Monday, November 10, 2014


Coffee, Tea or Me?

 I have always been a coffee drinker. Not that it didn't take me quite some time to develop a taste for it, bitter brew that it is. I had grown up enveloped in the mystique of coffee, a drink so very adult, so very sexy, deep and rich and dark. Off limits, taboo. I would breathe in the heady fragrance of my mother's morning coffee, a scent sweeter than it tasted; I would sneak sips of her iced coffee, always in a tall slim glass, ice cubes rattling, always tasting like coffee ice cream, a treat.

 Coffee was the everyday drink, the morning starter, afternoon inspiration, a daily elixir, the beverage served to company at the end of an elegant meal.

 Tea, on the other hand, was only kept on hand for the times that we were sick in bed. Headaches, tummy aches, colds and flu and the teabags were pulled out of the dark place at the back of the cupboard, a pot of water put to boil on the stovetop. Bread was toasted and spread with butter or peanut butter, placed on a tray with that mug of tea (a squirt of golden honey from that plastic bear) and a banana. Drunk and eaten snuggled up in bed.

 Coffee the pleasure, tea the comfort.

Having picked some tea, he drank it,
Then he sprouted wings,
And flew to a fairy mansion,
To escape the emptiness of the world....
- Chiao Jen

 Tiny ceramic cups, thick and round to be cradled in the palm of my hand or fingers wrapped around the bowl for warmth. Tea to be drunk with Chinese food, family gathered round the large table in the dim light, a television set turned on to some game show or other behind the bar and I wonder why, my ears straining to hear the answers to the questions muffled by the talking and the incessant hum of noise.

 Tea always tea with Chinese food, tea slightly tannic and bitter which balanced the complex flavors of the dishes, cut the sweetness of the sauce. The elderly owner, never the waiter, glides silently to the table and circles round refilling our cups with tea several times during the meal. The dishes are passed around and we taste each one, washed down with tea. Fortune cookies cracked, tiny paper fortunes flutter to the table, snatched up and read aloud… or silently Be on the lookout for coming events, they cast their shadows beforehand; The greatest risk is not taking one; Wealth awaits you very soon; A dream you have will come true.

 A final gulp of now tepid tea before the scraping of chairs across the cement floor and leaving the restaurant, fortune clutched in my hand, the astringent taste of the tea leaving a metallic trace on my tongue, the fortune a mysterious desire in my soul.

 Tea is a divine herb. - Xu Guangqi

 Teatime. I belonged to a small group of women who would get together once a week to exchange conversation in French and English with the obvious goal of improving the language that was not our mother tongue. We were four, two French women, one British woman and me, the American. The gathering would meet at teatime before the children were released from school, and we would rotate homes, each hosting the conversation once a month.

 As hostess of the week, we would serve up hot drinks and teatime treats, cookies or delicate little teacakes, home baked or picked up special at the local boulangerie. Indulge.

 And it would go like this: coffee, coffee, tea, coffee. Coffee, coffee, tea, coffee. Two Frenchwomen and the American (me) would freshly brew coffee, place the pot upon the table between the demitasse cups, the sugar bowl and the pitcher of hot milk. The Englishwoman would place a tray upon the coffee table, place scoops of loose tealeaves in the pot to steep in hot water and we would have to wait, be patient which we were not. She would then pour hot milk into each mug one by one followed by tea poured slowing through a tiny little strainer perched atop the mug, explaining to the thirsty three the importance of adding milk to the mug first followed by the tea.

 A mug of milky, watery tea does not hold up to the rich boldness, the lively body of a cup of coffee. Some call tea delicate; to an inveterate coffee drinker like myself it is vapid, uninspiring. Submerge a cookie, a teacake into a mug of tea and it seems to disintegrate upon contact. Or simply becomes waterlogged. Immerse a cookie or teacake into a cup of coffee or café au lait and it soaks up the aroma, is imbibed with the wonderful coffee flavor, enhancing the cake rather than making it disappear.

 In short, I would rather a cup of coffee with a teacake.

Fit to a Tee

 He does, you know, fit me to a tee. Tee-shirts and jeans and canvas sneakers in pink or aubergine or cherry red, snuggled up together on the sofa watching a film and sipping red fruit tea with just a splash of milk and half a cube of sugar.

 Tea for Two.

Love and scandal are the best sweetners of tea. - Henry Fielding, "Love in Several Masques," 1727 

Do Re Me Fa So La Ti A Drink with Jam and Bread. A miniature white porcelain coffee cup, rather cheap, the kind espresso is served in, bitter and strong, in every café and bar across France instead used for gentle portions of tea served just before bedtime. For the promise of a peaceful night's sleep, sweet dreams. A ritual in so many French homes, my in-law's, and friends' far and wide after a humble, homey meal or following an elegant, sumptuous dinner, always a tasse de thé, a cup of tea. So very British? So very French.

I, on the other hand, am a tea lover and I drink buckets of it every day; my life would be empty without it. Tea takes you to so many different places: China, India, Japan, Africa, Himalaya; they all sound so exotic and I'm forever grateful for being able to travel with my cup in hand. 

1 big cup or 2 smaller

300 ml / 10 1/2 fl oz water
200 ml / 7 1/4 fl oz milk
2 1/2 tsp loose-leaf Indian tea
6 cardamom pods
6 cloves
6 black pepper corns
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 piece of fresh ginger of the size of a lump of sugar
1-1 1/2 tblsp brown sugar

   Crush the spices and the peeled ginger slightly so that the flavours have a chance of dissolving when simmering.

   Put them in a small pan together with the tea leaves, add the water and the milk and leave it to simmer for 30 minutes.

   Strain the tea and the spices, add sugar and enjoy it hot!


  1. Tea is indeed a divine herb! I'm a big tea drinker. It makes me feel well and I love its flavor. This beverage is quite comparable to wine. There are many different blends, every tea has its own character and it is something that has to be savored mindfully...



  2. Like you, Jamie, I almost always prefer coffee to tea. But occasionally on a cold winter afternoon I enjoy a cup of Earl Grey, sweetened with a generous amount of honey and, sometimes, a splash of milk. Ilva, your recipe for chai tea sounds lovely. I might try it one of these cold afternoons. Thanks for another visual and verbal treat, ladies.

  3. I'm with Ilva--I love tea. But I'm also with you, Jamie. I am a fan of coffee. =)

    Milk in first is very, very important. Very.

  4. Yet another fab story! I just love the concept of combining perfect pics and words in one post--it is such a treat. I don't take sides--must have black coffee every morning and drink hot tea on many chilly afternoons and evenings. One doesn't have to like only one...

  5. Lovely! Have to say, as a Brit ahem, I love coffee and tea. With milk. But less of both now that have been Frenchified over 22 yrs... 2 coffees in the morning then lots of tea in the afternoon, which I LOVE - but not too late that it will stop from sleeping so after 5pm it's over to the lighter Rooibos or herbal infusions (must be getting old!).
    I love how so many varieties go with different cakes and flavours. Great fun.

    Love your Englishwoman friend's tea ceremony. Have to say, we always warm the teapot first. And milk in first. Tralala.