It’s a pleasant, sunny morning in the UAE when I pour piping hot water into my cup of Newby English Breakfast tea. But a minute, then three. Once the water turns golden, I’m no longer there.
I’m transported instead, to a flowering English garden, the strong fragrance of black tea filling my senses. The blend is robust, and wakes me up gently. I’ve added a splash of milk and sugar to my cup, so my tea is sweet, rich and full-bodied – the perfect accompaniment to my breakfast.
Perhaps this is how British monarch Queen Victoria felt, when she tried her first breakfast blend while visiting Balmoral, Scotland in 1892 – she fell so in love with it that she took a box home to England. And so, English Breakfast tea was born.
A rich history
The process of brewing and drinking tea is an ancient art that’s at least five millennia old. Carefully preparing the water, choosing the tea leaves, and steeping a perfect cup is an exercise that’s just as soothing to the senses as drinking the final result.
Lisa Boalt Richardson, author of the book Modern Tea: A Fresh Look at an Ancient Beverage, and director of the online tea school World Tea Academy, told Gulf News: “Tea should be enjoyed, and if time allows, it can be a great escape during a busy day to take a few minutes alone to reset or unwind. Tea can also be a celebratory experience, where friends or family gather together around a pot of tea. The best advice I could give someone is to drink the tea you love often, and if you feel you want to explore more, try different teas to see if you can add more to your tea ‘love list’.”
It's sound advice – something I try to follow even when my days, as a mum of two, are packed with work, shepherding my kids to school and extracurriculars, running errands, cooking and cleaning.
Gentle, calming start
With a hectic schedule that begins the minute my eyes open in the morning, I start my day with tea from Newby’s Wellness range. Their Yoga Relax, Wellness Spa, and Body Balance tisanes help me centre myself before I dive into the chaos of the morning, giving me a calm, fresh start.
But in the summer, when I can afford a late start, I often brew a pot of Morning Delight, a caffeine-free, fruit flavoured tea that’s like a breath of fresh air, or Maharaja’s Breakfast, a rich, smooth tea from the highlands of Assam, India.
Since they’re loose-leaf teas, the process is different and slower than, say, dipping a tea bag in freshly boiled water.
Richardson, who has been in the tea industry for over 22 years and authored three books on the subject, explained how properly infusing tea makes a difference to the taste and the quality of the experience: “Steeping tea with some kind of thought will help ensure that you achieve the best flavour for your investment in the tea that you have purchased. Water temperature and time vary with different types of tea, and the [duration of steeping] is different whether the tea is in a bag, sachet, or loose leaf.”
Whether it’s a quick cup, or a slow brew, I enjoy the moments of calm it brings, before my hectic day begins. First, it’s school drop-off for my four-year-old, then my toddler’s art class or playgroup, followed by lunch preparations, and keeping my two-year-old entertained until she’s finally ready to nap.
By 11am, I try very hard not to doze off with her, too.
With my energy flagging, it’s time for an Energy Boost – a cup of spicy, minty green tea with ginger and turmeric to organically improve my energy levels. Or one of my favourites, a loose-leaf White Peony blend, a white tea with sweet notes of honey – perfect for a mid-morning pick-me-up.
The process of brewing loose-leaf tea is slower, and involves more care. But the reward is another moment of transcendence.
Take Newby’s Darjeeling Heritage, for instance. Delicate and musky-sweet, it’s an Indian black tea that teleports you to the seat of a train weaving along the Himalayas, where lush landscapes and monsoon mist lie just beyond the window.
Richardson shared the best way to brew loose-leaf teas: “As a general rule, you can use one teaspoon of loose-leaf tea per cup of water to start with, and adjust from there. If you feel the tea is too weak, add more tea, if you feel it is too strong, add less tea next time.”
Once you’ve measured out your tea leaves, place them and any botanicals into an infuser and pour the water over it. Richardson advises steeping black teas for three to five minutes at a temperature between 96°C and 100°C. White teas can also be steeped for the same amount of time, but require a lower temperature, between 82°C to 87°C. Darjeeling, although a kind of black tea, requires less brewing time – between 2.5 to 3.5 minutes – in a temperature range of 35°C to 100°C.
Art meets science in the steeping process. No matter which blend it is, I make sure I have a cup of invigorating tea beside me, so I can get some work done on my laptop, while my daughter’s asleep.
Clattering away on my laptop until my toddler wakes up, I head with her into the kitchen, where she ‘helps’ me put together some lunch. It’s nearly 2.30pm by the time we head back to the living room, full and satisfied, and – in my daughter’s case – ready to be entertained. It’s playtime.
But to pretend to be a horse, read books in character voices, and push her around on her balance bike, I first need a little digestif. Newby’s Moroccan Mint Heritage Green Tea or Highland Green Tea always deliver. Green tea is known to have polyphenols that help improve the body’s digestive process.
I peer into the cup as the tea bag releases its colour and fragrance. It’s a sight that’s as old as the first cup of tea ever made, thousands of years ago. One legend says tea was first discovered by Chinese emperor Shennong, in around 2,800BC, when he asked a servant to bring him boiled drinking water. As the servant made his way back to the emperor, a tea leaf fell into the water, without him noticing. Shennong is said to have tried the tea-infused water, and been struck by its pure taste. The rest, as they say, is history.
When I first tried green tea, I didn’t think it had much flavour or taste to recommend it, like many other things that are ‘good for you’. But blends like Newby’s Green Lemon Tea and Jasmine Blossom Green Tea elevate the taste and aroma of the tea, and add a layered delicacy that’s difficult to say no to. Now, green tea is my post-lunch staple.
It’s only when I’ve eaten a meal that’s richer and heavier than usual that I replace my green tea with oolong tea – which is neither black nor green tea, but a category on its own. In China, it’s also known as ‘qingcha’ or dark green tea, and in France, it’s called ‘thé bleu’ or blue tea. Oolong tea is known to stimulate fat burning and has been shown to have positive cognitive effects. And it tastes like no other tea. Newby’s Milk Oolong Tea, for instance, blends roasted and semi-fermented oolong tea leaves with milk, taking it a step further in taste – it has a unique caramel aroma, balanced with floral notes.
With so many great options after lunch, I’m refreshed and energised for another school run, this time to pick up my older daughter, and chauffeur her to her many extracurricular activities.
Time passes quickly after that, and it’s already 6.30pm. Dinner is done, and the toys have been put away. Now, it’s time for me to finish up any remaining chores and relax, as my husband deals with baths and bedtime routines.
This is when I can take my time. I brew loose-leaf Arabian Nights black tea in my bone china tea pot – the blend includes ginger, cinnamon, liquorice and vanilla. Sometimes, I’ll try something new and bright, like Vani Rose, which is a fragrant black tea with pure vanilla and rose petals. Other times, I’ll stick to a classic, and follow Captain Picard from the sci-fi TV show Star Trek, whose tea preference never changed. He would regularly issue a command aboard his starship: “Computer, tea, Earl Grey, hot.”
I like my teaware to be white, and it’s something that Richardson appreciates, too. She said: “I particularly like the inside of my cup to be white. It helps me see the tea colour better. I like to use a ceramic or glass tea pot with a stainless steel infuser that is large enough to allow the leaves to expand while they steep in the hot water. I also use a ceramic, glass, china or porcelain cup to drink my tea. For all these, there isn’t any taste coming from the teapot or cup.”
If I’m feeling nostalgic while chatting with parents or siblings on video chat, I’ll brew a quick, steaming cup of Masala Chai. This black tea, peppered with aromatic spices, was once part of ancient royal courts in India, where it was developed as an ayurvedic drink for kings, to help them clear their minds and remain alert. For me, however, it’s a journey back in time to rainy days in India, listening to my grandparents share stories from their childhood. It’s comfort in a cup, a hug from loved ones long gone.
Once the kids are in bed, and the lights are out, our television turns on. It’s time for the adults to finally unwind. We spend dinner chatting about our day, and then head to the couch with our respective cups of caffeine-free beverages.
For my husband, who often finds it difficult to fall asleep, Newby’s Night Calm is a post-dinner essential. This comforting blend has notes of chamomile and lavender, and instantly relaxes the body and mind, preparing you for a restful night.
I prefer Chamomile Tea, with a teaspoon of honey, for a floral, aromatic end to the day. Sometimes, my husband will turn in early, and I’m the last one standing. Then, I’ll switch on a K-drama, and sip a warm, sweet cup of Almond Calm, or an impossibly delicate brew, like Persian Rose, which is made from whole rosebuds. It’s as fragrant as it sounds – a bouquet in a cup. I usually just add hot water to this tisane and enjoy the natural infusion, or use it as an aromatic addition to my chamomile tea.
As I watch the Joseon dynasty come to life on screen, a character in the TV show pours tea into her cup and unknowingly shares the experience with me. We sip in synchrony, intersecting across culture, space, time – transported by a universal experience, by a humble cup of tea.
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