By Amy McCollom
I have never been a coffee drinker. It’s not that I didn’t try. When I was a kid, everything that my dad ate or drank, I had to try too. With that said, I can also attest to the fact that I am not a big fan of buttermilk. My dad would drink it by the quart.
No matter how Dad would doctor it up, I never liked the taste of coffee. And I so wanted to like it. I wanted to do everything my dad did; climb trees, go rabbit hunting, eat squirrel and turtle and sauerkraut, hop over fences in the woods, run up hills and hollers, drink tomato juice and pickle juice, catch my own fish and take it off the hook myself. I did all of that. But I never could like coffee.
Now tea, that was a whole other story. I loved it and still do. My mom was the tea drinker. Mind you, I didn’t say tea-totaller. Wink. I remember waking up on Saturday mornings to the sound of a spoon swirling inside a stoneware mug. Three swirls and one tap. Then she would sip. Soft conversation between my mom and dad was comforting as a kid. I would hear dad fill his cup again, and set the heavy filled cup on the table. It had a different sound, like that of a heavy rock that you would drop on the sidewalk. I knew it wasn’t time to get up yet when I heard that and Mom kept stirring her tea. I could still lay there in my warm covers and dream another dream or two.
On those Saturday mornings when things were slower, and Mom had left the tea out within reach, I could talk Dad into pouring me a cup. I loved the fragrance, and the magic of watching the water turn auburn brown right before my eyes. Lipton was Mom’s favorite tea. I was allowed two teaspoons of sugar from the pink melamine sugar bowl. It was just enough. I would sip it from the spoon until it was cool enough to sip from the edge of the cup. It made me feel grown up and privileged. I loved the taste of hot tea, and the feelings that came with it.
Today, I still can’t handle the taste of coffee, and tea is still my favorite hot drink. I have learned that there are a lot more benefits to tea than just a beverage. There are also a lot of pleasing rituals to the simple making of tea that enhance the total tea experience and enjoyment.
Traditional teapots and real china teacups just make for a better tasting cup of tea and a truer tea drinking experience. It’s more personal and intimate. Chinese tea versus English tea is quite different and appeals to different people and tastes. I prefer the English teas, myself. Certain teas, like certain coffees, tend to be stronger, or milder, flavored, or have lasting notes. Some teas are herbal and have no caffeine at all while others are mixed with black tea and do have caffeine. There are also an entire assortment of other colors of teas in the green family, and in the white family that have lesser degrees of caffeine, and offer different health benefits. I have tried quite a few of them.
I guess there is a tea for whatever mood or taste you are in; and like coffee, there are many things you can add to regular tea that can customize the flavor to enhance the taste as well. A lot of people enjoy their black tea with a touch of milk. It makes for a creamy drink, that is less strong and seems more dessert-like. If you like cinnamon like I do, you can add a spoon full of Red Hots candy to a hot cup of tea for that spicy cinnamon flavor. Caramels add a creamy flavor, as do chocolates. Whatever flavor you want to try, it doesn’t hurt to try it once. You might discover your new favorite drink, or if not, no one has to know.
Does brand matter? Sometimes. I think with some things, you get what you pay for. With tea, I believe that is true. One of my favorite brands of tea is Bigelow. It is an American company created by Ruth Campbell Bigelow in 1945 in her kitchen. She wanted to create America’s first specialty tea. Her first tea was a success; it is called Constant Comment. It is great for fall and the holidays, as it blends black tea with orange rind, clove, and other sweet spices in a perfect blend. It reminds me of Christmas. I love their English Breakfast tea, which is a strong black tea that means business and helps start your day. The Darjeeling they offer is a smooth fragrant light blend that is a lot like Lipton but has just a lingering “roundness,” if you will. There is also one called English Teatime, which is a rich tea for any time of day, and is a perfect afternoon pick-me-up tea. They make a very well-balanced Earl Grey that isn’t too perfumey, as some lesser brands can tend to be. My daughter Portia favors the Earl Grey. Lately, as I mentioned, I have been enjoying the Cinnamon Stick tea, which I add a spoonful or two of Red Hots candy to add extra heat and cinnamon. It is very tasty and would be excellent for a cool fall night or even a weiner roast or outdoors event.
If caffeine is a no-no, then my choice would be Celestial Seasonings teas. Any of the fruit teas are excellent. I especially like the lemon, blueberry, and raspberry. Sometimes around the holidays, Celestial Seasonings will come out with specialty holiday teas that are really, really good. One year they came out with a Sugar Plum Fairy tea that was so good I have looked for it every year since, but to no avail, sadly.
If you don’t have heartburn too often, then I would suggest a chai tea, but they are a bit spicy. One that I prefer most, which is sort of a drink mix, and not necessarily a tea, is Oregon Chai. It comes in a small canister and is a powder mix, but is labeled as Chai Tea Latte. I get the original. It is rather tasty. It does seem to keep me awake, however. So, there’s that.
Well, I hope on these cool fall mornings, you decide to try a hot cup of tea. Try something new. Add a splash of milk, maybe. Slowly swish your spoon around, and dream about fishing in a quiet stream. Enjoying a cup of tea slows down the mind, and the body, and the soul. So pull that warm blanket up around you, and dream another dream or two. If I’m not busy, perhaps I can join you.