I am a fence-sitter when it comes to preferring either coffee or tea – I love them both and consume them both daily. My earliest
memories of coffee’s power to bring people together are from the mid-1970s, when coffee houses sprouted up to support indie musicians who sang to small gatherings of people who drank oodles of coffee. We sat around cotton-draped wooden tables in small downtown cafės and bobbed our heads to the strains of folksy protest songs and felt as though we had really arrived. We were barely old enough to drive, but we were out where it was all happening. We were cool.
But my tea memories run even earlier – and all involve both my grandmothers. Nana was stern and proper, and her tenacity
allowed her to survive a leg amputation after she was run over by a train when she was only five years old. Yes, run over by a train! Her industrial-sized tea mug was steadied on the metal ledge of her artificial leg and, on special occasions, two plain tea biscuits would wait alongside for her dipping and nibbling. Strong black tea gave Nana fortitude and it was a formidable ritual to
Grandma, on the other hand, was large and cosy and bedazzled in all kids of bobbles and bright jewellery. Each tea was poured into fine bone china with matching saucer. But to Grandma, the saucer was a transition spot, a sort of safety stop for the hot sugary liquid to cool a bit before we were allowed to sip it. For years, the dainty cup would sit adjacent to the saucer, a match in their role to provide us kids with a special treat. And for years, I thought that was the sole purpose of the saucer and was surprised when a friend clanged the two together when we drank tea after a dinner out. This was even after my
coffee house days so I was a young adult by this time, and finally discovering how a proper tea service worked.
But in the years since, tea has taken its place as a miracle worker in my life. It can both calm and stimulate, fill or cleanse,
comfort and ignite, lift and ground, be satisfyingly sweet and surprisingly stout – and often all of this at once from the same tea blend. The presence of tea is appropriate at times of joy or sadness, boredom or excitement, grief or celebration. Really, there is no wrong time for tea. And it is never out of place, whether served alongside grand cakes or fire pit weenies. It is truly the perfect liquid.
For me, the words ‘I’ll put the kettle on’ convey warmth, belonging and comfort. Even though I start each day with cups of coffee, it is tea that lifts me up and sets me back down. That said, now when I say ‘I’ll put the kettle on’ as invitation to my friends, what I really mean is ‘I’ll open the wine.’ It, too, has huge community-building properties.
Until next time, enjoy what's in your cup!