“I like the pause that tea allows.” – Waris Ahluwalia
Drinking tea makes me happy. Having been raised in the Deep South, for a very long time I only knew tea to have a dark brown hue and a flavor profile akin to pancake syrup. My maternal grandmother made the absolute best sweetened iced tea or sweet tea. Sometimes she would put perfectly cut lemon slices in the pitcher of sweet tea to give us a concoction bursting with southern charm. I cannot remember if she has made any recently – I would not know given the infrequency with which Larry and I visit Alabama nowadays.
As I have gotten older, I deliberately seek out tea for many different reasons. An alternative to plain filtered water. Hydration. Relaxation. Reading. Concentration. Warmth. Thought-provoking conversations. I no longer taint it with a heaping of sugar or artificial sweetener. I have become more knowledgeable of various flavor profiles teas offer. I drink hot tea mostly, only switching to iced during the toastiest days of the summer.
There is tea to cleanse the liver. Relax one’s psyche. Usher in a restful slumber. Larry and I have ritualized drinking chamomile tea near bedtime, as we do with flossing and brushing out teeth. I was introduced to tea as a child in Alabama via Lipton, never Luizianne. It was brew hot, steeped with lots of white sugar. Tons of stirring created liquid gold or bronze I suppose. Two decades later, I drink tea steeped from bags made by several companies. Tazo. Teavana. Pukka. Mighty Leaf. Numi Organic Tea. Traditional Medicinals. Celestial Seasonings. Yogi. The Tao of Tea.
Learning Sweet Tea Was Not Universal
As a student at the University of Alabama, I declared electrical engineering as a major. This resulted from the coercion of my father, select high school teachers, and a smattering of others who thought I had what it took to become an engineer. Initially, I thought I had it too. The rewards of earning a degree in engineering were eye-popping. High salary. Cool projects. Notoriety (even if only among geeks). None of that withstood the frustration and feelings of inadequacy that arose from my struggles with perquisite math courses, the mastery of which being directly tied to a successful engineering career.
I joined a student organization named the National Society of Black Engineers – the 2001 national conference of which fellow members and I attended in Southern California. This excursion was a lot of first for me. First time flying. First time leaving the southeast. First time being so far away from home. First time being in the Pacific Time Zone. First time visiting California. It was also the first time I was in an environment that offered no sweet tea!!! At age 19, I found this abhorrent. I do not remember the name of the Orange County restaurant that broke the news sweet tea was not universal. Yet, I do recall the offensive taste of the sugarless brown water an accommodating server provided after I requested sweet tea.
Honestly, I do not think she even heard “sweet tea” maybe “iced tea.” On the other hand, she may have heard me correctly yet had no clue around how best to fulfill my order. Third, she knew exactly what I wanted given her providing a glass of brown water, a spoon, and packets of white sugar. She nicely informed me sweet tea was unavailable. I remember a sense of confusion around a restaurant not offering sweet tea. Sugar packets? Sweeten it yourself? Chilled black tea is nearly impossible to sweeten. My friends and I found this comical.
Seriously, it was not a big deal. We did not cause a scene. Remember, I was only 19 at the time and had never ventured any farther west than Jackson, Mississippi at this time in my life. The SoCal restaurant revelation was a very minor lesson learned about how regional cuisines and tastes can vary. It was one of many cultural and situational lessons I would absorb as my life gave way to my twenties then my thirties.
To Hell with Sodas
I am currently going through my second and I would venture to blog last bout of personally banning soft drinks of any nature. Regular? Zero? Diet? None of them. This means I wish not to return to drinking them. The first stent of pitching sodas is the longest to-date, a record I am sure to surpass. During that period, I cut out all types of junk food – including fast food meals. I ascribed to the mantra of my meals having at least one green thing on the plate. Steamed veggies. This did not include the fatback drenched, bacon flavored, overly cook produce from the favored southern cuisine of my upbringing.
At the height of my weight training and physical endurance, I lifted the moratorium on soft drinks and fast food for reasons I cannot remember at this time. In lifting my ban, I only went back to drinking Coke Zero, Sprite, and Ginger Ale. Other types of sodas had an unforgivable foul taste.
What the hell does this have to do with my fondness of tea?
Before returning to select soft drinks and junk food, I enacted the aforementioned moratorium while working at Starbucks. As a barista, the coffee giant exposed me to any array of teas. It was during the four years I worked at Starbucks where I developed a habit of drinking hot and iced teas – still heavily sugared – as an alternative to soft drinks. While a small feat, it was the first step toward my unshakable love for tea.
At the outset of 2018, I once again gave soft drinks and most junk food the middle finger.
My Wholehearted Embrace of Tea
Now I drink tea all the time. The only thing I add is honey, which we purchase from the farmers market. While many may find this unremarkable, as a native southerner I know many of my native regional counterparts would view drinking tea with no sugar as uppity in the very least. Lucking I could not care less about such a perspective. I appreciate the different flavor profiles of various teas, seeking them out depending on the setting in which I drink it. The time of day dictates the type of tea I drink as well. I believe there to be a bit of sophistication associated with drinking tea. In the autumn and winter months, I rejoice in sipping a cup of tea while sitting cozily and reading a good book.
Tea not only hydrates, relaxes, and focuses me; it provides a low-calorie source of other nutrients as well.