Tea Drinkers

This is how N and I drink tea. And by tea, I mean real tea made out of lovingly and carefully steeped leaves of delightful goodness. I still buy an odd box of tea bags for myself but to offer them to N is akin to giving me borscht from a can.

N makes the tea, obviously. The few times I suggested that I make it, he looked like he was about to break into an “unsex me here” routine, so I desisted. He makes it, pours himself a cup, and drinks it. Then I pour a bit, add a large amount of hot water until it looks yellowish instead of very dark brown, add sugar, add lemon, mix it all together, and then drink. The first time N saw this, he whispered hoarsely, “Is that how you do it in Ukraine?” It’s been 15 years, and he’s still not completely over the difference in my definition of tea.

And speaking of tea, the only thing – quite literally the only one – that I miss from the USSR was the tea that was served on Soviet trains. It came in thick faceted glassware inside steel cupholders. And it was accompanied by little packages of two hard-pressed squares of sugar.

Soviet train tea

Everything else sucked but that tea I kind of do miss.

14 thoughts on “Tea Drinkers

  1. I’ll save you the bother with Amtrak: it also sucks, possibly even worse than what you experienced with Soviet-era railways.

    Amtrak routes go nowhere near where you want them unless you’re in the major coastal cities.

    There’s one state that has no train service at all (South Dakota), and there are several states that are “served” by Amtrak via a “replacement bus service”.

    My nearest Amtrak station “operates” with this fiction having been in place for decades.

    It’s also absurdly expensive compared to flying via commercial airlines, but it’s cheaper than flying general aviation, and so I chose to put up with it for a few years of travel between major cities.

    Most of the Amtrak train hardware is firmly stuck in the 1970s with no hope of ever upgrading it, including the electrical systems that are completely inadequate in an era of high wattage phones and laptops.

    The dining train doesn’t serve anything worth remembering, even if you still remember that First Class accommodations included a free meal entree and one drink (usually served in a 12 ounce can) for each meal of the day.

    The after-hours snacks area doesn’t serve anything but more of those drinks in cans along with overpriced low alcohol content beers, and so everyone smuggles on something, even if it’s just a multi-pack of apple juice boxes. (I’d usually smuggle on a plastic bottle of Sidral Mundet.)

    In fact, the only souvenir I managed to collect from my journeys was eight matching decks of playing cards, and I only bought that many in case we’d need them for big poker nights.

    I would have been thankful for some memorable tea that could be served in an environment that wouldn’t remind me or anyone else of a Soviet-era Sub-Directorate of Plastic Ball Bearings.

    As for the tea I’m currently drinking, the price was right: the international grocery warehouse in Orlando has little 25g boxes of Zarrin Persian Earl Grey tea, and if you ask nicely while they ring up your purchases, they’ll give you one.

    The Zarrin tea is a blended Assam tea that would be good on its own, but is even better with bergamot blended with it.

    When I run out of that, I’ll switch back to the assorted packaged tea bags I have from DJ Miles Tea of Taunton as well as builders tea from the Cornish Company.

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    1. In more of a Greyhound bus person but the one time I did take an Amtrak train, I agree, it was nothing special. It was kind of a huge letdown, actually. I imagined something by way of the Orient Express or those trains you see in movies about early 20th-century England.

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      1. Haha, no. Amtrak is like riding on a bus, but with a worse suspension system. And buses are more fun. I used to take the Fung-Wah (Chinatown) bus between Boston and NYC, and that was always exciting. I was never on one of the ones that caught fire, but there was always that chance, the little buzz of risk, you know?

        If you want a great train experience, buy third-class rail tickets in VN, and go from Saigon to Nha Trang. Best train trip ever. Just bring your own food 😉 Not the Orient Express, though. Wooden benches, ceiling fans, open windows, and you should probably figure out how to use a squat toilet beforehand, because trying it for the first time in a swaying rail car is not recommended. But everyone wants to talk, never was a better venue for people-watching, the countryside is lovely, and even the slums outside the cities are interesting from the safety of the train car.

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        1. “Amtrak is like riding on a bus, but with a worse suspension system”

          And stations that are fantastically inconvenient… in the mid 1990s I was visiting the states and used Amtrack a time or two and it was…. not good and required one person picking me up to drive 15 miles to the middle of nowhere to pick me up…

          Polish trains of the time were actually far better (in terms of comfort and convenience) “It’s scruffy but it goes” as one acquaintance put it.

          I don’t remember getting tea on a train though (and Poland had the little wire glass containers but only used thin crappy glass inside them).

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      2. “In more of a Greyhound bus person but the one time I did take an Amtrak train, I agree, it was nothing special.”

        It depends on which AMTRAK train. Acela in the Northeast Corridor is very comfortable. It is also expensive. If I recall correctly, a round trip from Wilmington DE to New York City is about $200.

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  2. The only time I’ve been subjected to food provided by a train service was in VN. That was… an experience. “Train food” is now a vulgarism I use with my Dad. Some people actually eat it, but we followed the lead of some other passengers and threw it out the window.

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    1. First Class on the Great Western Rail between London and Taunton is a much better train experience than Amtrak, plus they serve English Tea.

      This gets its Honorary Capitalisation from the fact that Tregothnan tea is grown in Cornwall.

      Despite the £100+ one-way trip cost in First Class between London and Taunton during peak service, it was still cheaper than wrangling some quick general aviation flight between the two, plus the train would pick me up at Paddington and drop me off near the town centre in Taunton.

      Apparently Great Western Rail decided that the First Class denizens could afford £50+ for the cost of railway modernisation as well as remedying quirks at Paddington that date back to Isambard Kingdom Brunel himself, because this used to be under £40.

      BTW, Tregothnan railway tea is lovely, is best served strong, and I now get a friend in the West Country to pick up some for me while shopping at Waitrose.

      Yes, I’ll be having my tea with N, thank you very much, but we’ll be sure to save enough to produce this yellow dilute tea abomination that many Americans also seem to like. 🙂

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      1. Shocking.

        Do you know why we call strong tea “builders tea”?

        BECAUSE YOU CAN BUILD EMPIRES WITH IT, THAT’S WHY! 🙂

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  3. “not completely over the difference in my definition of tea”

    Back in the day I remember a few lecturers on how to make “real” tea from Polish people, which usually started with loose leaves (which I had never seen in the US at the time). But in immediate post communist Poland a very common way was to just drop some tea leaves in a glass and pour hot water over them (coffee was made the same way with coffee grounds in a glass).

    Most people had tea with lemon (when available) and I freaked some people out by asking for milk. Tea with milk, called “bawarka” was generally considered appropriate chiefly for pregnant women…

    Also, ‘tea’ (herbata) covers a wide variety of products and lots of people kept all manner of herbal tea mixtures available as home remedies. I remember lots of people pushing me to drink linden (lipa) tea for various ailments but it never did anything for me and I didn’t like the taste…

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    1. Oh, I miss my lipa tea! It always did wonders for my health but I’m sure it was utterly psychological. We believed in its medicinal properties like religious dogma. Saying that lipa tea wasn’t magically curative would make one stand out as an incorrigible weirdo.

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    2. Didn’t realize that was so widespread! Linden tea is available in all the local supermarkets in the “hispanic” section. I think the first place I’d ever seen it was at the Piggly Wiggly.

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