Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Cup of Rosey Lee

There is nothing else like it, in fact its my drug of choice - a cup of Rosey Lee. It’s my heart starter in the morning and a comfort at any other time of the day, a good refreshing stimulating cup of tea. I would not be so crass as to impugn all of my adopted countrymen by saying Americans can’t make one, but I have to tell you it is still hard to get a decent cuppa tea in this country, so here is an attempt to do something about it.

I was standing in a salon on the upper deck of the Queen Mary one day talking to Samuel Twining. He was here to launch his family’s latest product, Blackcurrant Tea. There were all sorts of people there to shake hands and take the chance to say they had met such a celebrity. There were members of the Consular Corps and the local British community, all making small talk, and one of the Consular emissaries was trying to rush Mr. Twining through the crowd so that he would be able to make whatever the next commitment was on their schedule. Then there was me, Dr. McLeod, who asked “at what temperature are the aromatic hydrocarbons best released from the steeping tea.” Well Mr. Twining and I had a good long chat much to the chagrin of the organizers of the event, and I want to share with you now what we discussed and how to make a proper cup of tea.

The aromatic hydrocarbons, the fragrant oils in the leaf of the tea plant, are only liberated at high temperature. Now, because we make tea with water the highest temperature possible in 212̊F, or 100̊C. That is not actually very hot in the scheme of things, but it does get the job done, and although it is on the low end it is enough to give tea that magic taste. Much below this temperature and the oils are only minimally released , and down at 85̊C the tannic acid is released much more liberally than the oils. So what’s the point? You can’t make a decent cuppa without using boiling water, not boiled - boiling. While we are on this point it should be fresh water at a new rolling boil, and from thence straight into the hot pot and onto the leaves. Fresh water is still oxygenated and the presence of oxygen enhances the aroma and taste of tea.

Cover the pot with a cosy to keep it really hot and let the tea steep for about three minutes, then pour into china cups or mugs through a strainer. If you like milk, and I do, then contrary to George Orwell’s 1946 opinion in the Evening Standard I think it should go into the cup first, and not without very good reason. I like my tea hot, it’s more fragrant that way. By Newton’s Law of Cooling a body loses heat at a rate that is directly proportional to its temperature above the ambient surroundings. By the Method of Mixtures Law we learn that the resulting temperature of two volumes of liquid which have different temperatures being mixed is a new mixture with a lower temperature from which heat is lost more slowly. What that means is that when you pour tea into a cup it loses heat very quickly at first, and if you then add milk the resultant mixture will have a lower temperature than doing it the other way, milk first. By the way never use cream or half and half, it ruins the tea.

There is another reason to put the milk in first, and that is because milk is a natural buffer. It neutralizes the acid in tea and stops the cup being etched and stained. Teeth too! The argument that you can better judge the color of the tea by putting the milk inafterwards is just specious. Heaven knows if you make tea enough times you instinctively know how much milk to put in. I think the lily-livered writer was spoiled by having others take care of it all for him.

There are a lot of other little refinements and niceties that I would love to add which would turn this spot into a tome. But click away if you are curious and you too will be a tea afficionado.

Tea Time
(try this to the mocking bird hill tune)
When the light in the morning
Falls gently on me,
I go to the kitchen
Where I make the tea.
There are cups for my wife
And my dear little boy,
And my golden haired daughter
They fill me with joy.

And my son is a sleeping
Still sound in his bed,
The light it is a’playing
In the curls on his head.
Oh! Its early in the morning
I’m thrilled as can be.
To wake up with the dawning
With a nice cup of tea.

When the evening time falls
And I’m coming back home,
With thought of my darlings
I never would roam.
Sure the cat and the children
They run to greet me,
Then we all settle down with
A nice cup of tea.

Then at night time when I’m telling
A story or lilt
Their heads are gently nodding
On the pillow or quilt.
And it softly that we leave them,
My darling and me,
And make a benediction
With a nice cup of tea.

September 5, 1998

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