An Eejit Abroad: Make Tea, not War
By CB Makem
I’ve settled in to my post at Ohio Irish American News sufficiently enough that I feel I can broach a serious topic, if for no other reason than to bring it out of the shadows and into the light, to have a full and frank discussion of the matter, if you will. As Irish-Americans, we’ve all been victims, even if the malefactors were well intentioned or we were too polite to mention it. In fact, it is so ubiquitous that many downtrodden souls have grown to accept it as the way of the world. Good people, I beseech you, we are more than animals!
I’ll set the scene.
You and your loved one’s pop into a diner for what you hope will be a comforting, downhome breakfast. The blueberry pancakes will hit the spot, as will the bacon and a couple of fried eggs. But then you reach the end of the menu, where tucked into one corner are the “hot drinks.” There’s coffee, decaf, hot chocolate and lastly, and leastly the most forsaken of all American beverages—tea.
You can see the car wreck before it hits the table. You’ve endured it a hundred times, a small mug of tepid and quickly cooling water with a frail and incapacitated teabag on the side… and a wedge of lemon. Your heart shutters. You can already taste the pancakes and bacon. But what about your tea?
I’ll let you take a minute… These kinds of emotions can be hard to deal with. Just know that we are all with you. We’ve all said at one point or another, “You know what, I’ll just have the smoothie.”
Worldwide, tea is second in popularity only to water. Above coffee, Coke, beer and wine. It’s a cup of pure perfection if done right.
While we’re on the subject, let me give you a scenario from a night out thirty years ago. At the encouragement of one responsible friend, and against my better judgement, a group of associates and I dropped into a coffeehouse where everyone ordered their respective cups of joe. When it came my turn, I asked for tea. The young man behind the counter had a look on his face like a confused pup. “What flavor do you want?” he asked. “I don’t want any flavors,” I replied. “Just plain tea.” All kidding aside, he asked me what flavor that was.
Anecdote two: I knew a man from Glasgow who referred to flavored teas as crap petals, except he didn’t use the word crap, he used the PG-13 word, which isn’t suitable for family publications. If that’s your preference, I won’t cast aspersions like my Scottish friend, but I wish I had a bullier pulpit from which to encourage more people to take up the true leafy elixir. I’ll also admit to exceptions which I note in a couple paragraphs.
Anecdote three: Several years back, a friend from Cork called me in despair. He was staying with a mutual acquaintance about an hour away. My friend spoke in hushed tones, noting that there were no tea-making facilities in the abode, that our shared comrade in fact used a microwave.
Ladies and gentlemen, I was aghast that a close friend of mine would serve another close friend of mine a cup of tea utilizing a microwave, like some Neanderthal. I felt his anguish and offered to pick him up and deliver him to a sofa in my apartment, with the only amenities being offered an electric kettle, Irish tea bags and real milk. He accepted in under a heartbeat and submitted profuse thanks. A private room was no match for a real cup of tea.
Caveat one: Anyway, I’m fresh in from a trip to Spain. Tea isn’t anywhere near as popular as coffee to the Spanish, but in southern areas, they’re heavily influenced by Morocco (just seven or eight miles across the Strait of Gibraltar), and some beautiful tea houses served exceptional flavored teas, even according to this middle-aged tea curmudgeon. The different varieties with fresh cardamom, ginger or mint won’t make me give up my hourly cuppas, but they were better than a hot stick in your ear.
So, let me say this loud and clear, we are Irish! We have been kicked around for centuries and we will not settle for mediocre tea anymore! This is the twenty-first century. We’ve put a man on the moon, we can surely boil a proper cup of tea!
* For those of you who are going to point out that I didn’t focus on loose tea, fear not. I have enjoyed many a cup of delicious dried leaves of the loose variety. But come on, we’re not tea snobs.
Tea the Irish/UK way
What you will need: a large mug, a kettle (either electric or stovetop), strong teabags (available at Gaelic Imports in Parma or Casey’s in Rocky River), water, sugar or honey, milk or cream, and if at all possible, biscuits or toasted brown bread with butter and honey.
What you will not need: A microwave or a wedge of lemon.
Step one: Boil the water. Don’t warm it. Boil it.
Step two: Pour some of the boiled water into your mug and swish it around to heat up the cup. Alternatively, you can warm up a teapot with the same procedure.
Step three: Dump that water out.
Step four: Throw a teabag into the mug, or alternatively, two or three into a teapot. You may also add sugar or honey to the mug at this point.
Step five: Add boiling water to the mug leaving room for milk or cream. If you haven’t added your sweetener, do it now. (Note, if you are using a teapot, you can leave the sweetener for the individual cups.)
Step six: Steep. It’s rather like a pint of Guinness. Patience pays off. Usually a few minutes will do, if you’re using good tea.
Step seven: Add milk or cream to your taste, or alternatively, pour the tea into cups from the teapot and add the dairy.
Step eight: Stir.
Step nine: Open a package of biscuits and enjoy one of the truly best treats you’ve ever consumed.
Step ten: Repeat as often as necessary.
*CB Makem spent 22 years traveling and honing petty gripes as an Irish musician, & enjoyed a further 13 years of people not returning his calls as a journalist. He is fluent in English, American & old Kerry farmer. More of his photos are on Instagram under cb.makem. Visit cbmakem.com or email [email protected] unless you have a complaint.