I don't remember my first cup of tea, but I imagine it was when I was around the age of 3. My grandmother, Niecy, presented its hot, steaming goodness to me in one of her intricate antique tea cups, now buried in blankets of bubble wrap in a box with my name on it.
She, my mother and my two older sisters would spend mornings in her airy kitchen, sipping our tea, swapping stories, eating Tim Tam cookies, letting the strong Australian sun play across our faces.
When my little family and I moved to America around that same time, I remember my dad would make my mom a "cuppa" to console her misery. She was far away from everything comforting and familiar, but for a few blissful moments, the beverage would bring her home.
Growing up, my mom always made it best. Boiling water only, she would say, as she would pour it, steam pluming into the air, into my "little girl cup," which she still brings out of the cupboard every time I am home. In would go an English Breakfast bag, brown tendrils streaming into the water, until the liquid within the cup turned a deep shade of caramel. Next would come just a dab of milk - the English way - and a spoon or two of sugar. When she wasn't looking, I obeyed my sweet tooth and put in another spoonful, until my tea was creamy and sweet. I would envelop the cup in my tiny hands, and breathe in its rich, fragrant aroma. Even back then, when worries were small and stress nonexistent, I would feel a sense of calm sweep over me. With each sip, a bit of peace warmed my soul.
Now I have swapped my little girl mug for a Starbucks cup, a kettle for a Keurig. But tea, to me, will always be the same.
It is a cup full of nostalgia, of memories and moments that have escaped me until I take that first sip. It is my grandmother who I only knew until age 3, whose perfume I somehow smell every time I open my box of tea bags.
It is rainy afternoons spent in the sunroom, wrapped in a knit blanket, the gentle echo of my mom's classical music as she hums along.
It is nights spent in bed with the flu, coughing with no cessation, until that steaming cup is placed before me, with a little bit of honey inside. It is tantrums and tears and shout matches. It is breakups and my dad leaving again. It is the taste of shortbread cookies coated in chocolate, of raisin bread smothered in butter. Of sleepless nights and midnight snacks and late night T.V., my mom beside me.
In each moment, tea was always there, the perfect complement.
Far away from the ease of childhood, I am now an adult, but tea never changes. When work is piling up before me, when internship prospects are looking grim, when my bank balance is dwindling, when all I want is my mom, tea is always there.
I brew a cup, dip my Twinings English Breakfast bag in, breathe in that sweet, warm scent, and feel its heat melt away my pain. It is that constant cure for homesickness, when I am not sure if I will survive.
I have heard it so many times before: tea should only be drunk black. But my mom's way is the only way, even if I can't quite concoct the perfect cup like she can.