I have a serious tea addiction. It is the only non-negotiable item in my daily routine. But it is deeper than addiction. My ex often used to ask me if I wanted tea when I was upset (which was most of the time we were together.) I asked him once why he always asked me that, and he said, “Because it is the only thing I know you always want, and the only thing that always makes you happy.”
And it’s true. But a truth that still strikes me as strange, since it was not always the case. I used to be a coffee addict until health issues forced me to quit. When I first switched to tea, I thought I would never experience happiness again. In time, I found strong potent, tasteful teas that matched any coffee. My morning tea became, like coffee had once been, my only necessity in life. And when I say necessity, I mean that my whole day is ruined if I don’t have my unsweetened, potent, black, caffeinated tea in the first half hour of my day. I know it sounds a tad overdramatic, but this is no exaggeration: Caffeine is the only thing that can transform me into a human being fit to interact with other humans. Without it, I am essentially an unanimated golem.
Whenever I go traveling, this tea addiction becomes a problem. With the exception of Istanbul, it seems like there is a world-wide conspiracy against tea drinkers. If tea is the magic that animates the golem, then the world definitely wants to let sleeping clay lie. Europeans drink coffee first thing in the morning. Ask them for a tea, and you risk getting a thimble full of tepid sewer water. Middle Easterners put a lot of sugar and/or drink tea without caffeine. I will always crave the sage tea I was graciously served everywhere I went in the Palestinian Territories, and the mint tea I was graciously served everywhere in Morocco—but not when I need a shot of strong-tasting caffeine. Even England, known for its tea, served only one of two varieties when I was there long ago: flowery tea with milk in it or strong, bitter sewer-water like tea. It’s as though they gave up on pleasure a long time ago, in favour of more practical aims.
On my recent trip to Spain, I tried to prepare for this inevitability by bringing many, many tea bags with me wherever I went—but sometimes, that isn’t enough. I need other elements—most notably, hot water and a cup—to turn a tea bag into that great elixir that animates me. When I stayed in expensive hotels, it was easy to get a kettle. But if I stayed in cheap hotels or hostels, as I usually did, they simply didn’t supply kettles. I have no idea why that is, but it is!
Consequently, I often broke down when I was in bigger cities such as Barcelona or Madrid, and rather than take any chances, I would start my day in a Starbucks, usually burning with shame for where I found myself, and contemplating quitting the habit altogether. But in smaller towns, Starbucks shame wasn’t even an option. There were days when I felt consumed by this problem, and consumed by the problem of it being a problem.
One day in Cordoba, my quest for tea had reached terrible heights of anguish. I had gone from place to place looking for something that could bring me to life, even partial life. When I got back to the hotel, I was so desperate, I asked a cleaning woman to please stealthily get me a cup of hot water since there were no kettles. I ran upstairs to my room as though I were hiding gold. I put my tea bag into the cup, and it did not mix: It was dark brown at the very bottom, and transparent through the middle and the top. I searched but couldn’t find anything that could stand in for a spoon to mix it with. Again, I considered quitting my habit altogether, but I didn’t want a week of headaches and dull-mindedness while I was on vacation.
In Toledo one night, for the first time in weeks, I finally scored a kettle. That excited me more than is sane. Never underestimate the simple pleasure of hot water at the end of a long day: A hot bath, a hot shower, a hot tea! I love the feeling of coming back to my hotel after a long day of sightseeing and making a cup of tea—maybe even bringing it to the rooftop patio or some such common space to sip it as I watch the sun set on an astonishing view. Or making tea and sipping on it as I do my research for the next day’s adventures, or while taking a bath. That night in Toledo, I sat and drank one cup of hot herbal tea after another, until I finally felt restored. The next morning, I woke up and had one cup of caffeinated tea after another, until I finally felt animated. I left my room happy and strong. It was the one day out of five weeks in Spain that I felt like… my old Canadian self!