herald

Tuesday 17 October 2017

What Irish person needs an excuse to have a nice hot cup of tea?

None of us devotees needed an extra, medical reason to have a cuppa.

It's cool, nonetheless, to find new research showing that drinking (black) tea can reduce your chances of type-2 diabetes.

Tea may be drunk all over the world, but there can be no doubt about it: we in Ireland are connoisseurs and experts. We know our tea.

One man I know (well enough to be married to him these many years) gets off a plane after a period spent in the US with a face on him like you'd have expected to see on the face of a nineteenth century explorer arriving back from Darkest Africa.

His expression says he's back in civilisation, where they make tea with proper hot water, instead of the lukewarm stuff Americans serve.

That's one of the things about tea. It allows ordinary people to claim an expertise a wine expert would be proud of.

You've heard them: what's important is the quality of the teapot (only bone china will do).

No, what's important is that the teapot be heated. No. It's that the milk goes in first. Or goes in last.

We seem, as a nation, to have almost adopted tea and the making of tea as in some way indicative of our individual worth.

loyalty

It's not good enough just to be a tea drinker. We must be in a position to claim to be a tea aficionado.

We must have a tea-affiliation: a brand to which we swear undying loyalty based on our conviction of its special nuanced flavour.

Tea is so much more than a drink. It's a ritual. A ritual rooted in home and family and past, refreshed each and every day in our offices and apartments.

Most of us hardly need an excuse to - as Fr Ted's Mrs Doyle said - "go on" and have a cup.

From the first longing to the final presentation of the golden cuppa, it is a form of domestic sacrament, infinitely more important in its significance than is fully understood.

Anyone who has had major surgery recently will vouch for that extra significance.

They go through the "nil by mouth" routine in advance, their tongue turning into a fat furry stranger, their teeth losing their slithery shine. They they go under anaesthetic. When they wake up, they go through that awful routine of fat cotton buds dipped in iced water to moisten dry lips.

Then (imagine the sound of trumpets triumphantly sounding) someone hands them a cup of tea and the world comes back into place. Even that three-word phrase becomes a kind of incantation: "Cup of tea," they murmur gratefully.

sharing

Coffee is a wonder, a joy, and if it contains enough shots of espresso, a hell of a jolt in the early morning. But it has never quite found itself as an integral accompaniment of the high and low points of daily living. Coffee is for grabbing. Tea is for sharing.

Tea is to be shared during celebrations and commiserations. It's the warmth in our hands in bad times. It's the wonderfully distracting set of tasks we undertake to distract ourselves from the great griefs of our lives.

But, paradoxically, it's also the "sit down there and tell me about it" drink for celebration.

Weddings may call for champagne, but the news of how the proposal happened requires tea.

Tea is for telling the story of the break-up and it's also for mending fences and renewing friendships lost days or years earlier.

Is there any situation in life that isn't enhanced by someone putting the kettle on and reaching for the tea caddy?

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