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Friday, December 25, 2009

Tea for One

When you come over to our house, even though I always have it on hand, I will not offer you iced tea. There is usually lemonade, Diet Coke, water, and sometimes Fresca. But offering you a drink of tea will just be a waste of time. You won’t like it. I guarantee it.

Other Bill tends to put it on his list of available beverages to offer visitors, but I usually chime in with, “You probably won’t like the tea.” To some, that becomes a challenge. Who doesn’t like iced tea, after all, especially in the warm South Florida climate? The answer is everyone, unless, of course, you are my sister or a cousin on my Dad’s side of the family.

I’ll admit my iced tea looks like lawn clipping stew. Two thirds of it is brewed with green tree leaves that are rolled into the size of a BB. It is called gunpowder tea. When the hot water hits these pellets, they expand, just like those capsules that have animal-shaped sponges crammed into them. The other third is loose jasmine tea, to give it color and just a hint of flowery aroma. It has to be strained. My tea does not come in clean and convenient teabags. I don’t think I’m a tea snob, but I look at a teabag the way that Donald Trump looks at the rest of the world. In other words: I’m worth more than that.

The reactions to tasting my tea boil down to two. A polite person will express no displeasure with it, and he will spend the rest of the night thirsty while everyone else is enjoying their drinks. The ice will melt, leaving a glass of watered-down, untouched tea. An impolite person will wrinkle up his face as if he’s just taken a sip of a Rotten Sushi Slurpee, slam the glass down and say, “You really drink this shit? Can I have some lemonade instead?”

It’s true. I do drink that shit, and I have since I was twelve years old. Each summer when I’d go out to visit my Aunt Kay in Colorado, she’d fill up her 2-quart glass pitcher with the oranges painted on it, dump in a few teaspoons of gunpowder, and a few fewer of jasmine, and set it out on the side stoop in the morning. By lunchtime, it was sun-steeped and yellowish, and was a welcome thirst quencher. Initially I added teaspoons of sugar, but she gradually weaned me off of it until I drank it straight.

She would fill up the bottle again with water, set it outside, and we would drink it until it was too weak to differentiate from tap water. Then she’d make a new batch with new leaves. Call me wasteful, but I don’t adopt that Depression mode of tea recycling. I like it strong and bitter.

For the longest time, I made the tea in the sun, too. But Other Bill read something on the bastion of sketchy information, AKA the World Wide Web, which said that sun tea could encourage the growth of harmful bacteria. Other Bill’s job is as a safety and health regulator, so if I do not comply with his wishes, he threatens me with a fine. Plus he wasn’t fond of looking at sod floating in a pitcher of water every time he opened the fridge. So these days I make it in my iced tea maker, whom I refer to as Mr. Tea (I pity the fool that don’t drink this shit.) I dump the dry leaves into the bottom of the pitcher and let it steep until the water cools, and then I strain it into a gallon jug so that instead of looking like street runoff, with the leaves swirling around, it looks more like a giant urine sample. Much more appetizing.

I also get teased at work. Officers sometimes see the soggy tealeaf compost in the bottom of the Mr. Tea pitcher and threaten to field test it to see if for weed. People are not used to seeing tea out of a bag. Most people believe that teabags grow on bushes.

At my last job, a clueless party-girl intern staggered in one morning and watched me pouring off my delicious gunpowder mix, leaving the soggy tealeaf sludge behind.

“What is THAT?” she demanded to know.

I rolled my eyes. I’d been through this countless times. “It’s tea,” I told her.

“Well, it looks like leaves!” she said.

I just stared at her until she left the room.

I was so heartened when I had a cousins reunion at our house a few years ago, and everyone, except Other Bill, of course, drank that tea, because they learned to like it when they were young, too. I felt so warm, so tingly, so validated by people who actually had seconds. I have never felt less like a freak in my life. I was moved to tears.

The truth of the matter is, my sludge is actually good for you. Green tea is full of healthy anti-oxidants. It is good hot or cold. I drink two to three gallons of it a week.

It’s a little bit bitter, but it’s very refreshing and has a fresh aftertaste to it. I understand it’s an acquired taste, just like scotch or gin or bourbon, but without the harmful side-effects. I’m not trying to convert anyone. It’s pricey, about $10 a pound, so I hate pouring out the big glass that guests are too grossed out to finish.

All I want is a little respect. It is not a urine sample, nor soggy marijuana, nor flat beer. My tea has zero calories and very little caffeine. I don’t tease you when you gulp down 420 calories from 3 cans of cola. I say nothing about the possible dangers of artificial sweeteners as you chug down a diet soda and can only pray that your DNA or healthy cells won’t be affected by it.

I’m tired of being judged because of my beverage preference. I want anti-discrimination laws to read that I can’t be discriminated against because of race, creed, color, religion, sexual orientation, or consumption of fluids that the majority of people find 100% reprehensible. Even Martin Luther King said in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” I happen to be quite fond of my cup of bitterness and don’t see how it even remotely relates to hatred.

Drinking something that looks like floating mulch is a cross I have to bear. I will never be part of a movement. I will never gain a following. There are no bitter tea drinkers support groups. Nevertheless, I will not be intimidated. I will not be silenced. I have a dream, too, you know. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the meaning of its creed that all beverages are created equal; that they will realize that a man who boils water, steeps his tea leaves, waits patiently for his infusion to cool (a process that takes several hours), is not in any way better or worse that a manufacturer who churns out 2400 twelve-ounce cans per minute.

Until then, I am imploring Other Bill to no longer offer my bitter potion to houseguests. Wasting my beverage of choice will not in any way impede me from making more. I am a member of a small, exclusive club, which he has been invited to join but chooses not to.

Give me liber-tea, or give me death.

Well, okay, maybe not death. But not Lipton, either.

Creative Commons License by Bill Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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