Where There’s Tea There’s Hope

It’s not often I yearn for a cup of tea; though I still enjoy the occasional, comforting refreshment of a cup of hot tea with milk. I grew up drinking tea back when you didn’t have to spend half the morning trying to make up your mind whether your first cup of tea for the day was going to be a Green Tea, Earl Grey, Chai Tea, Chamomile, or some flavour of Fruit Infused Herbal Tea. Making a cup of tea was as simple as putting the kettle on, scooping a teaspoon for each cup and one for the pot of Bushells or Robur into the teapot, and pouring in the boiling water from the kettle. After the tea had steeped for a few minutes the rest was just as easy; pour the tea through a tea strainer into a cup and add a quick dash of milk and sugar to your taste.

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If you were sharing a cuppa with a few friends there was always the argument of whether the milk should be added to the cup before or after the hot tea. It’s suggested that putting the milk in first came about because people who owned fine china thought it was a bit dicey to pour hot tea into the cup first; it might cause the cup to break. It would only break if it was inferior china so if you were  a pretentious owner of fine china and wanted to show your social superiority you’d always pour the hot tea in first, thus demonstrating the quality of your china. I’m a put the milk in after the hot tea has been poured person; a reflection of my pomposity.

I used to yearn for a cup of tea when I was teaching in the Victorian Education Department’s Altona North, Williamstown, and Collingwood Technical Schools and giving it all I had to share the beauty and logic, and create an aesthetic appreciation of mathematics, in preadolescence boys. I seem to remember the first class period starting at nine in the morning, and the last period of the day finishing at half past three in the afternoon. There was a morning recess, lunch time and afternoon recess; these times out of the classroom were all that seemed to matter to the boys. And these times were also all that mattered to most of us teachers. We let our classes out the instant the bell rang to announce morning recess.

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Some of us anticipated the bell and already had the boys sitting up straight in their desks, their books in their bags, ready to be dismissed. There was no running in the corridors so the boys walked quickly into the yard to enjoy their morning recess; the teachers walked quickly in the corridors to the staff room. And we walked quickly to the staff room table with the tea urn, milk, and sugar; our mugs were on a peg board alongside the tea urn. We sat with our hot tea at our tables; tradies at their own table, english and social studies at theirs, math and science together, and the phys ed, accounting, and music teachers scattered around the room. The tables were united by the camaraderie of sharing a mug of hot tea, and the silence of sipping tea. Tea was our nectar; it revived us from the exhaustion of teaching a classroom of preadolescence boys, and it gave us strength and purpose for our next hour of teaching. Knowing our time was limited we risked scalded lips to savour a second cup of the divine beverage, and when the bell rang to announce the start of the next period we rose as one, flushed with a renewed strength, and headed off to our next class.

Each day at the start of each school year a makeshift daily timetable was pinned onto the staff room notice board.; at day’s end you’d check the timetable to find out what you were teaching tomorrow. The timetable was handwritten and detailed every class from form one through five, the room number, and the assigned teachers. In all the years I was teaching in Technical Schools I only knew the timetable to be put together by a trade teacher; a Fitting and Machining or Sheet Metal teacher. Usually around the third week of school the conflicts with teachers and room numbers had been worked through, and a permanent weekly timetable was pinned onto the notice board; a handwritten master piece usually on some engineering size drawing paper.

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Before we had memorised our timetable we gathered each morning in front of the notice board, and as we slowly sipped our hot tea reminded ourselves what we would be teaching for the week. You silently prayed that you weren’t assigned yard duty for morning or afternoon recess; for that would mean tea break without tea. And if you were assigned lunchtime yard duty you hoped for the last half hour. I still don’t know who made the tea in the Tech School staff rooms, but I knew that if you needed a hot cup of joy to start the morning, and a comforting refreshment during the morning recess, lunch time, and afternoon recess the urn was there.

It was one of those late weekend afternoons announcing the colours of autumn. I was in no hurry. I was slowly motoring home from the mall, when without warning I was struck with a yearning for a cup of tea. It was a short drive to a well known Omaha restaurant and bakery; described by some as serving simple but elegant foods, and showcasing a bakery lineup that includes everything from warm fat cinnamon rolls to strawberry wedding cake. Some time ago I learned that if you ask for tea in a restaurant you’ll be served iced tea ; I was prepared when the waitperson inquired

Waitperson: And what would you like to drink sir?
Me: (in a casual manner) Hot tea please

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He left and returned with a wooden box balanced on an extended arm. When he was within arms reach he slowly opened the lid and angled the box to allow me to see into it; I somewhat expected to see two percussion duelling pistols or the Crown of Scotland. Instead, the inside of the box was divided into eight small sections; each section just large enough to hold ten individually wrapped tea bags. The tea bag collection was made up of; Twining’s English Breakfast, Natural Green Tea, Lemon Delight, Earl Grey, Chai Spiced Apple, Chamomile, Naturally Decaffeinated Organic Green Tea, and Black Mixed Berry Tea. After some hesitation I reached into the box and chose two English Breakfast Tea teabags; I always top up the pot with hot water, and then put in a second tea bag after I pour the first cup.

Waitperson: If you take two tea bags I’ll have to charge for two teas

I put one of the tea bags back into the box. With tax, the cup of tea was costing about $3. 50 so now it would have been close on $7.00. As I waited for my hot water I pondered; at $3:50 a tea bag supermarkets should be charging $175:00 for a box of 50 Twinings London Classics English Breakfast Tea Bags. And that means the tea urns in the staff rooms at the Technical Schools would have had a couple of hundred dollars worth of tea in them. Three or four urns a day and you’re talking $400.00; I don’t think any of us thought about the cost of our morning recess, lunch time, and afternoon recess mug of divine goodness back then.

The waitperson returned with a small pot of lukewarm water, a lemon wedge, and an individual portion cup of honey; I asked for milk, knowing I would get cream. I let the tea bag steep in the pot for several minutes and then poured the tea into the cup; it was a cup of stained, see through, tepid water.

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I remembered back when a good jiggle would fix a pot of weak tea so I jiggled and jiggled. I gestured to the waitperson, and when he was alongside the table asked if he would look into the cup and tell me what he saw. Before he could answer I started on an articulate, and expressive description of a cup of hot tea and milk, and ended with the passionate declaration;

This cup of tea is an insult to all honest tea drinkers; the tea drinkers who don’t need a reason to put the kettle on for a cuppa, the tea drinkers who stand up and proudly ask “shall I be mother”. It’s a slap in the face to the tea drinkers whose grandfathers poured their tea from the cup into the saucer and drank from the saucer. I refuse to drink this swill; I took two tea bags to uphold the tradition and decency of all true blue tea drinkers.

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He replied that he couldn’t give me another tea bag because the video cameras were watching; but he would ask the manager if I could have another tea bag. He returned with the wooden box and opened the lid to expose the selection of tea bags; I took a Twinings English Breakfast tea bag.

I keep a small stash of English Breakfast tea bags in a kitchen cabinet; the next time I’m out and about and yearn for a cup of golden deliciousness I think I’ll wait until I get home. But I suppose I could always stop at a restaurant and order a Long Island Iced Tea; made by mixing vodka, gin, tequila, triple sec and rum, and then pouring the mixture over ice, and adding a dash of cola for colour. I wonder if you could add milk to a Long Island Iced Tea.

About 85% of the tea consumed in the US is iced tea so I should just go with the flow. Because restaurants and eateries offer bottomless ice tea I should just order tea and then add milk and sugar, and have endless glasses of iced sweet milk tea.


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