I wasn’t born into tea. My mother didn’t brew chai. My parents drank filter coffee as did everyone else around us. And so too did I when the time came and I was permitted caffeinated beverages. I drank strong south Indian filter coffee ground with a bit of chicory for body. I drank it in the morning and again in the evenings and in-between whenever coffee was brewed.  

I don’t remember how or why I started drinking tea. And strangely enough, around the same time, in another part of the world, my sister, also initiated into coffee drinking, found herself converting to a tea drinker.

My mother indulged my newfound love and our afternoons transformed into tea time. But it was my father who quietly nudged me towards making a good cup of tea. “Don’t boil the tea,” he’d say. “Cover the pot and wait.”

“How would you know,” I asked, for neither was he much of a cook nor had I ever seen him drink tea. And he told me a story of numerous trips to the Nilgiris that his work took him on where, on a cold morning, in the colonial hillside town with tea plantations in the backyard, a cup of tea was the nicest thing one could wish for. “Life’s little pleasures,” he called it.

Perhaps it was after my marriage that tea assumed larger proportions in my life. My husband will not drink tea and it meant I could choose my own tea ritual. I now made a cup all for myself. I made it just the way I liked it. It was unapologetically my drink. Mistress of my own kitchen now, and with minimal culinary skills to boast of, tea became my thing. I made it with confidence and I drew pleasure from drinking it. Strong Assams with a spot of milk and maybe too much sugar. In a big, chipped mug I’d found in the cupboard.

‘Come for tea,’ I’d tell my friends. Never lunch. I cannot cook a meal worthy of my guests but the tea, I can make well. It’s slow and chat-inducing. My mugs are large and generous. There are snacks to nibble. I am a happy host.

Of course, I am guilty of assuming all my tea time companions like their tea the way I drink it. Some have balked at the watery-ness of it, most would prefer chai, a couple have offered to make me a cup “for a change” and yet others like my polite Tibetan friend who’s more accustomed to a light, unsweetened tea or even salted have suffered through it silently.

To each his own, when it comes to tea, I surmise. Elsewhere in the world, my sister makes Earl Grey and sweetens it with organic honey shuddering at my choice of white sugar.

But tea really became hugely significant to me after the birth of my son three years ago. The first few months of sleepless haze included a no-dairy diet on doctor’s orders. I drank lemon tea. Still made with Assam and sweetened with sugar but in a slightly smaller mug.

As the days went by and my son grew, and I grew more tired, I began to see tea-times as me times. And from then on, once in the morning and again in the late afternoon, I step back for a cup of tea. I make it slowly and deliberately so. It’s calming, it’s familiar, and it centers me.

“Don’t disturb me when I’m drinking tea,” I’ve tried to teach my son. He’s circumvented that by finding a way to participate in my little ritual. “It’s time for tea,” I announce sometime around 4 in the afternoon. “Don’t forget the biscuits,” he says, giving me permission to withdraw from whatever game we are in the middle of. Tea made, I carry my mug with a plate or Marie or Rusk. “Dippit the bikkit” announces the lad and I oblige. He enjoys dunking his biscuits in my tea. Perhaps he will remember these times as moments when his mother looked calm and sane.

There are days when I need a third cup, which assumes medicinal proportions. But if there’s one that makes all the difference, it has to be the day’s first. On most mornings, I struggle to wake up. As I stare at the clock hands jogging forwards, I think about sneaking in some time to myself before the mayhem begins. If I plan it well, I argue with my sleepier side, I can make a slow pot of tea, sip on it while I read the newspaper, and even find time to stare out at the world for a couple of minutes before it’s time to wake my son up.  

On most mornings, it’s this thought that gets me out of bed. Occasionally, I’ll even dippit that bikkit but that borders on clandestine pleasures…a story for another day.

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11 Comments

  1. William Fontaine Reply

    I also was a late comer to tea. I cherish it also. Thank you for your delightful tea and life story.

    • Aravinda Ananth Reply

      William, it’s funny how tea can connect, isn’t it? Glad you enjoyed the story!

  2. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, Aravinda. It evokes perfectly, that special state of peace that tea induces: the all-is-okay feeling, in the middle of any chaos.

  3. Enjoyed reading this! Resonates so much. The invitations for tea and not lunch..I hear ya! The “me-time” in the mornings when I scramble out of bed under cover of darkness just so I can grab a cuppa before everyone and their aunty can claim me! Seriously, what would I do without tea?!

    • Aravinda Anantharaman Reply

      Thanks, Sarita! Here’s to more early morning solitary cups!

  4. Preethi Williams Reply

    So beautifully written Arvinda. The “dunking” bikkit is a beautiful time I enjoy with my son too.
    Yes, the next time I am coming over for “tea time” with you.

    • Aravinda Anantharaman Reply

      Thanks, Preethi! We must catch up over a long cup of tea.

  5. Nina Rawal Reply

    I loved reading this, and could empathise with so much of it! My parents too are coffee drinkers but I learnt to appreciate tea after meeting my husband, a die hard Darjeeling tea fan. I love my tea ritual in the morning too, and my daughter, now quite grown, also enjoyed dunking Glucose biscuits in my tea, while we read or played board games together. Hope to read more of your articles

  6. Pingback: Peace in a cup of tea - Tea Stories | Best Tea Blog | Still Steeping - The Teabox Blog

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