My Grandmother drank tea the way young people drink beer.
The deal was, it seemed to me at the time, that she made a pot of it (she was the only person I'd ever seen make tea in an actual pot outside of restaurants) and we couldn't end our visit until the pot was empty. She would ask if my mother would like something, maybe some tea, and Mom would say no but never all that insistently because Eva would be up and out of her chair on the way to the stove to grab the kettle (not the same as the pot, I learned) before the first syllable was out of her mouth. Somewhere between Want and Some, the kettle would be filled, the burner would be lit, and any protestations my mother would make wouldn't actually change Eva's movements at all, so she didn't really bother.
Her kettle didn't whistle, but you could hear the water boiling halfway across the apartment.
I like tea because of Eva's tea; no tea tasted like hers. She was an O'Hara, and while her son (my father) claims no relationship to her Irish heritage, preferring to think of himself as German, I've been drinking sweet, milky, buttery tea since I was seven or eight. The German part of me didn't have a prayer against that kind of genetic weight, bound solid with a plea to a child's sweet tooth.
After Eva died (this was years and years ago) I went looking for tea that tasted like that, but nothing I found came close.
Before last Christmas, when I knew I would be moving to Massachusetts, Mom asked me if there was anything from my family's kitchen I wanted to take with me. I wanted Eva's mugs. I drank out of them as a kid at her kitchen table, then at my dining room table. Their bottoms are scratched in deep, lazy circles with silver from the tips of thousands of spoons.
When I unwrapped them on Christmas Eve, I remembered to ask Mom what kind of tea Eva drank.
Turns out, it was Lipton's. Just Lipton's. Nothing fancy, nothing smuggled from the old country in the bottoms of suitcases, just generic tea that, as my mother told me, Eva would load down with cream. In my adult life, I'd only ever had it with milk.
I keep cream in the fridge. If in my occasional food-writing I ever call cream a staple, a necessity, a thing never-to-be-without, that's why - because sometimes I want to have a cup of tea with my Grandmother, and when I do, milk just won't cut it.
A version of this writeup was posted to www.wtfork.net