“I found the effect pleasanter, it cleared and intensified the power of thought so, I had come to take it frequently, but not stronger than one might take it for pleasure.”
– from “Green Tea,” J.S. Le Fanu.
Something that’s always fascinated me about ulcerative colitis – at least, my particular diagnosis and subsequent treatments? The blind sudden speed of my body’s rejection of certain foods. To the best of my memory, it went like this: prior to diagnosis, I ate lots of anything and everything. I specialized in bags of crunchy cheese puffs. I loved coffee and drank lots of it, smoked, drank cocktails, and moved my bowels whenever the spirit moved me.
Then, wham – I had my first flare-up. Within a year, I had a nutritionist who put me on a bland diet. It’s a pretty depressing diet to be on, if you like beer, coffee and raw fruits and veggies. I made up my mind to try and slowly work things back in. The fruits and veggies made it. Beer not only made it back into my diet, it became one of my snob foods. From what I can tell, it’s common for UC sufferers to have problems with fatty or fried foods. However, now I can eat them, as long as I take it easy and don’t fall face-first into my plate of onion rings. But the one thing that has never made it back? Coffee.
I love coffee. A. buys a pound or so of Ethiopian every week from a local roaster, and my god, when that stuff’s roasting, I go through the apartment sniffing and trying to eat the aroma. (It smells almost meaty. Yum.) I love coffee ice cream, coffee-flavored candy, coffee everything. I probably enjoy it more because of the fact that for some reason, when my colon started pulling itself together again, it took one whiff of coffee and said, oh hell no, sweetheart.
When I finally figured out (or perhaps, admitted?) that coffee was causing the most of my post-diagnosis gut spasms – and believe you me, I tried to deny it. It’s hard to let go of coffee, man – I first tried cutting it out without replacing it. This was a mistake for several reasons:
1. Caffeine withdrawal. Poor A.
2. See no. 1
3. I had been taking prednisone, and was just making the switch to azathioprine.
No. 3 was the real killer. On the Devil Pred, I experienced a combination of restlessness, sleeplessness and general fatigue. The azathioprine doesn’t make me jittery or sleepless, but it definitely leaches the life out of me. I still prefer it to pred, for obvious reasons, but it makes it difficult to get up in the morning. So I needed something to wake up.
The bland diet suggests tea – not caffeinated, but still, tea’s on there. So I started drinking black tea, just your typical breakfast Bigelow’s or Celestial Seasonings. It wasn’t very good.
I was working at a local food co-op at the time, and I said as much to one of my coworkers when we were stocking the bulk bins together. “So drink loose tea,” she said, and showed me (god, I was/am still such a little kid) the teas we had.
I swear, drinking tea makes you look like a drug addict. Apart from the obvious comparison of toting around little bags of green herby stuff, there’s so much paraphernalia involved, and so many different ways to get excited or snobby about it. (I’m sensing a trend here in my eating and drinking habits…) There are probably tea conventions or conferences, where people meet up and discuss the best way to steep English blends as opposed to Indian or Japanese ones or something like that. And after drinking tea for nigh onto seven years now? I’d totally go.
Here’s some pictures of my tea paraphernalia:
(I’d say “collection” but then I start rubbing my hands together gleefully, so, no. I’d also like to note here that my friends and family shamelessly encourage my “collection” by gifting me with teapots and tea and strainers, so really, they’re as much to blame as me.)
This is the current stash of tea I have in my cupboard. Almost all of it is loose, except for some Celestial Seasonings stuff. It’s mostly caffeinated. Some of the tins (like the blue Chami one) are reused – I have about four bags of non-Chami loose tea in there right now.
Apparently, storage is a big thing for tea. Some trendy new tea shops (like Teavana) will try to sell you a vacuum or pressure-thingy-sealing container along with your tea so that it doesn’t go bad or rather, lose its inimitable brand potency. I bought tea from one of their shops in Central New York, and while I really enjoyed the earl grey, I had to wrangle with them to get it without the expensive container. Ah, retail. What I do is bag it up and put it in a tin or a plastic container. I’m probably RUINING it.
Various teapots, cups.
This one is my oldest, and my favorite.
One thing I learned very quickly? Unless you buy an electric tea maker (they work okay, but I don’t think the tea tastes very good, especially if you make anything other than black tea in them), which has the requisite hot plate like a coffee pot, you need to keep your teapot warm so that the tea stays warm. So you can buy or make tea cosies. Ah, accessorizing.
I crocheted this one.
It can serve multiple purposes!
(If you’re weird. And I am.)
Okay, so you’ve got the tea receptacles. Frankly, I don’t use teacups that often; when I make tea, I usually have a big ol’ mug of it. So I’ve got various strainers, to be used in the pot or in the mug itself:
I believe the big one is for something other than tea straining (maybe sifting?) but it fits perfectly into the top of one of my mugs, so its life-purpose has been circumvented. I like having a variety of these, but some I don’t use very often; some work better for different types of teas. (Oh, that’s my kettle in the background. It’s got some miles on it. Talk about paraphernalia; a regular pot would work just as well.)
I’ve heard some people get really funny about this. “The proper steeping time is X,” or “Whatever, I don’t enjoy tea unless it’s been steeped for at least twenty minutes because then it’s really strong and awesome.” (To the latter, I would have to say, BLECH.) I steep my tea depending how much is in the strainer, or on how anxious I am to drink it. I can usually wait about five minutes, tops.
I think that in tea, honey tastes better than sugar. I usually don’t add milk.
So that’s the gig. As I buy more tea, talk to more people and read more, I’ve learned new things, some of which are probably obvious to the old tea hands. For example, for a long time I didn’t know that you should not pour boiling water over green tea, apparently, it scorches it. This probably explains why I didn’t enjoy green tea much in my early tea-drinking days. Something else I learned from a tour of the Celestial Seasonings factory in Boulder, Colorado: white tea is the least processed kind of tea. Also, their mint room is incredibly sinus-stimulating, if you ever get the chance to go.
But as with everything, I find that tea comes with some drawbacks:
– Greater quantities needed. Tea doesn’t have nearly as much caffeine as coffee, so I usually start the day with about two-three big mugs to compensate. This has me peeing my life away. My god, the pee. But that’s doable.
– Getting used to the taste. I always have liked herbal tea, but it was hard to switch from that meaty dark deliciousness of coffee to the weaker leafier taste of tea. I love it now, but it was off-putting at first.
– General availability in all corners of my country. Have you ever noticed how you can get coffee anywhere? If you’re not picky or snobby, you can fill up your mug at gas stations, grocery stores, malls, bookshops; increasingly, if you are picky AND snobby, you can happily fill up your mug at these places. It’s a quality revolution, I guess. Look at the funny (and necessary) allotment nearly all libraries have now included in their budgets: 15. Build library cafe/coffee shop. It’s getting better with tea, though. More fancy-schmancy coffee shops are offering loose teas or higher quality bag teas. It’s very encouraging, and satisfying to my tea snob (or maybe, just snob) soul.
The bottom line? I still miss coffee, and every now and then when A. brews it, I drink half a cup heavily, heavily diluted with milk. It usually results in more toilet time, so I don’t do it too often. I occasionally will order and eat a dish of coffee ice cream without frightening side effects.
But I do love tea now, and the ritual of making it every morning has helped me to be more relaxed, which is always a plus for anyone with UC. I’d recommend the switch to anyone struggling with fatigue issues or coffee withdrawal. And by all means, drink green tea, no matter how much the Le Fanu story scares you. I haven’t seen my own little red-eyed monkey yet…