For me, one of life’s greatest pleasures is the first sip of the first cup of tea of the day. I’ll even go so far as to admit that some days, just the anticipation of that rare and precious moment is itself the motivation I need to get out of bed.

I’m a writer. At least that’s what I tell myself when I can’t think of anything to write. When I do write, it’s frequently over a cup of tea. Kalami Assam is my current favorite. I buy it at my local Indian foods store in a one-pound box. Whole leaf, of course. I brew it strong, in memory of my grandmother, Nana, who claimed that a proper cup of tea should be strong enough “that a wee little mousie might trot across the top.”

And I brew it strongly enough that on those days when I add a dash of tea Masala spice blend, the tea is still the predominant flavor.

I will confess that were I a religious woman, tea would be my sacrament, my eucharist, if you will. The blood of the camilla sinensis plant.

Tea is my inspiration. My half-full cup sits next to me cooling as I write this. I had nothing to write until I began drinking this morning’s cup. That was the impetus behind this post. Without that oh-so-precious first taste, I would have had nothing to say. But one sip was all it took to get the words flowing.

Yes, I’m a writer, but not without my tea!

A Lapse of Judgment

It was only a momentary lapse of judgment, but it might have had long-term implications. Fortunately, my habit saved the day.

I Woke Up Feeling Lazy

And that’s where it started. I have a few PG Tips teabags stashed in a sealed container. They’re there for emergencies, such as the rare occasion when I run out of leaf tea, which rarely happens.

But this morning I felt lazy when I got out of bed, and thought long and hard about using a couple of those lovely pyramid bags. No fannings there: PG Tips is quality tea.

Ultimately, I decided against them and headed downstairs to the kitchen.

More Temptation

When I opened the cupboard where we keep our tea, I was again tempted. This time the choice was between my beloved black Assam and two of Ed’s flavored teas. Yes, they were whole leaf teas from a quality vendor, but I wasn’t certain of the flavoring ingredients. After all, there’s no such thing as a Butter Caramel tea plant in nature, nor a Toffee Almond one for that matter.

So once again I brewed my standard cup: steaming hot black Assam tea with enough Masala spices to clear both my palate and my mind. Spiritual benefits may or may not have resulted, depending on one’s view of metaphysics.

Tea Tea

I don’t mean to sound pedantic (okay, maybe I do, just a little bit), but when you swing by your local Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts or Tim Horton’s or wherever it is that you go for your daily dose of Chai tea, you need to understand that the very word “Chai” means “tea.”

What you should be ordering—but not even the so-called experts at the drive-through window will understand—is Masala tea, or Masala chai. Masala, in this case, refers to the particular blend of spices that make this tea such a wonderfully comforting way to begin—or end—your day.

Masala Tea Spice?

tea masala2

This is what I buy. Here in Rochester, I get it at The Spice Bazaar on Jefferson Road, but I’m sure you can also find it elsewhere. It’s just that the Spice Bazaar is where I happen to shop. It’s inexpensive, and saves me thee trouble of having to buy the ingredients separately and mix them myself. Besides, who am I to think I can improve on people who have been blending spices since before my country was even born?

And, in the End, the Tea You Make…

…is equal to the tea you prefer.

Tea in the Morning, Tisane at Night


Because one has caffeine and the other doesn’t. And while most tea brewing techniques yield a caffeine level of about 23mg per 8 ounce cup, my larger mug and longer brewing time means that I’m consuming about 110mg per 16 oz mug.

Compare that to the 32mg in a 12 oz can of Coca-Cola, and you’ll agree that while tea may have less caffeine than an equal amount of coffee (95mg/8 oz cup), it’s still got the magic buzz-juice.

Which may or may not account for the fact that I’m a morning person, but only after I’ve had that all-important first cup of tea.


But in the late afternoon through the evening, and all the way to bedtime, it’s usually time to slow down and relax. And what I’ve found what works best for me (besides watching B-grade horror movies on Netflix) is sitting down with a good book and a cup of tisane. And to that end, my favorite blend is still the one it’s been since around 1984, when I first served it to my younger daughter: Celestial Seasonings’ Sleepytime Tea.

We’d often each have a cup of “sleepy tea, Daddy” as I’d read to her the latest chapter of “Winnie-the-Pooh,” “The Chronicles of Narnia,” or a few poetry selections from “Now We Are Six.”

In fact, she was so much a fan of that tea that her grandmother once took advantage of a special campaign and bought her a metal replica of the Sleepytime tea box.

What’s In It?

Chamomile, spearmint, lemongrass, tilia flowers, blackberry leaves, orange blossoms, hawthorn and rosebuds. All weighing in at a total caffeine content of absolutely none.

Another of my favorites is their Red Zinger. It blends tangy and fruity hibiscus leaves with refreshing peppermint, sweet orange, lively lemongrass and earthy wild cherry bark.

In fact, check out their entire line of teas and tisanes!

A Correction

I said at the beginning that I only consider real tea to be harvested from the Camellia sinensis plant. I was wrong, and for this, I apologize. I recently discovered that my own personal tea, black Assam, comes from the Camellia sinensis assamica. I stand corrected.

Regardless, enjoy your tea!

A Cup of Bitterness

As I was growing up in a tea-drinking family, my mother’s universal remedy for just about every conceivable ailment was a cup of tea and a side of cinnamon toast. This was so ingrained in me that even now–at the age of 67–I still find comfort in a cup of tea.

“There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea.” ~Bernard-Paul Heroux

Changing Tastes

But as George Orwell tells us,

“…I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than 20 weak ones. All true tea-lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes….” ~George Orwell, “A Nice Cup of Tea,” Evening Standard, 12 January 1946

In my own case, I find it to be true. Oh, I’m not ready to go full-on Orwell in my habits–I still prefer milk and sweetener in my cuppa–but neither am I content with the tea of my youth: weak, insipid tea brewed from a bag and served with so much milk and sugar that it might as well have been called tea-flavored milk.

But I’ve slowly been cutting back on the additives. Less sweetener, less milk result in a more astringent taste. A slight bitterness. Sometimes I’ll add some Tea Masala, that Indian blend of spices that results in what I call Masala Chai, and most people erroneously refer to as “Chai tea,” not realizing that the very word “Chai” means “tea.” So they’re ordering a cup of tea tea.

Then again, what else would you expect from the nation that gave us the baseball team called “The The Angels Angels”? And just why in the hell did they move them from Brooklyn in the first place?

But I digress.

Flavored Teas

With the exception of Masala Chai, I find the idea of adding flavors to tea quite abhorrent. You are no longer drinking tea but rather some watered-down Kool-aid substitute.

And that’s why, with rare exceptions on the even rarer exceptions that I go to a restaurant, I won’t order tea. This is simply that American restaurants don’t know how to make a proper cup of tea. And why do we spell it “rest-o-RANT” but pronounce it “REST-ront,” anyway?

These are but a few of the thoughts I have whilst enjoying that all-important first cup of tea of the day. There are some mornings when all that gets me out of bed in the first place is the whistling of the kettle when my roommate boils his own pot of water to pour over the coffee grounds in his French press coffee maker.

And not even that works all of the time. Sometimes my depression is as black as my roomie’s coffee.

Still, I continue to find beauty, comfort, and bitterness in a cup of tea.

The Trouble With Loose Leaf Tea

No, I’m not talking about loose leaf in the terms of notebooks; rather I’m referring to my favorite way of brewing tea.

When I woke up this morning, it was 1℉/-17℃ outside. Which meant I was in a hurry for my first cuppa, which in turn meant I wasn’t going to take the time to brew a fresh pot using loose tea. Instead, I cut the brewing time in half by using a couple of tea bags.

And that, my friends, was a mistake!

It turns out that the past few weeks of brewing each cup of tea with my Primula Classic Tea Maker using loose Assam leaves have spoiled me. As a result, this morning’s cup was weak and insipid. It reminded me of the weak teas usually served in restaurants and, sadly, even some places that bill themselves as “tea houses.”

So Here’s My Plan

I’m going to try it again with the same brand of tea bags. But this time, I’m going to steep them for the 8 minutes I usually use with loose leaves.

I’ll let you know later how things worked out.