Thewinter of 2001 reared its mild, rain-drenched head in late October. For me winteris less about an exact day on the calendar and more about the state of mind thataccompanies it. Each season invokes in me a new attitude. Spring has beenhistorically a time of languor and laziness as the school year comes to a close;summer, a time of musical enrichment and self-searching; fall a season of death,as the days get shorter and trees turn to naked frames of their former selves. Myinner reaction to winter has always been based on seclusion for a few reasons:the reduced daylight and the inclement weather that keeps me indoors; the forcedgaiety and commercialization of Christmas that leaves me feelingmorose.
My mother always kept a private stock of hot chocolate for ourreturn from sledding, and little by little I began to resent the young Swiss girl
for telling me that what I was drinking was "chocolate." When Ivoiced my grievances one snowy afternoon, my mother offered an alternative:"Well, fine then, have some tea." She said it with exaggeratedhospitality, and I, calling her bluff but not in any way intending to drink it,agreed to a cup of generic orange pekoe.
I followed the instructions:"Brew one tea bag in one cup of boiling water. Steep five minutes, more forflavor." It smelled good. It probably tasted good, too. Still, there was aconcern that if I took part in this cup of tea, I would become every Britishnoble who ever turned his nose up at a half-burned crumpet. I took a sip andlooked around, making sure that any witnesses would know I was justexperimenting. My first reaction was cautious; I didn't take a follow-up sipuntil I was sure that the aftertaste of the first was pleasing. It was verypleasing, and before I knew it I was gulping it, disregarding temperature anddregs. When the cup was empty, I brewed a second, then a third and afourth.
My guilty pleasure became an obsession, and soon I was doingeverything in my power to get my tea fix. I would accompany my mother to thestore on the premise that I was there to help, but instead I would set up camp inthe cereal/tea aisle. With each visit, I would sneak a new box into the cart.After two months I had nearly three dozen boxes of tea bags and five bags ofloose tea. I had already begun to appreciate the subtle flavor of the green teas,and I fell in love with the thin yet satisfying allure of the Indian Assam loosetea, and adored the sweet aftertaste of the lemon varieties.
With thisnewfound love of tea came a sobering realization - I had become the tea snob Ihad feared in the first place. The transformation was slow, but noticeable. Istarted to turn up my nose at restaurants' Lipton and Tetley teas, and insteadwould bring my own Green Ceylon, imported from Japan.
"Don't youhave any imports? Even a Spanish Regale would suffice." My pleas wereanswered with an eye roll or a look of total confusion. Sometimes both.
"Coffee or tea, sir?" the attendant would ask.
"No,thanks, pal, I don't like coffee, and that's not real tea." I didn't evenrealize how I was acting, all I knew was that I found comfort in the actual andfigurative warmth tea provided.
When summer rolled around, I found that mysnobbiness was not seasonal. When my family started to buy iced tea, I took it asa personal insult and brewed my own batches of regular and sun tea. As myexperience in brewing grew, my family members drank my teas, and commented on myprogress. I still refuse to drink canned iced tea, even when it is the onlybeverage available.
When my average hot and cold tea intake was up toabout six cups a day, my mother warned me that too much tea could result inkidney stones. When I learned more about kidney stones and the pain involved, Icurbed my tea habit sharply to one glass a day, iced or hot. This has taught meto relish and value the tea I allot myself. I still savor even the dregs when Iindulge in a cup of loose Formosa Oolong, and with my daily intake reduced, Iappreciate each swallow.
Now when winter approaches, I no longer despairin the quickening dark, nor the forced jolliness of the holiday season. When Ifind myself feeling glum with the colder months and all they represent, I drownmy troubles in one warm cup of water at a time, steeping a bag of OrientalMandarin Orchard for five minutes, or more for flavor.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.