Tools for writing: A nice cup of tea

Tea BagSamuel Johnson, the ‘harmless drudge’ who produced the first English dictionary, drank a lot of tea. I’ve seen his teapot in my old college in Oxford – it’s huge! Johnson once said ‘no man but a blockhead writes, except for money.’ My hero.

George Orwell drank a lot of tea too. In fact he wrote an article about brewing and pouring the perfect cup. Although some of his findings are still passionately disputed as I learned when I interviewed the owner the Tea and Coffee Museum a few years ago. I put sugar in my tea, contravening rule 11. You rebel, Stibbe.
Anyhow, it’s clear that there’s a strong correlation between tea-drinking and good writing so I drink pints of it every day.

My favourite blend is (ironically) Breakfast Americana from MightyLeaf. It comes in a kind of silky teabag which is very satisfying to behold and to use. It has a slightly sweet flavour, like a 10% Earl Grey taste, but no bitter aftertaste and it works well with milk, unlike Earl Grey. Brewed for four minutes it’s strong enough to wake me up.

I’m also partial to Jungpana Darjeeling from Fortnum and Mason and loose-leaf Jasmine tea (when there’s no milk). I use disposable Teeli filter bags from Germany to make single cups of tea with leaves. Making a whole pot and then pouring it through a strainer is just too much business for one cup of tea. Another strike against me from Orwell’s perspective but he didn’t have access to modern technology.

Why drinking tea helps me write:

  • The pause to boil the water and make the tea – about 5-10 minutes – gives my brain a chance to recharge and work on problems.
  • It’s a reward after a hard sprint through the paragraphs.
  • There’s a bit of that Zen thing about the ceremony of making tea. Pouring the water, selecting a mug etc. Always the same, always different.
  • Sipping the tea for ten minutes after I’ve made it gives me little micro-breaks while I’m writing it.
  • Caffeine. Coffee makes me nervous and, eventually, dead sleepy. Tea just keeps on going like a Duracell battery. (Although stronger coffee might work – an old colleague of mine made coffee by pouring filter coffee from the machine over five heaped teaspoons of instant coffee. I don’t think he ever slept.)
  • My mug selection reminds me why I’m doing it. I have one with a screenshot of the ‘Hack’ on it, a Microsoft ‘Geek’ mug, two NASA mugs, a lovely Dutch teacup, a Cirrus mug and a matched pair of half-pint mugs which I share with my wife.

Sorry this is such a long post. I meant to write a shorter one but I was interrupted by the man from Porlock with a box of groceries and got distracted. I must go and make myself some more tea.

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19 Responses to Tools for writing: A nice cup of tea

  1. Robert Hruzek August 18, 2006 at 11:13 am #

    Matthew, Um… you DO know that tea has more caffeine than coffee, don’t you? :-)

    -an American hooked on tea

  2. Doug August 18, 2006 at 1:49 pm #

    Matthew:
    The post was just the right length. I found myself relaxing while reading your post….tension leaving…imagining the boil, the brew, and first sip. I’m big into self-hypnosis and can very easily enter the moment…good work chap.

  3. Andrew August 18, 2006 at 8:51 pm #

    Hmm… maybe I’ll have to switch. Tea-focused equivalents of Starbuck’s seem to be popping up everywhere these days too, so the switch shouldn’t be too tough.

    Oh BTW, Johnson didn’t write the *first* English dictionary… others had been written more than 100 years earlier. Please excuse my pedantry! ;)

  4. Phil, TDC Design August 21, 2006 at 1:12 pm #

    “Coffee makes me nervous and, eventually, dead sleepy. ”

    This has always been the effect coffee has on me as well, although I drink it anyhow. An old friend of mine works for a coffee company in Kansas City and I recently went through my first 2 lb bag of what has to be the best coffee I have ever had in my life (another 2 lbs on the way). This coffee has none of the adverse effects you mention. I really think it makes me smarter, too (need all the help I can get). I’ve ordered an extra pound for a friend of mine, so we’ll see if it’s just me.

  5. Andrew August 24, 2006 at 1:14 pm #

    …and now this from the BBC:

    Tea ‘healthier’ drink than water.

  6. Matthew Stibbe September 9, 2009 at 10:54 am #

    Janet – it IS all about the biscuits. But, sshhh, don’t tell anyone! :)

  7. Matthew Stibbe September 17, 2009 at 10:35 am #

    Nowadays, I’m still on Mighty Leaf but it’s called Organic Breakfast. Also, I like Jasmin pearl tea and Margaret’s Hope Darjeeling from Simon Levelt, which I buy whenever I’m in the Netherlands. Mmmm. Tea.

  8. Lori deWet October 14, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

    Oh caffeine!
    I depend on it for writing, without it half my vocabulary is … what’s the word?
    However, caffeine makes me hungry. Ravenous. Trembling, I need to eat right now kind of hunger! Years ago a Naturopath explained this is because caffeine affects the adrenal glands and for someone with blood sugar issues (yes) this is a typical side effect. I gave it up for a year and was convinced he was spot-on, but I soon realized that the clarity and sense of heightened awareness it gives me is worth the side effect! Along with my coffee/tea I have a protein snack (apples with peanut butter for example) which does help. I also like Mighty Leaf Tea but those little silk bags make me feel a little indulgent! Have you tried Tea Kuanyin (Tieguanyin)? It is a Chinese Oolong tea and I love what it does for me. I highly recommend you try it if you haven’t already but make sure you buy quality tea…it is quite pricey but totally worth it!

    • Matthew Stibbe October 14, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

      I love oolong and I must try eating a bit of protein to counter the caffeine shakes! Thanks for the comment.

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