Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Mercoledi Musicale

Afternoon Tea - a very dressy affair
if Frédéric Soulacroix is to be believed.
With not working these days my whole scheduled has been knocked topsy-turvey.   On those mornings when I would get up at 0615, shower, shave and make myself ready to save the world for Canada and democracy a cup of tea was my traditional morning libation.  It had been ever thus.  However in the past few months at the somewhat more leisurely hour of 0830 a mokka pot of coffee (Italian of course) has been set a perking on the hob. 

And the other thing that has been missing from my routine is the afternoon cuppa with my friend and colleague Lara.  Lara (not pictured left a the tea table but I just know she could so pull that dress off!) is an inveterate tea drinker and her collection of tea leaves is renowned in story and song in the halls and dungeons of Fort Pearson.  However as well as being a tea aficionado she is, amongst other things, a stern upholder of standards both in the workplace and in daily life,  particularly those standards mandated by the ISO in Geneva.   And it came as no surprise when just this week she sent an e-mail advising that that august and much revered institute has a standard for the correct brewing of tea.

The abstract for ISO 3013 states that the purpose of said standard is:
The method consists in extracting of soluble substances in dried tea leaf, containing in a porcelain or earthenware pot, by means of freshly boiling water, pouring of the liquor into a white porcelain or earthenware bowl, examination of the organoleptic properties of the infused leaf, and of the liquor with or without milk, or both.
The details of the exact procedure can be found right here - though I am wondering at what point those of us who take sugar in our tea should be adding our "one lump or two?"

A Lady knows how to set a fine tea table as shown in Albert Lynch's  Women Taking Tea. 
Unless things have changed in my absence this is definitely not the office gathering for afternoon tea.
It should be noted that the Royal Society of Chemistry issued its own paper on the correct method for brewing tea as a challenge in 2003.  There are some points of difference between the two which I'm sure will keep academics - and possibly Lara - discussing the matter over their Lapsang souchong for hours.  And as a further side note the work of the IOS on this important process was recognized with an Ig Nobel Prize in 1999.

And all this leads us to a musical interlude that in its own fashion sings the praises of camellia sinensis and the infusions it produces.

In the 1924 musical No No Nannette Vincent Youmans and Irving Caesar had their young lovers toasting their romance in "Tea for Two".  It became one of the hit tunes of the period and was played in dance halls and on Victrolas  around the world.  In October 1927, the conductor Nikolai Malko and  Dmitri Shostakovich were sitting around Malko's Moscow apartment - who knows perhaps enjoying a cup of Russian Caravan straight from the ever-boiling samovar - and listening to a recording of Youman's tune.  The conductor bet Shostakovich 100 roubles that he couldn't reorchestrate the piece in an hour after that one hearing.  No surprise: Dmitri won and completed the arrangement in 45 minutes.  A catchy tune is a catchy tune and a great composer is a great composer!

His "Tea for Two" arrangement, Opus 16, was first performed on 25 November 1928 and was incorporated into Tahiti Trot as an entracte in his ballet The Golden Age first performed in 1929. It is a great favourite with Russian orchestras (and others too) as an encore piece.  And it shows the lighter side of one of my favourite composers.

And on that note I think I'll just warm up my white porcelain or glazed earthenware pot with a slightly serrated edge and  lid that fits loosely inside the pot (see further instructions at link above to ISO 3013 !)

February 12 - 1974: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, is exiled from the Soviet Union.
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Lara said...

I do love a good Russian Caravan! A friend of mine who was a professor of Russian Literature told me the best way to drink Russian Caravan tea is with a spoonful of raspberry jam stirred into it. It may buck the standards but it is indeed delicious.

Glad you're spreading the word on tea standards...we shall have to compare and contrast the various versions upon your return!

Ur-spo said...

being a tea snob, I carry my tea wherever I go; here in mexico I have some proper irish breakfast and a Nigiri FOP (no rubbish )

David said...

I think you also need the 'Four O'Clock Foxtrot' for teapot and China cup from Ravel's L'enfant et les sortileges ('ow's yeur meug?' 'Rrrotten' 'Better ad' 'C'mon' etc)Christopher Palmer made a witty arrangement for orchestra, but of course it's the most fun with tenor and mezzo