an excerpt from "The Herbalist's Apprentice" Rosa's upcoming novel
Attempting to alter the combative tone of the conversation, Rachael, said cheerily, “Come now, ladies, let’s enjoy our refreshments.”
Mia needed no further encouragement to delve into the delights that tray held. Should she eat a watercress sandwich tied daintily with a chive ribbon or a scone with lemon curd, she wondered.
“Sugar or cream?” Rachael asked pouring the tea from the silver urn with an affected lift of her pinky finger.
“Both, please,” Mia said, trying not to sound greedy.
Rachael dropped the sugar and cream in first, pouring the tea on top.
“That’s interesting,” Mia noted. “I’ve always done it the other way around. I mean the tea first and then the cream.”
The tyrannical Miss Biggs pounded her ivory tipped cane onto the table like a judge calling court, and Mia braced herself for another of her pontifications. “Taking tea is the foundation of domestic happiness, and there's a precise science in its preparation. You'd do well to take note, Young Miss Mia Who Thinks She Knows Everything. First, one must rinse the teapot's interior with scalding water to remove its chill. This helps to maintain the beverage's temperature later. Choice of tea is next...”
Trying to participate in the long winded conversation, Mia interjected, “Camellia sinensis?”
“Of course, my dear, what other?”
“But there are countless plants one can make tea from,” the young herbalist asserted.
“Those are tisanes, not tea,” Miss Biggs corrected. “As I was saying, Darjeeling is the preferred tea for discriminating palates, and the leaves from the first flush is superior as it possesses a musky spiciness without undue astringency. Most definitely, one is never to imbibe tea harvested during the monsoon season.”
She went on to describe the optimum temperature the water must be: just to the boil but not rolling, and the length of time to steep: exactly three minutes. As for which to pour first, tea or cream, she explained it was definitely the cream, so as to prevent the cup's glaze from cracking.
Mia would've been bored to tears with her diatribe except that during its entire delivery the old woman stuffed her mouth voraciously, taking two sandwiches in one bite, and if custard was not oozing from her lips, then crumbs were falling down the gap between her sagging breasts. Mia's first impulse was to slurp her tea from the saucer, like her Pappa, and tell her in no uncertain terms what she could do with her clotted cream. However, she reminded herself of the aging aunt's mental instability, and so instead took satisfaction in a helping of strawberry sponge cake topped with sugared pansies.