Father looking perplexed, an image of a teacup in the background

The Tunnel Tea Tempest

 

It was time for the monthly Children’s Council meeting. With his notes in hand, Father sat before the group expecting to hear the standard requests – for field trips Above, for fewer research papers, for more swim meets beneath the falls, for later bed times. Imaging his shock and surprise when the meeting was caleld to order and the agenda opened for topics.

“We’re tired of having to go topside for Cokes, Father! It’s not fair!” Samantha gathered her courage and stood up. “We’re the only kids in New York who can’t have soda pop with our suppers!”

“Yeah,” Zach added, a studied look of deprivation on his face. “And we want something for snacks besides apples and cheese. That stuff William cut up today … it was funny looking. We want chips … chips and salsa. No, wait! Nachos!”

 “You want … what?”

There was a moment of complete silence. Then Father drew in a long, pursed-lipped breath. “That cheese was a Montgomery English cheddar! By funny looking … do you mean its color? It is supposed to be beige! I found it nutty and smooth with an almost bewildering bouquet of flavors. It was a gift from one of our Helpers! A rare delicacy, and one I’ve not savored in years! Funny looking …” His voice trailed away.

What is our world coming to? He felt a shudder coming on – already his foot was tapping, tapping. But he recovered and pointed a (fairly) steady finger.

“Surely you all remember your health and nutrition lessons! It is never too early to start watching your cholesterol and salt intake. And sugar! Have you forgotten the experiment we performed with Eric’s last lost tooth? When we submerged it in Coca-Cola?”

“Surely you all remember your health and nutrition lessons! It is never too early to start watching your cholesterol and salt intake. And sugar! Have you forgotten the experiment we performed with Eric’s last lost tooth? When we submerged it in Coca-Cola?”

“Come on, Father,” chimed in one young boy. “You like cookies. You keep a stash in your desk drawer. I’ve seen them.”

A strangled rumble in his throat, Father stared from child to child.

 “Bummer,” said Samantha. “I knew he wouldn’t go for it.

Father adjourned the meeting, setting a second one for the same time the next day. Gleeful to be set free, the children rushed from the chamber.

“No doubt they’ll be in the park in minutes, handing over their hard-earned quarters to a street vendor.” Rubbing his forehead, Father groaned inwardly. “Whatever shall I do? We must maintain standards. We must strive for a vaulted, cultured community.” Glum, he slumped in his chair.

He heard a familiar rustling in the corridor, a swoop of cloak and a quick, sure step. Father’s shoulders relaxed. “Of course!,” he crowed. “Vincent! Vincent will know what to do!”

“Father! I thought you’d be in the midst of your Children’s Council meeting. Is it over so soon? You usually keep them at least an hour.”

“You won’t believe what happened,” Father said, proceeding to tell him everything.

“You have quite the rapport with the young ones. Perhaps you might attend a meeting as a … a guest lecturer?” Honey coated every word. “Explain to them the difference between A Double Gloucester and … and … that orange … substance … that squirts from a can!”

Muffled by the many books open and stacked on Father’s desk, a hidden timer dinged. “Oh good,” he said. “The tea is ready. You’ll have a cup, won’t you?”

“A quick one, yes, but soon I must be going,” Vincent replied.

“You’re off … where?” Father asked, bearing over two steaming mugs.

Vincent answered with only a vague smile and sipped from his cup. He tilted his head in thought. “I do have an idea.”

“Oh, I just knew you would! What is it?”

“I can’t believe you’ve forgotten.” Vincent said, bracing his arms on the desk. “When Devin and I were young, you held conversations in the dining hall every day at four o’clock. In class, you’d casually mention the tray of pastries and sandwiches before you every afternoon. Then you’d have your pot of tea, and you’d wait to see if anyone would join you. It wasn’t long until a few of us ventured in, willing to exchange talk for scones and cakes before supper.” Vincent swirled his tea, inhaling the scent of smoky bergamot and citrus. “We learned to appreciate life’s finer things through those conversations, Father. We practiced our listening skills, learned respect for others’ opinions. We acquired manners and social graces that would take … any of us up and into the world.”

“Yes! Yes! I could institute the ritual again. Why did I ever let it go by the wayside?” Father sighed. “I suppose I was distracted one day, busy the next. But yes, indeed, I will begin again. Tomorrow. I’ll enlist Mary’s help right away.”

Vincent rose to leave, bending to Father’s cheek, chuckling at his ear. “Remember Winslow trying to manage his china cup? His knee bounced up and down, and he couldn’t balance the saucer. His fingers fit nowhere.”

Father looked up from his mug. “I thought Devin might be in danger, he laughed so when Winslow raised his little finger … as he’d been instructed! Ahh, but he made the best cucumber sandwiches. I thought once he might become the next kitchen manager. It was a snip of chive, I think, that set Winslow’s apart.”

“Chive?” Vincent questioned as he ascended the steps. “I thought it was mint. Find Mary. She’ll know what to do next.

Wasting no time in searching Mary out, Father relayed to her the happenings of the Children’s Council meeting and Vincent’s suggestions. “So you see, Mary, we must combat the intrusion of the rude world. The next thing you know, we’ll be having … hot dogs and root beer for supper.” Father rolled his eyes toward the ceiling.

Mary took his arm. “I rather enjoyed a root beer float once upon a time. I dare say I wouldn’t mind another. Jacob, it’s a fine idea to reinstitute your conversations and afternoon tea, and I’m glad to help with the planning and the fare, but honestly, if you equate soda pop and chips with the rude world, you really do need to get out more.”

A notice was posted directing the children to the dining hall for the next day’s planned, late-afternoon meeting. William, when Father enlisted him, was elated at the chance to show off his pastry skills and spent the evening pouring over cookbooks and his recipe box. The next morning he rose early … sped to the kitchen. By four o’clock, spread atop the sideboards was a vast array of savory appetizers and delicate sweets. All manner of teacups and teapots decorated an oak buffet; tins of different teas covered another.

Before he began the clean-up, William surveyed the room, pleased with his efforts.

The long dining tables had been pushed to the wall, and chairs and sofas pulled to the center, flanking several low benches. Father stood in the corridor as the children trooped in. At the sight of the irresistable choices before them, their eyes lit up. After they settled into their seats, when their gazes traveled reluctantly from the tabletop to his, he clapped his hands for attention and smiled. A cast of wariness shadowed every attendee’s face – a look Father studiously ignored. 

“I’ve had some time to think, and I want you all to know I’m quite happy to entertain your requests. We’ll write them all down for consideration and meet again soon. And I’d like your input on topics of conversation – current events, issues of philosophy or art, mysteries of the universe, even … sports. I’ll be here in the dining hall every weekday afternoon at four having my tea. I invite any or all of you to join me. We’ll talk … and though we can’t possibly have such an elaborate tea every afternoon, there will always be some treat at table.

“Doesn’t everything look just scrummy! Let’s have our refreshments, shall we? Let’s put aside all our issues and just have, ummm, fun. Tell me … who here knows the difference between High Tea and Afternoon Tea?” Father scanned his audience, rocking up onto his toes. He waved a sheaf of papers in the air. “No one has a guess? Well, here I have just the thing, a guide book … to tea.

 

Father’s Tea-Time Guide

 

 Where does tea come from?

The classic definition of tea is the brew made from the infusion of water and the leaves of an evergreen variety of the camellia.

Aside from herbal infusions, properly referred to as tisanes, there are five major types of tea: black, white, green, oolong, and puerh. All come from the leaves of Camellia sinensis.

Tea Facts

Tea contains zinc and folic acid and is a source for manganese and potassium.

Tea is a natural source of fluoride.

Tea has half the level of caffeine per cup than coffee.

Many teas, most notably the oolongs and greens, will yield 4 – 6 infusions from the same leaves. The later brews offer the most interesting flavors, and the caffeine level is reduced in subsequent cups.

The earliest record of the cultivation of tea is dated to 4th century China. Drinking tea leaves steeped in a pot became popular in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

 

 

High Tea or Afternoon Tea?

There’s some confusion regarding “High Tea.” It is not the elegant fare of grand tea rooms where the finger sandwiches are served on tiered trays and the tiny cakes iced and decorated.

High tea – the “workingman’s supper” – is sometimes called “meat tea”. Served around six in the evening on dining tables (high tables), tea is poured, but it accompanies a full meal of meats, fish or eggs – perhaps a shepherd’s or a steak-and-kidney pie – cheese, bread and butter, and finally, cake.

Afternoon tea is also called “Low Tea”, a reference to its being served in a sitting room, the repast arranged on low tables before chairs and divans. Historically it was taken between four and six in the evening, considered necessary to tide one over between the earlier-served luncheon and the much later-served supper of 19th century England. Today, afternoon tea is still a welcome respite – a moment to lay down one’s work, to revive one’s self to meet the remains of the day.

At afternoon tea, one finds savory tea sandwiches and appetizers, pastries and cakes, and sweet scones served with clotted cream and fruit preserves. There are three distinct styles of afternoon tea! For each, the menu is a bit different.

CREAM TEA – tea, scones, jam and cream

LIGHT TEA – tea, scones and sweets
(such as chocolate-dipped strawberries or cherries)

FULL TEA – served in courses and in this order:
Savories – tea sandwiches and hors d’oerves
Scones – with jam and clotted cream
Pastries – cakes, shortbread, sweets, cakes

Devonshire or clotted cream is best explained as a cross between cream and butter, stiffer than whipped cream. It can be purchased bottled in gourmet sections of the grocery.

 

History of Afternoon Tea in Britain

Anna Maria Stanhope (1783-1857), the seventh Duchess of Bedford and one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, is credited with the invention, in the early 1840’s, of the now-traditional afternoon tea. Finding it difficult to wait for supper served at nine in the evening and suffering “a sinking feeling”, she ordered a small meal of tea, bread and cheese to be brought to her room. Soon, she began to invite friends to join her for “tea and a walking of the fields.” Conversation was as important as the food, and soon the social hostesses of the era adopted the practice.

 

How to Prepare the Proper English Tea

When making black tea, the water is boiled. Green, oolong or white teas are infused in water heated only to 185 degrees to avoid bitterness.

Preheat the teapot with warm tap water.

Measure the loose tea – one teaspoon per cup and one for the pot. Fill mesh balls only half full or spoon loose leaves directly into the teapot.

Use freshly-drawn cold water. Pour away the warming water from the pot, insert the tea ball and pour in the hot water. When the loose tea and boiling water meet, the leaves unfurl. This is called “the Agony of the Leaves.”

Set a timer! Infusion takes between three and five minutes.

Remove the mesh infuser. Stir the tea immediately and cover the pot with a cozy.

Enjoy!

Favorite Tunnel Teas

Father’s:

Bittersweet Green – a Sencha green tea, tangy, sweet, with undertones of grapefruit and lime. Consists of green tea, orange peels, hibiscus blossoms, pineapple, papaya cubes, and lemon peer.

Longing Heart – a display tea, the ‘heart’ unfolds, baring a hidden blossom. Peach undertones with amaranth and jasmine blossoms in a luxury green tea.

Margaret’s Hope – strong hints of ripe fruit, a touch of sweetness, a hint of astringency in a full-bodied Darjeeling.

 

Mary’s:

Lady Londonderry – a flowery Ceylon and Assam blend with lemon and strawberry flavors.

Winter Spice – a blend evoking the image of close friends gathered around a blazing fire on a cold night. A China black tea flavored with citrus peel, rose petals, almond bits and vanilla.

Silver Needles – the rarest of white teas, sweet, silky, slightly floral, scented with jasmine blossoms.

 

Vincent’s:

Dark Rose – compressed into heart-shaped pieces, a smooth-bodied, delicious blend of dark Hunan tea and rose petals – a dusty rose flavor and aroma.

The Lovers – a hand-tied, artisan green tea … two rose-colored flowerettes open from one body

Silk Road – a gingery first-note, followed by rich sweetness. A blend composed of Yunnan black tea and fresh ground ginger.

 

Catherine’s:

Blue Sapphire Afternoon – an exquisite, full-bodied Kenyan black tea with light floral hints.

Golden Spiral – a hand-tied display tea of long golden-brown leaves that brews silky smooth, with a sweet, rosy-like flavor.

Lion’s Mane – a gorgeous, large, hand-tied display tea, satin smooth with a floral aroma and flavor … a golden blossom unfurls in the center.

Sources:

Tea Source, St. Paul, MN – www.teasource.com
Hina’s Tea, Sacramento, CA – www.hinastea.com
Notting Hall Tea, Boston, MA – www.nottinghall.com
British Express Tea, Palm City, FL – www.britishtea.com

Painting by J. Brian Townsend. Antique Tea Set, oil on linen.
Red Sable Gallery.

1 Comment

  1. I want to know if it worked to keep the children from wanting junk food.

    Reply

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