Archive for Monday, May 21, 2007

Irish transplant searches for perfect ‘cuppa’ in Lawrence

May 21, 2007


Ten years ago, after a whirlwind romance, I married an American and announced I was moving to Kansas.

"Kansas?" my friends gasped. "Have you lost your senses, Eileen?"

Our limited knowledge of the Sunflower State came from "The Wizard of Oz" and unflattering references to Kansas City in "Oklahoma."

During my 30 years of working in and around London, I enjoyed going to theaters, art galleries and museums. These visits included obligatory stops at several of the thousands of tea shops dotted around the Capital City.

"From London to Kansas?" my friends repeated constantly. "Do they even drink tea over there?"

Grand old theaters and museums might be done without, but not a decent cup of tea. Drinking tea is at the heart of British culture. In Ireland, a cup of tea, accompanied by a biscuit (translate cookie) or a piece of cake, was an obligatory part of any home visit.

Two of my siblings lived in America, so I knew getting a fine cup of tea was challenging. Luckily for me, they had already found THE places to get a decent cuppa (translate "cup of tea") in San Francisco and Houston so I felt "at home." My brother succumbed to American culture and drank various types of coffee; my sister stayed loyal to tea. A three-hour shopping jaunt required at least two tea stops, and often four.

One of our phrases was, "I feel a wee cuppa coming on." This signaled our need to sit awhile for tea and conversation.

In London, ordering tea is simple.

"Tea, please."

Without ado, a hot teapot, a separate pot of boiled water and a jug of milk will reach the table. The classier tea shops will preheat a china tea pot before placing the black tea leaves in it; fancy herbal teas are rarely offered. A silver tea strainer completes the ensemble. Ahhh! Total bliss. All was right with the world at such moments.

My August arrival in Lawrence, in 104 temperatures, presented many challenges. In restaurants, requests for tea translated into iced tea. I remembered my friends' warnings. I HAD lost my senses. I wasn't "at home." The saga of searching for a decent brew began.

"Hot tea. With milk, please."

"Hot tea?" the server repeated; then, with emphasis, "HOT tea?"

The look and tone said, "Don't you know it's over 100 degrees outside?"

Eventually the tepid tea arrived, with half-and-half. No self-respecting Irish woman would put that in tea.

"Could I have milk, please?"

"There's the milk."

"No, that's half-and-half. I want proper milk."

"Just a second."

Five minutes later, when the tea was cold, the milk arrived. I wept. My husband was perplexed.

"Crying over a cup of tea?" he unwisely asked.

"It's not about the tea," I sniffed, "it's about feeling at home. I can't feel at home in Kansas until I can get a decent pot of HOT tea without all this palaver."

Things have improved slowly, but I still need to be very clear with my request for milk. I usually say something like:

"Milk please. Do you have a skim or a 2 percent? If not, whole milk would be fine, too." When I mention milk for the third time, the picture becomes clearer. The occasional dish of half-and-half still appears in spite of my best efforts. I am still yearning to find that perfect pot of well-brewed tea in Kansas. The search may be symbolic of something else - perhaps a need to feel truly "at home" in the heartland of America?

In 10 years, the number of coffee shops in Lawrence has quadrupled. Coincidence? In the next few months, I will visit some of these establishments and rate them on their cuppa expertise, service and ambiance. Like you, I now have a few favorite haunts where I am known by name and tea requirements, but I want to explore other places around the area, including the ones you frequent. I hope to meet you there, share fun conversation, chat about good tea or coffee, and what makes a particular coffee/tea house a special place to gather - or escape to.

Please let me have some of your recommendations, and I will try to include them in future columns.

- Eileen Roddy, born in Ireland, is a freelance writer who lives in Lawrence. She is a graduate of the Citizen Journalism Academy.


Ragingbear 11 years, 1 month ago

I do believe that there are a few out of the way places dedicated to serving a proper cup of tea. But you will have to find them.

radarlove 11 years, 1 month ago

The Paradise Cafe was my mum's favorite cuppa in Lawrence. The Eldridge used to do a decent one, but I haven't been there in ages. I find it amusing that Americans insist on bringing a little dish of sliced lemons for hot tea in some places. Yeccch.

bearded_gnome 11 years, 1 month ago

happen to like House of Cha on w. 9th, but don't know if they serve tea your precise way. what they do have is truly very good.

Katie Van Blaricum 11 years, 1 month ago

yes, I hate being looked down upon when I ask for hot tea in the summer! It's not so strange!

drewfuss 11 years, 1 month ago

Reminds me of the horror I felt when I realized my idea of coffee didn't exist in Australia during my semester abroad. But the tea was lovely!

Ragingbear 11 years, 1 month ago

How is the stuff at the House of Cha? I don't know. Tried going there a number of times. They were closed, even though their hours listed them as open. If somebody can't perform basic concepts of running a business, then they will get no business from me.

Confrontation 11 years, 1 month ago

Imagine, there are people who can't find a glass of clean water or a crumb to eat. Oh, the agony of not having a cup of proper tea! How terrible!

Kam_Fong_as_Chin_Ho 11 years, 1 month ago

Imagine, there are people who can't find a glass of clean water or a crumb to eat. Oh, the agony of not having a cup of proper tea! How terrible!

Homeless people don't want water or crumbs, they want alcohol and crack. As long as they continue to panhandle and accost Joe Citizen on a regular basis, they'll get what they want pretty much every time.

I'm with the writer on this one. The only place I can get proper Irish tea is my own kitchen. My relatives visited from Achill Island recently and it was boxty every day. Good stuff.

Crispian Paul 11 years, 1 month ago

"Kam_Fong_as_Chin_Ho (Anonymous) says:

Imagine, there are people who can't find a glass of clean water or a crumb to eat. Oh, the agony of not having a cup of proper tea! How terrible!

Homeless people don't want water or crumbs, they want alcohol and crack. As long as they continue to panhandle and accost Joe Citizen on a regular basis, they'll get what they want pretty much every time."

Kam Fong, three words: You're an Idiot. Let's see, have you ever been homeless? Do you know all homeless people? From the sound of it, you wouldn't even stoop so low as to even ask a homeless person a question. From the sound of it, you wouldn't deign to even believe someone who is homeless is a good person. Have you ever offered food to a homeless person when you didn't have money? I have and you know what, dummy, they were happy to have it. Now, I am sure there are many homeless addicts out there, just as there are plenty of raging addicts WITH homes. You are ignorant. Glad to see you think all people are the same if their lot in life is the same. That really speaks to the power and potential of change, huh? So that being said, I guess you will always be an ignorant, arrogant jerk. Darn, and I might have offered you a crumb were you to be homeless some day.

KU_cynic 11 years, 1 month ago

I hope this promised series of columns on finding the perfect cup of English tea service in Lawrence is deep, dark satire yet to be fully revealed as opposed to genuinely earnest self-absorption. There's already enough of the latter in the nauseating 'boomer girl' columns.

Ken Miller 11 years, 1 month ago

Look, they have to find something for SOME of the Citizen Journalism Academy grads to do. I'm sure we will be celebrating a Pulitzer win here in no time.

Linda Endicott 11 years, 1 month ago

Good luck. I've lived in America all my life, and I can't find a proper cup of coffee, either.

My mother used to drink coffee (not decaf), with a little sugar (not sugar substitute), and some milk (not half and half). The few times when she would let me drink it as a kid, I loved it. There are no restaurants that serve it that way, not without a lot of effort, which usually isn't worth it.

So I usually just drink it black now. And, of course, everyone's idea of a perfect cup of coffee is different...must be difficult for the restaurants to keep up.

As for iced tea...if you haven't tried it, don't knock it.

dirtyprettythings 11 years, 1 month ago

As a British girl having fallen for an American I can completely understand. Personally I like to drink Robinsons fruit squash and was horrified when after a ten-minute confusing conversation with my boyfriend it became clear that the whole idea was a foreign concept and the nearest match he could think of was some frozen juice product. Thankfully it should be available through specialist stores (albeit at an inflated price) but it highlights the little differences that need to be taken into consideration when making such a big move.

coldsplice 11 years, 1 month ago

I did the exact opposite of this woman and grew up in Lawrence and moved to London for a while. I think that part of going to a new place is obvious-to expereince new things. On the other hand, one of the things we all need is a touchstone for us to reflect on our new surroundings and remind us of what is great about our home. For her it is tea, for me it was KU basketball, and I don't want this to be about basketball per se, but I scrambled all over the damn place trying to find a game on TV when I lived in England, even going so far as to call the BBC programming department and have them check all the network listings-no luck. So I had to go without. It didn't make me cry but it was something of a dull ache in my gut when I couldn't watch games, so I dealt with it by going "native" and picked a football team to follow. Not the same, but it got me through and reminded me of the good things I missed about home.

So my suggestion to the author is to continue her search if she wishes, but she should hope that she never does find the "perfect cuppa" because if she does, she will have found "home away from home" and that should never be. It robs home of its relevance, and cheats your new place of what it can offer. Besides, if she can find London in Lawrence, what does that say about the meaning of both places?

Ragingbear 11 years, 1 month ago

If you went native and chose a football team to follow, it is no wonder that it wasn't the same. Football in England is known as Soccer in the U.S. You might mean American Style football, or it's English predecessor that is called Rugby. Or you could be making stuff up to make yourself look like you know what your talking about.

Confrontation 11 years, 1 month ago

Why not stay at home and make your own tea? There. Problem solved.

Ragingbear 11 years, 1 month ago

Ah. Random insult in my direction for pointing out that Football in England is actually Soccer. My bad. Although continuing to berate me over a proper cup of tea, when that was not what my comment was about, makes even less sense.

Wilbur_Nether 11 years, 1 month ago

Come on, Ragingbear--own up to the fact that your statement "you could be making stuff up to make yourself look like you know what your talking about" is what got the insult hurled at you, not that you pointed out that what Yanks call "soccer" the Brits call "football." You don't exactly get to claim the high road on this one....

bearded_gnome 11 years, 1 month ago

some of these posters have completely missed one of life's simple pleasures, and not only do they flaunt their lack of concern, they are angry at it being pointed out about them!

good coffee=as strong as possible nothing added/in my book. good cup of tea, taste the tea leaves in their beauty, let the tea change your state of mind and ease your tension as it simultaneously gives you more energy and focus.

Ragingbear 11 years, 1 month ago

I didn't take the high road.I can't take any road.At least not for a few months. The LPD took my license away. Now I just run naked through the wilderness.

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