Don’t Quit Sugar

English Breakfast

I talk a lot about how no one should put more than 2 sugars in their hot beverages. I suppose an explanation is in order.

Sugar is bad for you.

It’s not new news. It’s not even news. Everyone knows that sugar has absolutely zero health benefits. But I still like it. I am firm believer in cake (especially cheesecake). Chocolate was created for bad moods. Canada is a country devoted entirely to syrup, and I love both country and substance.

So why my objection to sugar in tea?

There’s a couple of reasons. First, tea is vast and varied and can be manipulated to suit tastebuds without the addition of sugar. People who believe in good whiskey tend not to cut it with anything, because then you’ll miss some aspect of the whiskey. (At least, this is the impression I get from whiskey drinkers. I’m completely allergic to alcohol myself, so I’m winging it here). If you want to understand the nuance, depth and complexity of a tea, you have to drink it and learn to enjoy it without any sugar first.

Some teas do come alive with a hint of sweetener. A touch of honey in chai is a terrific idea every now and then. A drop of maple syrup in New York Breakfast tastes divine. And Madagascan Vanilla is a new tea when you have it with sugar or milk or sugar and milk. But the only reason I can appreciate these teas with sweetener is because I first understood their profile without.

All well and good for people like me who are big fans of enjoying a cup of tea down to its last sip, but not everyone is that devoted to the morning cuppa. Fair enough. I still think sugar in tea as a principle is not a good idea. It’s because I like sugar that I don’t think it should be in tea. As I mentioned, I believe in cake, in scones and jam, and chocolate chip bikkies. And when you believe in these things, and hope to live beyond 45 years old, you have to cut out sugar somewhere.

Tea hosts so many health benefits, that by dumping in a small mound of sweetener, you’re ruining your chances of those health benefits making any kind of a difference. And because I believe in sugary treats, I have to believe in balancing this with good food options on a day-to-day basis. Personally, I’d rather have a full blown slice of cake in the place of 10 sugar-added cups of tea. I don’t think you can enjoy both and live a long and happy life.

And so, we arrive at English Breakfast. It’s a bit of a beast to be honest. Not at all a smooth tea, it boasts an astringent flavour. It’s as though the British values of tutting, queuing and whinging were crystallised into a flavour and infused into a tea leaf. That’s English Breakfast. I have a hard time taking it without milk. There is a bitterness in a cup of English Breakfast that betrays the expectation of a forecast of drizzle and disappointment. That said, it’s hard to imagine not drinking English Breakfast. It is such a classic flavour, and nearly always on offer, alongside Earl Grey.

It is a truly tempting tea to add sweetener to. The flavour won’t suffer for it, in fact, sugar would probably be an improvement. But it is a matter of principle that I take it with milk only. If I’m honest, English Breakfast is such well worn start to the day, I have recommended to friends that they replace their morning coffee with a cup of the iconic tea. This suggestion is rarely received well and often devolves into me defending the superiority of tea to virtually no avail. But most people I speak to who drink coffee require a minimum of 2 sugars. If your drink is that bitter, you don’t actually like the taste of it. Few are prepared to admit that they don’t like the taste of coffee, but they do enjoy the buzz of the caffeine. But I, in all confidence, can assure you, that I like the taste of tea. Even without sugar.

English Breakfast: 3/5
Enjoy with: the first rays of the day.

Memory Lapse

Lung Ching Classic

I knew this would happen. I knew there would come a tea for which I scribbled down some hasty notes, with all good intentions of drafting up a post about it very soon after, and then forgetting to. Well Lung Ching, you’re the lucky candidate (and you might not be the last if I’m honest).

I can’t make a usual length post from the notes I made on this tea. They simply read:

Hard to describe
Smooth Green (surprising)
Raspberry notes?
4/5

That’s it. I don’t remember much about the tea at all. These notes are sandwiched between two long to-do lists, with about 30 items on each list. I was clearing drinking this tea with other things on my mind. Once I realised this, I was prepared to write a self berating post about how it’s much easier to do a good job at something if it is given your whole attention and how I should work on one thing at a time.

But in fairness, life doesn’t always give you that chance. You have those days where thoughts buzz mercilessly and you just CAN’T stop to pay better attention to anything else. So you leave home without your wallet or your house keys or your kid (that hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m banking on it in the future).

And sometimes the best recommendations you can give to a friend are the vague ones. If someone says to me, “I definitely enjoyed that tea/restaurant/book/other thing. I can’t quite remember why, but I’m confident it was good,” I go into the experience with some expectations, but they aren’t sky high. And when I make up my own mind, I don’t feel like I’m doing it against someone else’s extraordinary experience. Similarly, if someone says, “I don’t remember being a big fan of that. I can’t really remember why,” I don’t feel like I’ve been warned off something I was interested in just because someone else had a bad experience.

My memory of Lung Ching Classic

I’m a big fan of people justifying their reviews. If someone says they hate a movie outright because the director/lead actor/make up designer is Desmond Destiny Goldsparkle the Third and they have taken a vow to despise all work that comes in contact with Des, then I know it’s just personal. If people say they didn’t like something because it was racist or sexist, then I know it’s probably worth avoiding on principle. But sometimes, the vague review is the friend of many.

So tea friends, I enjoyed Lung Ching Classic. It was a smooth green. I think it had a hint of raspberry. I don’t remember too much else about it, but it might be worth checking out.

Lung Ching Classic: 4/5
Enjoy with: something…

Remarkable

Orange Pekoe

Standing at the top of the world, bracing against the roaring gale, witnessing the whole sky dance and unable to take it all in at once, I had never felt so tiny and so human. And it all began with a cup of tea.

Reykjavik is the capital city of Iceland, the most northern capital city in the world. But for a country with ‘ice’ in its name, it is surprisingly warm, even in the depths of winter. The Gulf Stream from Mexico empties out right above Iceland, so winter temperatures are reasonably stable within a few degrees of zero. Sure, that’s cold, but it’s not deathly cold just to walk outside. And it is winter after all.

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Iceland is a magical country. It’s so untouched by the rest of the world, but also familiarly European enough not be alien. The snow clings to the ground like a dusting of wonder, and the long winter nights lend themselves to cozy fires, warm drinks, and reading. Storytelling is in the fabric of the culture. Arriving just after Christmas gave me an insight into some of the holiday traditions. The Yule Lads complement Santa. One of 14 troll-like creatures come in the windows of children’s bedrooms each night in the lead up to Christmas. Children leave out a shoe where the trolls deposit a chocolate for well behaved children, and a potato for the naughty ones. Reading that the majority of Icelanders still believe in the elves (Huldufólk) of their ancient folklore sounded absurd to me, until I arrived. I’d believe in elves too if I’d grown up in that country. It has an indescribable mystical quality in the atmosphere and the dark winter is friend to the imagination.

My main ambition while in Iceland was to witness the Aurora Borealis. I’d read and heard about this phenomenon for many years, and could hardly believe I would be in the right part of the world at the right time of year to behold the Lights for myself. I booked a tour with remarkable optimism. The evening came, the tour bus arrived, we eagerly hopped on board. The conditions were perfect. Clear sky, high solar wind activity. We waited, we watched, and we waited some more. Alas, there was no sighting that night. The tour company offered a complimentary tour due to the lack of sighting.

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The next night, the tour was cancelled. It was overcast and the atmospheric conditions were not ideal. We would have to wait one more night. As the evening wore on, the sky cleared and a strong wind picked up from the harbour. Deciding to brave the wind, we went in search of a hot drink, and found ourselves at a basement tea bar on the main street. The room was heaving with people and hot drink orders were about to close (the booze was only just starting to flow though). I jostled for a table and my Main Man was left to make drink orders. He returned with an Orange Pekoe for me. The warm tea was heavenly on the cold night. Patrons playing the piano in the corner provided a lively atmosphere amongst the cozy candlelight. We toasted our decision to travel to the other side of the world once again. Aurora or not, this was a trip worth taking and a country worth visiting. When we were walking home, hearts and stomachs warmed, for no reason, MM looked up at the sky.

“What colour do you think that is?” he asked.

We stared for a minute.

“Wait! That’s Aurora!”

We dashed up the hill, the wind fighting us the entire way, until we were standing in the square outside the cathedral. We could see the entire sky from our vantage point, but could scarcely take it all in. Band after band of colour rippled across the sky, twisting, turning, teasing us. It didn’t need our existence, nor did it dance for our benefit, it simply glowed because it was supposed to. The sky becomes so much larger when you try to survey the whole thing at once. It highlights how small you are, how incapable you are of conjuring something this spectacular because you’re just a human. It made think just how much easier it is to believe something else, something bigger or more magical, exists in moments just like these.

In the middle of the city, where we were told the light pollution would destroy all chance of seeing the Lights, on a night when we were told there was no chance of a sighting, we stood, open-mouthed and marvelling. And all because a little earlier in the evening we’d gone in search of a cup of tea.

In a necessary twist of irony, one of the most remarkable events in my life was preceded by one of the most unremarkable teas. Every Orange Pekoe I’ve tried is an unremarkable black, and T2’s offering is no different. It’s a straight black tea, without much depth, and a bit temperamental to brew. It’s not difficult to get a cardboard flavour out of this tea, and milk doesn’t do much for the flavour. My personal recommendation is a squeeze of lemon to lift the cup somewhat. My other recommendation is to see the Northern Lights to lift the experience immensely.

Orange Pekoe: 3/5
Enjoy with: a squeeze of lemon and a celestial marvel.

Pulling it Together

Irish Breakfast

It’s Sunday afternoon. No matter what stage of adult life I find myself, Sunday afternoon seems to feel very similar. It’s those final hours of daylight I have to prepare myself for the week ahead. And the manner in which I spend these hours has some kind of impact on the type of week I will have.

As an undergrad student, Sunday afternoon was a time to order my week and determine how I would complete my readings and work on enough of my assignments to reach my due dates on time. All of this had to occur around errands, chores and work throughout the week. And when I was learning a new language, it was the only part of Sunday when I had time to review my language materials. During my postgrad study, it was the hours where I could fire off a few hundred words more, reach the target I had set 7 days earlier, and start the week with a clean slate. That was rare. I spent month upon month playing catch up to myself, but only being responsible to myself. There are a handful of benefits to having a negligent supervisor.

When I was working full time, Sunday afternoon was the time to inject some calm into the week. I would iron my clothes for the work week. I would prepare what snacks and meals I could, so I had food on hand. This was the time in life I was planning my wedding, and Sunday night meant dinner with my fiance. This acted as brilliant motivator for getting everything done. Completing tasks on Sunday afternoon gave me more time to consider wedding details during the week. And I was rewarded with the best dinner company I could imagine.

When I was a working mother, Sunday was the afternoon to lament the week ahead. It was peppered with lists and anxiety, the feeling that I never got on top of the previous week, and was unlikely to get on top of this week. I had to live each day in an anxious grip of fear and pain. I was sick and I had an injury, both of which inhibited my ability to be a good mother. I was desperately vying for promotion at work, only later to discover I was chasing an imaginary carrot. I was never at home when I was at home, and I wanted to be with my Little Lad when I was at work. Sunday afternoon was the time to be with my boy, to be with my Main Man and to hope that this week would be better. Unfortunately, the weeks never got better. I only got sicker.

And here I am now: living away from the city that feeds my anxiety, body gripped by chronic fatigue syndrome, back injury and PTSD. Unable to work, largely unable to mother. My Main Man is a Super Dad to our Little Lad, and I spend my weeks resting, predominantly in the hope my health will improve. And Sunday afternoon is the time to focus on a good week ahead. I’ve been imagining and attempting to engineer good weeks for a couple of months since we arrived in the country, but they haven’t been forthcoming. But still, I try. Two Sundays ago, I found myself planning a good week. And for the first time in over a year, I had one. I exercised every day, and noticed a reduction in my level of pain. My mood improved. I was present with LL more than I had been since he was a dependent infant. So last Sunday, I felt invincible, I could have another good week. Then Monday arrived and I had not slept the night before. The week was off to a rocky start. But I would not be deterred. I listened to my body and slowed down, hoping for a better day Tuesday. Tuesday arrived and I seized it with both hands. It was a good day, or so I told myself. The week was back on track, even though I was feeling more weary than I ought to. And then Wednesday came. I got up, slowly. I spent the morning with my family. And by 11am, I collapsed back into bed, where I stayed. I couldn’t believe the week was not going to pan out. Wednesday night came, and I didn’t sleep more than 10 minutes at a stretch. I was getting a cold, my burning throat swelled and I struggled to swallow. Thursday, Friday, Saturday: the cold took over and I was slave to it. Today I roused myself from bed, very late, and took stock of my Sunday afternoon, the cold still lingering.

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The house is untidy, my library books are overdue and a week’s worth of expectations have been swept aside. But Sunday afternoon feels the same. I’ll attempt to tidy something. I’ll fill my planner with my hopes for the week, though they have dwindled in number from my former years. Each day will contain something like: exercise, read, write, spend time with LL. Maybe just 2 chores this week. That should be achievable.

And here rests the cup of Irish Breakfast. A faithful cup, but in its own way, a little disappointing. Despite its names, I’ve always preferred to drink it in the afternoon. It is bold with a musky flavour and malty notes. It isn’t smooth, so milk and sweetener are almost a must. And though I’ve tried, time and time again to like the T2 version, I struggle to elevate it over Twinings. But I go back to it. I hope it will improve. It hasn’t yet, but a good cup could be on its way. I hope it brings a good week with it.

Irish Breakfast: 2/5
Enjoy with: hope.

Are You High?

Good Afternoon

“High Teas” are popping up here, there, and everywhere it seems. Once reserved for retirees and characters of an inaccurate depiction of British high society, high tea is now a fashionable way to spend an afternoon, hen’s party, baby shower or any not quite real celebration. At least, these things are labelled high tea.

Most establishments offering high tea have only the vaguest handle on what high tea actually is. Most people zipping off a mass Facebook invitation don’t even have that. Thus, a quick education is in order.

Historically, afternoon tea or ‘low tea’ was exclusively an upper class affair. It was the mini-meal designed to tide people over from lunch to supper, which often wasn’t served until 8pm. It was served while seated in low, comfortable chairs (hence ‘low tea’) and consisted of an offering of multiple black teas, scones and finger sandwiches.

High tea was the purview of the working class. Tea was expensive and wasn’t splashed around all afternoon long. High tea was eaten at a table, or even a kitchen bench top (hence ‘high’) and the meal was hearty to satisfy the hungry worker. It often consisted of vegetables, bread, cheese, a mug of tea, and occasionally meat as well. Eventually, the upper class also developed a version of ‘high tea’. It was a meal taken at the table and was simple to prepare in the absence of servants. This is where the 3-tiered afternoon tea tray came into its own.

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So, what are we to do with this information? Before I answer this question, I’ll take you on a whirlwind trip of some ‘high teas’ I’ve been invited to, and we’ll see if you can spot the primary issue.

Mum’s Afternoon High Tea
The Mum’s group I belonged to when I lived in the city had a child-free ‘high tea’. I was the only one who brought tea leaves. I brewed one 4-cup pot and personally drank 2 cups from it. One other mum drank a cup of tea.

Engagement Part High Tea
We all had to bring a plate and a gift from an obnoxiously long (and expensive) registry. They served traditional lemonade.

Swanky Hotel High Tea
Champagne and coffee were brought to the table. Tea was self-serve, from tea bags.

The astute among you will have realised the primary problem with the modern high tea is that there is a distinct lack of tea involved. Call me crazy, but if you wish to resurrect the practice of tea in the afternoon, it should involve some actual tea. Also, in sticking with tradition, I’d expect to see some savouries, scones and sweets served on a 3-tier tray. Chalk that up to preference if you like, but a selection of tea at a high tea is a must!

“But lots of people don’t like tea,” I can hear the ‘macchiato in a syringe’ crowd grumble. Well then, maybe lots of people need to come up with a different term for their afternoon nibbles and non-tea beverages.

Alternatively, tiny minded coffee drinkers could expand their palates by trying today’s T2 sampling: Good Afternoon.

What surprised me most about this tea was the amount of expectation I had placed on it. I expected something dark, with deep tannins. Good Afternoon was not like this at all. It had very little tannin and was overwhelmingly smooth. For a straight black, it wasn’t as bold as Keemun (which I’ve discovered is now my black tea benchmark), but it was kind of bright. It was a tricky little brew to pigeonhole.

I drank it in the middle of the day and was surprised at how well it paired with late morning sunshine. I would recommend drinking this black any time before 4pm, due to how smooth is tastes. Good Afternoon is the friend to milk of any ilk, but tread cautiously with sweetener (as I always say, I know). It seems like its flavour could easily be washed out by some over zealous honey squeezing (or agave, or coconut sugar, or maple syrup, or whatever it is people are pretending isn’t sugar this week).

The main advantage of Good Afternoon is how inoffensive it is. This is definitely a worthy introduction tea if someone you know and love (yourself included) is seeking to dip their toe into the wide world of tea drinking, or simply attempting to broaden their selection and aren’t too confident of where to begin. That being said, it’s a bit boring, because it’s just a standard black.

What we all need to remember though, is that high tea is a real thing, with a real definition, and deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. And above all, it must include some tea. Otherwise, it’s time to call it something else entirely.

Good Afternoon: 4/5
Enjoy with: a high tea, because then it’s a Good Afternoon on every level.

Uh…no?

Here is a list of things I don’t understand:

  1. People who flat out refuse to try tea. Ever.
  2. People who ‘found’ French Earl Grey and don’t need any other tea in their life.
  3. Horror films.
  4. Putting more than 2 sugars in a hot beverage. You don’t want a drink, you want a cake.
  5. Why losing weight is so difficult.
  6. People who go into T2, bypass the smelling table and ask, “Do you have any green tea?”
  7. Soccer hooligans.
  8. State of Origin.

Complexity

Jade Mountain

Some things are difficult to say, such as, “The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book.” Growing up, it was just, “the cake book,” which is a far less complex collection of syllables. But MM doesn’t always know what I’m referring to, so I have to use its full title and sometimes add, “The one with the train cake on the cover.” I knew I was worn out the other night when I referred to it as, “The Australia Women’s Keithly Workday Cake Book.” Now I wish workday cakes were a thing. How much better would offices be if there was workday cake in the kitchen after meetings?

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The Cake Book

The cake book is nothing if not a web of complexity. As I’ve already demonstrated, it’s has a complex title. It is filled with complex recipes that involve intricate decoration. And the question of which cake in the book is best isn’t answered easily. When discussing the cake book, it isn’t long before an argument breaks out over which cake is the best. There are lots of advocates for the train cake. The train cake is ok, but the popcorn in the carriage gets soggy if the cake is prepared too far in advance. Plus, how lazy do you have to be to not even look beyond the cover?

The castle cake boasts an ardent following. These people tend to be the type that prefer style over substance because, again, soggy ice cream cones if the cake has to be left. This is also a prime cake for collapsibility.

The weirdest cakes in that book are:

– the duck with chips for a beak. Why? Why would you do that to a cake? What did cake ever do to you?
– the ghost with eggshells for eyes. Egg shells. The discarded shell of an egg. Even the rubbish truck cake isn’t adorned with real rubbish.

Obviously, most people are wrong about which cake is best. It is clearly the bear with the wagon wheel biscuits for ears, because you get

  1. chocolate icing
  2. chocolate coconut
  3. two chocolate cakes iced into one
  4. wagon wheel biscuits
  5. a Rolo for the nose

No other cakes in that book offer this kind of chocolatey bounty. It is the best cake.

By the way, my mum never made the cake pools full of jelly because she said they were too tricky. I now know lots of people who only got the pool cake because their mum thought it was easy. Can we come to a consensus? Should I just make one and see for myself?

Anyway, the discussion involving our hero, Keithly Workday, was just a roundabout way of discussing Rolos. They only appear to be sold in family-size blocks now. I was really after the sleeve of little caramel-chocolate morsels because they are exactly the correct proportion of caramel to chocolate. I’m hesitant to go on an earnest hunt for a sleeve of Rolos, in case I discover once and for all that they don’t exist.

The catalyst for my Rolo desire was a cup of Jade Mountain tea I’d had earlier in the day. As I’ve said in the past, I’m not sure I like green tea, but I never baulk at a cup of Jade Mountain. It has a classic green tea taste, but every mouthful is a wonderful complexity of flavours. It has a combination of chocolate and caramel flavours, perfectly proportioned. It also has salty popcorn notes, and a little fruity tone splashed in for good measure: apple, apricot, fig. It’s vanilla, brown sugar, and creamy, and seemingly more complex with every mouthful.

In fact, Jade Mountain reminds me of the complexity of a custard apple. If you just hook into the thing it’s easy to assume it just tastes like custard and apple. But a custard apple is so much more than that. It’s smokey and has maple notes. You can taste woody flavours, fig, and citrus. It’s an adventure in a tropical skin.

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A cup of Jade Mountain is like a showcase of everything a cup of tea is capable of. It’s like seeing acrobats prove the extremes of the human body’s ability, viewing an intricate painting, or hearing a stirring piece of poetry. Just as you can’t help but be in awe of the possibilities of nature as you stand in the shadow of a mighty mountain, you will scarcely be able to help contain your awe of a cup of Jade Mountain.

Jade Mountain: 5/5

Enjoy with: Keithly Workday, and a slice of cake.