Black Tea

I have always drunk black tea. I don’t remember ever being too young to drink tea.

In my childhood home, the most significant tea of the day was the 4:00ish tea, accompanied by a smackerel of something. It was the smackerel of something that I looked forward to most — I have a sweet tooth and thoughts of cake and desserts frequently occupied my mind as a child. Sometimes we had homemade fruit cake or biscuits (that is, cookies), sometimes we had bought cakes, pastries or tarts from a bakery.

The tea was poured in the kitchen, into mugs (not teacups) with milk and sugar. The four of us — my mother, father, brother and I — all took it the same way (until my mother switched to Sweet n’ Low). The treats were dealt out onto individual plates, and mugs and plates were brought into the living room where each seat had a designated spot for mug and plate on a side table within easy reach. (We seldom owned a coffee table.) When you finished your plate of cake or biscuits, that was it until tomorrow — no seconds. But we always had a second cup of tea.

I don’t have a 4:00 tea any more. For one thing, I sleep better if I ruthlessly cut off caffeine after 2:00, and for another my life isn’t predictable enough for an afternoon routine. (Or at least, when we’re not in quarantine it isn’t.)

Now, my most predictable tea is the one that starts the day. Boiling the kettle is the first thing I do when I come downstairs in the morning. While the water boils and my tea steeps, I gaze out the window and stretch, gauging the state of the weather and my body. I drink my tea while I journal, gauging the state of my mind and setting the stage for the day to come.

I can usually squeeze in one more tea after lunch. That’s the one that’s most like my childhood afternoon teas, accompanied as it often is by a couple of cookies or whatever other delectable thing we might have lying around. (I would never deliberately buy something with the intention of nibbling on it with my afternoon tea, and yet somehow we almost always have something suitable.)

I’m not particularly choosy about my black tea — most kinds are okay, as long as they’re strong and plain, although I try to get Ahmad loose-leaf Ceylon tea, which comes in one-pound bricks for a ridiculously low price at my local Persian supermarket.

I am choosy about how it’s brewed, though; only tea made with boiling water will do. I don’t order tea in restaurants because they don’t make it properly — I order coffee or herbal tea. Even bad coffee can be rendered drinkable with enough sugar and cream, and mint tea is just mint tea.

These days I’m a versatile drinker: black tea, green tea, oolong, genmaicha, filter coffee, cappuccino, Americano, cortado, mint tea, chamomile, ginger. My kitchen (and my world) is rich with possibilities. But I always come home to a mug of hot black tea with milk.

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