Bring Me Coffee or Tea

I can barely get moving without tea. Doesn’t matter what kind. Green, white, black. Black probably gets me going the most, simply because it has more caffeine, but there’s something in tea that makes me feel like the day is worth getting up for. It’s good for you, as all kinds have the antioxidants that are mostly touted for green tea. Perhaps I can feel the free radicals being flushed from my system, I don’t know.

Sure, tea has caffeine, but I’m glad it’s not coffee I need. I like coffee, especially espresso. My favorite coffee experience is to sit at Cafe Pedlar in Brooklyn and sit with a macchiato for a while. It’s a ritual. You slowly sip it and every bit of that sip rushes through your veins. I would say it’s like a drug, but in fact it is a drug. Sure, it’s weaker than so-called street drugs and other stimulants, but to differentiate is only by a matter of degree.

But I’m glad it’s not coffee I need because of the aftereffects of coffee. An espresso or macchiato is just enough that I can avoid feeling gross and smelling it emanating from my pores the rest of the day. And the bad breath. The rush and the inevitable come down. Plus, I drink coffee with milk, so that’s additional calories I don’t need.

Tea is free of that. Friends who swear by say tea tastes like hot water. Sure, after years of having one’s taste buds bombarded by coffee, it’s not the same. Talk to any real tea drinker though and they’ll be able to explain the differences, differences coffee drinkers can’t distinguish. The maltiness of Assam, for instance. The difference between an Earl Grey with an overwhelming bergamot flavor, and one in which it floats and lingers.

My first tea was, as with many Americans, Lipton. It seemed British and the British are the ones associated with tea. “Lipton” sounds like an English town, and I’m sure there’s an Earl of Lipton stomping around in tweeds and Wellingtons somewhere. I started drinking it when I was in grade school, probably to seem grown up. Now, regular old Lipton, not to be a snob, but it is not really good. Perhaps I’m steeping it incorrectly, for too long or not enough time, perhaps its magic comes out only with milk or with a certain amount of sugar. But it tastes burnt to me. Burnt and thin. Lipton makes more teas than the standard one seen on American grocery shelves, but for me in grade school, regular old Lipton, that was tea. But keep in mind this was in the years immediately preceding Starbucks’s take over of America, when Folger’s or Sanka was the typical cafe du jour. Lipton is a far better tea than those are coffees.

Tea is about subtlety. My favorite now, like many others, is Silver Needle. It’s some kind of super-expensive, picked-only-by-the-hands-of-the-emperor’s-minions’-descendents and blessed by a Taoist priest thing but it’s worth it. It’s too rich for my blood to drink every day, but it is tea steeped down to its essence. It is extremely subtle. I’ve had coffee drinkers taste it and had it declared water, that I’m a sucker, that this emperor has no tannins. Sirs and madams I beg to differ. The bouquet (and yes, it has that) is round like cocoa. I’ve been told it tastes like grass, but that makes sense because it is a white tea, the least processed tea there is. Black tea is strongest because it’s been mildly roasted, and white tea is the closest to having been merely picked and steeped.

Coffee is not about subtlety, and that’s why when I drink it I drink it in moderation and drink the best I can get ahold of. An espresso with a slightly oily residue floating on top is a holy thing. But not a cup of coffee every day. The jitters, the coffee breath, I just don’t need it. The rush is nice at first but I can get that from espresso without the extreme come down. And I don’t drink it every day, so it’s a treat of sorts. Day to day it’s tea for me.

Bring me coffee . . . no, bring me tea.

One Response to “Bring Me Coffee or Tea”
  1. Couldn’t agree more! The subtleties of tea are just gorgeous!

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