How Drinking Tea Has Become My Quiet Act of Radical Self-Care
Up until a few months ago, I was a coffee girl all the way. Not to say that I hadn’t flirted with #tealife before, even going so far as to purchase an adorable green ceramic teapot that came with three matching cups when I was pregnant (ten years ago!). And you could often find me sipping on the occasional paper cup of green tea in the afternoon, after my initial one or two cups of coffee had begun to wear off. But committing to tea as an intentional practice? That’s my 2018 thing.
I started to take tea seriously in 2016. This renewed interest coincided with three factors: an increase in remote online work, the opening of an incredibly adorable tea shop in the smallish Tennessee town we lived in at the time, and a glass teapot my husband gifted me over the holidays that year. The teapot itself was delightful: it’s entirely made of glass, and you actually use tea candles to keep the tea warm.
My husband also presented me with three types of tea (purchased from the adorable tea shop, natch): one of focus and clarity, one for calming, and one for energy. They each have dreamy names: Currant Turmeric Rose, Sencha Rose, and Memory Zest. I was hooked.
There’s something decidedly thoughtful and nurturing, even bordering on the feminine, about heating the stovetop tea kettle in the morning and wistfully waiting for it to boil while I start gathering myself for the day. On any given weekday, there’s so much to consider: I work two part-time jobs and freelance for numerous outlets. My kid is homeschooled, which is a job all by itself. I’m always working on at least two personal writing projects, and constantly in the middle of two or three books. My husband works full-time and attends school full-time. We have a bevy of pets, and each of them have their own needs. Our lives, like the lives of so many others, is jam-packed. We’re constantly encouraged to go, go, go, and do, do, do.
But when I’m huddled over the stove to absorb some of its heat on a winter morning, or I’m dashing around the living room, throwing windows open to let the breeze in mid-spring, nothing does more to simultaneously settle and focus my mind like the song of boiling water, or the whistle of the kettle when it’s ready.
And that’s just the first step. Lately, the act of choosing tea—of accessing my mood in the moment, thinking about the day’s plans, smelling a few selections, and finally arriving at an appropriate conclusion—has been its own brand of personal heaven. I’m also a big believer in nurturing a personal yoga and meditation practice (whatever that looks like for you, in whatever moment you’re in), but brewing and drinking tea has become some next level shit.
These days it’s been a little chilly in the Bay Area, where I live with my family and the aforementioned micro-zoo. Of course, when I say chilly, it’s all relative: I’m originally from the southern United States, so anything below 65 might as well be freezing. Don’t get me wrong: I love the weather here, but temperatures below 55 and steady rain have me scurrying to find my biggest blanket and comfiest socks the second I get home for the day.
What’s nice about honing your own tea practice—one that is honed with intention, not just something you drink as a substitute for something else—is that you can do it however you want.
Some days, I prefer to drink my fancier teas with the floral names, brewed over my glass teapot and poured into a gorgeous, and dainty, clay or ceramic mug. But these days? I’ve been buying a tin of Trader Joe’s Spicy Chai mix and happily mixing it in a large white mug I bought from Ikea for $2 about a year ago. Whatever works in the moment is what works.
In the same way that drinking coffee in the morning has me fired up and political within seconds (truly: one sip of coffee and I’m off. I take no prisoners, and Democracy Now is my best friend), drinking tea allows me to turn my energy inward. I don’t get a lot of free time to just sit around and think about me in the morning these days, but the ten or twenty minutes it takes me to finish my cup of tea—usually also a ten or twenty minutes in which I ask my kid to find his shoes, feed the cat, or look ahead to the coming week in my dot journal—has turned out to be just enough time to ask myself what kind of day I want, and what kind of day I hope I can give to others.
Last year was brutal, both politically and publicly for many of us, and personally in a lot of ways for me. I learned a few down and dirty lessons over the year, and was forced to realize and reconcile that I’m not going to fall prey to the relentless narcissism and rampant obsession with 24/7 work that seems to drive this area of the United States (at least on the surface). It was while I was simultaneously learning personal lessons and collectively coping with the broader, public lessons many of my fellow US citizens dealt with that I first turned to tea. Both as a refuge, and as a possibility.
Self care is different for each of us. For some, it means manicures and martinis, or glasses of wine with friends on a Thursday night. For others, it’s long phone conversations, of getting two hours of uninterrupted Netflix time. For me, it’s a little bit of everything, plus ample time writing… and a pot of tea steaming on the table, a tea cup perched on my hand knitted white coaster, and twenty minutes in which I drink tea and shape the world I choose to be in.