Cup of tea?

24 April 2013

I’m not sure if it’s a sign of my age or the era I grew up in but when I hear: "Would you like a cup of tea?”, "I'll put the kettle on." or “Let’s have a cuppa.” I feel as if I’m being cared for. I grew up in a time when fizzy drink was always ginger beer. Coke was around then but it seemed out of place, sort of unAustralian, and we didn’t drink it, although as a Christmas treat, mum would buy a crate of 12 "mixed fruit drinks", delivered to our door by horse and cart. Yes, that was Sydney in the 1950s. Bread and milk was delivered every day like that too, right to our door. Our cold drink of choice was cordial and when a hot drink was called for, it was tea. Although all through my life, my mother drank the strongest black coffee that looked like liquid tar and I think was made with chicory. I clearly remember drinking milky, sweet tea with my grandmother. She had hers black and now that is how I drink my tea. There is a lot I don’t recall about my childhood but I clearly remember the feeling of being loved when I was called in for tea. 

We didn’t always have cake with our tea but when we did it was homemade and often it was fruit cake. Biscuits were bought then, a new convenience, at the local corner shop from Arnott’s tins that contained a single variety of biscuit like Monte Carlo, Spicy Fruit Rolls, Honey Jumbles, Iced Vo Vos, Milk Arrowroot or Custard Creams. Biscuits in packets were yet to surprise us but it was always a treat to go with mum to the shop while she chose biscuits that were put in a plain brown paper bag to be brought home to our biscuit barrel. When we went to the zoo, a very rare treat, we used to go to that same shop to buy a small bag of broken biscuits to feed to the animals. The Arnott family who produced those biscuits lived not far from us in a huge mansion house. It’s still there but they are long gone.  Their factory, which I think was built around 1900, was located near where the Sydney Olympics was held at Homebush.

These are the little floating tea balls Sunny gave us.

I haven’t lost my affection for tea. Hanno loves a cup around 10am and we sit together on the back verandah in the summer and the front verandah in winter and talk while we drink our tea. I always use loose tea to make a single cup or a pot and always use a little tea ball. Sunny bought us some nifty new tea balls recently. They float around in the tea until it’s time to take them out and sit them in their little drainer saucer. Tea bags are like Coke to me, they don’t exist.

My favourite tea memory is from Sunday evenings in winter, before TV started, so pre-1956. I would have been seven or eight then and Tricia nine or ten. We, along with the entire neighbourhood, would have had a roast for Sunday lunch and a small amount of the remaining meat would have been put aside for toasted sandwiches in the evening.  Around 4pm, dad would light the open fire in the lounge-room, all the windows and doors would be closed, and at around 6pm, he would load up our tea trolley with roast lamb or chicken, along with a small bowl of salad, bread, butter, mugs of milky tea and mum's strong black coffee. Mum would test Tricia and I on our spelling as we sat by the fire in our pyjamas, dressing gowns and slippers, and then we'd toast bread over the hot coals and everyone would make up their own sandwich. This was mum's night off cooking. At about 7.30pm, mum would lay out two woollen blankets by the fire so they were nice and warm, and Tricia and I would each lay on one and get rolled up like big cigars. Then dad would carry us in to bed and tuck us in. It sounds incredibly innocent now but it is what we did and I still recall it with a lot of affection.

In my mind, offering hospitality and being cared for seems to go hand-in-hand with a cup of tea or a glass of cold cordial. I’m sure it’s deeply ingrained into my being and will remain there forever. They aren’t as fancy as the iced or flavoured teas and sparkling mineral waters on sale now but they quench the thirst as well as anything else and they provide that warm and comfortable feeling of yesteryear for me. A time when there were few alternatives and everyone thought that was just fine.

What is your favourite tea memory?