Here’s a thing. I’m not a massive fan of xmas. Don’t get me wrong, I love an excuse to buy and make things for my friends and family and also to generally eat, drink and be merry. But the day itself has no particular religious or emotional significance to me – if the choice is working Xmas or New Year there’s no doubt what my choice would always be.
However, the thing I do love about the whole idealised winter stuff that comes along with the Xmas obsession is the sudden onslaught of amazing hot drinks. When Winter arrives I like to be cosy, fluffy jumpers and fluffier socks, thick tights and winter boots, earmuffs, mittens and giant scarfs. Coming in from the cold to a big steaming mug of hot chocolate? Bliss!
Christmas for coffee shops means seasonal drinks, special blends, extra cream, unusual syrups and silly names. I have a couple of friends who are obsessed with Christmas and I enforce the rule with them that the season hasn’t begun until the red cups appear– if I have to deal with all this seasonal silliness I want a Gingerbread Latte or a Black-forest hot chocolate in hand to get me through. But beyond the usual suspects there are a myriad of hot drinks from smaller places that are no less charming or warming. The indie coffee shops in Stirling to a good line in spiced winter warmers (spiced winter apple at the bottom of the hill, mulled spice chai tea at the top) served in odd shaped mugs that only come out at this time of year.
And of course you can always make your own hot drinks at home, to your own exact specifications, whether that means extra syrup, less cream or whether or not your mulled wine is actually alcoholic. Personally, I have a marked preference for homemade blackcurrant wine – though the kind that I like, that will forever be the true taste of Christmas, is not remotely alcoholic and arguably has never seen an actual blackcurrant. Instead it is made from a strange syrup called yuleade, that, as far as I know, can be purchased only from the co-op and even then probably only in Scotland, combined with hot water and a frankly obscene amount of sugar and should rightfully be served in really tiny glasses. I made some myself a couple of winters ago and the sugar high I got from drinking an entire mug in one go – so decadent!! – explained just why the glasses I was given as a child were so very, very small.
I came to tea drinking later in life than most, despite coming from a family of tea drinkers – my gran in particular would feed you tea until you burst if you were too polite to tell her to stop.
Over the last few years I’ve developed a thing for loose leaf teas, culminating in my getting a tea pot – with filter – for my birthday a couple of years ago. Until I had a teapot of my own, I’d never really understood the whole tea-making-drinking as ritual thing, with steepings and timings and the rest. I had plenty of experience of the ‘tea as cure-all’ thing, though honestly even then there’s only one friend of mine who defaults to feeding me tea when I’m distressed and she makes the best tea in the world as far as I’m concerned – only from her will I always take a cuppa unquestioningly whenever offered. (Oddly enough she’s the only other person I know who owns a teapot – who owned one when we were students! – even if she makes it with tea bags and milk) But here I am as an adult, discovering the process of tea making as meditation. Of time spent in contemplation of the process, focused but unfocused, forgetting the rest of the world and its stresses and strains, to take a little time for oneself. Soothing and necessary. Time to rest and unwind, refocus on the things that matter.
I’m drinking Yunnan tea today, out of a little set of mini-tins of Chinese teas I got as a present. (Proper, curling dried leaves, that look like plant when they’ve been brewing for a while, none of this dust nonsense you get some places. Leaves you could read a fortune in if you were so inclined.) It’s rather pleasant.
One of the most useful craft projects I’ve ever undertaken was to make myself a tea cosy. Years ago, I came across a book of tea cosy patterns, a delightful blend of kitsch and charming, and fully expected it to spend its life much admired and un-used. With the arrival of my own teapot, the necessity of a tea cosy became apparent. It was fine if I made a pot of tea to share, but if I was making tea just for me, by the time I went for a second cup it was cold. Also, frankly, I didn’t particularly like any of the cosies in my mum’s collection and so it was make my own or be mildly irritated every time I made a pot of tea. My tea cosy is blue. Well, actually, its turquoise cable-work with a dark blue – with sparkles – trim at the top and bottom. Largely because the turquoise was left over from another project and I feared I might run out and the dark blue is an almost perfect match for the teapot. It looks cute and quaint wrapped in its cosy, and more importantly, the cosy keeps the tea at perfect drinking temperature for me. So I can spend an afternoon working away – on college work, crafting, writing articles or just curled up with a good book – and never need to move further than to reach over and pour another cup of tea.