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That first sip...

“And I’ve drank a cup every day since”; What it's like to experience tea for the first time


A life-changing experience

Kevin's First Experience: "I remember hearing my grandmother tell me a story when I would come over to her house. She had a tea cozy and doily on every surface imaginable. I'd always make a point of touching every fuzzy, soft, oftentimes dusty tea cozy she would keep on each table, desk, or davenport whether there was pot in need of being cozied or not. "What are these things?" I would always wonder. One day I had the mind to ask her why she had all these tiny pot-shaped sweater things all over her house. Then she told me a story.


During the war, she had worked in a factory for a while. My grandfather was off fighting in the Pacific, and she worked back home. Though she had tried coffee as a teenager she always hated the taste. Bitter and unpleasant, like chalk or mud, she said. But she drank it anyway because she needed the energy to work long and grueling hours at the factory. That is until one day while on break one of the other women at the factory offered her a hot drink from a keen porcelain pot. "Want some tea, Evelynne?" her friend asked her, "sure!" she said though she had never tried tea before.

She found out later it was black tea, access to green was nearly nonexistent then, and she fell instantly in love with the hardy, robust, deep, rich, and innervating drink. It was much tastier to her than coffee and she felt a lot of energy from the drink but not the jitters or the heart-thumping excess of caffeine that coffee can muster up. "And I've drank a cup every day since" she concluded. A lifetime of tea from one chance taste-test." (Kevin Horank, personal interview, 2021).

For those who enjoy coffee or tea every day it may sound like an almost startling question, “when did you first try coffee or tea? How did it feel?”. The question may also be a nearly unanswerable one. Some loyal tea or coffee lovers may have tried their first cup so long ago or even enjoyed so many afterward it is hard to remember the exact moment when they first experienced their drink of choice. Or where they were, or how old they were even!


But what can be known for certain is that for every dedicated and experienced tea drinker there was a first time and a first time that ultimately changed the tea drinker’s life for the better! Today we will talk about a very subjective, and perhaps for some an even almost intimate experience of trying tea for the first time and what it is like to experience tea for the first time ever.


An acquired taste

For some tea drinkers, their first experience of tea may have been a not-so-positive one. We are talking here about young tea-tasters! While herbal and fruit teas are certainly sweet, delicious, and palatable for children, the true tea family may be a tough sell!


Surely some of us remember hearing about the magical and exotic properties of green tea! That color, those stories of longevity or of martial arts masters or monks in China or Japan drinking this magic drink and being nearly invincible! But then, the fateful experience of tasting it came and, at least when we were children, the flavor was...quite bland or quite bitter or not our proverbial cup of tea!

Despite negative first tastings in our youth, many folks return to tea later in their lives, maybe even in their later teens or twenties. Maybe even later! By this point in our lives, our palates have maybe changed quite a bit. Let's take vegetables for a good analogy, the bane of many a child’s dinner plate, have become not only sufferable but maybe even enjoyable or preferable as our palettes change. A similar thing may happen for early tea-tasters who found tea‘s flavor none too tasty! But let’s talk about the first time one downs a cup of tea and finds their life forever changed for the better!


Just like Shennong

Describing what tasting tea for the first time is like is elusive. it is so subjective and certainly can differ from drinker to drinker. But perhaps another analogy can help to illustrate the premier experience of tea and how that can affect a person's life. According to legend, the origins of tea go back to the mythical Chinese god-emperor, Shennong.


An herbalist and polymath, Shennong went on a quest to taste every herb, plant, root, leaf, twig, vine, blossom, and fruit he could get his hands on to compile the most comprehensive medical book ever for his subjects. We have discussed Shennong quite a few times already on here, But the part of the story we would really like to focus on today would be the surprising and serendipitous nature of him trying tea for the first time.


One day while Shennong was on his quest of sampling herbs, tea seems to have introduced itself to him by chance! An auspicious breeze lofted some mysterious leaves into his hot water bowl while he was taking a quick break from his important herbalism work. From that fateful sip, and the effects the strange drink had on his body, mind, and spirit, the whole lineage of tea culture would begin right then and there.


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