Tea People used to piss me off. It was the smug clank of their spoons in china mugs, the dinga-dinga-dinga as they stirred in the sugar, the AHHHHH after their first slurp. As a non-teadrinker they annoyed me no end.
It probably all stems from growing up with a Mothership obsessed with tea. She must have downed a dozen cups a day. “Ooh I’m dying for a cuppa,” was her number one phrase, even on the hottest summer day. It seemed the only reason she brought Rhi and I into the world was to have two handy tea-making slaves. Our pantry was choked with boxes of Earl Grey bought on special, so if the apocalypse came at least our rations would be aromatic.
Once I’d left the nest I vowed my tea-making days were over, but whenever I arrived home for a visit Mum would greet me with, “Oh great timing, I could do with a fresh cup.” One time before Christmas break Mum was perched in her armchair, a trashy paperback in one hand and the TV remote in the other, in full relaxation mode after completing another hectic school year.
MOTHERSHIP: Hey Shauna.
M: Are you going to make The Mother a cup of tea?
M: Why not?
S: Coz I don’t wanna.
[Five minutes pass.]
M: Hey Shauna.
M: Are you going to The Mother a cup of tea?
M: Why not?
S: Because, that’s why!
[Mothership purses lips, turns back to Oprah, then mutters poutily…]
MOTHERSHIP: Shauna’s being a bitch!
But recently I’ve gained an appreciation for Mum’s obsession. It happened the fateful night before the day Gareth and I got together. He asked me did I want a cup of tea and I replied, “Oh no thanks! I don’t like tea!”. It reminded me of a time many years before when a guy asked me did I want to come in for coffee. It was just like that Seinfeld episode where George turns down a late-night cuppa and it sparks a lengthy whole “Does coffee mean sex” debate. Except I didn’t think of that at the time, even though it was 1AM. I just said, “Oh no thanks! I don’t like coffee!” and drove away into the moonlight.
Anyway, Gareth’s question was perfectly innocent – tea really did mean tea. We were still too shy to even make eye contact, let alone sweet love down by the fire. But he was astounded that I was tea-less at 26 years old. Eager to establish myself as a wild adventurer, I agreed to try it. As he rattled cups and spoons and kettles, I examined the box of teabags and tried to think of something charming to say.
“So… it says here this tea is Scottish Blend tea. Is there such a thing?”
“Oh yeah,” He smiled. “It’s genuine Scottish tea from the Scottish tea plantations.”
“Tea plantations? In Scotland?”
“Yeah! It’s special cold climate tea. They grow it down in the Borders!”
Gareth loves to tell people how gullible I was that day, but I still insist that I didn’t believe him. It was just that I was so keen to get into his pants that he could have told me that the Scottish tea plantation was right next to the haggis fields and across the road from the oatcake orchard that I still would have squealed, “Really, how fascinating!”.
I will never forget the first sip. It was scalding hot; I hadn’t thought to let it rest for awhile. It burned a path down my throat until POW! It was like a punch in the chest, hot and liquid. It was bloody amazing.
“What do you think?”
“Oh yeah. Not too shabby!”
I proceeded to drink five more cups over the evening as we chatted away. When I told my sister later how I didn’t get to sleep til dawn, she cackled “Ooh! Saucy!” but I explained that there’d been no hanky panky — it was just the effects of tea on a body that had been a complete stranger to caffeine for the previous two and a half decades. At 6am I was still staring at the ceiling and squeaking, “I can’t sleep! I can’t sleep! Hee hee!”
After that I was a dedicated Tea Person. It was a strange and wonderful new world. Now when I went to friend’s houses I didn’t have to ask meekly, “Umm, can I get a drink of water? From the tap is fine!”. Now I could have a collection of mugs on my desk at work and a jumble of teabags in the drawer. But the biggest revelation was how tea transformed eating. The most humble foods become something special when taken with tea. That is, if you define humble foods as those laden with sugar and/or fat.
There’s something so magical about crumbs and butter and sugar and hot liquid rolling round in your mouth like socks in a tumble dryer. Let’s start with toast. Buttery Vegemite toast, peanut butter toast, avocado with fresh ground pepper toast, grilled cheese on toast; white bread, brown bread, multigrain; they’re all elevated from tasty to gobsmackingly superb when taken with a fresh cuppa.
Then there’s the great Scottish Bacon Roll – hot crispy bacon and runny egg on limp white roll – the perfect hangover cure. Or a buttered scone with strawberry jam. Oatcakes topped with mature cheddar. Or my favourite – fish and chips by the sea with scalding tea in a polystyrene cup.
Then there’s the wonderful world of biscuits. Tim Tams and Mint Slices rule, and even mangled Anzacs get better with a brew. I love taking a bikkie bite then a gulp of tea – unladylike but delicious. The chocolate Hob Nob, my favourite British biscuit, becomes a floaty oaty chocolatey mess. Even the cheapest, crappiest Custard Creams explode beautifully leaving crumbs trapped in your teeth.
And let’s not forget the melty pleasure of chocolate bars, all their careful manufacturing coming undone with a good gulp of tea. Kit Kat layers crumble, Mars Bars turn to mush. My favourite indulgence is a Twix, there’s nothing better than dissolving chocolate salty caramel with soggy biscuit chaser.
Eighteen months on, I wonder what I did all day before I had tea. What did I do with conversation lulls before I could say ‘Shall I put the kettle on?’. How did I waste valuable minutes at work? How did I deal with a crisis without a fresh cup? Best of all, Gareth still makes a great cup and you don’t have to call him a bitch to get one!