Water and Leaves

Ever since I was young, I’ve enjoyed a cup of tea. Unfortunately my parents don’t really know what kind of teas we have in our cupboards. And yes, there are two cupboards to look for tea. One has tea bags in boxes that are clearly labeled–Cozy Chamomile, Lemon & Honey, etc.–and another full of beautiful metal canisters with mysterious leaves that turn into fantastic Chinese tea. If asked what tea she’s drinking, my mom simply shrugs her shoulders and continues sipping the steaming liquid.

Glasses of loose Chinese tea. Courtesy of ESGreen

But I was raised to drink tea, in what I now associate as the Chinese way, with nothing in it. Simply hot water and dried leaves or flowers. None of this milk and sugar nonsense. I realize that’s incredibly ethnocentric as the Chinese are not the only ones who drink their tea so simply but I am Chinese and began the association when I was quite young! Also, we are the ones who accidentally discovered it… On rainy days or simply when I was feeling down, a glass of Chinese tea with the leaves floating about was sure to warm me up and bring a smile.

Then I started to work backstage and as my experience grew, so did my role. I began as a simple techie who viewed actors with disdain. Why were they always late? Why could I recite their lines for them? And why in the world could they never find the light to stand in? Eventually I took on a more varied role, became a stage manager of sorts and learned of the magic of tea and honey. It doesn’t only help with the throat–apple juice is also good because it’s slightly acidic to help clear the throat but sweet enough to soothe as well–but tastes pretty fantastic as well. There’s something about cupping a warm beverage and letting the steam wash over your face that is terribly comforting.

And now, after a semester in London, I have learned to accept that some teas simply need a little boost to bring it to its best. Breakfast tea is delicious, full-bodied and smooth but with a little milk and one sugar cube, it’s a marvelously sweet wake up call. English breakfast tea is generally a blend of black teas (most commonly included are Assam & Ceylon, but others can be added to the mix). Fruit teas are generally best when iced but a warm cup of apple tea with a little cinnamon makes the nose tingle and tongue happy. In complete honesty, I normally dislike fruit teas. They might smell fantastically similar to the fruit but the flavor tends to become lost in the tea base–which is usually black tea. Stronger fruits–such as apple or strawberry or orange–work better than say, key lime. Earl Grey and Afternoon tea just aren’t quite right without milk and sugar. And some teas can leave a drinker quite parched.

The tea I've bought with me

So, now that I’ve returned to my oblivious, tea-loving family, I have picked up the habit of adding milk and sugar when drinking breakfast or afternoon tea. Everytime I receive the comment “You’ve become British!”, I smile a little. The very fact that I’m drinking so much tea supports the comment. It can’t be denied so I just take it all in stride and maybe with a little pride.

I still don’t add anything to my Asian teas. In fact, I still cringe when I see someone adding sugar to their green tea as I simply don’t understand. There’s such a subtle flavor and smell that it’s simply covered by the sugar! But I also know that people cringe when they see me take a piping hot cup and drink the scalding liquid because sometimes I’m just too excited. To each their own! I prefer to enjoy the drink at all flavor levels. Tea is weak in the beginning and builds as it stands and I love tasting the development. I will probably always prefer Asian teas; after all, they’re ready so much faster because you don’t have to add anything!

One day I’ll learn to appreciate masala chai tea with the ginger in it but that might have to be on some other tea adventure. And, hopefully, I’ll stumble upon more teas to try. Maybe I’ll even find more combinations to satisfy me.

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