When I was a little girl in Minsk, spending the night at my grandparents’ apartment, my nightly ritual was the same. I would watch the puppet show on one of the only three channels, while drinking hot, sweet tea. For the life of me, I can’t remember a single episode of the puppet show, only the strange, play-like clarity of the show. In the 1970s, Soviet television was not the most sophisticated programming. The tea was what I remember.
I loved my grandparents’ apartment, with its uneven, rough-hewn dark brown wooden floors, a radio mounted on top of the door between the bedroom and the hallway, the kitchen that always smelled like sautéed onions and toast, and hanging garlands of garlic. The kitchen was where I could always sneak either a spoonful of strawberry jam or a cube of sugar to slowly melt in my mouth. But the living room was the place where I slept on their futon and where I drank their wonderful, sweet hot tea. Even though I drank it year-round, I most enjoyed it in the frigid Belorussian winter nights.
Because it would be too hot to drink from the cup right away, my grandmother would pour the amber-colored liquid into the saucer. I would blow across the larger surface area, dispersing the steam, making little ripples, then slurp the tea, making the satisfying “Ahh” sounds. The drinking of the tea, more than the children’s program on TV, to me, held magic of ritual. By the end of the puppet show, I could barely keep my eyes open, and would snuggle down into the clean sheets, my head resting on the pillow. All was well with the world, my belly was full of tea, and I felt warm and loved as my grandma tucked in the blankets around me.
As an adult, I have kept up drinking hot, sweet tea. I find this ritual most enjoyable in the chilly evenings and cold nights of winter. Unfortunately, during this drought in Denver, cold, snowy evenings have been a rarity. But I still have a strong hankering for tea. Now I dispense with formal cup and saucer, and enjoy my drink from a thick mug. For reasons I don’t fully understand rationally, the idea of gulping my hot, sweet tea, now in front of me on my own kitchen table, is making me nearly swoon with ecstasy. Even beyond the aroma, the mere idea of tea is making me salivate. I am grateful for Double Bergamot Earl Gray tea, its wonderful flowery fragrance, its deep richness, and its perfection with sugar and just a drop of milk.
I really enjoy drinking tea and having something with it, something savory, like goldfish crackers, which helps me slow down and savor the experience. And even now, 40 years later, it reminds me of and connects me to, those evenings in my grandparents’ apartment.