My English roots made tea a staple sight in my childhood. Yet tea for me was not an early love affair. Instead, I vividly remember sitting obediently in my grandparents’ conservatory and secretly questioning their sacred ritual of ever-punctual mid-morning and afternoon tea. I would watch in disarray as a flowered porcelain teapot was raised to the brim of each matched, dainty teacup, scoffing with disappointment as a mundane, bitter liquid was poured.
What was it about this calm black tea that caused excitement amongst mono-emotional adults? My curiosity arose to my lips, but children were meant to be seen, not heard, so I swallowed my question by nibbling on a biscuit as I quietly brushed away dry crumbs that fell on my tea party dress.
Now I understand that my thirst for knowledge of tea’s perceived merits would have never been quenched by a standard adult response. It was not until I was pushed away from my first-world bubble of comfort that I began to understand the universal value of tea. A trip to Kenya to study abroad for three weeks at the age of 19 would change my perspective on the bitter liquid.
When I arrived at a rural village where I would be teaching schoolchildren, I genuinely believed that my digestive organs were on their way to suicidal self-implosion after a few days of rocky off-road bus travel and rookie traveler eating mistakes. Upon arrival to my host family’s closet-sized home, I instantly fell into a dreamless ten-hour sleep, and awoke at sunrise to run on the rugged, hilly local terrain.
However, my stubborn running habit proved impossible with deep, continuing digestive pain. After a few sprinting steps, I reluctantly meandered my way back to my cozy home that appeared engulfed by pink early morning skies, crowing roosters, and cries of awakening infant neighbors. When I slowly entered through the flimsy wooden door, my host mother took one look at my pale, troubled face and poured me a hot mug of tea. Too physically weak and mentally defeated to admit that I was repulsed by this beverage that she had lovingly placed in my hands, I acquiesced and sipped the warm fluid. I slowly savored the familiar taste of black tea leaves, intermingled with farm-fresh milk, a healthy dose of sugar, and a strong spoonful of compassion. I realized, astonished, that this beverage was not only delicious, but it was exactly the warm care that I was craving. Instantly, I was hooked on this tonic for life.
Today, I am truly reconnected with my English tea roots because I can find five million excuses in a day to consume this lovely liquid. I understand the soothing, self-healing that comes from pouring a cuppa. During Boston's late winter months, in particular, tea is an essential self-prescribed medicine for recovery from chilly morning runs. More importantly, I value the social connection formed by preparing and sharing this globally-admired libation. I savored this connection with my host mother in Kenya, and I continue to serve it up to those around me.
Sharing tea during travel has allowed me to appreciate tea as a precious cross-cultural commodity. When herbal varieties are brought into the mix, its flavors are as unique as the multitude of individual personalities in this world. Below are a few of my favorite teas that I prepare for myself, family, and friends after morning runs. So travel the world in a cup after your own morning run (or at whatever hour suits your fancy). Try out these varieties, continue your tea-travel to your taste, and pour your new favorites for loved ones. Voila, your vast journey of tea-licious exploration has begun.
1. For when you’re feeling fancy…
Tea: London fog
Why? London fog is the ultimate tea for urban tea parties. London fog lattes are made with Earl Grey tea, which is classic black tea blended with oil of bergamot. Its uplifting citrusy scent will make you feel like a queen when sipped from even the ugliest of mugs. Additionally, its moderate caffeine level will allow excitement about your royal status to seep through your pores.
To make a London fog, brew Earl Grey tea for 2-3 minutes in boiled water while heating your preference of milk (I use unsweetened almond) to a simmer in a saucepan. Pour steamed milk into tea, using a ratio of 2:1 tea to milk (i.e. 1 cup of tea and .5 cup of milk). Stir in ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract for a single serving of tea along with your favorite sweetener to taste (optional). Serve with homemade scones glazed with strawberry jam and almond butter, and share as a post-run brunch for a true tearoom experience.
2. For concentration…
Tea: Matcha latte
Why? In addition to being a delicious drink, green tea contains powerful antioxidants, and it is associated with optimal brain health and development. Matcha, which is a concentrated, powder form of green tea, may contain even higher doses of these rich brain benefits. These mind boosters along with its moderate level of caffeine will make a matcha latte your ideal concoction for mental activity.
To make a matcha latte, heat water in a kettle while steaming milk of your preference (again, I use unsweetened almond) to a simmer in a saucepan. Stir 1 teaspoon of matcha powder into a mug filled with hot water for a single serving. Top with steamed milk, using a ratio of 2:1 tea to milk (level 3 bonus for advanced baristas: form a coffee-shop heart with steamed milk). Savor this drink post-run on deadline days when a sharp mind is needed to crank out work.
3. For recovery…
Tea: Golden milk
Why? The key to this drink is turmeric, a spice typical to Indian cooking that is associated with a multitude of health benefits. Notably, this spice has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, making it ideal for recovery from long runs or workout days.
To make golden milk, heat 1.5 cups of milk of your preference (try unsweetened coconut milk for a creamy delight) to a simmer in a saucepan. Stir 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric and spices of your choice (I like ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon of ground ginger, and a dash of cayenne pepper) and (optional) honey to taste into milk. Simmer for 10 minutes before enjoying this tea warm as a soothing, caffeine-free anecdote for your high mileage mornings.
4. For those dreaded treadmill days…
Tea: Moroccan mint tea
Why? Moroccan mint tea is a sweet drink of spearmint and sugar leaves that is served generously in Northern Africa and regions of South of France, where I was introduced to this gem. Its fresh and crisp taste makes it the perfect caffeine-free drink for cooling off after building early morning heat.
Classically, Moroccan mint tea is made from fresh spearmint leaves and served from elegant, stainless steel teapots into decorated, handle-free glasses. However, in the modern Western world, we can conveniently place a teabag into boiled water and steep for 2-3 minutes before drinking. This drink can be refrigerated overnight and served cool post hot-yoga or following those dreaded, extra-sweaty treadmill mornings.
5. For that undeniable sweet tooth…
Tea: Sugar cookie tea
Why? This sweet-roasted barley drink tastes like sugar cookies. Need I say more? Celestial Seasonings is the genius behind this sugar-free candy-like concoction. Best to stock up as soon as possible because this holiday treat is only sold winter months.
To serve, simply place a teabag into boiled water and steep for 2-3 minutes. To make this drink extra-luxurious, top with 1-2 tablespoons of coconut milk creamer. Lavish in this warm caffeine-free tea on snow days or weekends when you can spend the morning curled up with a book under the covers after a cold winter run.