Can you recall your earliest memory of tea? I can. How much do your senses of taste and smell affect your memories of foods and beverages, as well as the occasions during which they were consumed?
My earliest memory of having tea takes me back to the year before I started kindergarten, so that would make me four years of age. The memory is still very clear in my mind. Having grown up in Canada, I’d say our tea-drinking habits were fairly ingrained – most of which would have come from the strong British influence across the country.
At the age of four, I remember very clearly a neighbor from across the back alley preparing tea for me and sometimes for my younger sister – she would have only been three. The neighbor, a native of Germany, was elderly. I remember her large, but very short frame, and her crisp white-bibbed apron. Her thinning grey hair was pulled back tightly, wound into a bun, and pinned at the back of her head; I have little memory of her face. I can see her hands putting out her china cups and saucers onto a well-starched tablecloth. She would slice a lemon into round yellow circles and lay the lemon slices out on a saucer looking like petals of a flower. She always set out a dish of honey. It must have been black tea she served. To this very day, the memory of the smell and the taste of tea with honey and lemon always reminds me of this lovely old woman.
She treated me kindly and always made me feel special. I had tea with her many times before we moved closer to the school where I went to kindergarten – I do not recall ever seeing her again after we moved. But 50 years later, I have not forgotten the woman who served me tea – nor the memory of those tastes and smells.
I hear stories over and over again from people who like or dislike certain teas and herbal infusions because of some childhood memory. Isn’t it amazing how those happy, or not-so-happy, memories influence our taste preferences for decades and even for a lifetime?
I have been rather surprised to hear countless times from Americans that many associate having tea with being sick as a child. For me, tea was just a part of life growing up in Canada. I never recall being served tea when I was sick as a child, although I certainly made it for myself when feeling a bit under the weather as a adult.
As we educate people about tea, serve them tea as customers and as friends, and sell them tea, those memories will always be something we encounter. Some will move beyond those memories and attempt to appreciate tea in the best way they can; others will never get past some of those memories.
In recently being part of the opening team and tea director for the EnlighTea Cafe, I have listened to so many stories of why people like and dislike certain things about what they are tasting – and a good part of it goes back to their childhoods.
I’d love to hear from you about your earliest memories of sipping and tasting tea. For some of you, those will be vivid memories. I will challenge you to remember and share your experiences here on T Ching.