Sunday, December 19, 2010

Coffee, Tea and Me

I have defected to the other side. About a month ago, I gave up coffee and switched to tea. Aside from that one nightmare I had where Voltaire visited me as a disembodied spirit surrounded by fifty or so empty coffee cups floating in the air, things have proceeded quite uneventfully. Why would I forsake a beverage upon whose altar I would have gratefully sacrificed my first born, if I had a first born? There are many reasons, but first, some history.

I started drinking coffee in college when it became necessary to live on a maximum of six hours of sleep per night. That was a good night, six hours. Most of the time, it was more like three or four hours. I fell hard for this lover. I arose with half a pot, took the other half to work with me and finished it before ten in the morning. I purchased the largest cup possible at the local 7-11 on my break, and a second during lunch. (I am the only person I’ve known who tried to fill a Super Big Gulp with coffee instead of soda.) I struggled through the afternoon and made a pot when I arrived home. After downing half of that and thermos-ing the other six cups, it was off to night class. I polished off those six and hit the cafeteria for a last cup at the break. Once back at home, if I had homework for my full day of classes on the morrow—I alternated work days and school days—I downed another pot carrying me into the wee hours of the morning. This was my usual pattern of consuming coffee, day in and day out, Monday through Sunday. The habit stuck on tight like a glove.

My first appliance when I moved out: a coffee maker. My main interest in the house wares department of the local store: coffee makers. Then I hit upon the grinds: Ethiopian, Kenyan, Morning Blend, Sumatra. Addict, I was, and this in the days before Starbucks made it out of Seattle, Washington! When I couldn’t get my specialty coffee, I’d suck up Yuban if necessary. Anything to feed the monkey on my back.

Things got dicey with high blood pressure and diabetes, but I figured I’d be buried with my thermos at hand. If they wanted my coffee, they would have to pry it out of my cold, dead fingers. I endured years of wildly fluctuating blood sugar readings and multiple hypertension remedies. I would eat one small meal a day and still my blood sugar would be out of control. At first, my doctor said caffeine should not have any effect on blood sugar; she was more worried about the hypertension. Then I read that caffeine can have an impact on sugar in the bloodstream, and even though I used artificial sweetener, non-dairy and dairy creamers, I could not control the numbers. Still, I was unwilling to kick my habit.

So what changed? Nothing. That’s right: zip. A month ago, I just tired of the taste of coffee. I tried hot tea and never looked back. I had a cup of coffee in the morning for the first few days, but I liked the tea better and quit coffee altogether. Mainly, I liked the varieties of tea. I had my basic black, green and white teas, but there were also herbals and flavored varieties. I could pick my beverage to match my mood. A little anxious today? Herbal Chamomile. I quick pick-me-up? A strong black tea. Some antioxidants to promote heart health and prevent cancer? A nice cup of green tea, maybe with some hints of coconut or mint. Fruity aromas and subtle spicy blends became my holy grail.

Many people told me I would miss the energy burst from coffee. Others told me I would sleep better and be more relaxed with tea. I would say neither side had it right. I find that tea gives me a slower burn. I feel a boost of energy with caffeinated varieties, but the energy lasts longer and does not drop off suddenly like coffee, nor do I have the anxiety associated with the blackest of brews. Yes, I still get anxious, but coffee made the feelings worse and tea soothes me. In the evenings, I switch to herbal teas and they help relax me a bit, yet the act of drinking something hot and fragrant keeps me awake and alert. It is a strange dichotomy, but it works.

I have tried all kinds of teas in the four weeks since I said goodbye to coffee. My only regret is that I stumbled into a tea place in the mall. Those kinds of boutique tea emporiums are a rip off, and should be avoided at all costs. Tea is relatively cheap, but the store I walked into charged me twenty-seven dollars for a small bag of loose tea. Worse, the sales girl sold me a variety that was guaranteed to put me to sleep at night and didn’t. I tossed and turned fitfully throughout the darker hours. Evidently, she inadvertently added some green tea to the mix that caused the problem.

Mostly, I make do with the common tins and boxes at the local supermarket. They are cheap and tasty. Occasionally, I find a variety that is a little on the weak side; then, I use two tea bags or sachets, as they are now called. I squirt in a dash of honey, and I am good to go. My blood sugar does not react to such a small amount of honey, and I find tea keeps my sugar level even and steady.

I do not order hot tea at a restaurant because I have found that no one brings the proper set up. A small pitcher of sometimes not very hot water and a stale tea bag do not work for me. I’ll order iced and save the hot for home. I am sure there are places that do it right here in America, but the only place where I have had a good cup of restaurant hot tea was in England.

Will I ever go back to coffee? Maybe. I do not hate coffee. It is not like how some people speak of former lovers, their words dripping with the bloody daggers of anger and revenge. Coffee and I are on good terms, and I would not be opposed to sampling a particularly fine blend one of these days, but my daily beverage, my habit of choice, is the tender leaf not the roasted berry. Yes, tea is proper and English, but that is not why I drink it. I am not trying to be more writerly or literary. No pretension here. I like the simplicity of tea, the comfort, the soothing warmth and subtle shadings. No cream, no Splenda, no bleached filters. A shot of honey and I am easing into the stream, the flow of serene consciousness. And at two o’clock in the morning in the middle of a good book, there is nothing quite like it.

6 comments:

vazambam said...

Now that you've kicked the habit, you might want to try some
greek mountain tea-- if you can get a hold of it! Great stuff.

Woman in a Window said...

Best tea I had was in a Chinese tea house in Taiwan. A beautiful pot of tea infused with fruit. It was gorgeous on all counts.

Now back to my coffee. Sorry:)

(On an odd note, watching television with my 10 and 8 year old children, coffee is already sensationalized amongst the tween crowd. Yikes. Scares the bejeepers outta me, what decisions pop culture tries to make.)

xo
erin

Paul L. Martin said...

Ahh, Greek Mountain tea! I am on the hunt for it. The Greeks do everything so well: philosophy, architecture, cheese, and now, tea. Of course, I am leaving so many things out. I have a friend who used to own a Greek restaurant in my neighborhood. We ate there so often that he sometimes would not charge us and would slip in new recipes he was trying out. He was quite the culinary genius. He left us partial to all Greek foods; I was already a huge fan of everything else about the gods of western culture.

Thanks for checking in and commenting.

Paul L. Martin said...

Erin, what really scares me from television and media are the energy drinks. They contain a near toxic amount of caffeine and other chemicals designed to rev people up, but we just had a case here in the states with an energy drink that contains alcohol as well. Kids are drinking the stuff at parties and the caffeine masks the effects of the alcohol. However, after cases of alcohol poisoning, these products are being pulled from most stores. The marketing is so clever with this stuff, making people who drink it "rock stars," as is the name of one such product.

Never been to China, however there used to be an authentic Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood owned by an elderly Chinese couple. Their hot tea was a necessary cap to a meal, and it was incredible. The husband told me he imported it from China and that American tea, even if it came from somewhere else, was crap. So I am not surprised you found tea "beautiful" and tasty in China.

Thanks for commenting.

Aleksandra said...

:D I love this very much!! Love coffee and herbal tea!! Greek mountain tea is a bit heavy taste but very good.And one of my all time favorites is plane nettle tea,very good! And if you are in need of energy boost try Argentinian Mate!
Cheers!

Paul L. Martin said...

Actually, Aleksandra, my head-over-heels love affair with tea did not last long. Evidently, some teas can cause health problems of which I have learned, I am susceptible to. After a few days of feeling ill, I switched back to coffee and have felt much better. Oh well! I still like the idea of tea even if I cannot drink too much of it.

Take care.