glass teapot and mug on the wooden background

Tea Time Treasures

by Carmen Long

Family and Consumer Agent N.C. Cooperative Extension Surry County Center

From childhood tea parties to elegant afternoon events, tea plays a significant role in festivities enjoyed by all generations. January is designated as Hot Tea month by the Tea Association of the USA and a perfect time to celebrate this time honored tradition.

Even as a child, I loved to play in my pretend kitchen and “cook.” In the days before the current realistic kitchen play sets and food models, my stove consisted of a cardboard box covered in white paper with burners drawn on the top and an oven door drawn on the front. I prepared some delicious tea parties for my dolls and stuffed animal friends on that little stove. Sometimes we had real treats to eat, other times they were pictures of food cut from magazines or creative models of food made from play dough served on my little plastic plates with matching cups and saucers. Most of the time water or milk was served from my little tea pot, but occasionally we had hot chocolate. I really didn’t develop a preference for hot tea until I was much older.

My children carried on the tradition and enjoyed lots of tea parties of their own. One of my daughter Kelsey’s favorite birthday celebrations was a tea party for several of her friends and their dolls. She was nine or ten years old and her brother Carson, who is five years younger, was the waiter for the event.

I really don’t know who had more fun; my mother and I who made all of the treats from tea sandwiches to a tiered cake decorated with fresh pansies, the young server who took his position very seriously, the guests or the birthday girl.

In 2001, I had the opportunity to hear Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, promote her line of Sarah’s Garden china by Wedgewood. I have always remembered some of her speech. She talked about the importance of making each day special. Use those pretty dishes, cloth napkins and make even a simple breakfast of a piece of toast and a cup of tea a special occasion. How much better our days would begin if we took even five minutes to enjoy the moment, sip some tea and reflect on our many blessings.

There are some tricks for making a perfect cup of tea. Use 8 ounces of fresh cold water for each cup of tea. Letting the water run for a few seconds will increase the oxygen in the water and result in a more flavorful cup of tea. Use bottled or filtered water if you don’t like the taste of your tap water. For green teas, which are more delicate, heat the water to just below boiling. For black teas, heat the water to boiling.

Fill your teapot or cup with hot tap water to preheat while waiting for the tea water to boil. Pouring hot tea into a cold container will result in a drop in the water temperature and may reduce the flavor of the tea. Once the water for your tea is heated, pour out the water being used to preheat your container and pour the heated water over your tea bag. Let the tea sit or steep for 3 to 5 minutes or as directed on the package. Use a timer when brewing to avoid over steeping your tea which may make it bitter. Don’t just rely on the color. 1 teaspoon of loose tea is equal to about 1 tea bag. If using loose tea leaves in a tea ball fill only half full of tea so the leaves will have room to expand for the best flavor.

If you don’t have a tea ball, put the loose tea into a cup or pot and strain tea though a mesh strainer after brewing. Adjust the amount of water to make the tea stronger or weaker for your taste preference. Covering the cup or container with a saucer or lid while brewing will help retain the heat.

Looking at the shelves on the tea aisle in our local stores shows there are many flavors from which to choose. I tend to prefer the fruit flavors of orange, berries or peach. Mint is also a favorite. Sampler packages are an excellent way to try several flavors with one purchase.

From warming you up on a cold day to helping you relax in times of stress or making that scratchy sore throat feel better, teas serve many purposes in addition to the tea time traditions. Take time to make yourself a cup of tea using a favorite teapot or cup, sit back and enjoy the moment. Today is a special day.