Saturday, April 01, 2023

Playing pasture with tea

by ELENA JOHNSON/Coeur Voice contributor
| May 1, 2021 1:00 AM

Who came up with tea?

Okay, don’t answer that. I know it was the ancient Chinese, the ever clever predecessors to darn near everything. I think. (It checks out after a quick Google search, so you it must be true.)

But I have to wonder who looked at a bunch of leaves and thought, “I bet that would taste nice as a liquid. Maybe I’ll soak it and drink the nice leafy water.”

I’m not complaining. Tea is the perfect drink, as good hot as it is cold, sweet or plain. It’s also the primary reason I get enough water to keep from shriveling up into a haggard scaly creature. Though my dehydrated husk could probably get enough side work touring area schools to deliver one of those PSAs that scar children until at least the 10th grade. (Stay in school. Don’t do drugs. Never wear white after Labor Day; it’s terribly gauche.)

But even the most veggie-loving among us, even the rare few who would willingly eat Brussels sprouts, surely even they wouldn’t come up with the idea of boiling leaves to make a really mild broth.

I mean, no one boils a potato just to drink the starchy water – not without a lot of other veggies, garlic, and salt, at least.

The first person to take leaves that don’t necessarily taste so great on their own and willingly isolate those flavors, concentrating them enough to change the flavor of already delicious, refreshing water was either a madman or a genius. Probably both.

It isn’t so much the concept of tea that really floors me, though. After all, it could have happened by accident, or through sheer boredom. Some of the best things to happen in any kitchen were birthed from the phrase “Ehh, why not?”

It’s the texture of chewy leaves that gets me. I’m no historian and I also didn’t bother to look it up (because then I’d have nothing to complain about), but my guess is, a few of the first tea drinkers had a whole-mouth experience. And not in the fun way that comes with pairing brownies and red wine, and other certain delicacies.

There’s no way they strained the first few glasses of tea (they didn’t even strain coffee for the longest time). The first innovator couldn’t have had tea strainers, fancy mugs with built-in steeping compartments, or tea pots with spouts designed to separate most of the leaves. Tea hadn’t been invented yet.

No one had had the chance to complain about their tea leaves already.Which means people just drank their tea chunky.

Boy, do I hope they kept their leaves full-sized. If you don’t know what I mean, try steeping a fine, loose-leaf tea in a metal strainer. You’ll learn how it feels to be a sheep grazing on wet grass.

I know I speak for many when I say I’m grateful to the first tea-drinker. But I also don’t know what in the world that mad genius was thinking of.

But then, I may just be a little bitter. My finely chopped Earl Grey leaves refuse to be reined in by a dopey strainer. It’s no fun playing pasture with your after-meal brew.

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