I will never be a tea connoisseur. In fact, I’m likely to spend most of my life giving heart attacks to those that live and breathe the language of tea, namely the British and Aussies. I still remember the first time I mischievously told an English friend that I made tea in the microwave. The shock and the horror that radiated from their face! And during our one day in London, on the way to Ireland, way back in 1999, my friends and I enjoyed some tea and scones in a little cafe or restaurant. I’m pretty sure I used my finger to get all the clotted cream out of the dish, while my other friends ate all the sugar lumps. Just look at those uncouth Americans, we could just imagine people saying! But we were 19 and having fun, not caring about anything else.
While I was in Australia, I began to enjoy having tea and smoko in the mornings and afternoons. It wasn’t always fancy, in fact, when it was just the little girls and I, smoko is basically snack time for the kids. But if there was company over, then we would have cake or biscuits with our tea, and the tea was served out of a tea pot, after boiling the water in the kettle. That may sound obvious to you, but it isn’t to every American, because tea isn’t a part of our lives (unless you’re in the South, and then we drink cold sweet tea). We prefer our coffee, by and large, and many of us like the flavored kind.
Little by little, I began to be able to identify different kinds of tea, not just the brands, and see the differences between a strong breakfast tea and a lighter Earl Grey… or even Lady Grey tea. The Twinings brand is to be found everywhere, and you can get the tea bags or the loose leaf variety. But gradually, I got to know another type of tea that I’d never heard of before, called Russian Caravan.
I don’t know anything about oolong or lapsang souchong, so after a glance at Wikipedia, I’m not even going to try and explain what teas go into it. At first, I didn’t notice any difference between Russian Caravan and any other kind of tea. And then Mrs. B brought home the T2 brand of Russian Caravan. Well, let me assure you, the T2 version of it tastes like smoke.
So, in rethinking this particular flavor, you think of camel caravans and Russian samovars, with some of tea leaves being smoked dry. I found that I didn’t like the overly smokey flavors, but I loved the taste of the Twinings variety, that was much more mild. And during my year in Emerald, Queensland, this tea was part of my life. Earl Grey and my own spicy chai might come and go, but there was always a pot of Russian Caravan to be drunk, and boxes of it to be bought at Woolies.
When I arrived back home, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to tea, at first, because I was enjoying being back in the world of Starbucks and flavored coffee. And then I went to the store, and found that it carried all the Earl Grey and Breakfast Teas imaginable, but there was no blue box of Twinings tea in the right shade, with no Russian Caravan to be seen. Unable to bear this thought, I finally went online, and ordered it from England, having found that RC isn’t even sold in the United States.
And this morning, while writing to an Aussie friend, I heard the doorbell ring, and found a box of tea on my door step. In honor of the occasion, I brought out the paisley mug that I got at a bridal shower in Australia. That mug went from Australia to here, to Minnesota, and back again. I went searching for a tea infuser ball, knowing that there was one somewhere in our kitchen. Six drawers later, I found it. Our ancient electric tea kettle had to come out, because I wouldn’t microwave this tea, if I had it in tea bags. As it is, it would also be stupid to put a metal tea infuser in a microwave, you know.
When I sat down to drink it, I thought I was in Emerald again. If I closed my eyes for long enough, I would hear my girls thundering up and down the porch, waiting for the kettle to boil and for the biscuits to be dished out. Someone would ask me if I wanted it “white” (with milk in it), and Sadie would climb onto the counter to get my Splenda packets out, if I hadn’t already retrieved them. My bubby would be climbing into her high chair, expecting to have a biscuit handed to her.
Instead, I’m sitting here at my newly arranged desk, with little reminders of Australia everywhere I look. You’ll notice the coaster with a man wearing an Akubra hat and a Driza-Bone coat. The coaster my tea cup is sitting on is of a mosaic design, from the Mosaic Pathway in Emerald, of the Fairbairn Dam on Lake Maraboon. I have an entire set that’s designed to look like all of the mosaics out in front of the “Big Painting” in Emerald. Lots of memories are at my fingertips, to hug close and (sometimes) cry over, but never to forget.