Today is International Tea Day, and while I could argue that every day should be International Tea Day, perhaps it’s best us tea enthusiasts don’t drown the common folk in our favorite blends and water boiling gadgets every day of the year. I’d happy go on about my favorite teas to you all, but there’s something I wanted and felt compelled to write about today. Tea is actually very important to me. And I’m not kidding. It was what saved me more than once. And I want to share that story.
I had my first cup of tea, real tea, when I went to London for study abroad in my junior year of undergrad. An internet friend and her family picked me up from the airport and brought me, a jet lagged and terrified nineteen-year-old who had never left the US, to their lovely home in Essex. The first thing offered, other than to bring my massive bags into the house, was a cup of tea. I had been warned that I would be offered a controversial amount of tea, but I was excited. I quickly learned that a cuppa was an intrinsic part of being English. And while there were many types of tea, when it came down to it, good old traditional black tea was still
KingQueen. I was instructed on the proper way to make a cuppa during my time there and quickly became an enthusiast… even if not an expert. It also started a love affair, not only with the country itself, but with the drink that would become increasingly important to me.
It would also give me caffeine poisoning. Because it turns out if you drink too much caffeine (and if you leave green tea bags in your cup for longer than twenty minutes the potency doubles) it poisons your blood stream. Oops. SO if you have the shakes for like… a week. You probably have caffeine poisoning. Just an FYI.
This infatuation would only grow as I moseyed about the world, moving to Japan after I graduated. Ironically, I would move to Shizuoka Prefecture, famed for its green tea fields that rolled into the distance. Shizuoka tea would flood my cabinets and was the tea of choice at the high school where I taught. I would learn what matcha was most of all. A decadent frothy version of green tea that’s whisked, matcha is popular in Kyoto, the cultural epicenter of Japan, and very popular with yours truly. It’s a rare treat indeed, mostly because I have been spoiled by having matcha in its home, made by people who know what they’re doing. There are a few things that give me total comfort andmatcha is one of those. If you ever have the opportunity, please try it. It has a bitter, but silky taste that’s very powerful and is meant to be enjoyed with great respect. There’s ceremonies devoted to its preparation after all.
I remember this day perfectly, because it was probably my best day ever at the school. I didn’t teach a lot because I only taught oral communication and my high school being a high level one, they were more concentrated on writing and reading for university exams. But on this day I had three classes, got to see some of my students perform in a recital, and was invited to sado, a tea ceremony demonstration and session. I was on a high all day and it was great. Some months later the teacher who had invited me gave my a CD from the day and I still think of it fondly. It was the first time I really connected with the culture in a practical way. Sadly I wouldn’t get another chance, and a lot of this probably had to do with the feeling of sadness that overwhelmed me for much of my time in 日本.
While I was living in Japan I was diagnosed with panic disorder with depression and insomnia. I was a desk warmer at my school and felt horribly useless. I would wake up in the middle of the night gasping for breath and it got so bad I made the long distance phone call to my mother, crying that I couldn’t breathe. This continued and eventually I had to go to my supervisor and try and explain to her that I was having trouble breathing, that my chest hurt. While she spoke fantastic English, this wasn’t something easy to convey. After a few doctors visits and health scares and such later, it turned out I had Panic Disorder and Depression with Insomnia (as my very frank Japanese doctor put it… you have psychosis and depression). It made a painful amount of sense and explained the outbursts and fear I felt for a lot of my teenage years. I knew where it had all stemmed from — a toxic and horrible relationship with a thankfully now defunct and divorce step-father — but it had grown into a many headed beast in the years it took me to finally realize I wasn’t supposed to feel this way. I was put on all sorts of medications in Japan, some of which I would later find are actually illegal here in the USA of all places, but they helped. I was able to finish my year without much more issue, but with a pain in my heart and a frustration that had I figured it out and asked for help easier I could have enjoyed myself more.
One way that I would calm myself and take comfort would be with cups of tea. Every morning after the morning meeting in the staff room I would wander back to the little rest area and get myself a cup of green tea and hold it to my chest. The warmth of the tea would comfort me like nothing else and it would ground me.It’s okay. Tea would become solace, relaxation, and strength for me. The photo to the left was taken and edited in Japan and at the time the difference in colors was just me trying to be artsy, but looking at it now, it means so much more. Tea was what I had to really keep me alive. And even as I write this, gazing at a younger me (with alarmingly large hair), I’m getting a little weepy. I want to go back to her and hug her and tell her she’ll make it through the rest of that year and the harsh two years that’d follow. And I want to give her more tea, because she probably should have drank a bit more.
To this day I still hold tea cups to my chest. It’s instinctive now. Sometimes it’s because I am feeling low, but other times it’s because I like the feeling of it or it’s just written into my muscle memory. I’m not on meds any more. After failing at my first MA and having to jump back and forth across the pond (I ended up returning to London multiple times) I went back on them for a period of time before working myself off them. Meds work for people and they work for me, and I will never disparage anyone seeking out medication for their brain. Brains are awful and sometimes they need help to be less awful. I decided I wanted to try without meds and it’s worked for me, but it doesn’t work for everyone. So to anyone reading this, never feel inferior for having to use medication to help you stay you. Never.
The last time I moved to London it was to do my MA in Radio, which I finished and graduated from this past February. It was a very different experience from my first MA wherein I was isolated and a horrible mess. I had moved from Japan to England almost immediately and it was not a smart decision. I had no time to adjust, reverse culture shock destroying my will power, and my inability to connect with anyone in my course made it a truly miserable experience. I found companionship and a reason to wake up in the morning by the creation of The Baker Street Babes, but in the end I had to head back to the states. But this time it was different. I had friends, I had a purpose, I had an amazing course and colleagues, and I had tea.
Tea and various tea companies have brought me endless happiness. FromAdagio and they’re amazing contributions to all The BSB has done with SherlockeDCC and beyond to David’s Tea cold remedies staving off the cold from hell that plagued me for three months, these damn tea leaves have done a ridiculous amount for me. I also started collecting tea pots and now have these vessels of happiness from Japan, Korea, Cambodia, England, and the US.
Leaving London last year was one of the most difficult things I had to do. I had a life there, a life that was growing and one I really wanted. But visas expiring and the inability to find a place who would sponsor me to stay and work ended with me having to say goodbye. The place I had called home for the better part of three years was letting me go. It was the place that gave me my passion, inspired by travel, and gave me tea. The final thing I did in the airport as I flew out was order a pot of tea with my breakfast. I had to. I needed to. It was my farewell in its purest form. And it was a thank you. Thank you for introducing me to a simple but vital thing that would get me through so much. Thank you for sharing a part of your culture that fostered friendships and companionship. Thank you for giving me the joy of making tea for hardworking friends and colleagues as we collaborated. Thank you for the warmth, for the caffeine, and for that special feeling in my chest when you grounded me.
There are many types of therapy in the world. For me, tea is the best of all.
Happy International Tea Day. And thank you.