Friday, June 04, 2010

Tea Time Again

By Jess Hodges

When I think of my Grandmother I think of elevenses which is as far as I can find out a fairly ambiguous entry in the daily gastronomic diary, completely open to interpretation and largely forgotten about these days. Though usually partaken of at eleven o'clock in the morning, it has been know to migrate forwards as far as ten and backwards all the way to half past two in the afternoon dependant on such diverse factors as the day, the weather, the style and timings of lunch and simple whim. It's an informal arrangement, is usually enjoyed alone and doesn't require a table cloth.

The main event is of course a very good cup of tea, lovingly prepared and slowly enjoyed. There should also be some form of snack, not necessarily a sandwich but perhaps some cheese and crackers with a few grapes or a couple of biscuits or maybe even a boiled egg. In my experience it is rarely cake, that being a defining feature of afternoon tea, a very different beast indeed! It is yet another example of tea becoming more than a drink and in fact being something of a small scale event. When compared to the Japanese ceremonies it is easy to see modern tea drinking in the western hemisphere as hopelessly mundane but it is often highly ritualised and very personal. I believe that my Grandmother would have committed seppuku if she had ever accidentally added the milk first.

The backbone of elevenses should be a fairly light tea such as darjeeling and it is best served as a break in a busy morning. It should be twenty minutes taken apart from the rest of your day, utterly distinct and refreshing. It should never, ever be scheduled or planned for but must occur naturally as and when it is needed, preferably half way through an important job. You can't try and fit it into a convenient gap, it just won't work. This is not just a cup of tea grabbed in a spare moment this is elevenses, all else must wait until it is complete.

Taking time just for yourself is worth doing and therefore worth doing properly. You need to be sitting at a table with everything set out around you and once you've started you're not allowed to get up until you're done. It's permissible to listen to the radio or even do a crossword, providing it's an easy one but if you can limit yourself to staring off into space and maybe humming a little tune then the whole endeavour will be much more successful. If you must think make sure it's only about ephemeral nonsense and for gods sake not about anything important or practical. If you're having trouble I find that leafing through a magazine and drawing moustaches on all of the people is a good way to achieve the right mindset.

So next time you're hungry way before it's reasonable or suddenly insurmountably bored or just plain cannot be bothered, throw everything down, take the phone off the hook and boil the kettle. Who knows, maybe afterwards you'll find yourself refreshed and reborn as a highly productive and motivated individual with boundless energy and inspiration. To be honest it's more likely that you won't and the kitchen will still need cleaned but either way you'll have had a damn good cup of tea.