Most days, but especially when there’s a chill in the air, I love drinking hot tea. Taken with milk and sugar, I find this to be the most comforting drink: it’s something I associate with home, and it lacks the bitterness I taste in most coffee. But being a tea drinker that can also enjoy coffee isn’t what bothers me. It’s that my taste for tea has become high falutin’ – I’ve turned away from good old Lipton and become a Darjeeling devotee.
I grew up on Lipton – hot or iced – it was a fixture in our kitchen. I remember discovering that one cup was wonderful, but after two or three, I was rattling. It’s good to learn about moderation. I also learned that in restaurants it is usually easier to drink coffee. As if drinking tea was a subversive activity. But you know how it goes. You’re in the IHOP booth and the waitress is pouring coffee into your mug almost before you can pipe up and say – “Oh, I’d like hot tea please.” She suppresses her withering expression and stalks off to retrieve the little pot of hot water and a tea bag. And when you realize you only have coffee creamer and need to ask for a small pitcher of milk…you’ve become the “problem” patron.
So I learned to drink coffee in many situations – at work, in restaurants, while doing errands near the ubiquitous Starbucks – and found that I liked coffee too, but I still considered Lipton tea my go-to hot drink. Then one day I attended a high tea at a lovely hotel. Not only was I going to drink tea, I was given choices, and I decided to try Darjeeling. It was marvelous! All the tea flavor I was accustomed to, but somehow…better. Maybe it was the cucumber sandwich pairing, but I wanted to keep drinking this tea. I discovered you could buy it in the grocery. I turned my back on Lipton just as it was occupying a smaller and smaller portion of shelf space, squeezed by a multitude of black, green, and herbal tea varieties.
Recently my fondness for Darjeeling tea feels a lot more like an obsession. For reasons I cannot understand, it’s becoming harder to find – do I blame climate change in the foothills of the Himalayas, or is Queen Elizabeth limiting exports? There is only one grocery chain in all of Chicagoland that stocks Twinings Darjeeling. I have to make a special pilgrimage every so often. I’m too embarrassed to buy every single box on the shelf, so I get two, and add other groceries to my basket so I don’t look so mercenary. But I think that lady at the check-out knows by my wild-eyed look.
My pantry now has 40 Darjeeling tea bags, enough to weather a biblical flood, perhaps. But I also have an emergency stash of Lipton – just in case.