The Plinky writing prompt asks me “Coffee or Tea?” and my immediate response is “tea”. But that’s not actually all that true anymore.
Anybody who knew me in Holland knew me with a cup of tea in my hand and a pot of tea on my table. My grandmother in Bilthoven first tried to get me to like tea as a child, by adding lots of sugar and milk. It was awful. But by age 13 I discovered that I liked tea, weak, without anything added. I started seriously drinking tea when I was 15, in the beginning mainly because I liked the ceremony. My best friend introduced me to making tea (my parents being exclusively coffee people), lighting the candle of the tea warmer, and sitting and enjoying the aromatic steam of a hot cup of tea in the privacy of her bedroom. Twinings Earl Grey, to be exact. It’s still my favorite.
I started the day with a cup of tea. At some point I had even set up a coffee maker on a timer next to my bed, so I could have a cup of tea before I got up. In library school the married couple that ran the canteen would give me a free cup every now and then (there’s no such thing as free refills in Holland), because I managed to down three cups in a fifteen minute break, twice a day, every day. Consider it a wholesale discount, they said. If I was at home all day, I would go through about six pots of tea. I was on crutches twice in my twenties, due to a torn ligament in my ankle, and when my parents visited to see if I needed any help, I proudly demonstrated how I could make a pot of tea in the kitchen, put it on a tray on the edge of the carpet in the living room, and carefully, in between hops, inch it with one crutch toward the sofa, where I could place it on the tea warmer.
America has changed me, and perhaps nowhere more noticeably than in my tea-drinking habits. They are no more. I try to hang on to that identity, as you can tell by my blog avatar, but I don’t think I’ve made more than 50 pots of tea in the seventeen years that I’ve lived here. That would be the equivalent of ten days of tea in Holland. And most of those pots I didn’t even drink completely.
In South Texas it was just too damn hot. When I arrived in early February 1994, it was already in the 80s, and it quickly got up to the 90s and 100s; it didn’t get down to a comfortable temperature until Thanksgiving, and it only lasted a week. But your house had air-conditioning, you say. Yeah. I had the house at a comfortable temperature, but even then I broke out into a sweat if I drank more than one cup of tea. Somehow it just wasn’t the same. For a while I drank ice tea, but it doesn’t compare. Gone were the days when all stress flowed away the moment I leaned back in a chair with a hot cup of tea held under my nose, breathing in the soothing vapors of Earl Grey.
After 12 years in the sauna of South Texas, we moved to Austin, where the temperature is reasonable except in the summer. But it’s too late, it seems. Every so often I find myself making a pot of tea, placing it on the tea warmer, enjoying the gezelligheid the little scene exudes, thinking I should do this more often. Then I pour one cup, but I forget about the rest. It just doesn’t occur to me anymore. Or I don’t feel like I can take the time to relax and enjoy it. I don’t know, but it’s sad. An important part of my Dutch life that I lost and haven’t replaced with anything that’s remotely the equivalent.
Maybe I’ll put it on my to-do list: get re-addicted to hot tea. It may affect our propane bill in the summer, but the fact that hot tea helps me keep my cool might just make it worthwhile.