My friend is normally a rational, kind, reasonable sort of person.
But there’s this tea thing.
If you dare pour in the tea before you pour in the milk, you face a tirade of explosive accusations: ‘How could you possibly pour in the tea before pouring in the milk? How were you brought up!’ etc.
Now, see, I’ve had plenty of embarrassing situations in my long life. I have forgotten names and called Bob ‘Jim’ and Sally ‘Marie.’ I have spoken audibly in sacred spaces, between ablutions and blessings. I have cheered when a goal is scored – against the wrong team. I’ve worn the wrong clothes, used too much salt, backed the wrong horse, played the wrong chord.
But blaspheming the tea ritual, in some circles, seems a capital offence.
Can my leaf addicted friends explain what is so important about the tea and milk thing? Certainly the laws of convection would eventually have the brown and white substances combine into a satisfactory taffy colour, and doesn’t tea taste the same whichever liquid is first dispensed?
This summer I found the answer to this pressing issue.
While visiting the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, UK, and the famous Cutty Sark, a clipper ship from 1869 that brought tea from China, I learned something very interesting about this mysterious beverage.
I learned that in the very early days of tea drinking, fashionable tea cups were crafted with such delicate, thin material that they could easily crack when hot tea was poured in. They found pouring the cool milk first and then the hot tea protected the fragile porcelain from damage. Subsequent improvements in the manufacture of teacups made them much stronger, and the risk of cracking under the heat was virtually erased. So really, the method of pouring milk first is an anachronistic habit that has no real meaning. Yet dedicated tea drinkers cling to this modus operandi and god help you if you try something different.
Of course, as is my own well-worn habit on this blog, these daily details cause me to reflect. Why do we do things the way we do? Are there routines in my own life that are ‘hangovers’ from the past, that really don’t have any meaning?
Perhaps I’ve found my New Year’s resolution: to challenge old habits; to question tired methods; to test the value of comfortable rituals; to try new ways of doing things. (run Star Trek opening theme music here.….)