Best Tea for Leap Day
by Abigail Beck
I’ve never been one for celebrating Leap Day. I’m not a leapling, nor the daughter of one. But when my friend and I both had the afternoon off on the day the calendar happened to be catching up with the rotation of the earth, we decided to make it an occasion. And occasions call for a touch of adventure: We would go to a British public house. Not that we were interested in the alcohol (I made sure to find a pub that opened before 2 p.m.), but we’d worked up an appetite for a hardy English lunch, and The White Harte Pub, in the San Fernando Valley, seemed to fit the bill.
We selected a table in the corner of the airy front enclosure next to an iconic phone booth. Red curtains with vinyl window panes cut the glare from the street, and the stonework patio reminded me of crumbling castles and quaint photographs in the Michelin Guide to England. Our fedora-topped waitress asked if we wanted to start with drinks.
Two waters, bartender.
We studied the menu. I wanted something exotically English – a sausage roll? A Selfridges pie? The Cornwall pasty with mushy peas. Call me a barbarian, but the famously flavorless cuisine of my pre-American ancestors appeals to me.
Our waitress returned with the water.
“Do you have black tea?” I asked.
“I’m not sure, we might be out. We have green, herbal, and iced black tea.”
Well and good, but not with a Cornish pasty. “Could you check?”
A short time later she came back, bearing a tiny stainless steel teapot, a cup and saucer. I lifted the lid and saw two pyramid teabags infusing the water with a rich brown color. Sniffing, I noticed that the metallic smell of the teapot had tainted the malty aroma I expected.
When she came back a third time with a miniature pitcher of cream, I asked her what kind of tea it was.
“It’s British black tea.”
And the brand? She didn’t know for sure, but she offered to check the package.
(Call me picky, but what’s more British than being fussy about a proper cup of tea?)
I thanked her for humoring me.
I let the tea steep a few minutes, then poured it into my cup. It was a cuppa all right. A splash of cream, and we watched the milk undulate in billowing swirls as it blended with the tea to create the familiar reddish brown color. Mm, simple pleasures.
Then the first sip.
Nothing spectacular, but it tasted comfortable, homey, and just right for the pub setting. The metallic note hadn’t affected the taste much, and I continued to sip and sigh.
For the fourth time the waitress popped outside. “PG tips.”
Ah, Britain’s “favourite cuppa.” That, at least was blessedly authentic.
Arthur Brooke paved the way for this popular blend in 1869 with his Manchester shop, “Brooke, Bond and Company.” In 1930 the blend officially infused the market under the name Brooke Bond Digestive Tea (a nod to its presumed health benefits), but post-WWII food regulations prohibited the use of “digestive” as a tea trade description, so it was rechristened Pre-Gestee (suggesting that it should be drunk before one’s food had digested). Ease of speech shortened this to PG, with “tips” indicating that only the top two leaves and bud of the tea plant were used in its production.
A fitting tea for an English cultural experience, and as Brooke said, “Good tea unites good company, exhilarates the spirits, opens the heart, banishes restraint from conversation and promotes the happiest purposes of social intercourse.” What better way is there to leap into March than with a good friend and a cup of tea?
PG tips Black Tea
Can be purchased: at The White Harte (or wherever British imports are sold)
Cost: $3.50 for a pot
RedFence Rating: 5 (out of 10)