Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tea tour

To totally misquote Tinie Tempah, I live a very very very tea lifestyle. It hasn't always been like this. I blame it on D; he says he never remembers a time in his life when there wasn't tea. "My parents probably put it in my baby bottle", he laughs.

It all began when we started dating. D lived in a tiny dorm room and his black Walmart coffee maker was pretty much the only amenity. For that entire year we nibbled on late-night snacks of bananas and ramen. His mom and dad would drive up from the tiny community of Delta Junction with huge ziploc bags of dried bananas and D would stash them away in a dresser drawer. Delta Junction, by the way, has the highest percentage of Ukrainian people in the United States per Wikipedia. Per me, it's really cold there. Crazy cold! And the city we were in was a hundred miles north of that, even colder. We'd use the coffee maker to heat up water for ramen and tea on chilly Fairbanks nights (aka every single night). That was the first time tea became a part of my lifestyle. Back then it was one big box of cheap black tea... now it's nearly as extensive as some people's shoe collections.

We have tea for every part of the day. Black tea for the morning.

Herbal teas for the day.

And something uncaffeinated for the evening. Before bed D always goes for a cup of decaf Earl Gray. I don't trust decaf so I pick something out of my private anti-stress collection. (Basically I will buy anything that promises de-stressifying properties.)

In Ukraine we always had a shelf-sized tea collection but it's now grown and requires an entire corner of its own. This is one of my favorite places in the whole apartment.

In fact, there's so much tea that some of it has been relegated to storage for the time being.

Have you ever noticed how tea mugs are so easy to acquire? An acquaintance gives you one, your company gives you another, and before you know it you have an entire cabinet full of them. We left all our tea mugs to the family from Lugansk yet already have another entire cabinet. Lots of hand-me-downs: my brother's miniature blue IKEA cups with matching saucers, the remaining three white mugs from my dad's bachelor days, another three navy blue mugs from a woman in my mom's Spanish intercambio group. Two glass cups came as a free gift from the neighborhood liquor store. A color-changing mug with "friends forever!" from an old colleague. The cups we use the most are a pair covered in hearts, gifts from a friend who passed away. I can't look at the heart cups without thinking of her and remembering how she mailed them to us as a surprise one winter.

Since most of our tea comes in bags, we don't often use a tea pot. Breaking out a tea pot is a big occasion. It could mean a long Sunday morning of tea drinking lies ahead, or perhaps there's company visiting (and we already finished the booze). This little tea pot is another gift that has a lot of sentimental value for me.

It was from one of the families I worked with before, an Iraqi family of mom, dad, and teenage daughter. Dad was old- in his seventies or eighties- a small man with white hair and an boundless energy level you'd never expect from someone that age. I was at their apartment one afternoon after a medical appointment and Dad was showing me the battered books he'd brought from the refugee camp. He'd asked a fellow campmate to teach him some English and the phrases scrawled in Arabic and English on the last pages of the book broke my heart. "Please help me", "I need water". He was so proud to show off those pages and I didn't know how to respond. We ended up having tea together that afternoon and they pressed this tea pot into my hands. I tried to return it (the agency discouraged accepting gifts) but there comes a point, especially with certain cultures, where it becomes offensive to not accept someone's hospitality, so I thanked them and brought it home. Until now it's been more of a decorative item but we've started using it for a loose leaf black rose tea. Every time I pour in the boiling water, I think back to the tea pot's previous life in a refugee camp and what it must have seen there. Well, if a tea pot could see, that is. 

This is our new tea pot from Costco. We'd see it there every shopping trip, calling to us, until one day we were powerless to resist. It's so big that we've ended up using it more for juicing than for tea brewing. I wish I had more long mornings to sit around and drink the entire contents of this pot, but most mornings there's barely time for a single cup of tea. I end up drinking a lot of tea at work instead.

One last note: a few weeks ago I mentioned a beverage called гриб. Гриб (mushroom) is what D and his mom call it. Wikipedia identifies it by the even less appealing name of чайный гриб (tea mushroom). I think it's the same thing as kombucha? Anyways, a few weekends ago D's mom brought the (very suspicious looking) starter over and now this jar-with-floating-raisins-and-paper-towel-lid lives on top of the fridge. Every so often D glances up there, gasps "My гриб, I forgot it!", drinks it in a hurry, and starts brewing a new jar. So far no one else (me, Кит, and guests) has tried it, but D is still alive so that's gotta count for something.

Do you drink tea or coffee? Do you have a collection?
If you blog, I challenge you to share your drink-of-choice set up in a post and share the link below!

Extra: more teas!


  1. "To totally misquote Tinie Tempah, I live a very very very tea lifestyle." XD

    I can't wait to get back to the States and get some awesome tea mixes. For a people who love tea, Russia's offerings are often really disappointing unless you shell out the big bucks.

  2. Yeah, I agree. We always just bought the big, 100 uah variety packs in the supermarket. I didn't realize the quality difference until recently, now wish I'd put more of an effort into finding good teas in Ukraine.

    But you know what else was totally different? (And maybe it's the same in Russia?) In Ukraine there was no real selection of salad dressings. Choices were usually: one expensive bottle of Italian imported from Germany and 2-3 bags of iffy locally-made dressings with a mayo theme (caesar, etc). So we got used to making our own vinaigrettes or just using lime juice. Now we're immune to the dressing aisles here and stick with the homemade good stuff : )