Time for Tea

Christine Hennebury
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Steeped in tradition, the leafy favourite is finding new fans

Its not what most people think of as a treat but when Andrea OBrien and her cousins were children, they clamoured for the chance to sip tea from their grandfathers saucer. He had his tea in a mug, but he would pour it into a saucer to cool and drink it from there. It was a big treat to get to drink from his saucer. All of the cousins would be begging for a mouthful of his tea.

Just about everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador has fond memories of drinking tea. Whether it was with grandparents, on a family excursion, or just an afternoon with a friend, tea seems to be much more than a beverage for most people in the province.

Tea has been a part of OBriens life for as long as she can remember. She had her first cup as a toddler and she still drinks three or four cups a day the way her grandmother made it, with lots of sugar and milk.

While OBrien was in university, she wrote a paper called Theres Nothing like a Cup of Tea in the Woods, about how tea has been an important part of work and leisure here in the province. People working on the water or in the woods would break for tea a few times a day, and families would take tea and a snack with them on Sunday afternoon excursions. Making and drinking tea was an important part of every day.

Her grandparents made time for a tea break three times a day, having a mug-up (tea and a snack) mid-morning, mid-afternoon and mid-evening. And, of course, tea would be offered if someone came by.

OBrien sees tea as part of our culture. Its part of the visiting tradition in Newfoundland, in rural areas, or even in town. The first thing you are offered is a cup of tea.

She usually sticks to the basics, a good cup of Tetley (black tea) but lately she has branched out and also begun drinking Chai tea which she buys at Britannia Teas and Gifts on Water Street.

Tea shop

Kelly Jones, owner/operator of Britannia Teas and Gifts, attributes her love of tea to spending time with her grandmother, Lucy Leawood. When Jones stayed over at her grandmothers house they would have tea and a lunch of toast, cheese, pickles, meat and homemade cookies before bed.

I became friends with my grandmother over cups of tea. We would talk about everything from what was growing in our gardens to what was happening in the world around us.

Jones used to buy a lot of tea out of province until she decided to open her own store, which stocks a huge variety of teas. The store itself is named after Britannia, Random Island in Trinity Bay, where her mother was from and her grandmother lived.

And its not only the tea she enjoys, but the preparation.

It slows me down. It takes time to boil the kettle, decide what tea you are going to have, then measure and steep your tea. Then you get to enjoy it! I did a course once where the instructor adamantly stated that the ritual was as important as the drinking of the tea.

Like Andrea OBrien, Jones feels that taking time for tea was important for families in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Growing up, we always had tea throughout the day and then we had a lunch before we went to bed. Taking the time to enjoy the brew and having conversations with my family is one of my favourite memories.

Many of her customers are looking for black tea, the standard drink in this province, but others are seeking anything from oolong to white tea. Jones herself likes a variety.

I enjoy green teas, especially since I learned how to brew them properly. I usually drink rooibos at night because its caffeine-free. I prefer flavoured rooibos to flavoured black teas. I like the smokey flavour and smell of Lapsang Souchong and I enjoy good Darjeeling. I also enjoy fruit tisanes as iced tea.

She took a tea appreciation course in Singapore from Vincent Low, a former investment banker. Low loves tea so much he changed careers to open the Yixing Xuan Teahouse and he offers the course in addition to the teas and tea sets available in his store.

Tea is a popular drink worldwide and is an important part of the culture of our province. Whether we drink it for warmth, for taste, or as part of our daily ritual, there seems to be nothing quite like that cup of tea.

Kelly Jones sums up the different ways to appreciate tea when she says, I love the taste of different teas. I enjoy the social aspect of having a cup with family and friends. And I find tea soothing.

To find out more about the teas available at Britannia Teas and Gifts, visit website www.britanniateas.ca

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Water Street, Random Island Trinity Bay Singapore

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