I always associated herbal tea with illness. When chemotherapy drugs were introduced to my father’s veins, rooibos tea arrived into our house. The teapot, centrepiece of our table, wrapped in a tea cosy my sister had knitted in primary school, was replaced by fat wet blobs, islands floating in mugs.
As a weapon in the fight against enemy cells, rooibos tea proved useless. But after my father died, it lived on in our house. Soon, only my mug contained what I called “honest to Jaysus chemical laden tea.’ I refused to become the sort of person who brings their own teabags into establishments or demands strange brews in tiny country pubs where you were lucky to get more than one alcoholic drink, let alone a selection of teas.
Dodging Metal Teapots
But when I tried to celebrate this love of chemical-laden tea outside the home, I found myself thwarted, by metal teapots. These are the teapots of choice for many cafes, and I regard them as an insult to the name and palates of good tea drinkers everywhere. They infuse the tea with metal. And no matter how carefully or how straight you pour, they leak precious golden droplets of tea.
To avoid such a scenario, I turned myself into a coffee drinker. This went well at first. I allowed myself to be seduced by the froth of cappuccino, the sprinkling of chocolate on the surface. Then a spoilsport told me about the piles of calories lurking in the froth. So I switched to Americanos, a straightforward black brew. Until I began to find the brews too bitter for my taste.
Now I flirt with many different drinks. In some establishments, I go for an exotic chai latte. In others, I say, ‘feck the calories. Mine’s a cappuccino.’ Young fogey that I am, I will go for traditional tea in places where the tea comes in china teapots or with china cups. And now, from time to time, I will add herbal tea to the mix.
How did such a metamorphosis come about? It was certainly a slow one. Ten years ago, at a beachside restaurant in Australia, I got my first inkling that herbal tea could be a sensual experience. I ordered Japanese tea and it came in a sea-green teapot with a matching sea-green cup, both delicate enough to snap at any moment.
A neat arc of green liquid poured into my cup. It tasted warm and refreshing, and reached the place in your soul that all the best drinks reach. Unfortunately, my mother and sister had ordered flat whites and finished them as if under starter’s orders, so I didn’t have the chance to savour my tea.
But it planted a seed in my mind. And finally, after years of lacklustre teapots, I confessed to my brother and his girlfriend, both seasoned tea drinkers, that I was fed up with indifferent tea. They recommended a range of herbal teas supplied by a large German supermarket. They assured me that the teas were delicious, and helped with sleep too.
So I began to explore. I bought a lemon and ginger tea. And I began to notice that these metal-teapot loving cafes also stocked a range of herbal teas. New flavours began to tickle my tastebuds. I started to have eager discussions with serving staff about the merits of blood orange tea over wild berry tea. I enjoyed exploring the world of new flavours that had opened up to me. And I found that I felt just as refreshed after those brews as I did after my frothy cappuccinos.
I haven’t forsaken my chemical laden tea. I still regard the first cup of tea in the morning as essential to my survival. And I still see my father washing down his four slices of teatime bread with scalding tea from a silver teapot. But I have reclaimed herbal tea from the cloud of illness. I now see it as a delight for the senses. My two loves can now happily exist side by side.