I don't drink coffee. I don't LIKE coffee.
I'm a tea drinker.
Since I no longer drink caffeine, I start every morning with what my husband calls my "placebo tea," an aromatic cup of decaf Earl Grey. Why would anyone want bitter coffee?
Some of my earliest tea memories are of drinking instant chamomile tea (it came in dissolvable squares!) on rainy days, listening to John Denver albums. Or my mother would make fresh mint tea from the peppermint she grew in patio pots. In high school I'd occasionally drink tea from a fancy bone china cup and feel like a grown-up lady.
By the time I went to college in Berkeley, my new go-to tea was jasmine, the more flowery the better. Despite the plethora of available coffee houses, at first I only drank tea at home. Because coffee houses always seemed so sophisticated to me, I don't think I set foot in one my whole freshman year at college. That's where the real intellectuals went, I was sure. The city dwellers. Not the suburbanites like me who grew up on a steady diet of Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch. In those pre-Starbucks days, I didn't know of one coffee house in my hometown.
Eventually, though, I made friends with a bunch of other English majors and aspiring writers who loved coffee houses. My friends and I would go to cafes and discuss how much we hated or loved James Joyce. Most of my black-clad writer friends would have coffee, but I'd have Jasmine or Earl Gray, and hopefully a slab of shortbread. I think longingly of those cafes, each with its own personality. The Cafe Roma with its globe lights and sorority sisters ordering lattes. The Cafe Intermezzo, where every time I came in, a man was sitting at the same table, reading Proust. The Caffe Med (short for Caffe Mediterraneum) the old beatnik and free speech hangout that my manual-typewriter-loving poet friend haunted. Dustin Hoffman sat in the Caffe Med in The Graduate. Sadly, from a quick Google search, it seems none of these cafes are open anymore. It's like finding out that old friends have died.
Even now, when I have lots of pages of writing to edit, I go to a local independent coffee house where I can order a pot of loose tea and a scone or slice of coffee cake. Tea drinking in a cafe now means the love of ideas, of literature, of writing and striving to do my best work as an artist. I've staked a claim to the intellectual coffee house.
Tea shops, as opposed to coffee houses, have a whole different vibe. As a rule, few men venture inside these shops' flowery interiors, where ladies go to have exquisite petite fours and tiny lemon tarts. Whereas my college writing friends and I met in coffee houses to discuss literary giants, going to tea with a woman friend is a more personal experience. Meeting a friend for tea means a good conversation about the important emotional issues in life: significant others, children, pets, aging parents, health issues. For as much as it's important to discuss art, it's equally important to discuss life. And, though as a young woman I hesitated to go into a coffee house, I've always felt I could go to a tea shop. Put on a nice dress and prepare to scoop on the clotted cream. Though it takes intellectual confidence and knowledge to complain about John Updike, all it takes to converse in a tea shop is a heart for life, and I've always had that.
Recently, I met my friend Kate at a local tea shop. Kate also loves hats and has a collection large enough to outfit an entire Gilbert and Sullivan production in period finery. Since she's an actress and singer, she often provides her own hats for roles, as Eulalie Mackcknie Shinn in Music Man, as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest.
Kate and I made a pact to wear hats and meet for tea (and yes, that is a Princess Di plate in the background).
The white hat I'm wearing was a gift from another friend, Bonnie, who gave me the green and purple hats as well as chose my Forties JewelTones Hat.
This hat is beautifully detailed. It has large and small rhinestones surrounded by intricate feather curlicues.
Over the years it's acquired some condition issues. I think the glue the milliner used yellowed over time, and the long feather looks a little sparse. But, I'm not free from condition issues myself, and this hat is a decade older than I am. It's a comfortable hat to wear. In particular, it has no veil, so nothing interfered with my consumption of tea treats!
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Ann Hillesland writes fiction and nonfiction and collects hats. In this blog she vows to wear (not just model, but wear out of the house) every one of her hats, blogging about their histories and their meanings for her.