Tea Time is Me Time

University can get pretty stressful.

I found that out barely a few days into the first month. I’d entered school with my survival kit: a laptop for labs, three coloured highlighters for readings, a few good pens, and a bottle of white-out to ensure note-taking perfection. I’d planned out my breaks and laid out what I was going to do in the next month using the handy-dandy syllabus.  I thought I was prepared. But suddenly, the two quizzes and one assignment I thought would be really manageable became three lab reports, five quizzes, math problems, chemistry problems, a sociology test, two midterms, and the CRA. I thought I’d never see light again.

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In the world of the work clock, when there seems to be time for nothing, it’s hard to find a few hours to ourselves. When things get hectic and the mental stress becomes overwhelming, I run to my safe refuge, the one thing that can calm my nerves:

Tea.

To be particular, chai. And not just any chai, but a nice, creamy, hot cup of what Pakistanis affectionately call “dhood pati” (literally translating to “milk tea bag”) which is literally just a tea bag boiled in milk. I have a cup every evening: no sugar, tons of milk. It’s the most calming sensation on the planet. All headaches are gone. There are flowers and rainbows. Chemistry suddenly makes sense. As Henry James says in ‘The Portrait of a Lady’, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

If you’re like me, who logged in literally (not figuratively) a millisecond after my enrollment time and found all of my courses to be full, then your schedules are really long and you probably end class at around 6PM. Because of this, coupled with my 1-2 hour commute, the school days can get really, really long. I also have this weird medical condition where long days cause me to get really bad sinus pressure headaches (something about my sinuses being sensitive to small changes in weather, who knows) which make me feel like I’m drifting through fog.

Long story short: school days can suck sometimes. A hot cup of tea in the middle of the day can do wonders for pain: mental, physical, and emotional.

UTM has some pretty interesting places to get tea. We’ve got that cool Chatime bubble tea place opening up in October (they’re hiring, by the way!). We’ve got old, reliable Timmy’s, which sells great but slightly watery steeped teas. We can’t forget Starbucks, with its vast assortment of fancy teas courtesy of Teavana. There’s also Second Cup, which is the perfect balance between Timmy’s cheap prices and Starbucks’ fancy quality. Personally, I always go for a medium steeped tea with two cream at Timmy’s when the day’s gotten too long. It’s a basic staple drink I can always rely on, like an old friend. Really hits the spot!

I’ve noticed that caffeine consumption (whether tea, coffee, or another caffeinated drink) peaked for a lot of my friends in university. Whether they have fallen into the cliché ritual of grabbing a cup every morning, or whether they just like the aesthetic of strutting around with a $5 Starbucks latte, I’ll never know. Maybe they legitimately need the caffeine to stay awake every morning, to which I would just shake my head with disappointment. Either way, it feels like university comes with it a mass coffee drinking culture that sucks all tired, disoriented students in its abyss. It’s like we only consume caffeine to keep ourselves alive, to borrow energy instead of creating our own.

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But evening tea! With just the subtle hints of caffeine and the creamy undertones of milk, it rejuvenates the mind and soul. And it doesn’t just have to be chai; caffeine-free varieties (or should I say, varieTEAS) like chamomile and rooibos work wonders and help with sleep. A warm glass of milk, with its creamy base and light sugary taste, is another great soul-cleanser. For the coffee drinkers, a light evening java may also be a great choice, provided it’s not too close to bedtime. It’s the hot drink coupled with the mental breather that helps alleviate stress and lets us develop a quite appreciation for life.

Tea time is me time. It’s a time when all worries are out the window and I can let my mind wander. When I can forget about my assignments and focus instead on cultivating my thoughts. I can write in my notebook, or watch a funny show (Dragon Ball Super again, no shame). I can sketch, paint, doodle, and be creative. I can delve into a good book, or skim over the editorials in the newspaper. Heck, I can even stare at a blank wall and just empty my mind, just breathe.

But this isn’t only a discussion about tea. It’s a discussion about something much deeper, something inherent to many students, something intrinsic to university life:

Stress management.

This is something I struggle with, and I know a lot of others do, too. When you’ve got five assignments, three lab reports, and a midterm coming up, it’s easy to forget about focusing on you. I find myself forgetting to eat, nap, and pray when I’m locked up in those math problems or on a roll typing my essay. That’s why I drink tea: to take a break from life. I don’t know how I would complete anything without this mental break in my day. It’s like we’re all swimming, holding our breath under water, and we need to resurface and breathe or we would start drowning.

So the next time you see someone purchase a steeped tea at Tim Horton’s or buy a peach-lemon green tea from Starbucks, give them a thumbs up. Because while we may have different tastes, be in different programs, and come from completely different backgrounds, there are a few things that bond us during times of struggle. Tea is one of them.

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“If you are cold, tea will warm you;
if you are too heated, it will cool you;
If you are depressed, it will cheer you;
If you are excited, it will calm you.”
(William Ewart Gladstone)
(Photo credits to my sister, Faiyza Alam. She drew this herself!)

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