 20’s, lived in a home without a pot of aspidistra, prominently displayed. And it’s not that Orwell’s 11 rules, wouldn’t produce a perfectly adequate cuppa. They would, in fact produce a fine, British style, brisk, energizing cup that I’d be happy to consume on a cold, dreary day, or, since I now live in Florida, on a day when I feel homesick. On many a day, I’ve reached for our Khongea CTC Assam, or, our Irish Breakfast, to make just such a cup. Both of these teas produce a rich, brisk, biscuity cup. And yes, I put the milk in my mug (not teacup) after I pour the tea and I don’t use sugar because Orwell’s rules #8, #10 and #11 sum up my feelings exactly.
So, you may very well ask at this point, what is my problem with the 11 rules? Well, the problem is (forgive me mother, forgive me George) the British know very little about tea. There! I said it! Because not all tea is black and not all tea is meant to be drunk with milk. Both George and mother aspired to producing an admirable cup but, it was the same admirable cup each time. You and I have been blessed with access to hundreds of truly extraordinary teas! Teas my mother and George couldn’t have even imagined. (OK, in all fairness maybe that only applies to mother).
Each day I walk into Tea and Chi there is a decision to make, before I get started with my morning chores; “What will it be today?”. A thick, earthy, Golden Puer, is brewed with boiling hot water but should not be adulterated with milk. The vegetal, light, bright green Fukamushi Sencha can only be brewed for a minute or less, and the water temperature should not exceed 165 F or the result is practically poisonous! The delicate, floral, Monsoon Darjeeling steeps at 195 F for 3-4 minutes. The elusive, lingeringly sweet, organic Bai Mu Dan should steep for 2-4 minutes at 175 F and the exquisite, hand harvested, chocolaty Yunnan Gold Tips at 212 F for 3-5 minutes. My regular evening brew, the honey-scented, caffeine free Honeybush is practically indestructible and is forgiving of all brewing carelessness. I could go on but I’m sure you get the point. Each tea is as unique as the garden and the master that produced it. You owe it to yourself, and to the tea, to brew each one to its fullest potential. It’s unlikely that you’ll develop a fondness for every type of tea in existence, even if those teas are the finest of their kind. But you’ll have tried, and you’ll have made your own rules when you finally find your favourites.