Not all favorite stories have to be from significant events, like a marriage or a first love. Sometimes there are little past stories you tell again and again that may seem insignificant to some, but are highly memorable to you. Perhaps you start to tell the story for the tenth time and your spouse finishes the story, with a roll of the eyes, but gosh, you love telling that story! They’ll hear it again! Here is one such story about my love of tea.
Twenty eight years ago I started my first year at college. I had studied two years of Mandarin Chinese in high school and knew I would continue those studies at university. My Chinese classes were often held at 9 am each morning. As a young woman you could imagine how hard it was to get up, rapidly shower, dress, get transported (by campus bus), and make my way to the classroom that early. I managed, dragging my butt, skipping breakfast each morning. Luckily, right across the street from the classroom building were about eight “grease trucks” as they were called, each owned and operated by people from the Middle East. They were among the friendliest people I’ve ever met in my life, and each day greeted me with huge smiles and pleasant conversation. They made getting out of bed early not such a horrible thing.
Every single morning of my freshman and sophomore years I ordered English Breakfast tea with milk and sugar from my Lebanese friend, Ahmad. He put the sugar and milk in the cup for me, and tended to be a little over generous with the sugar. But I didn’t complain, and have to confess that over time I began to really like it sweet. Often I’d also buy a Rice Crispy treat. I’d then go to my class, 10 minutes early, and ease into the morning, sipping and eating the delicious treats. This regular custom was one of the simple pleasures I looked forward to, and Ahmad even started to make my tea before I reached the truck window not to delay it. I knew this, and a few times told him I didn’t have the cash. He’d then say “No problem. No problem. Please take it, and you’ll pay me next time.” And I did.
So I was a “regular” at Ahmad’s grease truck. Oh my, if I went to a different grease truck than usual, Ahmad would probably have gotten upset (or I’d feel guilty), but there was no need for me to do so. The tea was just perfect as he made it, and the other food I sometimes ordered was delicious, too. Honestly, better and cheaper from the grease truck than any fancy Middle Eastern restaurant I’ve ever been to. I’ve often declared that over the years. Still true!
The first day of my junior year I went to Ahmad’s truck and shocked the heck out of him. He wasn’t sure when to expect me that semester so didn’t have my English Breakfast tea ready. I announced with great ceremony, “From now on, Ahmad, I’m going to switch to Earl Grey tea with milk and sugar.” Whoa, did that bring on a bit of excitement! Ahmad said it was a great new choice, and then began to regularly prepare this new elixir. The oil of Bergamot was almost like aroma therapy, and intensified my morning pleasure.
My college years have long since passed. I’ll admit I’m now more of a coffee drinker. But on occasion I have some Earl Grey tea and think of Ahmad and the grease trucks. Maybe about two years ago, my brother and nephew were lured to join me to my alma mater, based on my story of the grease trucks. We ordered falafels and gyros. I also ordered some Earl Grey tea. Ahmad was no longer there, but the huge smiles and warm pleasures remained.