Tea has been a part of my life since childhood. Between being born into an Armenian family and spending my formative years in London, I was surrounded at an early age by dried leaves of splendor. A cuppa (or cupper) was the beverage of choice when my Mum’s friends dropped by for a quick visit. Likewise, we were served tea when we went visiting. I don’t think I can recall anyone ever saying, “No, thank you. I’ll have a coffee instead.” That, in the pre-Starbucks England of the ’70s to mid ’80s was unheard of.
Tea was everywhere. We saw it on the telly on adverts (commercials) and shows, such as EastEnders. The PG Tips monkeys were very popular and the company ran a long campaign with them (1956-2002). You couldn’t get away from the stuff, not that you’d want to, and drinking tea was as much a part of the day’s activities as breathing.
Of course, there was tea time (otherwise known as afternoon tea) and high tea. We would come home from school and our Mum had tea and iced buns or Bakewell tarts waiting for us. We’d slip out of our school uniforms into our comfort clothes, and enjoy the tea as its steam warmed our hands, cheeks, and noses. That was our tea time, usually around 4 p.m., and we held to it for all our England school days.
Every now and then, we’d have high tea, which is distinguished as more of a meal, something like supper. For high tea, we would have sandwiches, perhaps some fish and vegetables, and, of course, tea with the cosy on the teapot. For us, tea time was almost a daily occurrence; whereas, high tea was occasional. I remember both very fondly.
Less tasty was my first venture with iced tea. My younger sister and I made it on a whim, after viewing an American evening soap opera, perhaps Dallas or Dynasty. In any case, we knew iced tea was an American phenomenon and, thus, it had the allure of glamour. There we were in our kitchen, measuring the water, dropping in the teabag, waiting for it to cool, and adding in a few ice cubes. Maybe we didn’t brew it correctly, or, more likely, our taste buds weren’t used to it, but we were disgusted at the first sip. Everything about it seemed wrong–from pouring tea into a glass instead of a cup or mug to watching the ice cubes bob away. We couldn’t understand how Americans could suffer the stuff. We thought they were as nutty as their behavior on the soap operas indicated. Many years later, I’ve grown to love iced tea and it is my cold (non-alcoholic) beverage of choice.
Nostalgia aside, I like the associations that tea carries with it. Coffee has a place in my household, and its aroma is delicious. However, I find that coffee is almost always linked with caffeine addiction and getting through a tedious workday.
Tea tends to have more positive connotations.
Tea is healthy. When was the last time you heard anyone state, “Yeah, the doctor said I had to give up tea”? Probably never. Tea has proven medicinal benefits, such as protection against heart disease and types of cancer. My Mum would serve us mint tea when our stomachs hurt, and, many years later to this day, the smell of mint tea conjures the same loving feeling that I felt as a child. Beyond my Mum’s herbal remedies is scientific proof in Dr. Oz’s article about the benefits of tea. In fact, “there doesn’t seem to be a downside to tea,” says American Dietetic Association spokeswoman, Katherine Tallmadge, MA, RD, LD. You can read more about the types of teas and their health benefits here.
Another wonderful attribute is that tea is communal and comforting. You offer a cup of tea to soothe shaken nerves or for warmth. People ponder and reflect and commiserate while having a cup. Even young children play tea party, where they mimic the hospitality of serving and sharing tea. Within many countries (China, Japan, India, Afghanistan, for example), the sharing of tea is ritualized. Some rituals are for more formal occasions, such as the Chinese wedding tea ceremony, and others are honor-bound, such as the offering of tea to guests. People share it, and that’s one of the many things that makes tea so lovely.