I didn’t think I had a tea story in me this week. Like everyone else I know, covid-19 had knocked at my doors too. My parents had tested positive and I had moved in with them for their home isolation. And tea? Not even on my mind. I didn’t need tea to rouse me from sleep; the softest cough from my parents’ room upstairs had me jumping off the couch, masking and gloving and racing up with oximeters. But about 72 hours of anxiety forced a pause and I wanted a cup of tea.
My mum’s kitchen is nothing like mine and I had to hunt a bit to find the tea among the various containers holding the spices and ingredients that my kitchen doesn’t. I had found the coffee—my parents love their coffee and on Day 1 of their home isolation, mum had repeated the instructions on how they like their morning coffee. And not fully convinced that I had understood them, she had helpfully sent a step-by-step over WhatsApp. I have been making coffee each morning for them. I make filter coffee with milk just off the boil. It has to be piping hot to pass muster.
I had coffee this morning, I tell my husband and son over our daily video call. They—one a coffee devotee and the other still too young for caffeine—look amused. I still hadn’t managed to locate the tea. What I thought was tea turned out to be black sesame seeds. I wonder what my mum makes with them. I have no use for black sesame seeds myself. I stopped for digressions like this, marvelling at the great many things in the kitchen. Mine is far less cluttered and also far less interesting.
My hunt for tea continued. I knew it had to be there somewhere because my mum makes tea for me when I visit. Of course, I had barely visited over the last year. I finally found it—all the tea packets I had been sending my folks over the year… some green tea because they had wanted to “try it”, an immunity blend from the time covid-19 first surfaced (and which I thought might help), a saffron tea because my mum loves saffron, a lovely Darjeeling black tea because my dad had wondered what the fuss about it was. They were all there, some unopened and the others, nearly full. Clearly my parents’ allegiance lay with coffee. As for me, I was happy to find the stash of tea; it was almost like meeting old friends.
For a few minutes, I could pretend a certain normal. For a few minutes, I could slow down, make a big mug and sit back with a book. For a few minutes, I told myself, everything was okay, although I knew it wasn’t. No matter how hard I tried, my thoughts wandered to people inside my home and outside. About how much we are all struggling, about the collective anxiety that hangs over us, the fear, the helplessness, the sadness.
For once, tea did not soothe or comfort. But it was familiar—and that was enough.
Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry. @AravindaAnanth1