I may have been an Anglophile all my life, but that doesn’t mean I was always a tea drinker. From the time I was old enough to start sneaking caffeinated beverages until about age 24, I was a coffee person. I really didn’t much care about quality – probably because my parents drank instant coffee all my life – as long as it had caffeine and was made with coffee beans, I was on board. I loved driving to Starbucks with my friends during summer vacations in college, but more because it got me out of the house and provided me with somewhere arguably cool to spend my evenings. I’d usually order a non-fat decaf latte. It was more about the company and the atmosphere than the beans. As for tea, well, that wasn’t even on my radar screen. In college I got to be dependent on a cup of coffee in the morning. I discovered that it got me going after long nights of
gossiping with my sorority sisters kissing frat boys studying. Spring semester of my junior year, I got the idea that I was going to quit coffee, and I did for a few months. Then I started my summer internship after junior year and realized that quitting coffee was not an option… at least, not when my days were filled with data entry for a survey on New York State employees’ sick leave use.
Coffee saw me through the LSATs, law school applications, senior year in college and two years of law school. It was the quiet friend in the background. I never gave it much thought; it was just there, part of my morning routine. Then, during my third year of law school, I participated in an international moot court competition. I tended to put a lot of pressure on myself before moot court arguments and frequently found myself hit with terrible anxiety stomachaches. After some not-so-subtle hinting from a friend and teammate, I began to realize that coffee was exacerbating my stomachaches, but peppermint tea seemed to soothe them. After our last competition, the whole team got sick – I attribute it to the adrenaline crash after a very intense experience; I always used to get sick after exams, too. For two weeks I was practically floored by a very nasty cold. Staying home from school was not an option; I had to catch up after months of focusing on moot court to the detriment of everything else. On my way to class I would stop by Au Bon Pain and order the only thing that sounded good to me: a large chamomile tea. I spent most of those two weeks in the law library, with a box of tissues and that chamomile tea next to me. The chamomile really did make me feel better. I was amazed.
After law school, I started working for the federal government in a two-year clerkship program. For some reason, my office was freezing cold most of the time – winter and summer alike. I would wrap myself in a sweater and try to type with gloves on, even in July in D.C. When the cold got to be too much for me to stand, I’d run upstairs to a snack bar on the fourth floor, where the sweet cashier would always let me have a cup of hot water for free. I’d bring it down to my office and steep a cup of Republic of Tea Wild Blueberry black tea. Meanwhile, at that job, I started to become close to a few of my coworkers – to three women in particular, one of whom was a tea connoisseur. We started to meet in her office each morning for tea – she brewed black tea from loose leaves, poured it into travel cups, and sent us off to start our days with a perfect cup of tea. It was through this particular friend that I began to really appreciate the flavors and complexity of tea, and to learn that the flavors and aromas of loose tea are so often far superior to bagged tea. Another new work friend introduced me to Teaism and I started going for lunch regularly. Soon I began brewing my own loose tea at my desk in the afternoons, although I still started my days with black coffee at home and favored herbal tea over black or green.
When my clerkship ended and I left the government for a private firm, I was only really sad about one thing – no more tea with my friends every day. And I knew I had to carry my tea ritual to my new workplace, even if it was just me brewing tea in my office alone. I couldn’t contemplate starting the workday without a comforting cup of tea. So I continued brewing loose tea at my desk, and my new coworkers – committed coffee drinkers, for the most part – might mock gently, but they do enjoy the cups of perfectly brewed tea that I am always glad to share. Being in a new office, and no longer able to stop by my friend’s office for a cup of black tea in the morning, I had to start stocking some caffeinated teas in addition to my favorite herbal blends. As I explored more and more black and green tea flavors, I started to enjoy and appreciate them to a new extent. Gradually, it occurred to me that if I skipped my morning coffee, I could drink more tea. I could replace that one cup of coffee with two cups of tea – even black tea – and not have to worry about bouncing off the walls all day. I stopped drinking coffee except on the weekends, and I started looking forward to my morning tea much more than I ever looked forward to my coffee. Sometimes I even fell asleep thinking about which tea I should have the next morning. Eventually, I stopped wanting coffee at all – although I like it fine, I’d always rather have tea. These days, I don’t even bother with coffee more than once a month or so.
Yes, over the past few years, I have grown into a full-fledged tea fanatic. I’ve tried out different flavors and varietals, shopped for tea with my bestie, R, a tea fanatic herself, and discovered what I really love (fruit-, nut- or vanilla-flavored black teas and just about any herbal infusion) and what I’m growing to love (most green teas). I became obsessed with Teaism here in D.C. I traveled to England, where I had afternoon tea in the Lake District, experienced how pleasant it is to stop in a pub for a pot of tea when you’re soaked through by the rain, and took high tea in the Orangerie at Kensington Palace (pinky in the air, natch). I brought tea home from the Harrods food hall in London, and from Mariage Freres (my all-time favorite tea, to which R introduced me and for which I will be forever in her debt) in Paris.
Nowadays, I start almost every morning with a pot of black or green tea at my desk at work, and I end just about every day with another little pot of herbal tea at home. I’m always on the lookout for new flavors and infusions to try, and I can’t resist bringing some tea home with me from vacations. It’s not that I dislike coffee – I don’t – but I’ve come to much prefer tea. I love the vast variety of flavors and aromas that I find in teas… the cuddly ritual of brewing a pot of tea from loose leaves… the feeling of intense comfort and well-being I get from opening up my tea cupboard and looking at all my favorites stored neatly within… the way my first pot of tea eases me gently into my day every morning without fail. And whether I’m having high tea in London or brewing myself a small pot of Etoile de France (my favorite Mariage Freres tea), or just sipping a soothing cup of peppermint tea on a rainy afternoon, I always take time to appreciate the aromas, the warmth, and the ritual of my favorite beverage. (Tied with wine, of course.) The girl who eschewed tea in favor of black coffee has seen the error of her ways. I am, and will forever be, a tea person.