Until I was in grad school, I wasn’t much of a coffee drinker. I drank mostly Lipton’s tea with milk and sugar until one day the red Twinnings tin of loose English Breakfast tea caught my eye and I thought I would try it. Well, I’ve never touched Lipton’s since then.When I spent a semester abroad in France, I became very friendly with a Canadian fellow who was an avid tea drinker and enjoyed formal afternoons teas. One afternoon, we discovered a little tea shop that had a little restaurant that served “Afternoon Tea” to the British ex-pats. I always looked forward to 4:00 pm when we’d make our jaunt, settle in to have tea, and try all the assorted sandwiches and pastries. It was such a civilized way to spend the afternoon.
When I returned to the States and told my mother about my love for afternoon tea, we decided to start our own tradition and stock up on different types of tea, which included, Early Grey, Irish Breakfast, Ceylon, Jasmine, Orange Pekoe, Oolong. Every afternoon, we’d take out our good tea set and sip that day’s choice and savor the tiny sandwiches and pastries we made.
In one of my weekly forays to our local independent bookstore, I discovered Having Tea by Catherine Calvert, and I knew that I had to buy this book just by looking at the cover. I’ve had this book for 22 years now and it’s still one of my favorites.
If you want to go beyond dunking a teabag in a mug and enjoy a civilized “cuppa,” Calvert’s book gives you five option on how to be civilized and a slew of recipes. And chuck away that all chipped mug, because you’ll need a proper tea service if truly want to enjoy tea.
If I had to pinpoint what I like so much about Having Tea, I’d have a hard time. As I leaf through the book, I ooh-and ahh at the tea services that have been photographed. These range from traditional white porcelain sets to 1930s Art-Deco geometric designs. Others include delicate flowered porcelain sets (we had those, my mother was partial to egg-shell thin porcelain with an ornate flower design), to Asian-inspired services.
But my oohs soon change to stomach grumblings as I read through the recipes, I suddenly get a hankering for “Brunch in the City” which consists of the following:
• Toasted Cornmeal Muffins with Apple Butter
• Slow-Scrambled Eggs with Cream and Chives
• Pan-Fried Tomatoes with Fresh Tarragon
• Honey-Dew Melons Wedges with Lemon
• Bloody Mary’s and English Breakfast Tea.
Now that’s how you kick off a Sunday!
What if you’re in the mood for a picnic? Try “Summer Harvest Picnic” which includes:
• Honey-Glazed Chicken with Rosemary
• Red Potato Salad
• Vine-Ripened Tomatoes with Fresh Basil
• Crusty White Peasant Bread
• Old-Fashioned Peach Pie
• Fresh Peaches
• Mint Iced Orange Pekoe Tea
In addition to the recipes, Calvert includes a section on tea tasting and lists the major types of tea and their individual characteristics. Like wine, the qualities in tea reflect the region they’re cultivated, the soil, the altitude, and the climate.
Once you’ve decided what teas you like, you need to stock your tea larder. Some items you might want to consider:
• Crystallized Ginger (sweet, but with a little kick)
• Preserves (stir in the preserves in your cup in the fashion of the Russians or Hungarians)
Short on tea sandwich ideas? Calvert offers the following:
• Stilton Cheese crumbled over pear slices on oatmeal bread
• Asparagus spears with lemon mayonnaise on wheat bread
• Smoked turkey with raspberry mayonnaise on cracked what bread
Next time, when you need a pick me up of sorts, skip the Starbucks. Instead, have a nice cuppa with a few shortbread biscuits and enjoy your tea time.