You Can Have Your Tea and Enjoy It, Too.

Tea has been a part of my life since childhood. Between being born into an Armenian family and spending my formative years in London, I was surrounded at an early age by dried leaves of splendor. A cuppa (or cupper) was the beverage of choice when my Mum’s friends dropped by for a quick visit. Likewise, we were served tea when we went visiting. I don’t think I can recall anyone ever saying, “No, thank you. I’ll have a coffee instead.” That, in the pre-Starbucks England of the ’70s to mid ’80s was unheard of.

Tea was everywhere. We saw it on the telly on adverts (commercials) and shows, such as EastEnders. The PG Tips monkeys were very popular and the company ran a long campaign with them (1956-2002). You couldn’t get away from the stuff, not that you’d want to, and drinking tea was as much a part of the day’s activities as breathing. 


Of course, there was tea time (otherwise known as afternoon tea) and high tea. We would come home from school and our Mum had tea and iced buns or Bakewell tarts waiting for us. We’d slip out of our school uniforms into our comfort clothes, and enjoy the tea as its steam warmed our hands, cheeks, and noses. That was our tea time, usually around 4 p.m., and we held to it for all our England school days. Cream_Tea

Every now and then, we’d have high tea, which is distinguished as more of a meal, something like supper. For high tea, we would have sandwiches, perhaps some fish and vegetables, and, of course, tea with the cosy on the teapot. For us, tea time was almost a daily occurrence; whereas, high tea was occasional. I remember both very fondly.


Maybe J.R. is enjoying a Long Island Iced Tea?

Less tasty was my first venture with iced tea. My younger sister and I made it on a whim, after viewing an American evening soap opera, perhaps Dallas or Dynasty. In any case, we knew iced tea was an American phenomenon and, thus, it had the allure of glamour. There we were in our kitchen, measuring the water, dropping in the teabag, waiting for it to cool, and adding in a few ice cubes. Maybe we didn’t brew it correctly, or, more likely, our taste buds weren’t used to it, but we were disgusted at the first sip. Everything about it seemed wrong–from pouring tea into a glass instead of a cup or mug to watching the ice cubes bob away. We couldn’t understand how Americans could suffer the stuff. We thought they were as nutty as their behavior on the soap operas indicated. Many years later, I’ve grown to love iced tea and it is my cold (non-alcoholic) beverage of choice.

Nostalgia aside, I like the associations that tea carries with it. Coffee has a place in my household, and its aroma is delicious. However, I find that coffee is almost always linked with caffeine addiction and getting through a tedious workday.

Tea tends to have more positive connotations.

Tea is healthy. When was the last time you heard anyone state, “Yeah, the doctor said I had to give up tea”? Probably never. Tea has proven medicinal benefits, such as protection against heart disease and types of cancer. My Mum would serve us mint tea when our stomachs hurt, and, many years later to this day, the smell of mint tea conjures the same loving feeling that I felt as a child. Beyond my Mum’s herbal remedies is scientific proof in Dr. Oz’s article about the benefits of tea. In fact, “there doesn’t seem to be a downside to tea,” says American Dietetic Association spokeswoman, Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, LD. You can read more about the types of teas and their health benefits here.

Another wonderful attribute is that tea is communal and comforting. You offer a cup of tea to soothe shaken nerves or for warmth. People ponder and reflect and commiserate while having a cup. Even young children play tea party, where they mimic the hospitality of serving and sharing tea. Within many countries (China, Japan, India, Afghanistan, for example), the sharing of tea is ritualized. Some rituals are for more formal occasions, such as the Chinese wedding tea ceremony, and others are honor-bound, such as the offering of tea to guests. People share it, and that’s one of the many things that makes tea so lovely.  

Finally, tea has quite the association with another of my favorite subjects, literature. Esteemed writer C.S. Lewis is quoted as having said,”You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”  Henry James, acclaimed American author, stated, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” I couldn’t agree more.
Check out this flavorwire article on 25 famous tea drinkers. Most of them are authors, and there’re some musicians and actors in the blend. I especially like Morrissey’s take on tea: “One day I decided to try to have a complete day without tea. I was quite shaken. I was quite disturbed.” I know what you mean, mate! I can’t go a day without a good cup of Earl Grey, Darjeeling, or Irish Breakfast.
So, whether you are of the likes of the Downton Abbey staff or of the Countess Dowager’s ilk, whether you add cream, sugar, lemon, or leave it be, you can have your tea and enjoy it, too.
Downton Abbey staff Dowager Countess
Photos from Google Images.

The End of the Road, for now anyway (Travelogue, part 4)

October 2003

Hello everyone,

We’ve really appreciated updates, news and responses from home.  E-mail, while fairly accessible, is not cheap, so we haven’t been able to send personal responses.  But, we’ll be home soon enough and will be in touch then.

Two culinary mishaps ensued in CT.  I had not yet learned my lesson about translation assumptions, despite my salad mix up in Vienna. Here, I ordered what was translated on the menu as mixed grilled fish, thinking fish like Nemo. To my horror, what was brought out was a large platter of shellfish, which I don’t eat.  (I can’t bear the idea that some poor creature has been boiled alive because of me.) A lobster, half a crab, some king prawns and three items that neither Paul nor I could identify. One look at my face and Paul realized that I was not going to eat it, so he valiantly attempted to eat all he could. The waitress, realizing something was wrong, came over and I explained that in Eng. fish means with fins and gills and a tail. (Actually, what I did was make wavy motions with my hand since I don’t know the words for fish body parts in Italian.) Then, I ordered a grilled sole. So, even with a menu translated for you, it always pays to ask for specifics. Lesson learned. (BTW, After getting over the shock of having fish served in tact with head, tail and skeleton, I had honed my deboning skills down to one minute.)

The second mishap is really more of a mystery, and if anyone can identify the mystery substance, we’d be grateful if you’d let us know.  I ordered two cups of hot tea and I know I did it correctly because it’s what I’d been saying for the last five days and we’d always gotten tea.  What we got this time was unidentifible to us.  The liquid was dark. Now, the Eng. drink their tea very strong, but strong tea is dark brown. This was black, blacker than the darkest roast coffee you can imagine.  At first, we thought the waiter had made a mistake and served us coffee, but it didn’t smell like coffee and it came with a lemon wedge. Paul took a sip and made a weird face. He guessed squid ink. I tried it. The water was tepid and the liquid had an extremely bitter, almost peppery taste that even two packets of sugar didn’t touch. We left the rest alone.  Can anyone help us identify this?

We bid a fond arrivederci to Cinque Terra, towns free of any form of franchise, and to Italy, land of erratic ATMs that seem to work on a whim and of people who sing all the time–the gondoliers, the fishermen, the construction workers, the bakers, old men sitting on stone benches.  It’s a happy place. Our time in CT had mentally prepared us for the rigors of travel on the Italian train system. If there is rhyme or reason to this system, it is not apparent. Frequent strikes are called last minute, trains are often late or do not arrive on the publicized platform.  And, if you’re trying to catch a train, this results in a mad scramble to get to the right platform, not easy with luggage.  We shared our compartment to Rosenheim, Germany, with an Austrian sugar daddy and his much, much younger Italian wife.

Our trip through the Alps was, you guessed it, lovely. They are majestic mountains. Snow was already on the caps and the valley was green. The woods are packed densely with fir trees.  Upon arrival in the brisk, bright Bavarian state, we were pleased to find that there is a vertical luggage conveyor belt at the train station.  You walk up the stairs and your luggage follows along. Handy, and energy conservation conscious.  The conveyor is not constantly running. You start it by placing your luggage on the belt.

The area is extremeley quaint, to the point of looking like a movie set or toy model town. Think Heidi; picture The Sound of Music; imagine living surrounded by a luxury golf course. Green, rolling hills wherever you turn; woods to the left and right; rivers, streams and ponds full of ducks in the middle of town. There are cows, sheep and chickens on the side of the road. May poles are adorned with figures. Homes have wooden shutters and window boxes full of flowers. Bavarian painting style adorns some of the buildings.  The roofs are red tile, slanted for the snow. We actually had to stop the car to let a herd of cows cross the road.  (One was a renegade and instead of turning right to follow the herd, crossed straight ahead and ate the grass there.) There are absolutely no billboards anymore–not even along the autobahn. People have lived in the same towns, same homes, for hundreds of years. It’s almost too clean and pretty to be true.

A popular, non-alcoholic drink here is called Spezi.  It’s a mix of cola and lemon soda or sometimes orange soda.  But not lemonade, as I was vehemently told. Both Pepsi and Coke have their own brands of it.

When you’re at the Gasthof (a tavern inn), you may not sit at the table with the Stammtisch sign. This is for the regulars only–people who’ve been going there for many, many years. We were told that as foreigners, if we sat at the stammtisch, we’d be politely ushered to another table and that of as somewhat ignorant. If we were Germans who sat at the stammtisch,  we’d be not-so-politely told to move and run the risk of not being served at all. The gasthofs mostly have their own farms, so all the food is very fresh. We had schnitzel, which is breaded meat that is fried.  Very tasty. All restaurants in Germany must disclose if any ingredients are artificial. So, preservatives, coloring, etc., are avoided as much as possible, as they are not popular. (The Germans are v. environmentally conscious. In fact, one of the first things we saw in town were the local recycling bins on the street.  You have your standard glass, plastic and aluminum, as well as clothing. That’s right, the government will recycle any unwanted clothing. No need for Goodwill drop-offs, etc. )

Gas at uninflated prices costs about $4.40 a gallon and all gas stations are pump first, pay later. Such trust!  Police cars, white with a bright green stripe through the middle, are mostly Mercedes and some Audis. Semis and delivery trucks are also Mercedes. So stylish!

We visited crazy  King Ludwig’s castle. He certainly had a fanciful imagination. Swans adorned every room, every inch of every room. Wagner operas painted on the walls and ceilings. A stalagtite grotto with an overlooking view of the lake and grounds. While we were tired of ornate and elaborate palaces, this was unlike anything else we’d seen. It really looks like Disneyland, or I should say Disneyland looks like it.

After a quick one hour drive, we were back in Austria to visit Salzburg. It is a lovely town, much like Prague, but somehow cheerier. I think it has to do with being surrounded by so much greenery. We saw a tavern that claims to have been in operation since 803 AD, obviously with renovations.

Tomorrow we head back to London for three days and then we return home.  So, this is the last travleogue unless something stupendous happens in London. Someone wanted a highlights list, so here is one for Paul and one for me.
Paul’s list: London–climbing almost 400 steps to the top of St. Paul’s cathedral and visiting Hackney where Rita grew up, esp. seeing her Hogwarts-esque middle school. Prague–the old town square and the cheap prices of food and Velvet beer. Vienna–the wurst stands and the Peter Breugal paintings. Venice–wandering the streets, taking in the incredible buildings, and floating by the opera in the church during the gondola ride. Cinque Terra–the ocean color, the grilled seabass and the pesto, which originated there. Rosenheim–the fresh pastries in the old-school bakery.

Rita’s list: London–seeing friends and family. Prague–being able to navigate in a city where nothing is written in English and the language is not even remotely similar. Vienna–being able to stomach that much meat. Venice–a tie between listening to the restaurant orchestras at Piazza San Marco and listening to a Vivaldi concert in a dimly lit church at night.  Cinque Terra–the sheer wonder of being there. Rosenheim–spending time with our friend Martin and seeing the fantasy castle. Getting away from city life also a huge plus.

Finally, some observations: everywhere but London, restaurant receipts are handwritten and change is made at the table, not brought back from the cashier. Grog seems to be popular in Prague, Vienna and Rosenheim.  I’d seen it in Old English texts, but had no idea what Beowulf was drinking. Found out that it’s rum and hot water. Not to be disgusting, but squat and drop toilets are STILL in existence. No smoking signs are routinely ignored or not enforced. Keyboards on the main continent have swapped the Y and Z keys. Europeans do not hate Americans, as in the people. We didn’t come across any problems.  But, they do dislike GW Bush intensely, as we were told in London, Vienna and Rosenheim. However, as Paul and I also dislike GW Bush intensely, we understand completely.

This has been a wonderful trip, and while we won’t be taking another one for at least a couple of years, it has whetted our appetite for more, more, more.  The world is a wonderful, exciting place and we can’t wait to explore as much as we can.

Rita and Paul

Hello from Prague! (Travelogue, part 1)

September and October 2003

Hello from Prague, or as the locals say, Dobry den!

The trip has been great so far.  London was a whirlwind of sights: museums, cathedrals, parks, fancy dept. stores and my old stamping grounds.  We filled in every moment of our week there and are still trying to catch up on sleep.  No time for jet lag: there was too much to do and see.  Fish and chips abounded!  Paul has conceded that I was correct when I said that  US fish and chips pale in comparison to the original Brit ones.  I completely carb-overloaded on the chips, but it was well worth it!  Only downside is the nasty habit of smoking, prevalent everywhere, including restaurants.  We’re so used to non-smoking establishments that we kept forgetting to ask for the non smoking section until it was too late. Ick.

We’ve been in Prague for 2 days and it truly is as wonderful as everyone says.  It’s like fairytale land.  You can just imagine a  princess waving from the multiple high towers around the center of the city.  So clean, so civilized, so pretty and genteel.

(As I write this, I’m sitting in a laundromat, waiting for the wash to be done.  Got to love the e-connection.)  We’re staying in a working class neighborhood about 20 minutes out of the town center, but very easy with the metro and tram services.  We’ve yet to sample the yummy pastries we were told about, but Paul had golash (sp?) and enjoyed it greatly.

Czech is a very difficult language and we’ve only managed to figure out the basics of hello, goodbye, thank you, and please.Actual sentences are beyond our ability at the moment.

Weather has been great all around.  Off to Vienna in a few days.

Hope you’re all well.
Rita and Paul