The best cup of tea
A great cup of tea, you sip it and the hot liquid kisses your lips. The familiar mix of flavors washes over your tongue, warms your body and soul. It makes you feel cozy, relaxed and energized all at the same time. Whether your favorite variety is a black Assam from India, a silver needle from China or an herbal from Montana, a great cup of tea is all about the feeling it produces in the drinker.
Serious tea drinkers know that a great cup of tea must begin with pure, quality water with just the right balance of minerals and a neutral pH. Depending on the variety, it should be brewed at just the right temperature; not too hot, not too cold. Of course, you begin with high-quality tea leaves, stored in a cool, dry, dark place. When drinking tea with milk, only add the milk after brewing, never before. In fact, the British chef, Jamie Oliver cautions that great tea requires oxygen in the water so never re-boil water for brewing.
Chef Jamie Oliver’s guidelines for the best cup of tea:
- always use loose leaf tea – if your tea comes in a tea bag, empty it out into the cup!
- always use a porcelain cup
- use a thermometer to ensure water is heated to the exact temperature required for the variety of tea being brewed.
- brew your tea inside a tea pot with a lid
- cover the tea pot with a tea cozy to keep it at the optimal temperature longer
But back to the reason that makes a great cuppa, great - the feeling you get when sipping it. It’s all about the feeling.
I’d like to share with you my memory of the most perfect cup of tea I’ve ever enjoyed.
The day was hot and dry. We had been to a couple of long community meetings where all were given time to say their piece. The project will belong to the community, after all, we need to make sure it works for them and is an efficient, sustainable solution to their need for water. The well will be expensive and paid for by heartfelt gifts from regular people back home. We want to honor and respect their contributions. The water well, when completed will provide clean water for thousands who currently must walk miles to collect water from a muddy river.
After the meetings we bump back along the rutted dirt trail, wiping dust, sunscreen and sweat from our faces and cracked lips. My stomach growls, I’m used to eating quite a bit more than one meal per day. We are on our way back to the manyatta – home for this week. After a couple of hours of bumping along, swerving around stumps and holes, thorn bushes whacking the sides of the car, we pull up to the mud hut. The sun slips below the horizon and the air begins to cool noticeably. I pull my heavy bags from the car and deposit them in my room. There is a chill in the air now and the breeze picks up. I can smell the smoke from the cooking fire inside the mud hut. I pop inside and say hello to Noomali, we exchange the traditional, warm Maasai greeting of a hug and a kiss to each cheek – first left, then right. Noomali, the matriarch of the family is boiling water she fetched at the dirty river earlier today. After the water comes to a boil she adds a mixture of freshly collected cow and goat’s milk and a handful of loose tea leaves. Stirring the steaming brown liquid, she sprinkles some sugar into the pot. After a few minutes, she removes the pot from the fire and pours the mixed tea through a well-worn strainer into tin mugs. One for everyone, I raise the hot tin cup to my lips and blow steadily on the steaming tea. Noomali motions to the low, hand-carved stool that her grandfather had made many years before. It is the seat of honor in the dirt floor kitchen. I try to refuse, suggesting she sit there instead, but she won’t have it. I sit down in the warm smoky kitchen and take a sip of the Maasai ‘mixed tea’. The smooth, hot liquid touches my tongue and I immediately enjoy the eclectic blend of flavors. Fresh milk, black tea, slightly sweet with a touch of ginger and smoke. Aah! This was the perfect way to share a moment of rest, and communicate with a smile, laugh and a heartfelt “Sidai!” (very good!) to my lovely hostess. I continue to savor the tea to the last drop. I have had mixed tea many times since, in Kenya and at home. While all have been tasty and enjoyable none could match that “perfect” cup of tea that I shared with Noomali in her mud kitchen years ago. The perfect cup of tea is a mix of company, setting, mood and intention. And to think, all this time we thought it was about the water!? :)
If you would like to learn more about Noomali and the water development projects of Montana on a Mission in Kenya, please visit their website or Facebook page and consider a donation. Any amount makes a huge difference in the lives of families who struggle to survive.