I sometimes joke that I “live on tea”. It’s an obvious exaggeration, something I jest about as I make cup number six of the morning. Still, it has the ring of truth about it.
I know from past experience that if I don’t drink at least one cup of everyday tea in the morning, by the afternoon a bit of caffeine withdrawal has begun to kick in, and I’ll have a headache. I’m happy to stand up and admit my caffeine addiction – at present and for the foreseeable future it’s a relatively benign one.
For me though, tea goes beyond just a caffeine hit in the morning to wake me up, or to stretch out a long evening. I did a mini-stocktake earlier and discovered that in my cupboards I have twenty-one different varieties of tea, four of which I have in both teabag and loose-leaf form.
I even made a handy (and totally not-weird) list which I stuck to my kitchen wall.
If you deciphered my handwriting, or if you don’t care, you can skip this next paragraph, because I’m going to list them all:
Everyday (+L); Rosehip; Breakfast (L); Cardamom; Earl Grey (+L); Rooibos, Green (+L); Morocco (Mint + Spice); Peppermint (+L); Cinnamon; Chamomile; Lemon; Lemon + Ginger; Jasmine (L); Apple + Cinnamon; Gunpowder (L); White tea with Elderflower; Green tea with mango and lychee; Blackberry blueberry + and acai; Cranberry Raspberry + Echinacea; Strawberry + Loganberry. The “L” stands for loose leaf.
I also keep a jar of instant coffee for visitors to drink, along with sugar and sweeteners. None of these three things are used by myself.
After totting it all up and writing it down, I got to thinking. Why do I keep so many varieties? Why do I drink so much tea, too? It’s not just the caffeine hit, because most of the listed blends don’t contain any particularly measurable quantity of the stuff.
When I was a girl, I can remember knowing that children had squash or water, and grown ups had tea. It was How Things Were. My family were not great consumers of alcohol, so I didn’t see them with a glass in hand. No, it was a mug. It was: “Oh, I’m gasping, put the kettle on!” When my mum (dash of milk, no sugar) visits, often first thing she does after the hello-and-hug is to ask for a cuppa.
To this day I consider it a matter of genuine embarrassment if I fail to remember how people take their tea (or if they prefer coffee), or worse, if I forget to offer to put the kettle on at all. It’s a social conditioning, a habit which I inherited, and which already the Boy and the Girl are mimicking, holding tea parties for their teddies.
It’s a comfort too; a ritual which precedes writing sessions. Do I make a pot, or use a bag in a cup? Do I need the caffeine in the evening, or do I want to relax with chamomile? I have two teapots, a selection of large mugs, and a set of Cath Kidson teacups which are a treasured present from my Dad (milk, one sugar).
If I really want to get into writing, and I have the time, I make a point of getting out my little teapot and making tea with leaves. I set out the pot and strainer at a safe distance from my laptop, and refill when necessary. It breaks up the writing, allowing me to collect my thoughts now and then. I’ve gotten to the point where I associate certain flavours of tea with certain times of day, or occasions.
Everyday tea is for general drinking. A cup (or preferably two) to wake up with in the morning, and then a steadyish stream throughout the day. Early Grey is for a change, or when I run out of milk. Lemon and Ginger is for when I have a cold, and my various flavoured teas are for the evenings mostly, when the children are in bed and I can sit back and drink without the danger of it going cold without my noticing.
As for why I have so many? Well, if the fact that I located another flavour while writing this (Lemongrass and Ginger, if you’re interested) is anything to go by, it could be that I enjoy a wide range of flavours to suit my moods. It could be that I keep a wide range out of habit, to account for visitors and their preference. Or, more simply, it could be that as much as I am addicted to tea, I am also very good at buying it and then losing track of where I’ve put the boxes afterwards.
As a writer though, I think I’m going to keep telling people it’s because I’m creative and eccentric. We all need our little oddities, don’t we?