Had always been violently pro-coffee, anti-tea, most of my caffeinated life, to the point of choosing bad coffee over good tea, but at a certain point things changed. I think when I was working in Paris all those years ago, at a Korean house, and one of the mothers brought me a cup of something special, and I realized it was like I was drinking flowers. Still it didn't cause any sort of revolution in my behaviour. I don't think I actually bought tea, unless I was expecting limey visitors, for a few years thereafter.
Maybe in practical terms the real turning point was the F-word moving in and bringing his minor obsession with tisanes with him. Or maybe it was me drinking a bunch of mint tea in magrebhin places. Maybe the last time I visited both my grandparents, when I consented to have a cup as I had got snotty enough, coffee-wise, to refuse instant, and I realized the reason I'd always hated tea was because they'd been the ones to introduce it to me - as the fruit of a thrice-brewed, lovingly preserved PG Tips bag - revolting, obviously, and not representative of the institution.
But still, I have remained vastly more pro-coffee than pro-tea. It was the mornings what done it. Unless the day was stinking hot, I needed to start it with a strong, strong latte, either iced or hot; on the very hottest days I could manage green tea, but only on the very hottest. If not, I would get headachey, cranky, and flirty with excessive violence. Nonetheless, we got to the point of drinking a few pots of either green tea or tisane a week. And then it felt like a reasonable investment to drop 50 euros on a tetsubin. Painfully trendy and heavy as fuck, but I had managed to break two china teapots in as many years so it seemed like the only thing to do.
I have found what could be a turning point now, though. In Shanghai we found a tea shop, where we sat for some time after having a long walk in the heat, and where we must have drank twelve different kinds of tea in samples . . . some were lovely and some were gross but my favourite was a six-year-old pu-erh tea which I bought and took home. It is ace. Not only can I drink it in the morning instead of coffee without getting a headache or punching anybody in the fucking face on the way to work, but it also tastes so rich. The sort of same deep, biting richness as coffee, though without coffee's salutary bitterness. Indeed without any bitterness, which despite my being a coffee-head is charming in itself.
In a bizarre, opposite-side-of-the-world echo of my grandparents, the young man working at the shop told me we could brew each bit of tea ten times before it wasn't good any more, which has turned out to be truer than it was for the PG Tips bag. And aside from these ten times, the tea needs to be washed twice before the first brew since it's all covered in weird bacterial shit and dirt from being fermented.
Anyways, this shit is magic. I paid about 20 euros for a great big brick, which I don't think was a round-eye upmark since the prices were posted, and it was twice that in the aeroport, so I imagine it would be ridiculous after being exported. But really, if you ever pass through China treat yourself to some. Will it replace coffee in my heart? Certainly not, especially as we're moving to a chunk of Australia where coffee is cultivated and I bet that it is going to rock like I've never tasted before. But as we prepare our move to a sub-tropical climate I'm damn happy to have found something caffeinated I can drink on hot mornings that will allow me to preserve the life and well-being of the people around me.