A meditation on tea

My favourite drink in my favourite big mug, with added chip

Do you want to know what my two favourite moments of the day are? I’m sure I’m supposed to say something wanky like seeing my kids smiling faces when they wake up, or covered in yoghurt. But really that’s not it. It’s the first cup of tea when I wake up in the morning; bought to me by DH if I am really lucky, or frantically made while chucking toast and Coco Pops at the kids with one hand, and pumping breast milk with the other; and last cup of tea of the day when the kids are finally in bed. God, those are sips of paradise. I can’t tell you how much I love tea. I’m going to try though.

Well, firstly, it usually has to be decaf. Years and years ago, before decaf and other poncey teas became fashionable, I went on a bit of a health kick, eating more fruit and veg and going to the gym, which was a good deviation from the last 3 years at uni which had been spent living off ice cream, Smash with gravy, and WKD Blue. I drank such a lot of tea and decided that I didn’t want to undo all the effort by consuming so much caffeine that my body couldn’t absorb vitamins (it’s true you know, I read it in a magazine). Rather than give up my habit, I switched to decaf, which back then you could only buy in Whittard’s, and seeing as I was living in the armpit of North Wales which had about 3 recognisable high street stores, I would stock up whenever I came across one. I didn’t miss the caffeine. I don’t drink tea for the caffeine hit. I drink it for it’s milky goodness, the way it fills you up and refreshes you at the same time, the comforting aroma that evaporates off with the steam. I like to drink it while it is still piping hot, though I find it really hard to leave a half drunk cup of tea so I have been known to neck it when it is lukewarm. Something just doesn’t feel quite right when I’ve left an undrunk cup of tea. I don’t always realise that’s what it is, but I can sense an imbalance in my equilibrium.


The only thing I suggest to expectant parents to buy is a thermal mug, that

Get it while it's hot!

way you always get to drink a hot cup of tea, even when you are stuck holding a breastfeeding baby for hours on end, and the kind person who made you a cup of tea put the cup just out of reach, so by the time the baby comes up for air it’s stone cold. Secondly, you can drink the tea over the baby and not worry about spilling it over your precious bundle. For me, my trusty Berghaus has done me for two babies.


There is very little that a nice cup of tea cannot make better. Over the years I’ve built up associations with a cup of tea. Tea when friends visit, tea to tide you over till dinner if I am hungry, tea when you are feeling frazzled, sad, celebratory, bored or to temper any number of emotions. Tea is my panacea, or my placeabo. I distinctly remember having very milky, sugary tea in a bottle, which will give you some idea of how long I have had a relationship with this burnished nectar. I cannot eat cake or chocolate without a cup of tea to help it melt in my mouth and diffuse the flavours.

The preparation of a perfect cup of tea is hotly debated. I tend to not use a teapot as I am usually the only one with decaf tea. You shouldn’t stir the tea or squeeze the tea bag as it brings out the tannins. Of course tea purists wouldn’t even consider bagged tea, which commonly contain the dust or ‘fannings’, a by-product of the process for making more high quality teas. But I don’t like loose leaf tea as the leaves that escape make me gag! I’m not a tea snob, I just like it hot and wet. Then there is the age old milk first or last debate. If using a tea pot I prefer to put milk into the cup first so I can see how brewed the tea is when I pour it. In a mug milk goes in while the tea bag is still steeping so can see when the tea has reached it’s desired colour before removing the bag.

While tea is thought of a quintessentially English, it actually only became really popular here in the 19th Century, but has been consumed in China since 200 BC. Lots of cultures drink tea in various forms, it is a common refreshing drink in the Middle East. Japan and China conduct highly ritualized tea ceremonies. In Malaysia they pour tea from great heights to increase it’s frothiness and creaminess, and have taken it to new levels with a complicated dance where the participants must pour tea into each other’s containers. Then there is the American’s, with their heavily sweetened iced tea. I don’t know how that came about but maybe it stems from 1773 when they chucked a load of tea into the cold Boston Harbour in protest at their British masters, in the build up to the American Revolution.

No matter how you like your cup of char or Rosie Lee, you are always welcome to mine for a cup of tea. Ooh look, I’m a poet and I didn’t know it! I’ll leave you with a more eloquent real poem about tea by John Agard in Ten Poems About Tea.

Alternative Anthem – John Agard

Put the kettle on
Put the kettle on
It is the British answer
to Armageddon.

Never mind taxes rise
Never mind trains are late
One thing you can be sure of
and that’s the kettle, mate.

It’s not whether you lose
It’s not whether you win
It’s whether or not
you’ve plugged the kettle in.

May the kettle ever hiss
May the kettle ever steam
It is the engine
that drives our nation’s dream.

Long live the kettle
that rules over us
May it be limescale free
and may it never rust.

Sing it on the beaches
Sing it from the housetops
The sun may set on empire
but the kettle never stops.