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Byron Shire
June 21, 2021

Mandy Nolan’s Soapbox: Stirring the Tea Pot

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A house without tea is not a home.

I remember coming home once to a house I shared with four other girls. We were living on the bones of our arse, most of our money went on ciggies and casks of Coolabah. On returning home one evening we spied a man climbing out of one of our windows. We were in shock. A man had broken in, and we had caught him! I said ‘Hey!’ He was caught in the act. The intruder was clearly annoyed, not by being busted, but by our obvious lack of good housekeeping. ‘There wasn’t even tea!’ He yelled, aggrieved.

I felt so judged!

How embarrassing, someone broke into our house, and not only did we not have anything worth stealing, the poor bastard couldn’t even make a cup of tea!

I do remember apologising as he walked off. 

Note to self. Keep tea stocked in case of break and enter. 

Every morning when I wake up I make a cup of tea. It’s the first thing I do. Nothing tastes quite as good as that first cup of tea. It’s part of the ritual of waking up, although the ritual has been significantly corrupted by the tea bag. The tea bag has kind of killed the magic. Don’t get me wrong, I do love to jiggle in a cup, but, like the man who once left my window tea-less, I often worry that the tea bag has reduced the ceremony of the much revered shared cuppa to something drunk, unappreciated, in solititude.

My grandmother, Thelma, made the best cup of tea. Tea was never made with bags. It was made from leaves in a small silver anodised pot. It was dressed in a cosy crocheted by her own hand and left to brew on a stand hand crafted by a grandchild from lacquered matchsticks. It was brought to a table laid with a searsucker cloth, set with china teacups, sugar bowl, a milk jug and biscuits. This was morning tea. Not something had at a desk, or on the run. It was had at 10am, precisely, seated at the table. The tea was sweet and milky and I don’t remember tea ever tasting that good again. I don’t think I have ever made tea like that. Those moments at the table with Thelma are tied in with the comfort I get from tea. Sometimes, if I have time, I’ll even use a pot to pour it into one of her china cups. My adult fingers look so large on the fragile handles.

Tea is incredible in a crisis. To share a story of loss or grief, it requires tea. Apparently it helps with stress. And it’s not just the tea itself. It’s the ritual of putting the kettle on. I love that. It’s about the preparation and the waiting. You just don’t get that from a glass of water. In a study where one group drank water and the other tea, the non tea group drank their water in silence. The people who drank tea built rapport. You see, the affects of tea were better in company. It’s a social beverage that affects our physiology.

I have some friends that drink neither tea nor coffee. When they visit it’s strange when they decline the offer. I wonder what to do. Sharing water together isn’t quite as bonding. I often wonder about them, the no hot drink people. I wonder how they manage connecting in a beverage-centred world. 

This morning I stood at the bench at 5am, my brain still foggy. The purr of the electric kettle filling the darkness. I reach for my mug, but this morning my hand found my grandmothers pale pink china teacup. I thought of Thelma. I made a pot. I set two cups. I poured one for her, one for me. I sat at the bench and drank in silence. I thought of her alone in her house for 20 years, drinking most of her tea at a quiet kitchen table, alone. It makes me so exquisitely sad. I could taste her aloneness. 

Same tea time every day. One cup. One biscuit. One woman.

Tea really does taste better shared. 

Fuck the bag. I’m going back to the pot.

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  1. Stick with the pot Mandy. It’s the way that tea should be drunk. My worry is that tea bags are taking over the supermarket shelves, so those loose leaves need your support.

  2. Your grandmother probably lived in the time of my mother who also made the best tea.in the world – with the milk in the cup first! When I was little she would make mea cup of tea with milk & sugar. I hated it. She used to say “You must learn to drink a cup of tea. There’s nothing worse when a visitor says they don’t drink tea. Yogurt don’t know what to give them. I tasted tea without sugar one day & I’ve loved it since. However, with the event of the tea bag, I don’t have milk. The story of milk in first or last I’ll save for another day!

  3. Hi Mandy. My wife drinks Irish Breakfast tea, I brew it for her every morning when she wakes up. She rises much later then I and I make myself a latte with my espresso machine. I take onto the verandah about sunrise, look at the trees and listen to the birds and always the first thing I say is “It’s a beautiful day.” I still have my mum’s favorite teapot and we use it. I remember it from when I was a kid, I’m 75 now. It’s such a blessing to still have it and the memories that go with it.😊

  4. SO SWEET of you dear Mandy to reveal this. Your Grandma would be most proud. How could anyone NOT love tea? I ‘m not a coffee drinker Yuck ! There are soooo many different delicious types of tea these days. Man….my fav is Chai, drank it in the 70’s when NO ONE dared to use powder or syrup. Wet Chai is heaven sent , just the smell is so exotic & tantalising, I’ll have what she’s having Ha! A good cuppa offered up with love can almost mend a broken heart & console someone in the most trying of circumstances. 🙂 🙂

  5. Oh gosh, Mandy, your story was my story…even my grandmother was Thelma! To visit Granny was all about having tea, the proper English way… I’m a child of ten pound Poms! I grew up in London, the English way ingrained! And I’m still the avid tea drinker, using loose leaf tea, no less! Ah, the aroma of good tea well brewed. Ah, memories.

  6. I too am a child of 10 pound poms, but I was born here. So I also share that English ritual of drinking tea. I use tea bags too, but Mandy truly there is something so comforting having an old fashioned tea party. The whole ritual around drinking tea and the clinking of spoons and using ones favourite cup. I like the double glass cups you can hold with both hands so they do not get hot. Those happy family memories to cherish.


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