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At the bottom of a cup of tea

I rubbed my eyes a little harder, catching a glimpse of three ceramic mugs lined up in a row. Each had an identically-knitted sweater sleeve that buttoned just below an ear-shaped handle. I yawned and watched as the mug turned into a paint streak behind my damp eyelashes. I wondered if the three tea packets, all wrapped in foil and glistening underneath my lamplight, would actually help block the insistent clamoring in my head and around my room. I have heard tea is good for tranquility, so I brought some to prove it. It was an experiment of sorts. A tea test.

The packets were cold to the touch. Their rippled edges could have easily left papercuts that would send a jolt up my forearm to accompany my mind’s thunder. I grabbed a packet — Earl Grey, a quintessentially British black tea wrapped in blue and silver. I promptly pushed it against my nose to catch its calming, quieting scent. But Earl Grey is unfamiliar to me, so I didn’t know exactly what to smell for. If anything, it was the vague scent of foil.

I feel like I should know Earl Grey. The tea absolutely, but also the man. I bet he is a suave tea aficionado. In another life, Earl would take me across the sunbaked region of Calabria in Italy, where I could pick overripe olives and oranges while he collected bergamot oil for his tea. He would bathe his tea leaves in citrus and pour the mixture into my mug. One sip is enough for a bitter yet pleasant orange rind flavor to coat the roof of my mouth. As the summer sun falls, we would sit on the beach opposite the sea without a word, watching the waves crash against the shoreline. It’s a dream elixir that’s critical during a year stuck inside, and it’s one I can always look toward when I’m in need of an adventure. 

After a few sips of Earl, I moved on to green tea. Evidently, small, budding tea leaves are picked during springtime. The tea brings me back to spring days gone by. Last year, I took on the Al Buehler trail for the umpteenth time. To keep a steady pace, my feet hit the mud and matched the rhythmic beat of my breath. I remember trailing behind an actual runner, hoping they would motivate me to better my mile time. In a matter of minutes, they became a distant flicker, and I ended up standing still with the bottom of my palms pressed firmly above my knees, gasping for air. I looked up for excuses but only saw green leaves rustle in the wind. I looked down for answers and only saw drops of sweat splattered against my dirt-stained shoes. I felt defeated and trudged back home, but I knew a green tea could bring my spirits up. The drink tasted like an unsalted, earthy vegetable soup with a tinge of sweetness that slowed my deep breaths. It’s a healthy antioxidant fuel that keeps me in the present when I stray too far forward. 

After green tea, I ended with cozy chamomile’s modest yellow packet in my hands. Chamomile, composed solely of crushed daisies, was a past love’s favorite. Back then, the tea smelled like a bouquet, and the unconfined steam fogged up our glasses. Seeing clearly didn’t matter. We had spent three years blinded, telling ourselves that all relationships are tested. But over that time, our white petals were picked off one by one and crushed until the truth hit us both on an autumn afternoon. We sat outside that day, tearing up patches of overgrown grass with one hand while gripping a mug handle in the other. We took our glasses off, and we drank one last time to feel the soothing drops of lemon and honey. With the breakup already done, the two of us reminisced on happy times and rued the ones that got us to where we were. We shared one final kiss, and she departed with an empty mug. 

I knocked back the last trickle of cozy chamomile to relive the lingering memory. My fingers interlocked around the mug’s woolen sleeve, and I leaned into my computer chair. My experiment — my tea test — was complete, and all I could do was look at my lamp and nod. It was like a lighthouse beacon navigating vessels foreign, familiar and forgotten. I sailed back to reality and landed in a quiet, quiet room.

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