Often when we talk about how food invokes memories we speak very generally, without specific items and stories in mind. But do you ever find that some dishes and drinks impart a physical nostalgia so strong it takes you right back to that place – much like certain songs cause us to replay past events almost tangibly?
Today I tucked a box of Canada’s own Mighty Leaf Vanilla Bean into my shopping bag. Have you had these teas? They’re really splendid. The vanilla in particular has such a gentle and sweet nose – just like a freshly scraped bean! It’s not cloying and fake like most vanilla teas I’ve steeped.
(As an aside: I’m resolving this new year to walk into a Whole Foods without buying tea. It’s become 2009′s psychological impossibility. Worse addictions exist, but really! I lack restraint around leafy aromatic things.)
Through fourth year university, I almost-lived in a little tea shop on campus called The Tea Room. It was run by our engineers and was a cozy little space that was diligent about keeping a small environmental impact – from completely biodegradable products, to sortable waste receptacles, to a vermi-composter and energy monitor in the shop. They exclusively served Mighty Leaf tea and I drank so much Vanilla Bean that winter.
This afternoon, I returned to the office after lunch and brewed a cup from my new treasure box, and lo – one entire winter right under my skin. It was palpable: the bone-chilling walk from my Princess Street home, the slushy underpath to the limestone building, how nice it felt to strip off layers of parka and mittens and sink into a mug of goodness alongside a hefty dose of theory. Tea Room had the nicest mugs – giant like latte bowls with a sturdy handle, but made of glass so you could perfectly steep the tea. The early-morning shift behind the counter would always gift me a hot water top-up as I extended my mug for just one more hour of reading.
I ached a little, today, remembering those long mornings, afternoons, nights. We romanticize things and forget the long hours of slogging away, writing just one more paper, trying – failing – to figure out what on earth a certain philosopher was trying to say. The weeks of choosing pretty much any activity over sleep, sometimes not by choice. Student life isn’t glamorous and I did my share of sobbing into my mom’s ear over four years.
But so much about that time was right. The flexible schedule and sun-drenched naps. The easy library shifts where I’d help book-seekers find material for papers soon due. The hummus-cucumber-tomato-sprout-on-pumpernickel sandwiches (not toasted, please) that fueled me through eight exam seasons. The overwhelming feeling of promise of a 6:30pm walk to campus, counting my fortune that I would for three hours sit around a table to discuss the finer points of things that happen only in the clouds.
There’s something magical in these forgotten places and what they become in our minds. And I ruminate on this very moment - how I might find it one day, over a cup of tea.