Omaira Gill

BY Omaira Gill

| Jan 11, 2016

Life

My Conversion to Coffee

If you’re not a coffee drinker, you’ll find yourself part of a rare tribe in Greece.

Our personalities are the culmination of a lifetime of habits. In our early years, we may define ourselves by the things we do, our favorite color, what we will or won’t eat and so much more.

It took me until my 30s to wonder about the fluidity of the rules we set for ourselves. When we change the habit of a lifetime, does it mean we lose a little bit of who we are, or grow ourselves in a different direction?

I have been an avid tea drinker all my life. From growing up in South Asia where it’s normal to put tea in a child’s milk bottle and drinking hot tea in the sweltering summer heat, to the UK’s unbreakable love for a cup of tea. Good day? Celebrate with a cup of tea. Bad day? Have a cup of tea and you’ll feel better.

Tea has played a starring role in my life. After the birth of both my sons, the first thing I asked for was a cup of sweet tea. After arriving home from a journey, the movements to put on the kettle and prepare a “welcome home” cup of tea have become automatic.

I got through my university years on cup after cup of milky, sweet tea made from the cheapest tea bags I could afford. They left a musty, papery taste in the mouth. As a career girl I was able to afford better and hit the peak with lovingly prepared cups of Orange Pekoe, first introduced to me by a Malaysian friend.

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I’ll never forget his reverence, almost a little Japanese tea ceremony of our own, as we huddled around the tea leaves unfolding in glass mugs of hot water on a rainy evening in Cardiff, and then that silky taste. Truly the champagne of all teas. I still think of that first cup every time I’m lucky enough to find Orange Pekoe tea.

In Greece, it’s coffee that’s the drink of choice. Tea has become synonymous with being unwell, so much so that when I first moved here I would get asked all the time if I was feeling under the weather when I would ask for tea while out with friends. Going over to visit friends, it took some getting used to that tea was not a permanent inhabitant of everyone’s kitchen cupboard. Likewise in hotels and holiday homes. I still find the kitchens in rented holiday apartments are always well-stocked except for one thing – tea.

Coffee is a huge part of Greek life. You’ll hear Greeks referring to the ritual of “coffee therapy”, the three or more hours they’ll spend over a single cup of coffee picking apart their problems and leaving feeling much better.

The pace of this coffee consumption took some getting used to. I’d come from a world where meeting a friend for a coffee took 30 minutes, an hour if you were really ambitious. Once I settled into the Greek way of meeting for a coffee, I’d pace my conversations and stories accordingly, which backfired when meeting friends back home as they’d start preparing to leave once the standard half hour was up, leaving me saying “But I didn’t tell you the best part yet!”