I don't know why my mother drank tea--I suspect it was a combination of attempts at dieting, and wanting hot liquid that wasn't coffee (she was sensitive to caffeine)--but I always felt a little sophisticated when she'd make a cup for me, or better yet, when I'd make a cup for myself. Maybe it was good marketing in those Good Housekeeping magazines that I'd flip through when my mother wasn't looking, trying to understand her.
Tea, however, didn't strike me as a particularly social occasion until I started reading British literature, anyway, and learned that it came with cakes, and crumpets, and conversation, and convention. I was sold. I began to swill Earl Grey, which my English teachers brewed in a great pot in the morning if we slept over, and sweetened liberally, or doused with milk. I loved the heady floral scent. One year, I took my mother to high tea at the Plaza in New York as a Christmas gift. I must have been a freshman in high school. The gift was at least partially selfish, I'm sure.
Somewhere in graduate school, I stopped drinking tea, and started drinking coffee. Which--let's be honest--has different connotation, doesn't it? We drink on our own, dashing out the door, and I'll wager that when you invite someone for coffee, you meet with an agenda. You have things to accomplish, whether you admit it or not; you simply suggest that the business you conduct will take slightly longer than usual, may be a bit more collaborative, and may be handled a bit more delicately than you might in a conference room. Case in point: my current job is the result of a series of highly caffeinated conversations. (For the record: tea ordered in a coffee shop as part of an invitation to "coffee" counts as coffee, not tea.)
Tea, on the other hand, involves commiseration, empathy, intimacy, and trust. An invitation to tea sends a different message, suggests that you might linger. You may accomplish things over tea, but only in a rather desultory, meandering way. It may take several cups to arrive at your destination, if indeed you arrive at all. (I remember reading Three Cups of Tea, thinking that it was a poorly titled book.)
So I was pleased to learn that some of our students have decided to host a site for Tea with Strangers. The premise is simple: you sign up, you show up, you have a two hour conversation over tea, you meet someone (or a few people) you likely may never have met. You probably end up talking about more than the weather. For a generation who lives on their devices at arms length from each other, it's a huge risk. Sort of like a blind date, but without the safety of a movie or your plate to retreat.
I made these muffins a while ago for some people I don't know all that well. (And photographed them in the basket my colleagues gave me for my birthday.) They're delicately-flavored enough that coffee would overpower them completely. But they would go very well with tea.
Who will you invite to join you?
Gluten Free Morning Glory Muffins
1/2 c. raisins
1 c. King Arthur Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. ginger
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. xanthan gum
1/4 t. salt
1 c. peeled, grated carrots
1/2 c. grated apple (about 1/2 of a large apple) or1/2 c. drained crushed pineapple
1/2 c. grated coconut, sweetened or unsweetened
1/2 c. chopped walnuts
2 large eggs
1/3 c. vegetable oil
1 t. vanilla extract
2 T. water
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly grease 10 cups of a 12-cup muffin pan, or line with 10 muffin papers.
In a small bowl, cover the raisins with hot water and set aside to plump.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, xanthan gum and salt. Stir in the carrots, apple or pineapple, coconut and nuts.
In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, vanilla and water. Add to the flour mixture and stir until evenly moistened. Drain the raisins and stir them in.
Scoop the batter into the prepared wells. Don't worry if they're nearly full.
Bake for 25 to 28 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of one muffin comes out clean.
Remove the muffins from the oven and, after 5 minutes, transfer them to a rack to cool.
Wrap any leftovers airtight and store at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.