Michaeline: The Parable of the Black Tea

A young lady and gentleman having tea at five-clock.

For a bunch of leaves soaked in hot water, tea provokes a lot of passion, and a lot ideas about “doing it right”. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Green tea, of course, is a fine art in Japan and people study for years to do it right. There are special costumes, special bowls for the tea, and even the tea itself is a special blend, especially powdered for the tea ceremony.

You can enjoy the “way of tea” club in some high schools, and pick up a very esoteric hobby (and possibly a part-time job, as you progress, pick up a teaching license, and start to instruct others in the “way of tea”).

Green tea is green tea; my friend’s friend was doing a ceremony with black tea, and I’d been drinking black tea all my life. My father, in fact, had developed several rituals over the years, which finally settled into putting six teabags (Lipton’s) in boiling water, turning off the heat, and letting the whole thing steep for exactly 20 minutes. Then, the super-tea was diluted with a quart and a half of water, and put in the fridge for the next day’s consumption. (Sorry, Jilly, to describe that so graphically, but that’s how it was.)

Well, we didn’t have to cosplay in frock coats and pelisses for this tea party my friend’s friend was holding, but it was marked by ritual. Water was brought to the correct temperature, pots were rinsed and warmed, and all sorts of rules were observed. And the milk! Oh, so many rules about the milk, now eroded in my mind by contradictory internet arguments about how to serve milk with tea (or tea with milk). This party took place before we got internet, so I couldn’t double check the rules later and preserve them in my memory. All that faffing about did make a good cup of tea, but not a out-of-body-experience-inducing tea. There are only two parts I remember – the water must be at a full rolling boil for black tea, and if you pour from a great height, it “excites” the tea leaves, and lets more flavor compounds be released.

But there’s no way I could follow all those rules (assuming I remembered them), even for a Saturday morning cup of tea. Still, I think I make a good cup of tea. Good enough, anyway, and nice to sip when I’m writing blog posts.

I’d spell out how this pertains to writing, but if you don’t see the connection, you probably don’t have a problem – and you don’t want to borrow mine. That said, what have you learned from a tea workshop or tea mentor that gives you a more decent cup of tea (literally or metaphorically)? I’d love to hear. I’ve got room for improvement.

2 thoughts on “Michaeline: The Parable of the Black Tea

  1. Any mention of tea and writing reminds me of the late, great Douglas Adams. Do you have to be a Brit to love, love, love Arthur Dent explaining the perfect cup of tea to the computers in the Starship Heart of Gold?

    How tea pertains to writing? Learn the rules, if you must, but don’t be afraid to break them. Everyone’s perfect cuppa is different. Your father’s iced beverage, Michaeline, makes me shudder, but I like weak Earl Grey with lots of milk (added first), which many people would consider an abomination. And on my travels I’ve had black tea with raspberries (floating fruit, not flavoring) in Russia, boiled over a fire with milk and lots of sugar in India, and topped with lavish dollops of aged yak butter in Bhutan. If it pleases your palate, that’s all that matters 😉


  2. I loved Arthur Dent’s frustration with the computer always giving him something not-quite, but almost entirely unlike tea. That tiny hint of potential must have been maddening.

    My dad had his reasons; I think during the Vietnam War, he caught something nasty and came away with a fear of dehydration and a love for boiled water (but I could be conflating tales here). It was a crisp, cold drink that cut through Nebraska dust, though. I still don’t like a sweet iced tea very much (unless it’s more like a tea latte).

    Like you, I appreciate a variety of teas, and it’s nice to pick up a hint or two — but not knowing all there is about tea doesn’t stop me from enjoying a nice cup! My favorite right now is a French tea called Marco Polo with honey and milk (added last so I can brew the tea right in the cup with a roomy strainer). But my weekday tea is a fast Japanese green that’s great in 30 seconds (but pretty bitter and heavy if I let it steep too long).

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