My name is Lea Wait, and I drink tea. That’s right. No coffee. No soda (although the protagonist in my mystery series is devoted to her Diet Pepsi). And since January is (yes, really!) National Hot Tea Month, it seemed a good topic for today’s blog.
I probably inherited my love of tea from my grandmother. A Scot from Edinburgh through and through, despite the fact that she’d been born in Boston in 1890, her life had taken her back and forth to “the auld country” often as a child. For her, no afternoon was complete without tea. It didn’t necessarily have to include shortbread or scones … but sometimes it did. And since my grandparents lived with my parents and sisters and I for most of my childhood, I have warm memories of coming home from school and enjoying a cup of hot tea (with milk and a teaspoonful of sugar) with my grandmother.
And we had wonderful tea. As a young child I knew that every Christmas we would get an unmarked carton of tea (in bags) from one of my grandmother’s brothers. I was a teenager before I understood that this was, indeed, “special tea.” I have no idea what kind of black tea it was. It was a private blend. You see, that great-uncle who sent us the tea each year had (yes, I’m telling the truth) invented the tea bag. Somewhere in my family files I have a copy of the patent, which I believe was dated in the 1930s. His name was William Patterson, should you want to check it out. And Uncle Bill had sold his patent to Lipton, who, as part of the deal, agreed to send him select tea each year for the rest of his life.
That annual tea supply in my house ended when my grandmother died … but her brother lived to be 98. That’s a lot of tea bags. And I’ll admit I was spoiled. I never got used to most brands (including Lipton) of “supermarket tea.”
In high school, sitting on the floor in candle-lit darkness and listening to Bob Dylan with my friends, we all drank coffee. Me included. But I sipped it slowly and suffered shortly after from stomach pains. It was hard to be a rebel when you didn’t drink coffee, though, so I kept trying.
By the time I got to college I was a bit smarter, and had officially given up coffee experimentation. My drink was tea, although the water in Pittsburgh, where I went to school, tasted awful, so I added Diet Pepsi to my list of approved drinks for those four years.
When I started working at a corporation, coffee, again, was the politically acceptable drink. Water (hot or cold) or tea had not yet appeared in conference rooms. It was coffee. I was already obvious enough — I was usually the only woman in the room — so I filled my cup with plain water or milk, if it was available, and at meeting breaks (“coffee breaks,” of course) I’d head to the company cafeteria where they did have tea.
By the time I left the corporation, 30 years later, tea was always available at conferences and meetings, and, although there still weren’t too many of us drinking it, the biggest danger was putting a tea bag in a cup and then pouring hot coffee on top of it. Usually the carafe of hot water was unmarked. Most recently, when I was at Bouchercon last fall, I did that again. And a fellow tea drinker watched, sympathized … and offered to share his tea bag with me. (They were running low.) A truly generous soul! But I carry my own now. Just in case.
Today, sitting in my study in Maine, I’ve expanded my tea preferences. I begin my day with a cup of blueberry green tea, with added lemon juice. (For a couple of years I only drank green tea. Perhaps virtuous, but, especially in winter, I missed black tea.) Now my noon cup may either be green or black. Perhaps Earl Gray. Mid-afternoon calls for caffeine, so that cup is definitely black tea. But any caffeine after 4 p.m. ensures that I won’t sleep well that night, so after then I move to herb teas. “Sleepy time” or chamomile when I’m trying to relax. Red or Lemon zinger if I’m still working. Or maybe another cup of green tea. In the summer, of course, I brew my own iced tea: a mixture of black and herb teas. And on a very cold winter’s afternoon, I’ve been known to add a touch of brandy to my mid-afternoon black tea.
Today others have discovered the joys of tea, and any supermarket has diverse and wonderful selections. Happily, studies have also shown that teas of all kinds have varying amounts of anti-0xidents, and might even help in weight loss. I haven’t noticed any major differences … but, then, tea has always been a part of my life.
I suspect it always will be. So … Happy Hot Tea Month!