Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Friendship Tea: Reflections on the Joy of a Cup of Tea

When I was a young girl barely in junior high school, my late mom received a recipe for something new called Friendship Tea (also known to some as Russian Tea). The easy-to-make tea mix was comprised of instant tea powder, orange-flavored breakfast drink powder, ground cinnamon and ground cloves. Sweet, fruity, tangy and spicy. Even to this child’s taste buds, Friendship Tea was oh, so tasty.

Mom and I would go on to make our fair share of Friendship Tea throughout the years, some to give as gifts—especially at the holidays—and some to enjoy together. There was always a clear apothecary-style jar with a tight-fitting lid filled with the tea mix on Mom’s kitchen counter, scoop in the container, ready for tea making. We’d sit across from each other in our homey country kitchen at the old trestle table that served as dinner table, sewing table, homework table, board games table, even reconciling the checkbook table. There, Mom and I would sit, engrossed in conversation over a cup—be it our own homemade Friendship Tea brew or my mom’s store-bought favorite, Constant Comment. That trestle table could have told its share of stories, especially those involving a cup of tea.

Come to think of it, tea has always been at the heart of my most cherished conversational experiences with important women in my life. To this day, when invited for a cup of coffee, I choose tea. Not only does it appeal more to my taste buds, it appeals to my entire being. I may be the only person on any given day sitting in our popular local coffee shop, delighting in my cup of chamomile.

My preference may have to do with the ritual of tea-making that I admire so much, but rarely follow. There is a time-honored ritual to the act of filling the kettle, hearing its piercing whistle when the water reaches the boiling point, transferring the boiling water to a decorative teapot, and steeping teabags until the water turns just the right shade.

The first swallow brings about a sense of calm as the tea curls around on your tongue, washing over your taste buds, giving you just enough time to discern the commingled flavors before disappearing down your throat.

Drinking tea goes beyond the pleasures of taste, however. There’s nothing that warms body and soul quite like lacing your fingers around a hot mug of tea. The winter chill melts away around that one hot cup underneath your hands.

I have a friend with whom I often drink a cup of Constant Comment tea. Like my mother and me, she has a preference for its taste. We sit companionably, my friend and I, solving the world’s problems as we sip our tea—sometimes with honey, sometimes straight. (The addition of the former makes our world outlook a little sweeter, too.)

And sipping it is. Gulping down one’s tea will never do. The aromatic brew invites you to slow down, stop for a bit and sip, just sip.

My friend is a tea purist. The water must be boiled in its own pot, then poured into the mug or cup. I try not to remind her that I often heat a cup of water in the microwave (Heaven forbid!) and then plunk my teabag into the steaming water, calling it a finished product worthy of sipping. It must be the lazy—or perhaps efficient—tea drinker in me.

Thankfully, I have another dear friend, now sadly on hospice, who shares with me the not-so-refined art of microwave tea-making. She’d have the mug of water in the microwave, ready to press start the minute I walked in the door. I could sit at her sturdy table for hours chatting about this and that over a cup of decaffeinated green tea, sometimes with a slice of homemade bread or a freshly baked cookie on the side. A part of me aches as I miss those tea times with my friend, but I’ll carry their sweet lingering memory with me forever.

But back to Friendship Tea. It’s such a perfect name. From the time I was introduced to that simple tea recipe so many years ago, I have wholeheartedly agreed with its name. What lovelier way is there to share time with people you care about than over a nice cuppa? 

And speaking of a cuppa, here’s a more recent version of the Friendship Tea recipe my mom and I enjoyed so much, this time with the added zest of lemonade mix:

½ cup instant tea powder
1 cup sweetened lemonade powder
1 cup orange-flavored drink mix (e.g. Tang)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves

In a large bowl, combine and mix well all of dry ingredients together. Store in an air-tight container. To serve, scoop 2 to 3 teaspoons of the tea mix into a mug. Add one cup of boiling water. Stir and savor.

Whether you go for chamomile, chai, oolong or Earl Grey, every cup of tea, when shared with a friend, becomes Friendship Tea.

May you enjoy your share of cuppas with those dear to you. 

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