Today, like every day, the first thing I went to do was make a cup of tea. I’ve never been a coffee drinker, but I have always loved tea. Not the herbal kind, which is lovely on occasion, but my true tea passion is black tea. I like English Breakfast, Orange Pekoe, and Earl Grey. One of the first times I stayed at the house of the man I would eventually marry he made me a cup of tea that was Cream Earl Grey. It was my first time having it and I fell in love with the creamy richness…of the tea, him I would fall in love with later. He also introduced me to our household staple, Yorkshire Gold. It’s the best Orange Pekoe you’ll ever have. But I’m not really picky (with tea, anyway.) Whether I’m in an authentic diner, Starbucks, Tim Hortons or a even a nice restaurant, I’ll simply ask for “black tea” and be satisfied. As long as there is milk and sugar, of course.
Tea, for me, is more than simply a drink to kick off the morning. It is a way of life. It is my religion. In hard times I do not pray, I make a warm cup of tea. And as I wrap my hands around the mug and drink in the scent of it before even taking a sip, things feel a bit better. Similarly, at work, if I was having a mental block or if I was tired from not moving from the computer for hours and hours on end, I would go get a tea. Sometimes I wouldn’t even drink the whole thing, it was often the idea of tea more than the tea itself that allowed me some mid-afternoon computer-reprievement.
But the ‘idea of tea’ has always been as significant as the tea itself. It represents comfort, history, fortune-telling, warmth, delicacy, and community depending on the day. For me, since I have always been, resignedly, an anglophile, tea has been another connection across the sea. The idea of afternoon tea, in its most British sense, is put on its own exalted throne in my head. Cucumber sandwiches, scones and tea together are like sunshine on a dreary day for me – brightening and beautiful. When I was in England I was so pleased at how much they really did have tea, further cementing that it will always be a warm connection for me and that crazy island.
When I studied Russian Studies, and briefly became a slavophile as well, I was overjoyed to find reference after reference to tea peppering the pages of all my favorite Russian literature. It was like meeting a new friend and becoming ecstatic at the shared similarities and interests – “oh you like tea? ME TOO! We were clearly meant to be friends”. Russians, the long, dead and published ones anyway, had such a reverence for tea that it was one more thing to pull me in. Between the black humour, poeticism of their prose, and love of tea it was no wonder that I fell headlong into love with Russian Studies. I even tried to drink tea “Russian style”, minus a samovar (which, to this day, I am still hoping to have one day.) In the Russian Studies department (this is all I can speak to having never been anywhere close to Russia) they drank the tea black with a bit of sugar. I made a valiant attempt at adopting this style but it wasn’t to be, the tea was too dark for me. (Rhyme unintended.)
On the other end of the spectrum is The Captain who drinks his tea with milk but no sugar. In an attempt at healthiness I thought that I, too, would drink my tea sans sugar, but that quickly fell by the wayside as well. I do try to use less sugar than I used to, and console myself with the idea that my tea is at least marginally healthier than a certain someone’s father, who likes the tea weak, the milk plentiful and the sugar heaping, which The Captain pointed out is essentially milky sugar water. What my tea and the milky, sugar water share is, again, that it is the act of having tea that supersedes the importance of the tea itself.
And I’ve had my own experiences with super sugary tea, although it was when I was first introduced to what would become my great love (tea, sorry captain.) I was just a little thing, probably five years old, when I had my first cup of tea. My mother and I were over at a friend’s house for a playdate, and my friend’s mom made me a tiny cup of tea that was mostly milk and sugar. But I got to have it in a tiny, blue teacup that made me feel like I was some sophisticated, grown up woman. My mother was not pleased that I was having tea, but really it was barely tea in the end. It would be many, many more years before my mother ended up making me some tea, the first of many times. By the time I was drinking tea regularly, I was completely addicted to the romanticism I had associated with tea.
One of my favourite gifts from my mother was a beautiful tea set she brought back from a trip when I was a teenager. There were six tea cups and saucers, each one in a bright Easter egg version of their colours: blue, yellow, purple, crimson, green and pink, with gold trim on each. The tea set came inside a round, yellow box that reminded me of old hat boxes from the fifties. As a teenager I wasn’t having many tea parties (or any) but I cherished my tea set and kept it with me through the years as I travelled to live in Halifax, Calgary and back to Toronto. On my twenty-sixth birthday I finally made use of my treasured tea set and had a pre-party tea party with four other friends. I made tea but no one except me had any, the guys putting whiskey into their teacups that I forced them to use. But the five of us cheersed our little tea cups together to celebrate my birthday and that was all I needed.
The tea set now rests in a wood and glass cabinet in the kitchen, the exposed brick background behind the cabinet contrasting the delicate white china of the tea sets inside. My colourful tea set sits side by side with tea cups from my grandma, and The Captain’s grandma, and each morning I sit at my table by the window, sunlight streaming in, a mug of tea in my hands and the beautiful tea sets preening from their position of preeminence in front of me.
Almost every morning. I remembered this morning, after I had made the tea of course, that there was only a dribble of milk left and it was past the due date anyway. I wasn’t going to be able to start off my morning with tea! An unmitigated travesty, of course. Except when I opened the fridge door, sitting there on the side shelf in all its glory, was a brand new jug of milk that The Captain had grabbed on his way home from work yesterday. A captain and a hero, clearly.
I poured the deliciously fresh milk into my tea and sat down to revel in my enjoyment of it. It was going to be a good day.