Berlin · Features · lifestyle · opinion · UK

The power of tea

I’m sitting on the balcony of a flat in Neukölln drinking a cup of tea with a splash of milk. It sounds like an idyllic summer holiday moment but it’s freezing – I’m wearing a big jumper and my hands are like ice. That is when I don’t have both hands wrapped around the mug of tea, resting it against my collarbone.

It’s nice to be in Berlin right now as trees bloom literally overnight and groups of people sip beer on the street until it gets too cold in the dark. Spring is unfolding, the city’s population is growing. I’m definitely seeing more high-rise jeans, bum bags and trainers now that the winter hibernation has thawed.

There is uncertainty, though, miles of it, oceans of it. The comfort of a cuppa cannot be underestimated in anxious times. Or at any time. I can say this firmly because I’ve recently experienced three months without a cup of tea.

Slight exaggeration – tea I’ve had. I’ve had mint tea, chai tea, orange and ginger tea. I’ve had  ‘einhorn’ (unicorn, of course!). These teas were good and helped punctuate my days as hot drinks do. But for me, there is no substitute for what I recognise as a traditional cup of tea.

When I left the UK in January I took with me a suitcase filled with jumpers and a lot of black (it seems to be the main colour scheme for clothes here). I arrived at the Neukölln flat wondering if it existed or if I was part of a wild scam that preyed on clueless Brits. To my relief the flat was real and my flatmate was friendly.

Three days after I arrived I signed up to a daily three-hour German class, desperate to give myself structure.

New to freelance life, I still had a lot to figure out. Still, everything was exciting and I loved it. I even enjoyed hearing the mildly aggressive announcements on public transport. Each week I trotted out my favourite German word of the moment as my feelings for my adopted country grew stronger:Genau! Doch! Egal! Trotzdem!

But there was a nagging feeling I was missing something and I craved comfort. I used to think homesickness was all consuming – the sort of thing that left you properly depressed. But now I realise it comes in many forms and can lie inside you quietly. For me it manifested itself through an obsession with tea.

A brew. A cuppa. It has been ingrained in me since I arrived on the planet.
“I’ll put the kettle on”, “Fancy a cuppa?” “I’ll make us some tea” – these are the phrases that have been popping out of the mouths of my immediate network since I was born.

Growing up it was the biscuits I wanted most. There would be Pink Wafers or Ginger Nuts that arrived in an old fashioned well-used tin along with the hot drinks. Sometimes Bourbons or – jackpot – Club biscuits. Chocolate was the holy grail.
I can almost taste the buttery deliciousness of the Rich Teas that had a leading role in my grandma’s biscuit stash. Then at some point I was included in the grown-up ritual of drinking tea. And now, if you’re wondering, my biscuit of choice is Jaffa Cakes. Yes it’s obviously a biscuit.
IMG_1144
Drinking tea in Berlin 
What is it about tea that makes it such an important part of daily life? The key turns, you dump your stuff, shoes off, put the kettle on. I don’t think there’s any other way to arrive home. To have a cup of tea with someone is to form a social bond.  My brand of choice is Tetley and I missed the familiar blue bag with flat-capped dudes, sitting reliably in my cupboard.And who knew you could speak for 45 minutes about tea over the phone? During chats with my mum we’d discuss the action of drinking tea as if it was a Line of Duty storyline.
“You have to put the EXACT amount of milk in it,” my mum would say.
“YES,” I’d reply, on the edge of my seat. “Are you drinking a cup right now?”****
I can’t properly express the feeling of complete contentment that passed over me as I sat at my parents’ kitchen table with a cup of tea in front of me. Don’t worry, I hadn’t decided to give up on Berlin and move home permanently because I missed tea. It was a visit.

My first sip of tea after a sabbatical was a bit of an anti-climax.

“Is that it?” I thought. Seriously? I’d built it up in my head something silly.
But soon I got back into my tea groove and this is what the real charm of tea is: It just makes sense all the time.It’s not special. It’s not especially delicious. It just is. It gets made, it gets drank and it’s a ritual that reminds us of the everyday. And of home.NOTES:

1. I wrote this in spring.

2. There are other tea and biscuit brands, these are my choices. Please share yours with me!

3. I now have a mega stash of tea bags in Berlin.

 

A cup of tea next to the window of my new Berlin flat.
PS I was drying my trainers at the window after ANOTHER storm. 

Adapted from my newsletter, on the road with eu, published on August 25 2017

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