What is Making me Happy: a tea infuser

Following the model of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour and, to a lesser extent, the Make Me Smart daily podcast, I want to remind myself that there are things that bring me joy. These posts are meant to be quick hits that identify and/or recommend things—usually artistic or cultural, sometimes culinary—that are making me happy in a given week. I am making this quick format an intermittent feature.

This week: a tea infuser

I switched from coffee to tea a few years ago after it turned out that coffee was contributing to some health issues I was having. There are days when I really miss coffee (most of them end in y), but the pain was mitigated somewhat in that I also like tea, particularly varieties of largely unflavored black teas that I drink with just a little bit of milk—i.e., the same way that I like my coffee.

When I moved into my current office I had visions of a regular tea service that I could share with students. I brought an electric kettle, a ceramic mug, and a variety of tea bags. I drank some of these teas and did manage to give away some cookies last year, but the pandemic habits last year and so far this year mean that I haven’t yet shared a tea with anyone. Gradually I resigned myself to bringing a travel mug from home and sipping on that throughout the day. Satisfactory, if not satisfying.

A few weeks ago, I decided to invest in a tea set up for my office that I could enjoy more. After a little internet research, I settled on Adagio Tea’s ingenuiTEA, a 16 oz loose-leaf tea infuser that offers me a little tea ritual to perform every day in my office. One week in, and I am quite taken with this system.

A pot of tea steeping, earlier today.

The infuser is a clever little contraption. You place the tea leaves and water directly into the main compartment, which has a mesh strainer over the release mechanism. When the infuser is resting on a flat surface gravity holds the release valve in place, but it when it is placed over the top of a cup, that valve is pushed open and the tea drains out the bottom.

After the first infusion I just leave the leaves in place and use them for a second mug sometime later in the day. My biggest problem to this point is that I need to pace myself. A fun new toy and ready availability of a fresh brew means that I have been altogether too caffeinated this week.

The next step to this little adventure is going to be further exploring the world of loose leaf teas. I am currently drinking Harney and Sons’ English Breakfast, mostly because it was the loose leaf that I had available. But now that I have a fun new toy with which to make tea, I am starting to set my sights on other varieties of unflavored black tea. Suggestions for where to look are welcome—I just don’t like bergamot and often avoid additives altogether.

Four Months Without Coffee

I had my last cup of coffee on November 6. If my quick finger math is correct, that means I had my last cup of coffee four months ago today.

This realization dawned on me this morning when several old friends posted pictures and captions about their love of coffee to Instagram. One of these, a college suitemate, I might term a coffee buddy. Seeing these posts sent my mind wandering, wondering whether I miss coffee.

Back in November I wrote a short reflection on the painful transition away from my drug of choice, noting the feeling of mental fog and general exhaustion that came with removing the stimulant from my system. Gradually that sensation faded. My body doesn’t react nearly as poorly to either too much or too little black tea (mostly English breakfast) as it did to coffee so while I still drink three or four cups a day, there are also days when I reach the late morning before realizing that I would like one.

And yet, there are times I still miss coffee. As a constant writing companion, tea does just fine, but I liked the taste of good coffee with just a splash of cream and I liked the ritual of brewing and drinking, particularly at coffee shops, that tea comes close to, but never quite replicates. But this is insufficient reason to return to a behavior that was becoming physically destructive to my body, so for the foreseeable future I remain someone who doesn’t drink coffee.

One Week Without Coffee

I have not had coffee in an entire week.

This is literally unbelievable to anyone who knew me in graduate school and later years of college. As in, “I don’t drink coffee anymore,” is the innocuous phrase that would let people know that I was under duress. I am the type of person who keeps a list of his favorite coffee roasters and shops in every city and who once made the joke on Twitter that he “is more caffeine now than man, twisted and evil.” And yet, here we are.

My body started reacting very poorly to even relatively small amounts of coffee, probably on account of the acid. I am quite clearly a caffeine addict, so began to scale down my intake rather than risking going cold turkey. This meant several weeks of just a small cup of coffee at about 5 AM before cutting it out entirely, replacing some of the caffeine with black tea.

Last Wednesday was the first day without a cup of coffee in I don’t know how long, and it went about as expected. I had four cups of tea and several doses of ibuprofen for the headaches. I did the same on Thursday, and the headaches had stopped by Friday. I have been through this process a couple of times in the past decade when I thought my coffee intake was creeping too high and cut myself off so that smaller doses of caffeine would work again. But these periods were always during the summer when I didn’t have to worry about my head feeling like it was full of wool and could just take an entire day to nap. This time, in addition to various writing projects, I had to teach. Talking in front of students through a fog of caffeine-withdrawal is a challenge, to put it mildly.

The switch to tea seems to be working, though. Still, it has absolutely still been a struggle. Without the constant buzz I feel a little bit dull and want to go to bed a little bit earlier, but my gut is happier and the early returns indicate that my sleep is a bit better. Other than struggling to read more than a few pages of a book before bed, these changes have been good, healthy.

But I say this knowing that I wouldn’t have stopped drinking coffee had I not been all-but forced and that I will probably start drinking it again if I am able. The thing is, as much as I like the bolt of energy, I also like sipping on a cup of good coffee when writing, or grading, or reading. I find it relaxing. Tea may someday supplant coffee, but right now it doesn’t have the same effect.