Tea has a special place in my heart. When I was a kid, the kettle was always on in our house. Mom never drank coffee or alcohol, or touched cigarettes, but she sipped cups of hot tea all day long. My sisters and I drank it too. Later on in life, I figured out that Mom probably kept us full of tea so we wouldn’t notice we were hungry. Don’t get me wrong – she fed us three times a day. But the portions were small and there was no money for snacks. A quart of orange juice had to be split six ways and last a week. A steak was the size of a small saucer, cut in six pieces. Usually as tough as leather, too, because Mom wasn’t the best cook. But she sure could brew a pot of tea.
We had black tea only. No green tea, spiced tea, or – heaven forbid – herbal tea in our house. Just good old orange pekoe and pekoe cut black tea, in flow-through tea bags. My mother liked hers piping hot. “Bring it to a rolling boil,” she’d say, emphasizing the “rolling” for effect – and to make sure you didn’t misunderstand her. No tepid tea for Mom. She added a lot of sugar and just a drop of milk. Just enough milk, some would say, to tick you off because it hardly seemed worth the effort to get the container out of the fridge. “Let’s just sit and be quiet,” Mom would say. Then she’d stir like crazy and bang the spoon on the rim.
Anything that happened was a reason to boil water for tea. Done with the breakfast dishes? Let’s have a cup of tea. Finished the laundry? Time for a tea break. Someone at the door? Put the kettle on and invite them in. Then let’s all settle in for a long conversation and a hot cup of tea, or two, or three.
Tea is one of the few habits I’ve kept over the years. I still drink it every day, piping hot, like Mom did. No microwave tea for me. I don’t add a lot of sugar though, just a little Splenda and a touch of soy creamer. I do sneak in a green tea bag alongside the black one, but only for the catechins. I let the green bag steep for a minute and take it out and leave the black one in. That way, I get all the antioxidants and that rich black tea flavor. None of that mossy green tea taste for me.
These days, the experts say black tea is good for you as long as you don’t overdo it. Six cups a day was probably a lot for me as a kid because of all the caffeine, but no one knew any better back then. I drink it now because it’s a habit. I drink it for the health benefits. And I drink it because putting the kettle on reminds me to stop what I’m doing every now and then and take a moment for a cup of tea. I sit and be quiet, like my mother did. And sometimes, just for fun, I stir it like crazy and bang the spoon on the rim.
This blog first appeared as a column in the October 14, 2020 Gazette Woodmen Edition.