In this respect they are quite Australian. We are a nation of tea lovers and drinkers. The average working or middle-class Aussie family would only have instant coffee at home, but would consume litres of tea (hot!) each week. Continental European immigration and American coffee retailers have influenced a coffee culture, especially in large cities, but for many, brewed coffee is a treat to be enjoyed out of the home.
I will never forget my first offer of a 'cuppa'. I had to ask, 'Cup of what?' Now, I always greet droppers-in or droppers-off of children with, 'Have you got time for a cuppa?' Kids know a 'yes' means more play time. Drinking tea at a friend's house is natural, and I associate certain brews with certain friends. My neighbour, whose husband is Chinese, offers me Buddha's tears, or sometimes popcorn tea. The white roasted rice grains look like little popped kernels, and the taste is slightly salty. My Maltese friend has an amazing, hissing coffee machine, but she and her husband also love to drink Bushels' Tea (a Queensland tradition since 1889), always loose leaves brewed in a Royal Albert bone china teapot, and served in a fine cup and saucer. My true-blue mate offers me Nerada teabags brewed in a hearty mug.
But it is to an English immigrant friend that I owe my love of Lady Grey. The brewed tea has the loveliest colour, and the loose leaves look like potpourri with citrus peel and purple bergamot blossoms. I love to lift the lid on the canister and inhale the fragrance. The bags are easily available, but purchasing the loose leaves means a half-hour drive. Some of my friends keep Lady Grey just for me, and I have been known to stock their favourites, too.
So with all this in mind, my dear mother gave me Gilles Brochard's publication, The Tea Box. It is a beautiful collection of a booklet, cards with gorgeous photos, the history of tea and recipes. Lesa is the adventurous cook, so I have not tried any, but they look divine. Anyone with an interest in cooking or tea drinking would love this. It would make a beautiful gift.
What I found interesting is the link between tea and reading. Author Lu Ting wrote, 'The third bowl (of tea) dissipates the heaviness of my soul, refining the inspiration gained from all the books I have read.' Our Queen Elizabeth reportedly calls for, 'The Times and a cup of tea.' Tea drinking and intellectual pursuits have long gone hand-in-hand, and amazingly, there was an article in the Weekend Australian about tea, books and writing.
Alexander McCall Smith, the author of the charming The #1 Ladies Detective Agency series wrote an article about the role of tea in his life and his books. He writes about his tea drinking childhood in Bulawayo (now in Zimbabwe), the evolution of his taste in tea, and the difficulties in finding a good cuppa in America. He describes how his characters love to drink tea, and how he uses tea drinking in his novels as a pause between scenes. In the article, he marvels at the universal appeal of tea.
They are all right. Reading and tea go hand in hand. I love to sit down to a cup of Lady Grey and a book or newspaper. What do you drink when you read?