Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Let's rescue the king of beverages

Oh, tea. It really is quite a drink, isn’t it? It has such a marvellously comforting quality, particularly when it’s just right. For me that means real leaf tea heaped in a chunky teapot filled up with water just at the moment it boils in the kettle, stirred, left for a few minutes to brew with a tea cosy on, on a tea tray with gorgeous cups, a tea strainer, milk, sugar for those partial, and a spoon. Then, it’s poured into the cups through the strainer, milk is added, stirred gently, and it’s ready to drink, all steaming, strong and powerful.

Yes, there’s quite a lot to making the perfect cup of tea in my world. I’m OK with teabags, just about, and there are certainly ways to make the most of a teabag brew so that it creates almost the same effect as the real stuff. Putting the teabags in a pot and leaving them in there to brew helps, for starters, instead of allocating one bag per mug and doing that vaguely depressing thing of prodding the teabag about in the water, scooping it out and plopping it in the bin or, worse, on the sideboard so that it sits there sweating its sad little cold life away.

The way you involve the milk is crucial, too. With a teabag brew, the only acceptable way to do it is to get the tea to the full strength – whether that’s through said prodding/plopping action, or through brewing it in a pot and then pouring it out – and then, only then, adding the milk. Sorry, but that thing people do where they add cold milk to the teabag before pouring the boiling water in? I don’t know what to say, actually. It renders me aghast.

Tea is ritual, first and foremost. It’s not actually a functional drink. Fine, it’s hydrating, but its purpose is so much more than that. If you’re thirsty, drink some water. The whole point of having tea is that it’s more fun. It’s about mood. And it’s about sharing, getting together and having a chat while it brews, pouring it out from the communal pot, and then going back for a second cup just because you can, and it’s nice.

So, office tea rounds really are one of the most depressing things I’ve ever encountered. And, actually, they are one of the principle reasons I don’t slot easily into the office environment. There’s just no place in the corporate world for a girl who wants tea time to involve pots, strainers and cosies, is there? Unless you make the bold decision early on to be the office nutter, winning yourself an irritating tea-based nickname like Loopy Leafy and being sent incessant internal emails and YouTube videos that have any slight ‘hilarious’ reference to Mad Hatter’s Tea Parties for however long you stay with the company which, because of the tedious tea nutter role you’ve assumed, will feel like approximately forever.

The worst thing about office tea rounds, for someone like me who is massively controlling and prescriptive about how tea should be made, is having to relinquish control to the person doing the round. I can’t say “Oh, that’s fine, you make everyone else’s; I’ll do my own” because that’s just rude, selfish and sounds nutty, and you certainly can’t follow your colleague into the kitchen and hover over them giving pointers and complaining when they’re doing it wrong. And you can’t always be the one to make the tea because you end up looking like the company skivvy. So, you either have to opt out of tea rounds completely, or allow the tea to be made for you in full knowledge of the atrocities happening behind the office kitchen door.

And eventually your tea arrives on your desk, and you just know from its appearance that it’s had almost no attention paid to it. It’s quite clearly a drink that’s been bunged together: bag, plonk, milk, slosh, done. It’s got a slight film of unstirred milk floating on its surface. It’s pale and not steaming: you suspect the milk’s gone in before the water. Horrifying. Instead of flavour – you’ve taken a sip to give it a chance – it has the sad non-taste of a drink prepared almost with disdain, as though the person resented the time it took even to brew it for 10 seconds. And you drink half of it, out of politeness, and if the tea maker passes by your desk you make a big “Oh, what am I like?” pretence of having innocently forgotten it and let it go cold.

Dear, oh dear. It really is unbearable. I just can’t see the point of drinking tea unless it’s made properly. I seriously think the office workers of this nation may as well just do water rounds and have done with it. At least there’s less room to make mistakes in preparation. I wonder: would everyone start jealously guarding their own particular water glass: one person with a tumbler, one a pint glass and another a hi-ball? I’m sure office politics would ensure that even water rounds would become a ridiculous song and dance, possibly leading to memos from HR about how best to transition an effective water preparation strategy going forward to ensure hydration buy-in from all team members.

But, it would still be preferable. Frankly, anything to protect tea, the king of beverages, from this ongoing, needless abuse. Read more by Maddie.