I am enjoying tea more and more everyday. I grew up drinking the hot beverage with my grandparents, and while I was still living with them, my grandmother was the religious tea drinker in the family. Not bothering with strainers or tea bags that seem to just slow her down, my grandmother would grab a handful of tea leaves and pour hot water over them straight into a big mug. The leaves would rise to the top, unfurling as they did, and then eventually settle down at the bottom, where my grandmother would usually get at least another cup out of them before throwing the worn leaves away.
It made me feel so special when she would ask me if I wanted some tea when she made one of her daily rounds, like I was an adult. It was almost a rite of passage, the invitation to join her for tea; something sacred and formal about being granted this particular privilege. I remember seeing my smaller mug of tea next to my grandmother’s as she filled them with hot water, sending the loose leaves into a whirl of golden liquid and steam. I remember wrapping my hands around the cup and bringing it steaming to my mouth, carefully sipping the hot liquid, taking in the earthy and herbal smell of the tea, careful not to gulp down the leaves when I took a cautious sip.
There are some fond memories of enjoying tea with my grandfather as well. He was the more particular tea drinker and also has a very, very bad sweet tooth. Usually around new year’s day or during the harvest moon, when the markets would sell the candied fruits and other special treats you can only get once a year, my grandpa would brew up his own pot of tea and enjoy it with me in the evenings over confections and baked goods. My grandfather doesn’t just settle for a handful of loose tea leaves but instead, steeps them in one of his little ceramic teapots, sipping the sweetly bitter liquid from little matching cups rather than the big and more practical tea mugs that my grandmother prefers. And there’s always some sweet treat on a small plate not too far away when my grandfather settles down for his cup of tea.
My appreciation of tea comes from my grandmother, who made it into a daily routine, an almost integral part of everyday life, like exercise or eating or sleeping. My appreciation for drinking tea, comes from my grandfather, who made tea into a ritual of drinking and enjoying and relaxing, much like the act of lighting one of his cigarettes, slowly inhaling and taking the calm into his lungs, savoring the moment. It isn’t until many years later, with a tea cup cradled between my lips, the warm, golden liquid swimming in my mouth that I realize that I’ve picked up these little habits without even knowing it; like how I much prefer loose tea leaves over the bags, though I’ve compromised on using a strainer; and how I almost always prefer my cup of tea with something tooth-achingly sweet.
It’s these moments that make me realize that I’ve grown up yet there’s still some little part of me that remains the overeager child sipping tea with his grandparents, excited and exulted in his own childish head. And with every sip now, I feel alive and, more importantly, loved; as if each cup of tea is a cup full of warm and comforting love: pure, sweet and a little bitter tasting.