Food & Drinks, Life

My ancestors turn over in their graves every time you drink Lipton tea

I like my tea to be as strong, bitter and Persian as my soul.

Midterms hit us all hard.

As most students load up on cup after cup of weak coffee, loaded with sugar, from the dining hall, Starbucks or Small World Coffee, I head to my dorm to retrieve my mug, hot water, and a precious Persian tea bag — bitter and black. Not loose tea leaves, but it will have to do.

Tea kettles are fire hazards, anyways.

Of the minority who do drink tea, most drink it as a less bitter alternative to coffee — a low-effort source of caffeine, just a small packet pulled from a plastic wrapper and thrown mindlessly into hot water. 

A bit of me dies every time I see a friend take a Lipton tea bag, and I know my ancestors are turning in their very graves.

Tea is a cornerstone of Iranian culture. From a young age, tea has been an inextricable part of my daily routine and identity. When I’m at home during breaks, my parents and I each drink, at the very least, three cups of black tea a day — and that’s the household of an immigrant family that has spent years in the United States. In Iran, any member of my family, young or old, tired and in need of caffeine or not, will have up to eight cups of tea in one day. 

Tea is served with breakfast, after lunch, in the afternoon and after dinner.

My addiction to tea was inevitable. 

While we were in Tehran this past summer, I explicitly told my mother I “needed” black tea bags to take with me back to college. And so I brought back one box — one treasured box — of black Persian tea bags.

With such low reserves, I don’t have the luxury of drinking six cups of tea a day. Still, from time to time, when I see a dear friend walk past me in the hall of my dorm clutching a mug desperately, I inquire about how exams are going. 

Then I ask if it’s coffee or tea. If it’s tea, I ask if it’s from the dining hall. 

I don’t even have to ask if it’s Lipton, but I do anyway.

When she inevitably replies in the affirmative, I shake my head dismally, feeling for a second almost as bitter as what’s in my own cup. I proceed to offer them tea – real tea, potent, Persian tea, straight from my motherland. I offer them a piece of my heritage, of my culture, of what I hold near and dear to me. 

Offering that little piece of myself makes me hope that the people who take that cup of tea realize just how much I must care about them.

I think back to how much love my mother puts into brewing a single cup of black tea, the same love her mother used to put and her grandmother.

 I only hope to communicate a little bit of that love with my offering.

Whether it’s the cultural differences between America and Iran, the desensitization of the average sleep-deprived college student to choosing their source of caffeine or simply the methodical nature of daily functions during exams, one tea bag is trivial to most. 

But it means so much more to me.