‘Put the jug on immediately!’ I said as I wrestled my way through the front door of our roadside motel in California. We’d just arrived in LA that morning and had spent the day in our enormous rented Dodge, motoring down Route 66. It marked the beginning of a month-long road trip around California and Nevada . It also marked the beginning of one of the most frustrating months of our lives.
‘There is no jug.’ Mr Smaggle said as he stared at the mini-kitchen bench top.
‘What? Of course, there’s a jug. Look in the cupboard.’
We looked in the cupboard. No jug. We looked in the bathroom. No jug.
Mr Smaggle said he’d duck downstairs and grab one from reception. He came back 5 minutes later, empty-handed. They didn’t have jugs. They had a coffee maker and an ice machine, but no way in which to make tea. Incidentally, there was also no tea, but that wasn’t really a problem as we had no way to make it.
We just sort of stared at each other and couldn’t figure out to fix this problem. It was really late at night, we weren’t entirely sure where we were and we were exhausted. We just wanted to fall into bed with a cup of tea but that didn’t seem like it was going to happen.
We went to sleep and then woke up grumpy because we had no way to make our morning cup of tea. I managed to get a cup of standard black tea with my omelette at the diner we went to for breakfast but I was dying for a strong cup of English breakfast tea with a good dash of fresh milk in it. The generic black tea bag with powdered creamer at the diner wasn’t really cutting it.
We forgot all about the tea situation until we checked into our next hotel and the same thing happened. No jug. Not even from reception. The lovely lady behind the counter looked confused and said ‘There’s a coffee machine and an ice machine!’.
This became the standard reply everywhere we went. We tried making tea in a coffee machine and it just tasted like coffee-tea. Occasionally we stayed at a place that had a jug but we learnt to buy our own fancy tea bags from Wholefoods because standard black tea in the US just wasn’t what I was after. Most of the time though we ended up finding 7 Eleven’s and getting our tea from there. You could make a big cup of milky tea for $1 that really hit the spot when it was late at night, we’d been travelling all day and all we wanted was a bloody cup of tea. We couldn’t even a carry a thermos because we had no way of actually making a thermos of tea. It was madness.
Before this trip, I hadn’t really thought that much about tea which is weird because I drink it constantly. I have at least three cups most days, sometimes more. It’s just such a part of my life that I didn’t notice until it was taken away from me.
Many years ago when I first moved to Melbourne, I lived with my friend Taë (some of you may remember her as Roomie Smaggle) whose mother is Japanese. Fo Taë, tea was an entire food group of its own. We had a full shelf in our kitchen that was devoted to tea and she had a tea for every ailment. She wouldn’t just run down to T2 and grab a box of fancy bullshit, she used to go into proper herbal medicine shops and buy brown bags of dried leaves and she’d put them dark amber jars like some kind of modern-day sorceress. I learnt about tummy teas, calming teas, wake you up teas and how to properly brew tea so you don’t destroy them. I also learnt from Taë how beautiful the act of tea making is. If I’d had a bad day, she’d take one look at me and put the kettle on. Next minute I’d have a beautiful cup and saucer filled magic elixir that would temporarily fix my problems. Tea drinking is a very excellent thing to get into so if you’re a bit stuck here’s my little tea drinking guide.
How To Drink Tea
Black tea is the most common type of tea you’ll find in the western world. Breakfast teas, Earl Grey, Chai and any kind of tea you’re likely to add milk to or dunk a biscuit in, is probably black tea. Black tea has the highest level of caffeine of all the teas so it’s pretty awesome for an afternoon pick me up.
Green tea is produced when fresh tea leaves are picked and steamed without being fermented (black tea is fermented). Green tea has a high antioxidant count and has been linked to weight loss and decreased blood pressure. Green tea is very much an acquired taste so if you think it tastes like cow poo then don’t bother drinking it… but you might also be preparing it wrong. Keep reading for green tea steeping tips!
White tea is made from very young buds that have been left to wither naturally unlike black and green teas that have been processed. White teas are very high in antioxidants and are usually a bit more expensive than other teas. Experts describe the taste of white tea as ‘mild and delicate’ but I think it tastes like boiling water that’s had potpourri floating in it. I still enjoy it and I feel very healthy-smug drinking it. Totally worth the investment.
Oolong tea is very popular in China. It’s similar to black tea but it goes through a shorter fermentation process. It’s kind of in between green and black tea. Many studies show links to weight loss and improved skin with increased consumption of Oolong tea.
Herbal teas technically aren’t tea as they don’t have any tea in them. They’re made from flowers, plant leaves, seeds and bark. They’re an excellent choice for people who can’t tolerate caffeine but love to have a delicious warm beverage.
1. Follow the instructions – they’re there for a reason.
2. Pay attention to temperature. For example, most black teas are fine to pour boiling water on immediately but green tea (and full credit goes to my cousin Alice for teaching me how to do this) needs the water to be ‘off the boil’. You can buy kettles that will boil the water to the temperature you need but if that’s overkill for you here’s a simple way to work it out.
If the ideal temperature on the box says 100 degrees (usually black and oolong teas) – pour boiling water straight onto your tea bag or infuser of tea.
If the ideal temperature on the box says 80 degrees (usually green tea and some white teas) – pour boiling water into your empty mug or pot, then add a splash of cold water to cool it slightly, THEN add your tea bag or infuser of tea. This prevents you from ‘burning’ your green tea and making it taste all bitter and nasty.
3. Time it. I had a mate come over the other day and she was shocked that I had timed the steeping of my tea. I’m shocked when people DON’T time their tea. Humans are TERRIBLE at guestimating time and lots of us are pretty terrible at remembering that we even made tea in the first place. How many times have you gone to the kitchen to find an ink-black and icy cold cup of tea that you made 6 hours ago? Always time your tea.
4. Use loose leaf tea when you can. Bags are brilliant but if you’re at home, it takes no extra time to pop a teaspoon of tea in a little single cup strainer. Mr Smaggle and I each have one of these babies from T2 and they’re brilliant. They are held by the top of your cup and give a beautiful and even steep of any kind of tea.
5. Make tea for everyone you love. It’s one of the nicest things you can do.
Do you know how to make tea? What’s your favourite brew?
Oh and tea is fab with gluten-free banana bread. Just saying.