I fell in love with tea many years ago on a rainy Seattle morning. My then-boyfriend and I went to Café Campagne for brunch and on a whim, I ordered tea instead of coffee. It was one of those quintessential Pacific Northwest days; Puget Sound was the same slate gray as the sky, and a cool mist hung in the air. My pot of English Breakfast tea made me feel veddy British and sophisticated, while the milk and sugar I stirred into each cup were comforting and reminiscent, somehow, of childhood.
All these years later, I am still a devoted tea drinker. Coffee can leave me feeling under-hydrated and over-caffeinated, while tea provides a gentler, more subtle lift. And while there are times in which only an espresso will do, most of the time I prefer the brighter, cleaner flavor of tea. I suspect, though, that my love of tea is primarily rooted in a desire to slow the pace of this frequently frenetic 21st-century life. Meeting for coffee connotes a hasty, on-the-fly rendezvous, while teatime suggests ritual, quiet conversation, and leisure.
As is nearly always the case among lovers of eating and drinking, flavor and memory are inextricably entwined, each giving life to the other. A sage, dear friend and I used to meet regularly and talk over pots of Genmaicha, green tea infused with roasted brown rice. I cannot think of her warmth and wisdom without also smelling the toasty, herbaceous scent of that tea. I spent a whirlwind weekend in Moscow once, and now when I taste plain black tea, its tannins sharp without milk or sugar for softness, I can see the red bricks of the Kremlin against icy blue Russian skies.
At home, beginning each day with a (large) pot of English Breakfast tea imparts a small but crucial sense of order to my morning: boil the water, steep the tea, add milk and sugar before pouring the tea into my cup. After dinner, my husband and I almost always share a pot of mint tisane. On cold winter days, an afternoon cup of Earl Grey feels soothing and civilized, whereas a sweltering summer day (like today!) can be made bearable by sipping a glass of iced black tea infused with mango.
June is flying by, each week beset with out-of-town obligations and not nearly enough restful moments. The whistle of the teakettle is a gentle reminder that life’s simplest pleasures are very often the most satisfying. Wherever you are, may the quiet comfort of a cup of tea be yours.