by Madeleine Brown
My relationship to tea transformed in my second year of university. Prior to that year I questioned the purpose of barely flavoured warm water. (Secretly I blame my mother who throughout my childhood and even now insists upon steeping tea no longer than 5.46 seconds and letting it cool to a useless temperature.) However, that January I returned to my dorm room after a flight from Glasgow particularly dehydrated and for some reason all that could quench my thirst was Tazo brand chai tea. I unearthed my white bunny rabbit teapot from several Christmases ago and boiled pot after pot of the stuff. Eventually, my dehydration ceased, but my newly discovered passion for tea didn’t. A pot of chai tea joined my team of breakfast regulars, that is a bowl of oatmeal and an apple.
Sure, I suddenly saw a purpose in tea, but my understanding of it was limited to a single brand and flavour. Then I unintentionally landed a summer internship in the hospitality department of a three hundred year old British department store famous for its preserves, Knickbocker Glories, Scotch eggs and, yes, tea.
During my first two weeks shadowing the managers of their tea salon—it’s everything every tourist pictures English afternoon tea to be—my respect for the beverage truly developed. First it was the 20-page tea list with the paragraph-long description of each variety, then the silverware and accessories that the tea was served in and finally the opportunity to have afternoon tea itself. The manager allowed me to have it at the beginning of a shift with a longstanding and beloved server, an Italian woman with a passion for homemade pasta. The Welsh rarebit, scones and pâtisseries were all certainly delightful, but the—prepare yourself for longest name for a variety of tea ever—tumsong tumsa devi temple exclusive seduced me. I can’t imagine I selected it without some consultation, but as promised it presented hints of apricot, lemon and orange with an underlying crispness. I marvelled at its complexity.
From that day forward I strived to try as many varieties of tea as the stored stocked and served—which in all honesty is a near impossible task. I drank multiple cups a day from the staff canteen and then bought as many discounted tins as I could from the staff shop. I lost interest in simple chai. (I’m sure partly because of the disdain the tea salon manager displayed when I mentioned it.) Aromatic black teas remained my favourite variety though—just not chai specifically.
Once I polished off the tins I bought back to Canada, I shopped around for a replacement. Nothing sufficed, so I put in requests to family whenever they make trips to London. When I’m between tins and given my disappointment with any of the speciality options available in Canada, I enjoy Typhoo, the cheapest of the cheapest green tea or simply steeped mint leaves. I drink upwards of three pots a day. My white bunny rabbit teapot has since lost both ears and bares a light brown hue. It accompanies me throughout my apartment. I can’t imagine a life without tea. (I mean I can certainly live without orange pekoe, but that’s another post in itself.) There’s no beverage I drink more regularly, nor that challenges and excites me as tea does. Coffee and wine will never do, for me just tea.