The Season of Tea

I’m sad for the end of October. It’s my favorite month for so many reasons, not the least of which is a burst of productivity that usually follows as the children settle into their routine and I into mine.

But this October was busier than I would have liked. Too many other responsibilities kept me from my usual month of writing furiously. Next year, I need to protect October.

So now November, and the Season of Tea begins (for me anyway).

I love coffee. Anyone who knows me, even online, knows that I love coffee.

I love it with a mostly-uncomplicated devotion. It has been a constant in my life for over 20 years, and I love the taste, the smell, the ritual of grinding and brewing, the swirl of milk, and the first hot sip.

Certainly coffee comes in different incarnations (espresso drinks, Turkish, Thai, café au lait, etc.), but for me it is a spectrum of one similar and familiar flavor. There are some beans I love more than others, and there are definitely bad cups of coffee. But for all the subtle nuances of roast and blend, I rarely attribute a memory to a particular cup of coffee. Instead they fall under the larger category of “memories of coffee and conversation.”

Tea, on the other hand, is more distinct. I have many favorites, and each has a taste and smell that brings me back to specific times in my life:

Lipton tea with honey is a Thanksgiving memory, served in a glass teapot by my mother’s mother with our desserts at the family table.

Maté tea, strong and earthy from Argentina, reminds me of tea with my first love and his parents in their apartment in the Ukrainian Village.

Earl Grey brings to mind black cast iron kettles and tiny cast iron mugs enjoyed during college, usually at the Bourgeois Pig Cafe in Lincoln Park. I was so impressed with their wall of teas from around the world, each in its own large glass canister. I would open each, pick one that suited my mood.

Vanilla rooibus tea evokes Autumn in Frankfurt, Germany, with my friend Al. I need only to open a box, and I can be remember sitting with her, talking about the joy of travel and trials of motherhood.

Loose leaf English Breakfast steeped in a china teapot and sweetened with sugar enjoyed with my Russian friend and her daughter on cozy afternoon teas in their Gurnee kitchen.

The best Indian Chai was savored with my Indian friends in their Frankfurt apartment during our second time in Germany. Such hospitality and delicious food, such beauty in their homes and preparation. The best chai. Ever.

I’ve had a tea cabinet as long as I’ve lived on my own, and it remains well-stocked each year as friends come by for holiday celebrations and bring some new blend as a gift. So many teas, so many cherished moments. It’s nice to think that I can call them up with a pinch of aromatic leaves and boiling water, like magic. A sensual companion to photographs, they are memories accessible in tea bags and tin canisters.

So I wonder, do you have a favorite memory of tea?

November begins on the edge of so many celebrations and the icy darkness of winter. Whether tea or hearth fire or the arms of a loved one, I hope you are surrounded by warmth this upcoming season.