If this were a confessional, I'd admit it. Before 2008, I wouldn't, couldn't belong here. Why? Did I hate tea? Did I scorn the substance? No, but I didn't drink it.
Tea entered my life only a few days after my passport was inked with three red initials: P.R.C, or as the official moniker goes, the People's Republic of China.
It wasn't that I hadn't tasted tea. Sure, my parents drank English Breakfast tea daily. It was just as essential for their morning routine as the act of waking up, or rather that was just it; they weren't awake before they had it. But I had skipped directly from orange juice to coal-dark coffee from the start of college and hadn't looked back.
Then in the summer after my sophomore year, I went to China. I was selected as a media volunteer for the Olympic News Service (ONS) for the Beijing Olympics. Namely, I worked at tennis, flitting around the venue and furiously writing quotes from athletes for the ONS wire during a three-minute window when the match ended and the time finally came. However, most of the time, all we had was time, too much of it in fact. I had come with 24 other volunteers from the University of Iowa and we had arrived two months too early. So, each day that training was cancelled and the torch had yet to light up the Bird's Nest in a grandiose start, I explored Beijing.
And in between the days, I found tea or as the Chinese call it, cha: green, red, black, brown, fruity, minty, indescribable, pure and unknown tea. It was a world I hadn't known before. Sure, it didn't feel as foreign as the Chinese characters that adorned the country in a blanket of confusion, nor as terrifying as scorpion on a stick, but its role was. I cherished that. To me, it became a welcome relaxation from the grind of the day, especially in the grubby trappings of a city exceeding 17 million; it was solitude, perhaps a little refreshing steam, and xiuxi, rest.
Since 2008, I've come back to China. I live in Zhengzhou, Henan, where I teach English at a local college. Look for more articles to come about my musings on tea, China and life in between.