“Some like it hot, some like it cold. But everyone wants it fresh and fragrant.”
Gaynor Maddox Biloxi Daily Herald, 1940.
I think Maddox has the right idea in his column’s description of the tea drinker. The sentiment still fits 78 years later. Hygge in the south certainly is strongly connected with iced tea. However, I do believe hot tea is slowly making a comeback among young southerners. Sitting down with a cup of hot tea is certainly part of the hygge in Scotland. It is there, I learned to love hot tea.
My journey to drinking hot tea.
Growing up, I was strictly a water only kid. My family didn’t have tea in any form in the house and mainly drank Coke. (Yes, Coke not just some other soft drink.) Sodas were too sweet to me, and I drank water for the first sixteen years of my life. Ed’s family, when I began dating him at sixteen, would have iced tea in the fridge. I would drink this, and began drinking sweet tea out with him at restaurants. When I moved on campus at the University of Southern Mississippi everything changed.
The water on campus in Hattiesburg was absolutely awful. It tasted like rust everywhere on campus! I began drinking sodas in the commons, and bottled water in my dorm. My freshman dorm had a sink in the room that would get so hot it boiled water right out the tap. Seriously, we would put our Cup of Noodles under the spout and it was ready to go. My roommate enjoyed hot tea and I was intrigued to try it. The dorm was built in the fifties and the ceilings were high giving it a lot of character. Therefore, the room would get drafty. I bought a few herbal tea boxes for super cheap and placed them under the spout of our thermal sink. I couldn’t stand it! It tasted weird and bitter. Later I would realize this was because the water quality greatly effects the taste of the tea.
I stomached hot tea while studying abroad in London by loading it down with milk and sugar. Still nothing could change me from my soda and coffee drinking ways. Three years later, I moved to Scotland to complete my Master’s degree at the University of Edinburgh. Another student, who happened to sound and look like Jamie from Outlander, teased me about my continued devotion to coffee in the student lounge. After that comment, I began trying tea out with friends. We also had the convenience of the electric kettle in my student housing that made water hot enough to steep the tea at the right temperature.
Just writing this, a wave of happy memories washes over me. We spent many afternoons meeting in book shops and enjoying hot tea together. We would debate about the best T.V. shows we binge watched, books we were reading, and how much we needed to go to the library. It was the ideal hygge feeling! Now I usually drink coffee in the mornings and tea throughout the afternoon into the evening. A cup of English breakfast with milk will bring me back to the fairytale land that is Edinburgh.
The Perfect Cup of Tea
Again, hygge is all about the contented feeling certain situations, things, and environments bring to your life. Before writing hot tea off completely, make sure that you try it properly. Firstly, do not make the same mistake as I did. Use filtered or good quality water that has not already been boiled. Not distilled either!
It is important to not steep the tea too long. Food columist Mary E. Dague suggested no longer than five minutes in her 1934 article. She states anything longer will extract the tannins that give tea it’s balance flavor.
I quick note about heating the water. Either use an electric kettle or one over the stove. Not the microwave. The microwave does not heat the water properly and will leave your tea tasting odd.
Types of Hot Tea
There are hundreds of varieties, brands, flavors and styles of hot tea! Here are my main categories with a few suggestions on types.
Black Tea: The strongest of the tea family. It has the boldest favor and highest caffeine content. It is popular in Early Gray, English Breakfast, and a pivotal ingredient in chai. This the main tea found at the British table. It is also the main player in our southern iced tea!
How I like it: I like Twinnings English Breakfast, and Earl Grey the best. (The amount of cups of Early Grey I drank working on my history thesis cannot be counted.) I drink Earl Grey plain and black like a good quality coffee. English Breakfast is great after a decent steep with a splash of whole milk.
Green Tea: Green tea has received a lot of attention for it’s recently touted health benefits. Pinterest boards have sparked like wildfire in it’s honor. Green tea has half the caffeine of black tea. It is blended with every flavor imaginable from blueberry to licorice. Ground green tea known as matcha is also becoming extremely popular in bubble tea shops and even Starbucks.
How I like it: After my time in Vietnam, I have grown to love green tea based jasmine. It is served in every setting instead of water. My favorite flavor is green tea with coconut by Harney & Sons Fine Teas. It has the perfect light coconut flavor without any bitter taste. (Find it in the cute pink tin in the Target tea aisle.)
Herbal Teas: Teas such as chamomile, peppermint, and others are not actually made with tea leaves. They are fragrant and flavorful herbs that are made similar to tea. Most variety are caffeine free, and offer a range of happy benefits.
How I like it: I drink a lot of herbals because I drink tea later in the evenings, and love the calm they bring. My favorites are both by Traditional Medicinals. I love their raspberry leaf tea for women, and their chamomile lavender for bed time.
Other varieties: Chai can have it’s own post, and probably will. The varieties of oolong and white tea are also low in caffeine with emerging health benefits. There is even an herbal blend from Celestial tea that tastes like a sugar cookie! Just look online for whatever flavor you desire.
High tea or a cup in the backyard?
An article by Gaynor Maddox that ran in the Biloxi Daily Herald inFebruary of 1953 warned that a reckoning could be coming to the coffee industry. The article brings forth the statistics that tea drinkers had risen in the U.S. based on pounds of tea sold. It was not certain if this increase was due to the growing cost of coffee or a culture becoming aware of the proper way to prepare a cup of tea.
Today, Teausa.com states that over 158 million Americans are drinking tea. The article also mentions that iced tea is still the majority of tea consumed I the United States. I am sure the popularity of the show Downton Abbey has also caused an increase in drinking tea in the United States.
I have seen more and more places locally begin serving tea. My favorite spot for lunch is in downtown Ocean Springs. A cute little cafe called Martha’s Tea Room. It does serve hot tea on it’s menu, but their mint iced tea is the best! So are the desserts! (For real, the white chocolate bread pudding will change your life.) It has been a joy going there with my grandmother when she was still alive, and more recently my closest friends.
According to Destination Tea, there are tea rooms in Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian as well that I hope to check out very soon. Wherever you go, I say embrace the tea and treats. The cakes, scones, and sandwiches are all part of the experience. Some places will even have a special package where items are included with your tea.
On a budget? Quality tea can be purchased for four dollars, and vintage tea cups from thrift stores for under fifty cents. Get a fun table cloth and have a tea party in your own backyard or porch on a nice day.
Remember, the tea taste can be altered by water, quality, and time. Whatever way you decide to enjoy your tea, make sure to pause and absorb the experience!
What is your favorite tea?
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