Saturday, November 13, 2021

Still Life with Robin: Keeping It Hot!

Tea Cozy Available on Etsy

by Peggy Robin

The coming of winter brings its challenges – some of them consequential – such as, can I heat my home sufficiently without contributing over-much to  climate change? -- and some of them pretty trivial  -- such as, how can I keep my tea at a comfortably warm temperature?

I won’t address the whole house heating problem today. Too big. So many factors to consider. I know it would take a complete system overhaul to achieve significant results. So for today, I’ll stick to the problem in a teacup.

You already know how that goes. You boil water in an electric teakettle, you pour it over a teabag in your mug or teacup, you wait a few minutes until it’s steeped to the degree of flavor you like, and then you wait another minute or two until you can start to drink without burning your tongue. After that, it’s a matter of fine timing. There’s a limited window when you can drink your tea before it’s cooled down too much, and you’re stuck with cold tea.

I am hardly the first person to point out this problem. When I googled it to see what advice I could find, I turned up literally hundreds of recommendations for different ways to attack this problem. But I also quickly discovered they break down into four basic categories or approaches. They are:

1Get a cozy – that is, something that insulates the teapot or the teacup so that the tea doesn’t cool off so quickly. You can buy a ready-made tea cozy for your pot or your mug, or you can make one, by knitting it or sewing it out of a thick, quilted fabric. If you have a friend who good at handicrafts and knows you like tea, you are very likely to get one as a gift. If your friend is a child who’s just learning to knit, you are all but guaranteed to get one – right after you get a scarf.  

2. Put a lid on it. Same general idea as the tea cozy. You keep the tea warmer for longer, by containing the heat -- in this case, by keeping it from dissipating from the surface by closing off the top. You can buy all kinds of mugs and cups with lids, from the Styrofoam disposables fitted with a plastic lids with a sipper opening, to fancy, insulated mugs with tight-fitting lids and adjustable openings. And then there’s the lowest tech variety of lid: just put your saucer on top of the cup.

3. Use a warming ring or plate. You can buy a small electric one for your single mug, or pour yourself small amounts of tea at a time from a teapot kept warm on a warming ring – either a plug-in electric one, or the traditional type that sit over a little tea-light candle.

4. Buy an integrated system that will first brew the tea and then hold it at the right temperature for you, for hours. 

Costs range from virtually nothing (just the yarn needed to knit or crochet a cozy for your teapot or cup) to $22.95 for set of 50 disposable hot cups with cardboard insulating sleeves* and lids, to $11.99 for the warming plate, to up to $179 for the complete brew-and-keep-it-at-fixed-temperature Breville tea-brewing system from Williams Sonoma. 

Which one should I choose? Still deciding….. Hope to choose something sometime before the spring!

* Fun fact: The insulating paper sleeve that helps to insulate your disposable hot cup has its own specialized term: it’s called a zarf.   

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays. 

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