When I was writing about all the different teas I have tucked away in my cupboard, I realised that part of the reason I particularly savour all the different flavours is that each one was introduced to me by a different person, and when I drink it, I am reminded of them. Tea is the stuff of long conversations with friends around the kitchen table. It is the stuff of family visits accompanied by milk tart or Assorted Bakers biscuits. It is served at important functions, like graduation teas or weddings, or even funerals. You could drink it on your work or tea break while you sit and have a gossip, or, like me in my solitary working state, I enjoy it as it helps the words come out better.
In this way, knowing how someone takes their tea can sometimes be a measure of how well you know them, because if they have been invited into your home, there is a strong chance you will have made tea for them frequently. Everyone has their own tea-drinking quirks. I drink all my tea black (after my mother) with the tea bag still in (at this, my mother thinks I am crazy) but Zwe and his sister take theirs with milk, sugar and not only the teabag still in, but the spoon as well. My father has complicated routine that involved warming up the cup with some plain hot water first, and then using white sugar for tea and brown sugar for coffee (and never the twain shall meet). I know I haven't speant much time with my school friends for a while because I have forgotten how they take their tea when I used to know. This makes me a little sad.
I never used to be much of a tea drinker. The only time I drank tea growing up was when I stayed with my grandmother. The taste of milky, sweet Earl Grey will forever remind me of her neat little cottage in Waterfall Retirement Village. She no longer baked but always made sure there was something sweet for her first granddaughters to eat.
At school, I think the only tea I really took notice of was Paddock tea, mainly because my friend Carmen's father was a tea farmer and as a result, Paddock tea was held in wide esteem in my humble part of the world. Sadly, no one in Paddock makes tea anymore, so if you come across any lingering boxes of the stuff, you should snap it up quickly.
Plain rooibos tea was my procrastination of choice when I was in residence at Rhodes University. Breakfast or lunch or supper would be finished, but if you were still nursing a mug of rooibos from the dining hall stash, then you didn't have to go back to your room and get back to work. Living in the annexe, I would drink the decadent Woolworths Green Tea (everything from Woolworths Food seems decadent if you live in a town without one. Oh yes, Johannesburg readers, they do exist) one of my housemates would bring from Johannesburg, or I would make my own hot drink with honey and lemon. Grahamstown is also bitterly cold in winter, and tea was always a sustaining cordial to get you through the winter (well, that and copious amounts of alcohol. You would be amazed what you can get away with wearing out in winter when some alcohol has warmed you up first).
Twinings tea is all because of my mother and our English holiday at the end of 2009. We shopped until my aunt was horrified that we had come all the way to London to shop (the horror! to be fair to us, I did arrive two days before Christmas and I hadn't done any of my Christmas shopping...) England in winter is just so cold and dark that a flavoured tea can be the last thing between you and full-blown madness.
It is from 2010 onwards that my tea obsession has really taken a solid form. Zwe's sister Zama introduced me to Buchu tea (on one of our annual Summer get-fit drives) and her friend Thabi stayed at the flat one night and brought her own tea (something every sensible tea lover should do). That was when I discovered the marvel that is instant, extra-strong Honey and Ginger Tea. I have sustained myself on that tea when it is late and everyone else is still partying and my alcohol jersey has worn off.
The Chai Tea is something that brings all sorts of people together. Zwe's mother likes it, as does my sister who is my supplier of the delicious stuff. (In some ways, she is my drug dealer, as sugar is my drug of choice any day) She worked in a wonderful little health shop called "The Mustard Seed" in Grahamstown that is the only place I have ever found it that sells it. She and I often let each other know when we are drinking it and it is definitely something us sisters share. I also introduced it to my old friend Christy (we've been friends a whole decade now, whoopee!) the last time we had one of those delicious catch-ups, and she really enjoyed it too.
Some catch-ups in my world occur not in my home, but in the English Department. My one-woman-wonder friend Eva who is currently completing her Phd (along with working three or four other jobs) invited me for tea in the Phd room when I was too broke to go out for some, and we sat and sipped our way through two cups of Laager Green Rooibos, Citrus and Ginger tea. Ah bliss.
The Five Roses Orange and Lemon teas was also introduced to me by friends, Malcolm and his wife Jess when Gwynlyn (another school friend) and I were staying at their newly-wed home in Secunda. It was a revitalising visit for both of us, we speant a lot of time sitting at their table or in their living room just chatting about everything under the sun (and by everything I mean everything, as these three are comprised of two engineers and a geologist) and down time with distant friends is better than a weekend at a spa.
My next tea adventure (I think) will be into leaf tea. I have a teapot and a strainer, and the redoubtable Mrs. Spiller gave me leaf tea for Christmas in two gorgeous boxes: Assam tea and Caramel Rooibos. Perhaps, like my adopted grandmother, Granny Pam, I will learn to tell fortunes in the tea leaves...