Monday, November 19, 2012

The Desk Chair: Tea Time

My dear friend Molly, who currently resides in the United Kingdom, suggested I make a wee posting on tea. I will oblige. Noblesse oblige. Cheryl Tiegs. Cheryl... Tea-gs? This is weird. 

Anyway, I have a complicated relationship with tea. As a devoted coffee drinker, my usual attitude is that of quiet indifference. But as a singer, an Anglophile, and a quasi-adherent to natural remedies, I occasionally feel a strong compulsion to partake. Have I been seen purchasing absurdly expensive teas from my local health food store? Yes, yes I have. Did I have a tea set as a child? You betcha. Have I turned to tea in times of crisis? Absolutely. 

Actually, the more I think about, tea has actually played quite an important role in my life. And here I was thinking about it as nothing more than the lesser hot caffeinated beverage. Jokes aside for a minute, when I look back on a particularly horrible day in college when a serious tragedy caused a great deal of grief among my friends, one of the things I remember most vividly is gathering together and drinking tea. It was the only thing to do. It couldn't be coffee, it couldn't be food, but it had to be something. It never occurred to me how completely British that was. It's amazing the elements of culture we hang on to without even realizing it. Last Christmas, my mother was desperate for the perfect whistling tea kettle. I honestly can't picture my mother ever drinking a cup of tea. But something about a whistling tea kettle is comforting to her. Lately, when my hands have been cold here in the office, I've taken to getting myself a mug of tea. Less for drinking, more for hand warming. But it's always Constant Comment because it's the tea I grew up with (that I don't recall my mother ever drinking) and I find it soothing. (I also made a joke in the kitchen one day about loving it so much that I commented on it constantly. Only in a sterile office workplace would that joke kill. And it did.) 

The list goes on. On my 21st birthday, my parents took me to high tea at the Four Seasons in Boston- one of five memorable tiny-sandwich-tea-times I've experienced in my life. (Gross, how outrageously wasp of me.) In Indiana, my girlfriends and I had a cherished tradition (for like, a year) of Tuesday Night Tea. And obviously there's the whole Boston Tea Party/birth of America thing. Tea! It's everywhere!

Literally. I'm sure we would all have guessed that China is the world's top producer of tea (and, you know, everything else). But would you have guessed that Turkey and Iran also make the top ten? Or Kenya and Argentina? I would have ignorantly assumed it all came from countries in the Asia-Pacific area. But one thing is clear: from Chai to Oolong, from elaborate rituals to every day hospitality- we really are a planet obsessed with tea. Best sentence I've ever written? Probably.* 

Here's an important tea question: Do you believe that "herbal tea" counts as "tea?" I think the purist would make a distinction between real "tea" and "herbal infusions." This topic could get really complicated and I don't care enough to get into it. Peruse the Wikipedia article if you're feeling curious. (General heads-up, if you Google "tea," don't let the existence of the Texas Education Agency, or "TEA," confuse you. Do not pour boiling water over them.) 

Finally, I can't wrap this up without first sharing with you a tea that I HATELapsang Souchong. It is vile. It's like someone liquefied a campfire, but in a bad way. My friend Carl loves it. Carl is an idiot. 

*Best sentence I've read recently: "After gaining 500 feet, I felt like an insect flying over an enormous conveyor belt in a croissant factory." George Steinmetz on sand dunes. 

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