I always forget when I visit the UK how much of a love the Brits have for drinking tea. And surely, growing up, my mom who lived in Pakistan for her childhood was a very vehement tea drinker. Her cup would be filled with milky white tea every day, and she even had biscuits to go along with it.
My childhood experience watching people with coffee was a whole other thing. People who drank coffee seemed to do it carelessly, slinging the coffee cup around and letting it splash everywhere. I have the distinct memory of a cartoon where someone literally tossed the liquid from a coffee cup into the air and caught it in their mouth on the way out the door.
My parents used to sit at the table, mid-afternoon, with their tea and biscuits. Usually a friend would be over as well. It was a social time, a “tea” time. Coffee seemed so rushed and so I associated it with higher energy.
After college, I went to a tea store that had just opened at the mall. I bought their most expensive green tea called Gyokuro, because I at the time I had a lot of disposable income. When I went home, I boiled water and threw the tea in for 3 mins before straining.
Well, this premium tea tasted like total shit. It was bitter as all hell, and I couldn’t figure out how anyone would love it. I figured maybe premium tea was inaccessible to me.
Luckily, the internet helped me out. On the shop’s site, people commented on the tea’s product page. They mentioned that you actually have to use warm but not boiling water to really bring out the flavors.
I used a thermometer to make sure I’d gotten it right. Sure enough, the resulting cup was a smooth, silky green that tasted a little bit like the ocean, but in a good way.
Turns out I’d been making my green tea in the same way that most people make their coffee. With hot, scathing water to match their hot, scathing mornings. Waking up and bolting out of bed and scraping their faces or legs with razors and burning their tongue just to avoid falling asleep in their cubicle.
My friend Grant has a ritual with his tea. Preparing the tea takes more time than actually drinking it. In fact, the tea he makes is meant to be consumed in one sip, so he drinks it in a very tiny cup. He’s told me before that tea is a component of kinship. But I think the function of tea is much wider.
Gyokuro tea taught me that how you prepare food and drink affects not only the taste of the food or drink but also your mood. A warm cup of silky umami sets you up for success in a way that a scorching hot cup of black coffee never will.