02 May 2011

A Cup of Tea

Friday night, I had a wretched time falling asleep.  Then, I woke up at 3am, exhausted but alert.

I've never been one to have trouble sleeping, but I understood why it was happening. On Friday, grading had ended and stress, an important part of my body's ecosystem, had gone missing. Summer has its own work and pressures, but is so dramatically different from the school year, it is a shock to flip from one to the other.

There I lay, wide awake, empty, exhausted, and with a vicious craving for a cup of tea.  I dragged myself out of bed and set some water to boil.  Sure, tea has caffeine, but I could tell I wasn't going to sleep anyway, so I figured it couldn't make anything worse.

Making tea "properly" is one of the first things my brothers and I learned to do.  Long before we knew how to fill the dishwasher, do our own laundry, or any of the myriad other household chores that would become our responsibilities, we were taught how to make a cup of tea to our mum's specifications.

Producing a perfect cup of tea is something we can all do by rote, 15+ years since moving out of our parents' home.  Of course, "perfect" here is calibrated to my mom's taste, but I have friends who have learned just to ask for tea in my mom's style when I offer to bring them a beverage.  It's that good. 

On Friday night, sipping that cup of "mom style" tea, curled up in bed with a book, I felt my body slowly adjust to summer.  And somehow, taking in that caffeine, I drifted off to sleep, placing the empty mug on the bedside table as I snuggled under my quilt.

For your own magic cup of mom tea, follow this recipe.

1.  You need a big mug.  One that holds about 1.5 cups of liquid.

2. You need Silk soy milk.  Either the plain one, or the organic vanilla (the organic vanilla is not too sweet, the normal vanilla one is).  Soy milk is made in a variety of ways and many brands will curdle if put into tea, which is why I'm being specific about the brand.  Neither my mom nor I drink cow's milk---she's lactose intolerant, I just think it is gross.  You could of course make this with cow's milk, but the flavor will be different and it might not be magical.

3. Tea. This is what I buy at grocery store.  My mom brings back tea bags from England each summer (PG Tips, I think, the recipe is different in Britain; it is like how Guinness tastes one way in Ireland, another in America, and another in Asia.)  Anyway, tea bags matter, these are good and inexpensive.

4.  Water.  You have to boil your water in a kettle or on the stove.  Not in the microwave.  It needs to be brought to a full boil, so if making it on the stove, don't take it off the heat at the first sign of steam, but rather wait for it to get to a rolling boil.  Most electric kettles with auto-shut off will do this accurately.

5. Put a teabag in the bottom of your mug.  Pour 1.5 cups of boiling water directly on top of the tea bag.  If the tea bag has air in it, push out the air with a spoon, then, cover the top of the mug and let the tea brew.
My mom likes a 3 minute brew. I like 4 minutes.  A timer is used.

6. Take off the lid and remove the tea bag from the water. If you leave the bag in, the tea will get bitter.

7. Add 1/2 cup of Silk. Enjoy.

I started writing this yesterday, Sunday, but had to stop as I ran out of time. I thought it would take 30 minutes to write this down. It took more. Also, it started to seem alarmingly precise. I mean, wow am I exact when I make a cup of tea. I knew I was picky, but this seemed excessive to me, yesterday, as the lines added up.

Anyway, I stopped because Lurky came over to work on her quilt and so I was hand-stitching binding on the Double Plus Good Quilt and she was piecing on my machine. And we were chatting about this and that and playing music.  Then two things happened: Lurky asked for a mug of mom tea (unprompted!) And we turned the music off and played an episode of Doctor Who in which the Doctor's life is saved by a cup of tea (and then he saves planet Earth). I took these as signs that I should blog about tea, after all.

: )


  1. I'm making some herbal sleepytime tea right now. If my oldest son was here I'd be getting a teapot out but, alas, it's just a solitary cup tonight.

  2. haha! Love your tea ritual and that you are so specific about it. wishing you a good nights sleep tonight. ;)

  3. I'm also a teacher, and I'm SO JEALOUS that your summer has already started... I still have about 2 months to go. I'll just enjoy yours vicariously!

  4. YUM! =) Im gonna try this.

  5. best phrase of the day: "a timer is used"

  6. I'm a PG tips girl all the way, I always make sure I have a chunk of space in my suitcase to fit a gigantic box in whenever I go back to the UK. Love your ritual!

  7. oh gosh, i know the end-of-semester feeling you describe. here's hoping it wears off soon.


  8. While I don't use soy milk or a timer, this is how I make my tea too.

    My girls have always been annoyed by me saying "It's not boiling yet" when they try to pour the water too early :)

  9. I so loved this post..I love tea and barely like the way it comes out.. My foodstore Sweetbay just started to carry the PG tea tips..I am going to try this because I am impressed by the exact directions you gave and can see my mistakes...Thanks!

  10. I never really liked tea until I tasted PG Tips. (We can find it at Cost Plus World Market) That's what we drink now, 3 minutes just like your mom, and a friend was telling me about Soy Silk just the other day. I'll have to give that a try too. Yum. You are making me thirsty!

  11. oh, i love this. i am terribly picky about my tea, too. water should definitely be boiling, teapot must be charged, water poured over tea bags (i lose it if someone tries to dunk a tea bag into an already full cup of water), tea steeped for three minutes. i top mine with a generous splash of half and half. my favorite brands are welsh brew and yorkshire. nambarrie is also pretty good and very hearty. yay for good tea!

  12. Wow! Another Dr. Who watcher! So glad there is a new season brewing...
    Can't wait to try your mom's tea, but without the soy milk. I like my tea straight.
    Thanks for the recipe and the great blog.

  13. Haha, that's so funny that you really like Tetley tea, it's what I'm drinking here in Scotland too :-) but there are sooo many better 'everyday' teas from Britain, do you get a lot of British style teas where you are?

  14. I love Dr. Who. I need to get my hands on some of this tea so that I can have my own Dr. Who, tea, and sewing afternoon. It sounds delightful. :)

  15. If you ask me, there should be more posts about tea. I love reading about tea, almost, but not quite as much as I love to drink the brew. I differ, on some points, I guess it is how your ritual for teamkaking goes - I boil the water in a kettle, microwaved water grosses me out, but I place the tea bag along the side of the mug so the boiling water doesn't scorch the tea in the bag, I don't know I read that somewhere. I use loose tea, a mix of English Breakfast and Earl Gray, and I buy these tea bags you add your own loose tea too. About the only pre-bagged tea I like is Constant Comment, it's good for the afternoon.
    If I ever visit - I'll ask for your Mom's tea!

  16. My dad taught us to make "proper tea" when we were very young. In our house that meant boiling the kettle on a gas hob, measuring the loose leaf tea into a pot (after you had warmed the pot of course) and pouring in the water. The pot, mug and milk were all carried to the table for him to do the pouring himself after about 4 - 5 minutes. He moans when he visits any of his girls - we all use teabags and make the tea straight in the mug, usually stirring to speed up the brewing process!

  17. I enjoy tea now and then but I'm typically a coffee girl. Your method/recipe is enticing and we have some version of Soy in the fridge -- we may have to give this a try. Thanks!

  18. My boyfriend when I lived in Ann Arbor was a Brit and taught we how to make a proper cup. I've moved on to PG and still make it myself or it just isn't right.

  19. This post has been haunting me for the last 7 months! I finally made it around to gathering the tea and silk and have been thankful each time I make it. Thanks so much for sharing with precision :)


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