“Bring the pot to the kettle …”

March 31st, 2017 Sections: Food and Drink
Tenniel's illustration of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Tenniel’s illustration of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

I was talking to the manager of a cafe the other day, who described one of her ‘regular clients’ … a contrary sort of character like someone one Alice might have met during her journeys in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass.

“She’s never satisfied.”, I was told, “It doesn’t matter what we do, she finds something to complain about.  One day the tea is too hot, so she lets it stand to cool down … but insists that ‘next time, don’t use boiling water!‘”

Before I could express surprise, or any other reaction for that matter, the story continued …

“Then, the next day she comes in and orders a pot of tea … only to complain that ‘It’s tepid! Can’t you use hot water?‘”

A variety of thoughts crossed my mind as I listened to this story … and it occurred to me that, although the two requests appear to be contradictory, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive … I can see, for example, how such a situation might have arisen.

I thought of Goldilocks … but, at least, if she found one bowl of porridge too hot, and another too cold, on her third try she was fortunate enough to find one that was ‘just right’ … and gobbled it all up.

I was also reminded that the temperature of the beverage can be an important issue … and one which could have considerable implications. Consider, for example, the story of Stella Liebeck … and the infamous and greatly misunderstood liability case that she brought against McDonalds seeking compensation for injuries suffered when the the scalding hot coffee they served her was spilled, causing extensive burns.  I suspect, actually, that she suffered as much if not more from the vilification (much of it totally unfair and unjustified) that was directed towards her following the three million dollars damages that the jury awarded her when they brought in a verdict in her favour.

However, my thoughts on hearing about this contrary customer were mainly on the theme of How hot should the water be for a perfect cup of tea.

I suppose there is question of taste … and there is no point in arguing about matters of taste, such as whether you should put the milk into the cup first – before pouring the tea into the cup, or after – once the tea is already in the cup, (… yet alone going to war as Lilliput and Blefuscu did -… over which end of a boiled egg should be struck – in Swift’s satirical tale of Gulliver’s Travels).  People are all different and each has their personal preference … which may well be based on logical reasoning as as much as on emotions or a whim.

I was always told, for example, that to ensure one gets the best cup of tea, it is necessary to use boiling water …  allowing the infusion to release the full flavour from the tea leaves into the hot fluid … something which doesn’t happen at lower temperatures.

Indeed, my mother would often quote the old adage at me: Bring the Pot to the Kettle – not the Kettle to the Pot.

While the water in the kettle is on the heat, put the tea leaves into the tea pot … and when the water comes the boil, bring the teapot to the kettle and pour the still boiling liquid into the pot, covering the leaves, thus allowing the full flavour to emerge … If you take kettle  to the teapot, this removes it from the heat source, allowing the water to ‘go off the boil’, and thus failing to get the full benefit of the infusion.

I have to admit that I was never fully convinced by this argument … although, it is definitely true that beverages (Tea and Coffee) made with water that isn’t boiling tastes completely different, (and not as good), could the couple of seconds taken walking with the kettle from the stove to the teapot, really make that much of a difference?

I tried to explain this to my friend … but hit a fundamental linguistic problem – in Russian, the same word, (chainik), is used for both kettle and teapot, resulting in the nonsensical ‘Take the chainik to the chainik … not the chainik to the chainik“.





There are 2 comments. to ““Bring the pot to the kettle …””

  1. guest
    March 31st, 2017 at 10:52

    So glad to see you back at producing the Postcard From Bishkek.

    • ian
      March 31st, 2017 at 10:53

      Thanks … I’m glad to be back, but I don’t promise a post every day … let’s see how it goes!

Comment closed.