Reader Ernest has reminded me of something I left out of yesterday's post about the proppa cuppa tea, something that is is yet another link in the chain that leads to a truly discouraging brew in most restaurants here in this coffee-centric culture. Remember that the water used to make your tea often runs through the coffee machine to be heated. Remember that black tea needs boiling water poured on it. Remember also that coffee machines heat water to below the boiling point, so the hottest that water is ever going to be is not hot enough, and – what I failed to include – the too-small mug it's poured into is usually a heavy ceramic thing, and has not been warmed. Say bye-bye to a few more degrees of heat. I would have included this, but I was already lying on the floor, whimpering.
However, now that I am writing this postscript, I really should also introduce the microwave issue. When microwave ovens first came into use, it was thought they might be a danger to pregnant women. That seems to have been addressed, and the things are everywhere. I have friends who almost never use their stoves anymore. And I have friends who, on offering me tea, fill a mug with water, plonk in a teabag, and thrust it into the microwave to boil (or not boil, depending on what the thing is set for).
I have noticed that tea thus prepared does not taste the same as it does when steeped in water boiled in a stovetop or electric kettle. It's not quite the same color, either; the rich brown I expect becomes a little greyish. I thought for a while this was because microwaving does something to the tea. So I did an experiment, using several different microwaves (thank you to my tolerant and amused friends!). I heated the water only. Just the water in a clean cup. Here's what happens: put in a teabag, and get greyish-brown tea that does not taste the same, even when I use my beloved Yorkshire Gold as a control.
It is true that putting the tea on top of the water isn't really the done thing. Pouring the water onto the tea is what I do at home, so I have done that, too, with microwaved boiling H²O. It still brews up grey. It still tastes… funny. I am convinced that microwaving changes the water itself.
Do we find this acceptable? Ermmm, not really, no. We do not.
Of course, if Parliament had not enacted the Tea Act in 1773, things might be different here. One might be able to get good tea in an American restaurant. Instead, it's coffee everywhere. Coffee made its way to Europe and thence to the American colonies from the African and the Middle Eastern countries of Ethiopia, Egypt and Yemen, and is also a very admirable beverage. It had a big popularity surge during the American Revolution because of that Tea Act, and we've been hooked on it ever since… far longer than we've been mainlining oil from roughly the same part of the world.