In 2001 I was an assistant to the vice president and special events coordinator at Talk Media, a hybrid magazine/book imprint run by Tina Brown and Harvey Weinstein. My job was a busy one with occasional perks. Usually it came in the form of backstage passes, special movie screenings or baskets of goodies that my boss or one of the editors handed off.  For a young twenty-something new to New York sometimes a phone call or office sighting was enough. Indiana Jones himself or uber model Iman ringing in, Madeleine Albright quietly walking through to a meeting and ticking Diane von Furstenberg and Ralph Fiennes off a check-in list at parties could boost normal tasks to interesting for a millisecond anyway.

As such, it was a February morning when someone asked me to run a package to Tom Stoppard, the Czech-born, English-raised writer and producer who is known for clever plays, like the Tony winner, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Deadand films like Brazil, Empire of the Sun and Shakespeare in Love.  At that time he was on the heels of a 1999 Oscar as a co-writer for the latter.  

The man is a genius in the way he plays with words and ideas and any other day of any other year I would have run full tilt to his apartment, but it was my second day back to work after a two-week hiatus.  My mom had just died and in an upside down fog, I asked if someone else could go. 

My friend, Nikki, who was Tina’s second assistant, went in my place and when she got back she told me he was lovely. He had offered her tea.

I’m not typically one to regret, but I will forever kick myself for missing the chance to have Tea with Tom.

Photo credit: Кондрашкин Б. Е.

January is (unofficially) National Hot Tea Month.

In Mr. Stoppard’s honor, I defer to Downton Abby Cooks Online Guide to Afternoon Tea for a quick tutorial on how to make a proper English tea:

Don’t get too stressed about making tea, particularly since much tea is now sold in tea bags. To distinguish yourself as a tea aficionado, however, just follow the time honored tradition of first warming the tea pot. Add a bit of boiling water to the pot, give it a swirl and pour it out before adding your tea. Steep 3 or 4 minutes and don’t let the tea steep too long or it will become bitter.

If you go with loose tea, the general guideline is to allow for 1 tsp per person, 1 tsp for the pot, and allow 10 ounces per person. Use a tea strainer and pour into cups. You may wish to fill your tea pot with tap water, pour into a measuring cup to determine how many cups your pot will hold. You can keep a heated pot of water nearby in case to help dilute tea if it is too strong.

Photo credit: Healthy You

Tea Lingo

Cream Tea: A simple tea service consisting of scones, clotted cream, marmalade or lemon curd and tea.

Elevensies:Morning coffee hour in England

Afternoon Tea: What we imagine all British teas to be. An afternoon meal, served typically from 4 – 6 pm, which includes the tiers of smart little crustless sandwiches, scones, clotted cream, curd, 2-3 sweets and heaps of tea.

Low Tea: This still an afternoon tea, but called “low tea” because guests are seated in low armchairs with low side-tables on which to place their cups and saucers.

Royale Tea: A social tea served with champagne at the beginning or sherry at the end of the tea.

Celebration Tea: Another variation of afternoon tea with a celebratory cake which is also served alongside the other sweets.

High Tea: High tea is eaten in “high chairs” at the dinner table. Afternoon Tea is traditionally served on lower couches and lounging chairs. It actually is a meal that the working class had at the end of the day with cold meats, potatoes, as well as other foods with tea and perhaps a beer. Americans confuse the two, and since some London tea houses use the terms interchangeable to keep tourists happy, it adds to the confusion.

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