Bairbre Power: 'I want my cups of cha strong. Two bags. No sugar. Builder's tea please!'
There are consequences to eating well in January to counteract all the excesses and calorific hedonism of December. Lack of control and way too many grazing visits to the fridge means there's now more miles to be walked and stretch classes to attend. I've no intention of drawing the ire of half the country on me by declaring that I'm eating clean because that seems to bring out the worst in critics - that and the very word Veganuary.
Top of my shopping list as I headed out in a very industrious fashion last Sunday was not a steamer but I did end up coming home with one. My mission was to buy some nice teas because I love my cuppa now more than ever.
I didn't officially take up Dry January but while I have given up drinking alcohol for the moment - I might have a glass or two of bubbles this Saturday at a belated birthday party - I am enjoying my glasses of iced chilled water with a slice of lemon. The only problem is I'm having great difficulty getting the recommended two litres of it into me each day. I split it between small bottles in my bag while on the go and herbal teas at my desk.
But mid morning and mid afternoon, I guzzle up my cups of cha. I want them strong. Two bags. No sugar. Builder's tea please!
I was truly shocked at how the British drink such watery, insipid tea. They may have all the choreography and etiquette with silver pots, elegant strainers and dainty tongs for sugar cubes, but the tea I encountered on my last visit was a big let-down, which is why I ran back to embrace my box of Barry's. Tea drinking comes easy in our house. A mother from Cork with Barry's tea running through her veins, the tea bags were packed before the passports for holidays, and while I haven't previously carried them around, I might start doing so.
On Sunday, to mark Nollaig na mBan, I took myself off to visit a friend's mum. We met 40 years ago during my first term at college when she gave me a lift home in her mini. Her opening words were, "you have to give me a push if the car breaks down". I love her chutzpah and enjoy our chats. While talking fashion, art, and her garden, she made us a pot of tea.
"Will I add another teabag?" she enquired as she took out the good teapot for entertaining guests. "Sure you might as well," I encouraged, explaining my preference for strong tea. Full of stories, she told me of how a workman once told her mother, "You've lovely bottoms to your china cups, mam", which was polite shorthand for your tea is so weak I can see the bottom of the cup!
That won't happen in our house. How to master the art of brewing tea is a new preoccupation as I steadfastly introduce more moments of mindfulness into my life. I have my spot where I assemble my mug-thin china, small teapot, boiling kettle, loose tea and infuser. I've researched the art of making the perfect cuppa and it turns out that warming the teapot first is not the secret trick.
According to Henrietta Lovell from rareteacompany.com, the question of the water temperature is not the same for all types. For tea-bags, boiling water extracts flavour, but for leaf tea, it should be below the rolling boil and if you are sweating the small stuff, it should be 85C (185F) for black tea for 2-3 minutes; 80C for oolong for 1 minute and 70C for green and white for up to 1.5 minutes.
Speaking of thin mugs, the thick one I declined to accept from my son last year because of its 'Grumpy Old Woman' slogan made a re-appearance last month. I raised a tattooed eyebrow but the gleam in his eyes told me I really should open the box. There, inside the mug, was a €50 note to go buy the small Longchamps handbag I've been circling in Arnotts for ages.
I accepted the mug with grace but I can tell you something. I will never drink tea out of it. It's far too thick but will be handy for pens. Instead, I will stick to my thin cup and tea made with loose tea and brewed for three minutes. The question is, milk in first or last?
My granny would kill me but I'm opting for the latter.