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Tea
(Or, Why I Almost Never Drink It In Restaurants)
by Barbara Ann Rosenberg

Tea "Don't miss high tea at the Ritz!" urged - - no, commanded, my (purportedly) most sophisticated friend, as I headed out the door many years ago, bound for London for my very first visit to that fascinating city.

As it turned out she was wrong, very wrong in her advice! No one at that plus ultra of elegance hotel, the Ritz, would be caught dead having "high tea", except one of the porters, perhaps...or a scullery maid! It seems that "high tea" is the working class equivalent of "supper" at which meal "ordinary folks" eat such things as "bangers and mash" (translates as "hot dogs and mashed potatoes") or Shephard's pie (lamb stew with some kind of crust)...certainly not the exquisite, refined food for which the Ritz (and its stellar chef, David Nicholls) are noted.

What my friend had in mind was, actually, "afternoon tea", a ritual of the upper class (or "would be" upper class) folks who regularly indulge in a repast of teeny-weeny sandwiches concocted of such delectable things as watercress and shrimp pate followed by assorted teeny-weeny decorated pastries in fanciful shapes - - and a pot of properly brewed tea.

And, now, it seems that, in addition to the elegance of this afternoon tea ritual, having a "cuppa'" (as the British call it when they're sitting down to enjoy a cup - - or a pot - - of tea under normal circumstances) is happening more and more at much more plebian places than these exalted hotels. Actually, they ("they" being the pundits who forecast these things) tell us that tea is becoming more in vogue, and drunk by more and more people anywhere a waitress, waiter or counterman can plunk a tea bag alongside a cup (or a mug) of hot water...or, perhaps classier places that offer you a choice of tea bag flavors (in foil wrappers or not) and serve you the water, perhaps, in a fancier cup.

Which is getting now to the point of this story....what are people supposed to do with those tea bags once they have finished using them? Give them a quick squeeze or two and put them on a napkin or the tablecloth to ooze a spreading stain, or lay them daintily in the saucer...to ooze a spreading puddle that drips on your clothes when you attempt to lift the cup to your mouth.

Personally, I don't find any of these choices in any way attractive! In fact, I hate drinking tea anywhere I have to deal with a tea bag....unless, by some chance, the (rare) place I happen to be gives me a little sauce dish or some equally innocuous repository for that soggy mess that is lifted from the hot water after it's done it's job of coloring the liquid - - and, hopefully, infused it with some flavor, as well. But, how is one to know? After all, no restaurant (at least that I know about) notes on its menu, "tea bag repositories provided." Then, again, though, maybe they should do just that...

Or, better yet...restaurants could use a pot for the tea they serve. A pot with the lid that fits, and a handle that doesn't burn your fingers - - and, best of all that doesn't leak all over the table when you pour it! What a revolutionary idea!

So, whether it's at the Four Seasons or a more modest establishment, think "tea" for a change of pace...and start making "noise" when the classic beverage is not served so you don't drip all over your clothing. Even the folks who work in a diner or a corner cafe can provide an extra saucer, cup, or plastic receptacle. However, you generally don't have to worry about a tea bag when you insert coins into one of those machines that dispense noxious brews made of where some sort of tea powder called instant tea infuses the hot water to a bitter, but otherwise tasteless, (to me) drink. How much more "instant" can you get than a tea bag...it only takes a couple (or three...or, even, five minutes to extract every bit of the flavor? Slow down, relax and enjoy the nuances of the beverage.

Tea, after all is part of our heritage...an important enough part to have precipitated a Revolution in the 18th century! I can't foresee any danger of a repetition of such a drastic event, but, nevertheless, we should give the drink the respect it deserves.



What are the different types of tea?

There are more than 3,000 varieties of tea, each with its own flavor, body, color and aroma. Like wines, they take their names from the districts where they are grown. While there is only one species of tea plant, Camellia Sinensis, from which all teas are made, local conditions in the various tea-growing regions of the world produce varieties which are unique from each other. The major tea producing countries include India, China, Taiwan (Formosa), Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Japan, and Africa.

Black Tea -- The harvested leaves are spread out to wither. Next the leaves are rolled, which liberates the aromatic juices and onsets a mysterious chemical change through the absorption of oxygen. This fermentation process, which occurs only in high humidity and warm temperatures, turns the leaves a bright copper color and imparts them with subtle flavors. After a few hours, the leaves are dried with hot fans to end the fermentation.

Scented Black Tea -- Fermented tea leaves are set on screens to be scented or smoked. Fans are used to spray the leaves with scented fragrances or oils, such as the citrus bergamot which produces an aromatic Earl Grey tea. Fans can also run smoke over the leaves which results in smoky teas like Lapsang Souchong.

Oolong Tea -- The process is similar to black tea, but the withering and fermentation times are cut down. The fermentation is stopped before completion. This results in a fragrant tea that evokes both black and green tea qualities.

Green Tea -- Tea leaves are harvested and immediately put into a large steamer and heated. This softens the leaves for rolling and keeps the juices from oxidizing. The leaves are then rolled or twisted and dried again and again until crisp. They remain green in color.

White Tea -- Only the tender buds of the tea plant are picked; they are not rolled or fermented, just carefully dried. Fine downy white hairs remain on the silver-colored slivers which have a fragrance reminiscent of a delicate orchid.




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