Friday, August 04, 2006
going warm turkey: the tea post
This is how weekday breakfast used to go when I was a kid: Violet had set the breakfast table and put on a pot of tea. Saeed would come downstairs, she'd pour him and herself a glass, and they would start their breakfast -- pita or lavash with cheese or butter and some sort of preserves, usually sour cherry. My sister would arrive downstairs, ready for school, in a grey button-down, pink sweater over it, black leggings, and pink bow in her permed hair, bubbling over about how Simon Le Bon, the lead singer of Duran Duran, is a Massive Babe! I would come downstairs, disheveled hair, still groggy, in the sweats I wore to sleep (with the elastic at the ankle pulled down over my feet to keep them warm, natch). I'd plop myself down between Saeed and Torreh and start eating my cereal with one hand. I would sit on the other hand. To keep it warm! So, Saeed would cup his hands tightly around his glass of tea, then take each of my hands in his and squeeze them tight to warm me up.
At night, my parents would have another glass of tea with fruit after dinner (now that I know about things like caffeine, this is mystifying to me -- how did they ever fall asleep?). They'd pour me a glass too -- a tiny one, very light, lots of sugar. I guess it's weird that parents would be giving their small children tea, but in our house, it was perfectly normal -- tea was like the air you breathe.
When I moved out of my parents' house to the college dorm, I didn't take any food with me. But I took a small jar of my mom's tea blend. To this day, that old blend is my very favorite, and I have a jar of it sitting with the rest of our kitchen's ridiculously extensive collection. It's nothing fancy -- just a mix of darjeeling and Earl Grey -- but when prepared in the Persian way (more on that below), it's mild and delicate, but sublime.
In case it wasn't clear, I love tea. Not in the way one loves vanilla frosting, or strawberries. It's not just the taste. It's experiential. I have had tea in my life for as long as I can remember, and as I've gotten older, I've learned to appreciate what surrounds tea -- the ritual, the short break from your day with something warm, and in the best case, the person with whom you share a conversation and a cuppa.
I haven't had tea in a long time. Why? Because I'm addicted to caffeine. Doesn't make sense? Allow me to explain. (I'm kind of enjoying this question-statement-question-statement cadence -- I've never been shy about talking to myself -- but alas I've run out of questions!) Every morning at work I have coffee. Except not exactly coffee. Some have referred to the coffee offered by my employer as swill. This is generous. I'm not snobbish about coffee, but this stuff is just bad. Fortunately, we have an espresso machine. I don't have the time for the foaming and steaming every day, but I do pull an espresso, and add some steamy hot water: I make myself an Americano. I require this fix every morning. I could not perform my job without it. I fear that tea does not provide the caffeine kick that the daily Americano does. It appears that bold brash coffee has bullied its way into my routine and shoved tea to the wayside.
Don't get me wrong. I do have a sweet spot for coffee and espresso drinks. In fact, I just love the idea of any caffeine ritual. Whether it's the endlessly refilled mug at brunch or a fancy cappuccino from a sidewalk cafe, it smells delicious, it offers the opportunity to be served or to serve others, and it just sets off a bit of the day for casual hospitality, a quick chat about your day, and a little pick-me-up whenever you need it. (I'm realizing also that I have a million little caffeine ritual stories -- enough to merit at least one more post. Soon.)
But, one day last week, I had a really scary moment. I had finished the day's Americano, sipped the last drop. And I was still extremely groggy. This was a huge wake-up call (ironic considering I was half-asleep). Had my caffeine resistance come this far? What happened to me? I recalled my first job out of college -- I came in at 8 each morning, I did not have any caffeine at all, and I was more productive than I've ever been since. What happened to me?
So, measures are underway. I am not one for extremes; going cold turkey is just not my style. So, I've been taking baby steps towards cutting through the morning caffeine jolt. This week, I've been trying to take it easy at night, not drink alcohol, and go to sleep early, setting myself up for success. I've been drinking tons of water. And I've slowly decreased the amount of ground espresso that I use to make my morning drink. I started with two solid clicks on Monday, and by Friday I had less than one. Next week I plan to rip back into that box of green tea bags that I've neglected way too long.
For consuming on a regular basis, tea is just better (for me anyway). Coffee just seems harsh. Its acidity sometimes does serious damage to my insides, and I can't have it without milk and sugar. Tea on the other hands, is actually good for you -- antioxidants and all, especially in the green variety. And it's basic and simple -- no milk, no sugar needed. I'm looking forward to bringing it back into my routine. I have missed it quite a bit.
As stated, I'm sticking with teabags for work, and green ones at that. But, I will mention the Persian way of steeping tea. I believe it's far superior to what we're used to here, but I may be a bit biased. It's based on the Russian method of teamaking, traditionally done with a samovar. But at home, it can be done with a 'double boiler' type teakettle -- a larger pot on the bottom for hot water, a smaller one on top for tea.
How to Make Tea, the Persian Way
1. In the larger of 2 teapots, bring enough water to a boil to cover the number of cups you need, plus a little more to compensate for evaporation.
2: Meanwhile, place some loose tea of your choice in the smaller teapot, within a strainer or tea ball if you prefer.
3: When the water comes to a boil, lower the heat to its lowest setting. Pour about one-fifth of the hot water over the tea into the small pot. Place the small teapot on top of the large one, and allow it to steep for 5-10 minutes, until the top teapot contains a dark brown, concentrated tea. Take care to ensure that the top pot never comes to a boil -- nobody likes boiled tea.
4: Now, you can pour tea, customizing the strength of each glass (and yes, glass. Persian tea is always served in a clear glass, so you can appreciate the color). Pour a small amount of tea into a glass (If you did not use a strainer in the pot, pour through one now). Dilute with hot water from the the bottom pot. If it's too light, add more tea.
And finally, here is an extensive and really fascinating HOWTO document on samovars. It is written with the Linux geek as its demographic, and it leans towards Russian traditions, but a lot of it is relevant here and there are lots of interesting details.
Coffee is not going away completely -- I love it too much. But the key here is moderation and balance. I'm going to try and restore a bit of mine that had been lost. So far, so good.