A Tea Story by Noreen O’Brien

I’m not quite sure what it is about England’s Cornwall that creates an urge in me to drink pots and pots of tea simply by seeing an image or hearing the name of the peninsula spoken. Is it the British shows, for example Doc Martin, with its scenes of a windblown village and cottages tucked into the hillsides, or Poldark, with its main character riding horseback, cape trailing behind as he races across the windy cliffs, the ocean waters crashing the beach far below him? Or is it the writing of Rosamunde Pilcher, with her homey stories of island life and cozy fires lit on chilly days that spawn images of pots of tea?

Whatever the inspiration, I find myself relating Cornwall to tea—and by “tea” I mean loose black tea—tea leaves, not tea bags. A full-bodied blend, not an herbal, a green, or a flowery-fruity tea, rather an English or Irish Breakfast blend, well steeped in a Brown Betty teapot, one of which I am still searching for to replace the one I dropped years ago to a tile floor where it smashed into smithereens.

Speaking of a Brown Betty, did you know we are not meant to wash our teapots? Steeping pot after pot of tea without a good washing between pots, in fact never a washing, the tea becomes tastier as the tannins build up on the insides of the pot adding flavor to each new brew. Ever notice how a proper tea is delivered to the table in a pretty, china pot? That’s because the tea is brewed in the kitchen in one pot, then transferred to a sparkling clean, pretty, serving pot, sparing us from the unsightly visual of a well-used brewing pot—preferably that Brown Betty.

The Brown Betty dates back to the late seventeenth century and is made of red clay found in the area of Stoke on Trent, as I recall. Apparently, the combination of this particular clay and the shape of this style teapot allows for a perfect infusion of the leaves as they swirl around its “belly” while the boiling water is added to the pot. Today, the pot, updated over the years, has a special glaze and an even thickness, which also aids in the perfect swirling of the tea leaves, allowing for the “best pot of tea in the world.”

And a tea cozy—ever notice how difficult it is to find a tea cozy? Indeed, there are some darling cozies available in specialty or fiber artist shops, and at a rather hefty price. I have found, with some ease, knitted cozies turning the china pot into a large flower, looking much like delicious frosting on a specialty cake, or a beehive that is just too cunnin’, or replicas of historical British buildings or the British flag. However, while I do enjoy “darling,” I prefer functional, a cozy that covers the spout and doesn’t leave that exposed for all the heat to escape the pot. I also want a cozy to cover a two-to-four-cup-size pot, not a family sized one. Smaller sized cozies of any design are even more difficult to find.

Then there are teacups. I’m an everyday tea drinker, not an only-when-guests-arrive tea drinker. I adore my china teacups. The weight of the cup is very important, and can change the flavor of tea. A thin, china cup is required to get the most from a cup of tea, particularly the more delicate flavored teas: Darjeeling, Earl Gray, Prince of Wales. These lighter teas are fine of an afternoon, but for breakfast I prefer that hearty English, Irish, or even a Russian blend. For these, a mug will do, however, only a china mug—and one that is of the same width top down, not narrower at the bottom as so many are—these are top heavy and tip over far too easily. The size of the “mouth” also matters a great deal—too wide an opening and the tea cools much too fast.

I spend so much time looking for perfect teapots, teacups, tea cozies, and just the right blend of loose tea, I almost think it would be worth another jaunt across the pond just to stock up on my everyday tea needs. Such tea-related items may be found easily at a local grocer there. Of course, while only the finest china is preferred, these days, with these deformed, arthritic hands, I probably should use plastic thereby cutting back on broken tea things, including that Brown Betty pot should I manage to locate one. But I can’t quite see Cornwall summoning images or cravings for plastic pots and plastic cups of tea. No, please, never, ever, serve me anything in plastic, but most especially, not tea!

One comment on “A Tea Story by Noreen O’Brien

  1. Brings to mind a trip to England and Wales in 2002. In the grocery stores, a whole aisle of tea with just a smidgeon of coffees at one end. And visiting the Teapot Museum in Conwy, Northern Wales seeing pots of all shapes and sizes. The ones I was most drawn to were the translucent china ones. But even then I knew one couldn’t survive my handling.

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