Monday, May 3, 2010

Tea and Scamping: Earl Grey Supreme

Harney and Sons’ Earl Grey Supreme is my Regular Day Tea, as if any day that starts with this tea could merely be described as “regular.” The bergamot is more pronounced in this blend, a consistent punch of power to the morning. This blend uses a little higher quality leaves and a bit more bergamot flavor than its standard Earl Grey blend. While I may add a little simple syrup to the Maritime Mist, it would just be wrong to sweeten this tea. This isn’t a sweet tea. This tea makes me smile, like a good friend who shares my sense of humor, one I’ve known forever but who can still surprise me. One who is dependable, but never boring.

This Earl Grey Supreme is a powerful tea, one that should never be used simply to caffeinate yourself. That would be a disservice to both the tea and yourself. I have other teas for that purpose—Tazo’s Earl Grey, tea dust in a bag, which is good for nothing except quick caffeination. Tazo is the friend I take on a road trip—a very specific personality match. I have good friends who I would never want to travel with. When I make the semi-annual pilgrimage from Ohio to northern Minnesota (which starts when I leave the house at 4:00 am), I’ll fill up my big Stanley Thermos and my travel mug with tea strong enough to take the varnish off a table. By the time I’m halfway through Indiana, I’m so caffeinated that I’m shaking a little and singing at the top of my lungs, simultaneously grateful for the darkness that surrounds my Jeep and that there’s nobody around to hear me sing. It is possible, I’ve learned, to be drunk on tea. It’s not the same intoxication as that caused by alcohol, but it is intoxication nonetheless.

The story of Earl Grey itself—and himself—is rooted in movement and travel, the story of the 2nd Earl Grey who, on a diplomatic mission to China in the early 1800s, saved the son of Chinese mandarin from drowning and was rewarded with the recipe for this tea. Of course, Earl Grey never set foot in China and the Chinese are not especially fond of black tea, but it’s a nice story for a road trip.

There’s more to the timing of tea than how long it should steep and it’s especially obvious in the mornings, whether I’m driving to or from Ohio or watching the sun come up in my fourth floor office before my early classes or waking up to the sun in my camper. Few things are more enjoyable to me than brewing a pot of Winter White Earl Grey in my hand-thrown pot and drinking while I’m reading. Or making a pot of Maritime Mist to sip while sitting at my sisters’ dining room table before they’re up or perching at the peninsula in my parents’ kitchen with my father’s stainless steel Bredemeijer pot full of Earl Grey Supreme when the only souls moving around are the cats. And then as the light in those spaces changes, as the movement in those places changes, the tea and the purpose of the tea changes as well.

A day can never seem ordinary and regular if you’re awake early enough to register what happens internally between the colors of morning, watching the clouds change as the angle of sunlight changes, what happens with your internal composition as it changes with the caffeine consumption and equating sunlight with bergamot. If I brew myself a cup of tea later in the midmorning, it’s just not the same, and I usually end up watering my plants with it.

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