Actually, it’s a morning mug. A big mug. John and I both like a mug with a handle big enough to get four fingers around, with the thumb for balance. We have a shelf full of them; the one I’m using now is a “John” mug, since it has rifles on it.
I don’t generally drink my morning cup out of a mug with rifles on it. The ones I think of as “mine” are one from Elfreth’s Alley in Philadelphia, and one I scarfed up from a friend’s office some years ago, which carries the logo of a indoor plant servicing company. We have others, but I consider them joint property.
I’d like to think of myself as a fairly laid-back person, but I get a bit squirrelly about my morning cup. To begin with, I don’t use teabags. I got hooked on loose tea a couple years ago when I started patronizing a small local shop called “Coffee Caboodle,” which carried a line of coffee beans and tea leaves, and had a knowledgeable staff to tell you about them. Since I drink my tea with milk and therefore like a rather brawny brew, they recommended a black Nilgiri tea (called “Tiger Hill”). I also bought an odd little plastic tea strainer, which is lined with a filtering fabric rather than being perforated. I bought a second one because I liked the first so much; I left the second one by accident in the Arden Theatre’s artist housing back in January, and have been mourning it since. I can’t buy a new one because the Coffee Caboodle closed up – although happily, another local shop in the same center now carries the line of coffees and teas, although not the accoutrements.
I have taken my morning cup with milk and sugar since I started drinking tea as a teenager. Time and weight have forced me to amend my habits slightly; I drink two percent milk and use an artificial sweetener now. I hate those little paper sweetner packets, and was overjoyed to find that Equal manufactures their chemical sweetener in pill form, and it comes in a clever little container where you press a button to open a little slot in the bottom so the pills drop out (I was horrified the last time I bought the stuff to see that they’ve remodeled the packaging – it now has a lid you have to LIFT to get the pills out. In a terror of new technology, I bought out that store’s stock of the push-button containers).
To begin the tea-making process, I add fresh water to my dark blue teakettle and put it on the stove with a medium-high flame. It usually boils within two minutes; I don’t like it to boil much longer since supposedly this concentrates the lead in tap water. I could use bottled water but I’m not that persnickety (yet). While the water is heating, I use a demitasse spoon to measure out two heaping spoonfuls of the Nilgiri, which lives in a blue and white ceramic jar with a tight-fitting lid. A demitasse spoon probably sounds la-di-dah, but it’s exactly the right size, and how often are you going to use a demitasse spoon, otherwise? The tea goes into the orange plastic strainer, which is snapped shut and put into the tea mug. Two of the little Equal pills follow (they go in before the water, since I find that they melt completely that way, with no stirring). When the water comes to the boil, I fill up the cup (adding a bit extra to allow for the loose tea leaves’ sponge effect) and then go away for a couple of minutes.
If I’ve timed the brewing process correctly, when I return the tea will have cooled just enough so that the addition of the milk brings it to drinking temperature – hot, but not hot enough to scald. A good splash of milk (about a quarter cup) mellows the dark tea flavor perfectly. The used tea leaves go into my compost pail, which eventually gets toted out to the composter in the back yard and dumped (which reminds me, the pail is currently growing penicillin, so it’s past time for it to be dumped). The rinsed strainer is put on the edge of the sink to dry. The tea carried to either the office and the computer (to be slurped happily as I check my morning email), or to the television, if the skies outside look interesting enough to make a look at the Weather Channel a necessity.
The sad thing is that I’ve grown tetchy enough about my morning tea to actually carry a baggie of Nilgiri, my Equal pills and my strainer with me when I travel (“oh, here comes weird Aunt Donna with her tea, again”). When I’m doing a show, I also have those items, as well as an electric teakettle, stowed in my dressing room. Tea water can’t just be hot, it has to be boiling, which is why I usually don’t care to drink tea in restaurants – the water has usually just been sitting on a burner somewhere, concentrating its lead and getting a flat, dull taste. If I have a second cup at home, I empty out the teakettle and fill it with fresh water before starting the process again – no warmed-over water.
There are mornings when I wake up and absolutely crave that first cup – not just the taste and the warmth of it, but the regimen that goes along with it. With my erratic schedule, very little is the same from day to day, but at least my morning tea-making begins my day with a certain order. If I can make my tea the same way, every morning, then I feel like I’m in control of the rest of my day. Habit is a comforting thing, and if the results are a flavorsome mug of sweet, milky tea, so much the better.