Monday, June 06, 2005

the last tea post

More people than I could count using the fingers of a small scout troop wrote in to say "Right. How do you make tea then?"

This is the biggest, most important thing to know: For a black tea, you pour boiling water on tea leaves.

That's ninety percent of the art of making a decent cup of tea. Hottish, not boiling, water tends to make a weird tea that's bitter and weak at the same time, and is no fun to drink. (Boiling water. It's why God invented the kettle.)

It's the final ten percent of the cup of tea that you'll get people calling each other heretics for adding the milk (not cream) first, or whether to use teabags or loose tea and whether burning in effigy or a nice box of chocolates was the correct reward for whoever decided adding bergamot oil to tea was a good thing*, or all the other tea things that people like to argue about.

And to all that, I'd just say De Gustibus.

(And having said that, when I first moved to the US I discovered that the local water supply, when boiled and added to tea, had some kind of weird chalky scum on the top, and I installed a reverse-osmosis water purifier by the kettle, so that it didn't.)

The very best cups of tea I ever had were in Australia and in Patagonia (actually, in a Welsh tea-room in Patagonia in a town called Gaiman). They were good enough to be memorable, and they were both loose-leafed tea in teapots.

(I got the lady who made me the tea in Australia to teach me how to do it, I was so impressed. She showed me how to warm the teapot with warm water before the tea went in, to make sure the water was at a rolling boil, how after a few minutes she turned the pot around 3 times clockwise and 3 times counterclockwise, which, she told me, was like stirring but didn't risk bruising the tea and making it bitter, and she was definitely a milk-first into the cup sort of person. It was, apart from turning the pot instead of stirring, just like the BBC scientific guide to a perfect cup:
which is from this news article -- And you can read George Orwell's original article on A Nice Cup of Tea at

But I'm easily pleased. I tend to think of tea as being like sushi -- there's great sushi, there's perfectly good sushi, and then there's rubbery, chewy, evil fishy strips on cold rice-puddingish lumps, that humans should not have to eat. In the same way, there's great tea, and there's good tea which comes in a variety of different kinds (including serious strong-enough-stand-a-teaspoon-straight-up-in builder's tea, made using teabags and best served in a stained mug with a chipped handle), and then there's what you get in a cup after trying to make a cup of tea using some rapidly cooling hot water delivered to you with a paper-wrapped tea-bag and a small tub of non-dairy creamer that really human being shouldn't have to drink...

If you're in the US and want to get some decent British or Irish loose tea or teabags without either going to the UK or paying a fortune, there are some places online. I've been using for tea for years now.

(I should add that, bizarrely, the hotwaterandateabag thing has started to spread to the UK, where you would think they'd know better.)


Hey Neil-I am curious how the book expo went. I hope that my fellow New Yorkers showed you a nice time. Lisi

The best thing about Book Expo was giving out and signing the little chapbooks of the first 2/3 of a chapter of Anansi Boys. It made people happy. The text in the chapbooks is actually closer to the finished text in the novel than the version that's currently up online...

(that's at, at least for now)

...and the responses so far to the book from people who've read it seem almost disconcertingly enthusiastic. You sort of hold your breath when a book goes out in public for the first time, and I was doubly holding my breath because Anansi Boys is so far from American Gods in tone and texture (of the things I've written, it's nearer to Neverwhere or Good Omens, but it isn't actually like either of them; of the things I haven't written it would probably be comfortable on the same shelf as Topper and Leave it to Psmith).

I remember saying that the fun would be figuring out a voice to tell the Anansi Boys story in, and when I did it sounded a lot like this blog. (I just looked. It was And I think that's probably true. It's friendly, informal, and funny, when it isn't scary or weird.

So, yes. I was happy. Also people gave me books, and didn't seem to want blurbs, just for me to have the books, which I liked. Early yesterday morning, in an airport, I found myself reading The Holy Tango of Literature, which poses the question: what sort of poems and plays would have been written if authors had to write something that was an anagram of their names. It's really sharp, and it had me laughing aloud in an airport and getting odd looks. (Unless anyone wants to use the preceding sentence as a blurb, in which case it was all extremely depressing.)


Finally, a small request.

My daughter Maddy's become a huge fan of early Bewitched (because the TIVO decided that it ought to record the black and white first season for us, and she got hooked) and I got her the new Bewitched black-and-white-and-grey maquette (see it here) as a surprise present for being a straight-A student and an utter pleasure to have around. Alas, when it arrived today one hand was broken off (and three fingers had been broken off the broken hand, which weren't even in the packing), and when we called to find out about getting it replaced, we were told that they couldn't replace it as it had been a very limited run and they were now sold out.

So if there are any shops or entities out there with an unbroken black and white Samantha Stephens maquette for sale, can you let me know through the FAQ line? You'll make a small girl extremely happy (actually, she's pretty happy anyway, as it's the arm you can't really see. But still).


*It was Charles, Earl Grey, William IV's prime minister, who was given the recipe by a mandarin, which is not a citrus fruit but a Chinese official. Oddly enough, the bergamot is not a Chinese official but a citrus fruit, a cross between a lemon and a sour orange, and the oil that they add to Earl Grey, which turns a normal cup of tea into an odd-smelling concoction, is extracted from its peel.