There seem to be an infinite number of teas in the world. Praise be to the leaves! Growing up in an Alabama version of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, I mostly knew of iced tea, which was almost always sweetened. I never much cared for it, sweet or unsweet, despite its availability at every restaurant, family gathering, or nearest refrigerator. I knew I didn’t like the black iced tea that the rest of the South did, and I thought that the few hot teas I tried tasted like slightly odd hot water. At first, tea itself wasn’t appealing. Sailing, however, taught me many more of its wonderful qualities.
Tea is meant to be an experience, not just a drink. Growing up in the South, I never knew how cold a summer could be until I was on the Great Lakes. Snow in May? 40 degrees F at night? The relieving warmth of tea in my hands (tea that I didn’t ask for) as I sat cold, sick, wet, and shivering on deck turned my mind forever onto its magic. If this sounds like a religious experience, that’s probably because it felt like one. While I sat there during watch, I felt like I may never be happy (or warm) again. An ordinary seaman very kindly brought me a warm mug of tea and an able bodied seaman ordered me to drink it, citing the Chain of Command. I sat and sipped, slightly miffed that the Chain of Command resulted in making me drink something gross, especially when I didn’t want to eat or drink anything at all (I have since learned that the Chain of Command does not actually include food or drinks). Nevertheless, I continued to sip, surprised at my odd liking for it. The mug graciously warmed my hands and the tea warmed my mouth, throat, and stomach. And it tasted okay! I was delighted! I had warmth again so I had a belief that I may be happy one day. (Please don’t take this as sailing being unhappy- sailing is a great joy of life. Here I was sick and cold and grumpy). I noticed again the lovely and comforting soft creaking of the lines against their pins and cleats, the enthusiastic waves hitting the hull, the sounds of sailing. From then on, reader, I have been in love with tea. (While tea is always a comfort, I have preferences in drinks for different times while sailing- coffee for daytime, hot chocolate for evening/nighttime, and tea for the morning sunrises).
Tea is for more than tasting. Tea creates an environment and an atmosphere that, to me, is instantly calming. With tea, I relax, appreciate my surroundings, and see once more the joys of life. It can be the perfect and final addition to a blanket cocoon on a rainy day or the first step to feeling better about the world, even if only for a few minutes. Tea involves tastes and smells and warmth (or cold if that’s your thing) and happiness. Whatever your pleasure be, let it be tea!