Everyone who’s ever asked me out for coffee has quickly discovered I never order coffee, I always order tea. That’s because the only way I’ll drink coffee is if it has three sugars and half a pint of cream in it. In other words, it has to taste like coffee ice cream, with probably twice as many calories. Tea, however, I can drink black – with only one teaspoon of sugar.
The first time I drank tea, I was eight years old and my grandmother made it for me. It had enough sugar in it to instantly destroy my teeth. But I guess she thought all of the calcium in the heavy cream she also added to it would counteract the tooth decay. Anyway, from that point on, I was hooked.
Back then, just about everyone drank one of three brands of tea: Tetley, Lipton or Salada. They were plain black teas, nothing fancy or flavored, nothing herbal. My favorite soon became Lipton. I drank it with cream and sugar in it until I was in my mid-20s. Then I switched over to artificial sweetener and non-dairy creamer, thinking they were healthier for me. The powdered creamer I was using, however, turned out to have a bunch of stuff in it that clogged arteries faster than if I’d poured bacon grease into my teacup.
Over the years, I tried other brands and types of teas in various flavors, but I always went back to my trusty Lipton. Then, I took a trip to England and found out what tea really should taste like. Every morning during my stay in England, I was served tea in bed, and it was the best thing I’d ever tasted. So the minute I returned home, I rushed to the supermarket and bought a box of English breakfast tea, logically thinking it was the same tea I’d been served for breakfast in England.
Believe me, it wasn’t. Not even close.
That’s when it dawned on me that the entire time I was in England, I never once saw a tea bag. The tea always was brewed in a pot. So, because I still was so eager to replicate that delicious tea, I bought some loose tea and a teapot…and proceeded to brew something that looked like rusty water with specks of dirt floating in it. It tasted even worse than it looked.
So it’s been Lipton tea bags for the past 40 years. My friends, however, seem determined to expand my tea horizons, because for the past four Christmases, I have received a gift called “The 12 Teas of Christmas,” from different people. This year was no exception. I didn’t even have to unwrap the gift to know what was inside, I’m so familiar with the shape and size of the box. The teas included such flavors as ginger peach, cinnamon plum, Christmas spice, apricot, Japanese green tea and Earl Grey, whoever he is.
The tea bags, four of each flavor, are beautifully boxed. But I haven’t even removed the cellophane wrapper from the last three boxes, mainly because after I tasted the first three of the 12 Teas of Christmas, I was pretty sure I’d never want to taste the other nine. I guess when it comes to tea, my palate is, well… unsophisticated. And the worst part is, the “use by” date is always the next October, so I can’t re-gift the box of Christmas teas to someone who really might enjoy them next Christmas…not unless they celebrate it in September.
Even getting a cup of plain tea in restaurants lately has become a challenge for me. For example, in one place where I ordered a cup of tea, I was given a cup of hot water and a ceramic container of assorted tea bags. I leafed through them and saw flavors like hibiscus, peppermint bark, pumpkin spice and cardamom cinnamon.
“Don’t you have any plain black tea?” I finally asked the server.
The look she gave me made me feel as if I’d just asked her to brew me another cup of tea using water from the toilet.
“I’m sure you’ll find a flavor from our selection that will please you,” she said, smiling tightly.
“Plain black tea pleases me,” I said.
At another restaurant, I was served my cup of tea and took a big sip of it. It tasted kind of like spoiled oranges.
“There’s something wrong with my tea,” I told the server. “It has a weird taste to it.”
“It’s Earl Grey,” she said. “It has a hint of oil of bergamot in it.”
She made it sound as if having an oily teabag was supposed to be a good thing. I had no clue what oil of bergamot was, but I suspected it had been squeezed out of old oranges.
“Can I switch it for some plain black tea?” I asked the server.
“This is the only tea we have,” she said. “Everyone thinks it’s an improvement.”
As far as I was concerned, this Earl Grey guy wasn’t improving a thing. I wanted my Lipton – or even Tetley or Salada – back.
So this Christmas, I once again received The 12 Teas of Christmas, along with an additional gift box of Teas of the World, which included such tempting flavors as toasted coconut, organic dandelion, rose hip and fennel. They sounded like something I should plant in the garden rather than drink.
Fortunately, I was in a store the other day and spotted, to my delight, a sale on Lipton tea bags. The usual box of 100 had a bonus of an extra 25 bags, all on sale for only $2.99. I bought three boxes.
I figure that should hold me for about a week.
Meanwhile, if guests come to visit me and I offer them a cup of tea, I probably should warn them it’s highly probable they just might be served something like three-year-old licorice hibiscus.
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