Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Wonderful Thing about Tea

Is that Tea is a wonderful thing!

I'm not just talking about the beverage tea, though heaven knows we drink gallonsful of sweet iced tea down here in NC. We are practically the iced tea capitol of the world! And I certainly do love a properly brewed cup of hot tea-- from high-quality loose tea leaves. More about that in a moment. I'm really talking about Tea, as in Afternoon Tea, the small meal that the British (and others) have between lunch and dinner, around 4ish or 5ish.

"Tea" can be a confusing thing, as there are so many different practices in the world, from "tea breaks" which are the equivalent to our "coffee breaks" to High Teas to Cream or Devonshire teas. In some locales, the evening meal itself is known as tea, as the main meal is eaten in the middle of the day. I did used to chuckle when my friend Charley would mention the "Turkey Teas" held as fundraisers by area churches in his small Newfoundland town. (Much like the Shrove Tuesday pancake suppers some of you may be familiar with.)

High tea vs. afternoon tea. What's the difference? According to one source, afternoon tea, in which tea is served around 4 or 5 in the afternoon, with dainty foods and pastries, was also known as low tea, as it was taken in parlors and afternoon rooms with low tables. This is contrary to practices in the U.S. where tea rooms call tea served with scones and "the works" "high tea." High tea refers to tea served as an informal evening meal, usually later than afternoon tea, at a regular dining, or high, table. High tea served as the evening meal for the common classes.

The fancy, shmancy 'high tea" served in tea rooms and elegant hotels would probably more accurately be called a "cream tea." A cream tea or Devonshire tea generally includes, besides tea, scones, clotted or Devonshire cream, and traditionally, strawberry jam.

Why do I love tea?? At what other meal can you consume petit fours, finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, and various and sundry pastries without feeling a single pang of conscience?

I think tea is a wonderful custom that should be more widely practiced, especially in our hectic lives here in the U.S. There is hardly anything cozier and more relaxing than sitting down to tea with DC when he gets home. I'm not talking about anything elaborate-- I just brew a pot of tea and get out some Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies, and instant comfort and tranquility!

There is something about a hot cup of tea and a cookie or two that is just so relaxing after a hectic day! When my son was a toddler, we called the period of time from 5-7 p.m., when everyone is tired, hungry and cranky, "The Poison Hour." Tea could be the answer to the Poison Hour! Tea was originally served because people would get hungry during the long hours between the mid-day meal and dinner, traditionally served at 8 p.m. or later. Since hunger, low blood sugar, and exhaustion are great contributors to making the late afternoon hectic and unpleasant, a break for a beverage and a snack, call it what you will, makes sense. I recall only too well those days of frantically trying to whip up dinner with a screaming toddler wrapped around one leg.

Break out some hot vanilla milk or what my friend Charlotte calls "Cambric Tea" (milk and sugar with just a tad of tea in it) for the kids, and some nutritious snack food. You and your Darlin' Companion can have the stimulating beverage of your choice, tea, coffee, etc. along with a few delectable nibbles. Not only is it fun and relaxing, it takes the edge off everyone's hunger. This lets you prepare the evening meal in peace, without everyone around you going mad from hunger.

In fact, if you have little ones, it's a great idea once a week or so to feed them their dinner at tea time, so you and your Darlin' Companion can enjoy a romantic, adults-only dinner after the children are in bed. Hey, cheap date-- and no babysitter needed!

Besides the obvious cookies, cinnamon toast, etc., there are lots of simple things you can enjoy at tea time. Hooray for the whole idea of "tea cakes." Tea cakes are by nature simple, uncomplicated treats that are nonetheless delicious. Things like banana bread, pound cake, and muffins. To my mind, any kind of simple cake that tastes good all on its own is a great candidate for a "tea cake." Pound cakes and muffins freeze well in indivudal portions, allowing you to have a homemade treat ready in a flash. You may not want to serve tea cakes every day, but it is nice knowing you have something on hand for the odd unexpected visitor, or when someone needs cheering up.

Here are some ideas for your "tea break."

Stefan's Favorite Hot Vanilla Milk

Pour whatever kind of milk your child drinks into a small mug. Add a teaspoon or two of honey, a couple sprinkles of cinnamon, and a little vanilla. Heat in the microwave until warmed through. Be sure to stir thoroughly to get rid of any hot spots and get the honey mixed in!

Making a real pot of tea

Buy the best tea leaves you can. The ones I am using here are Mei Lan Chun, a very nice, smooth Chinese green tea. I'm lucky to have one of the world's best tea shops in my area (A Southern Season), so I know the tea is properly stored and fresh when I buy it. Unfortunately, A Southern Season doesn't sell their good teas online. Teavana does, however.

There are many kinds of great teas to try: black teas, like Darjeeling; oolongs (my favorite is Ti Kwan Yin, which means Iron Goddess of Mercy); green teas (Mei Lan Chun is my current favorite); white teas (White Peony is the one I drink most often) and flavored teas, like Earl Grey, which is flavored with bergamot orange oil. Not to mention the many herbal blends on the market. I feel tea bags are fine for herbal teas.

A teapot with an infuser is a must.

That allows you to remove the tea leaves once they have steeped for the proper amount of time. It also lets you re-use the tea leaves! Most tea leaves can be brewed 2 or 3 times before they lose their flavor. I store my infuser with tea leaves in it in a plastic bag in the fridge.

Fill the infuser with leaves and set it aside. The general rule is 1 tsp. of tea per person and 1 tsp. for the pot. If you have "pearled" tea (little balls), you only need 4 or 5 little pearls per pot.

You need to warm your teapot first by filling it with hot water. My tea kettle holds enough boiling water to fill my teapot twice, so I fill it once to warm it, then pour that out.

Then put the infuser with the tea leaves in it and pour in fresh boiling water.

There are actually different temperatures you are supposed to brew the different kinds of tea at, but I just use boiling water for everything. Steep the tea (use a timer) for 3-5 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea, then remove the infuser promptly.

You can see how much the leaves expand in the hot water!

Your tea is ready to serve!

Here's a wonderful recipe for muffins that you can enjoy with your tea. This recipe make 7 regular size muffins for me. I think these would be especially tasty as miniature muffins and I will use my mini-muffin tin next time.

This recipe is from Bunny's Warm Oven.

Donut Muffins

These easy-to-make muffins do taste like cinnamon-sugar donuts!

See Donut Muffins on Key Ingredient.


  1. You got me craving a hot cup right now. Care to join me? I have some raspberry streusel coffee cake in the oven to go with it.. C'mon, how far is NC from NJ anyway?

  2. Donna, I am so there!! Raspberry Streusel coffee cake? Yum, Yum!! I actually have at least one other friend in NJ, so I could show up on your doorstep one of these days!!

  3. I love tea (and hate coffee). Tea is a wonderful thing indeed.

    Those donut muffings look wonderful.

    Welcome to SITS!

  4. I had no idea. Thanks and those muffins look, AWESOME!!!
    Just stopped by from SITS, welcome!

  5. The doughnut muffins look scrumptious! I always have to have something sweet with my tea :)

    Hey, thanks for catching up with my site today! I really loved all your comments!

  6. I really enjoyed this post. I am a tea girl through and through! I drink tea all day long, it's the first thing I think about when my eyes open in the morning. The doughnut muffins are the perfect match for a steaming hot cup. Yum!

  7. those donut muffins look so tasty! i love the idea of having tea every afternoon, taking the time to savor life.

    i am stopping by to welcome you to SITS, we are thrilled to have you join us!

  8. Today must be catch up day for you and me! I have some tea I got from and I am hoping to cook with them, maybe smoke something (okay that did not sound right), but I think you got my idea :), and always something sweet for me thank you!

  9. I love tea (decaf. )and some sort of bread item. Those donuts muffin looks so good.

    Stopped by to welcome you to SITS and invite you to be a part of my giveaway. Jump over and check it out. If you have time read about my "I love being carded!" card swap. Everyone likes "good mail", right.

  10. I totally agree on Tea Time, though I usually only drink herbal teas and Chai. I usually drink a cup a day, but lately I haven't had time or I just don't feel like it. Then I find myself missing my tea. I can crave tea (no particular kind) if I go too long without it. It really makes you feel better!

    Just dropping in to welcome you to SITS!

  11. Oh I love hot tea and those muffins looks scrumptious!

  12. I'm so glad you enjoyed the muffins!! Yes I just found out about SITS too! I'm a tea girl thru and thru, my little dog Chloe even has to have some when I make it in the morning! Decaf of course! LOL!!

  13. First of all, sweet tea rules! But then I do enjoy a hot cup of tea too. Although I just use plain Lipton bags and nothing fancy.

    Stopping by to welcome you to SITS! Happy St. Paddy's Day!

  14. What a wonderful post! A pot of tea with a little milk gets me through the afternoon slump without snacking!

  15. I completely agree! I must go make some clotted cream, we are having high tea today!!!
    I came by to say Welcome to SITS! I'm with the Welcome Wagon and we are so glad you joined us. As I'm sure you already know, it's a fabulous group of ladies!
    Enjoy your day,

  16. splendid muffins, Karen! in my eyes, these are FAR superior to regular ol’ donuts, and much better for the arteries. 

  17. I thoroughly enjoyed the posting. I go into periods where I have a proper tea break - not high tea by any means (although I do love it). And then life goes on fast-forward and I stop - for nothing. Tea is a reminder to slow down and sip.

  18. Next time I will try this for tea.I enjoyed your post very much.
    Happy St. Patrick's Day

  19. Hey, this is a great post. My friends and I have High Tea (or, according to your post, more accurately 'Cream Tea') once or twice a year at one of the finer hotels in our city. It's great and so much fun, but I think I will try to incorporate low tea in our regular schedule because you are right, the hours between 3-5 can be crazy.
    Welcome to SITS!!!

  20. Tea is awesome, I agre, but that muffin.... Yummmm!!

  21. First of all, those donut muffins look divine. Totally up my alley. Wow, wow, wow! Secondly, from my four years in NC, I can totally relate to what you're saying: sweet tea (and tea in general) is huge, and I love it!

  22. MMMmmm ... all that looks so great!

  23. Everybody: I am so glad you enjoyed the post, and thanks for reading! For those of you new to DomesticMuse, welcome, and I hope to see you back! I am shooting for 30 followers by the end of the month, LOL!

    It's funny how people are definite tea people or coffee people! I'm like you, Reeni-- I just love my morning tea and often make another pot in the afternoon. I used to drink coffee, but it triggers migraines for me so I scrupulously avoid it.

    Y'all have GOT to try the muffins, they really are SPECTACULAR!! I love it when something so simple is SO delcious! Thank you, Bunny!

    Oh, and uh, not that I speak from experience or anything, but they are really good warmed up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside them.

    SITStas-- thanks so much for your warm welcome! I will be dropping by all of your blogs to say hi!

    Have a great week, everyone!


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