The fitted tea

| 13 Nov 2012 | 05:46

As kids, Mary and I used to sip “make believe” tea from little toy teacups in the room we shared.

“So delicious!” we cooed.

My mother drank the real stuff from a China cup, on which tiny rosebuds bloomed. She would sometimes let us sip her magical beverage, and giggling, we would feel nearly drunk from the thrill of it all.

When we grew up, Mary made sure we always stopped at a tea room to imbibe. By then, coffee was her beverage of choice, but she insisted we “take our tea” because she knew that I loved it.

In Martha’s Vineyard, when it was ninety-five degrees, we sipped Ceylon at the English Butler Tea Room.

In Manhattan, we sipped Assam at Alice’s Teacup, where little girls like we once were, sporting Alice’s signature angels’ wings, gulped wee cups of peppermint tea and tore into cranberry scones.

In Warwick, we shared a pot of Harney’s Ceylon and India in the blue willow room at Charlotte’s Tea Room.

When my family and I last visited Mary at her home in Studio City, CA, she told me to order the fabulous tea at Aroma, an outdoor cafe where the palm trees sway. Mary lived only a few blocks away, but by then she was too ill to leave the house.

At Aroma, I watched the tea leaves unfurl in a big white cup. And all at once I remembered a time when Mary and I were kids, when we dropped tea leaves into a cup of hot water and, like gypsies, imagined we could read our futures in the curling leaves.

We didn’t know then that Mary would pass away in her sleep at the age of 59. We didn’t know that the drink that we had shared —that magical elixir—would help to ease the pain of my grief.

On the day before she died, I had brought her a tin of the tea I’d loved at Aroma and we shared a cup, for old time’s sake. She declared it, “The best tea I have ever tasted.” That was the last cup of tea we ever shared. Mary died in her sleep hours later.

Years before, she had given me a coaster that said: Where there is tea, there is hope. Now I didn’t believe it.

But in the end, it was true. Through my tears, the tender liquid somehow brought my sister back to me. She was still there, still a living presence, like a butterfly caught too soon in amber and finally released. Memories flew by, and I caught them.

In the weeks that followed her death, I tested and tasted many teas. I discovered teas that helped to soothe me, teas that helped me sleep, teas that raised me up. In short, I discovered a tea to suit—or manage—many moods.

Since the first tea leaf accidentally flew into a vessel of hot water 5,000 years ago, we humans have known that tea is magical and paradoxical. It is yin and yang, up and down, win and lose. Tea can cut through the tears and soothe the ravaged heart.

There’s a tea for that. Here’s your guide.

Feeling contemplative? Sip Harney’s Paris Tea, a black tea with hints of vanilla, caramel, and lemony Bergamot. Enjoy a pot, or pick up some loose leaf sachets at the very English Charlotte’s Tea Room in Warwick. Owner Joanne Graney says it’s her favorite tea to relax with. Or unwind with a cup of Versailles Lavender at Montgomery’s Tea for Two, a tea room that’s part Miss Marple, part South American, Guyanese spice.

Looking for some zzz’s?: Try Tay Tea’s Kaapstad, a caffeine-free loose blend of South African red rooibos with vanilla, almonds, marigold petals, and ginger. Pick up a tin at The Tea Room of Woodstock, or order it online at Another great caffeine-free choice is Egyptian Chamomile, which you can savor at the rustic and relaxing Village TeaRoom in New Paltz. They sell the tea there, too, so you can sip it at home. (In fact, herbal teas aren’t technically “teas,” since they don’t hail from the Camellia sinensis plant, like black, green and white teas do, but why quibble?)

Want to revive yourself after long day at work? Enjoy a cup of Bohemian Raspberry Tea, a Japanese sencha-style green tea with natural raspberry flavoring from the English Tea Store (, or Tea for Two, Montgomery). After a happy, rhapsodic cup, you’ll want to sing like Freddy Mercury: Nothing really matters, anyone can see . . . nothing really matters to me.

Need a little TLC? Brew a comforting, mellow cup of Harney’s Ceylon and India, a classic black tea blend of Indian Assam and smooth Ceylon. (Charlotte’s Tea Room, Warwick; The Tea Shop of Woodstock). (Even though black tea has caffeine, it pales in comparison to coffee. Green tea has even less caffeine than black, and white tea has less than green.)