For the past few months, I’ve been writing about tea, and how the various flavours I encounter bring up memories for me of the books I’ve read. Smoky, sweet, tangy, tart, fruity, malty — each of those sensations has meant something to me.
Today, I’m doing something a bit different. Today, I’m telling you about a flavour and a memory from my own life, rather than something pulled from the pages of a book or e-reader.
Today, I’m going to tell you about linden tea. Forget Proust and his madeleines, though; when I think of it, it takes me back to 1998, when I was 13.
That was the year my father died. It hurt a lot, and it still does, and a large part of this is because I didn’t know much about my dad’s family (and in many ways, I still don’t). I was an obstinate kid, and refused to learn the language that my parents spoke — Macedonian — when they immigrated to Canada in the 70s. It took me a long time to realize what a big loss this was, but, as many kids of immigrants are aware, the dominant culture and language tends to win out. (And considering I’m an editor, perhaps it won out in me more than most.)
A trip to visit my parents’ relatives in Macedonia was in the planning stages before my dad died, but his death made the trip a higher priority. Thus, only about 3 months afterwards, we flew over and stayed there for 2-3 weeks, where I got to meet people I hadn’t seen since before I could talk.
And so, for the first time that I was old enough to remember, I met my father’s family. I saw the house he grew up in. I met my I met my baba (grandmother), my dedo (grandfather), my cousins, and his surviving brother – a jovial, booming man who was absolutely huge. The first time I saw my dedo, I sat right beside him on the couch and hugged him and pressed myself against him so that I could hear and feel his heartbeat.
A lot of the memories have faded from that trip, but one that endures is the smell of linden. That summer, my father’s family harvested linden blossoms and leaves from the trees to be dried and used for tea, and hung them up in bunches in the rafters, so that the staircase was suffused with their scent: sweet, floral, haylike, utterly captivating. I felt like I was in my own private world in that staircase. I barely remember how that staircase looks, as I haven’t been back to Macedonia since, but that scent, oh, that scent — it makes me want to climb into the boughs of every blooming linden tree I see.
It is surprisingly hard to find linden tea on this side of the Atlantic. Hard, but not impossible, as I recently managed to get a sample of Tilleul from Harney & Sons. Previous reviews of this tea online had not been positive, but I was determined to try some and recapture some of that memory.
Unfortunately, I had only one teabag of the tea to try, and probably ruined the tea by treating it too roughly — I steeped it in boiling water for nearly 15 minutes. By the time the tea had cooled down some and I took a cautious sip, it tasted musky and sweet and cloying. For all the world, it tasted more like chamomile than that sweet smell from the staircase an ocean away.
I’m a little disappointed, but I was warned. Perhaps it’s fitting, though, that the taste of linden tea should remain unattainable. It represents a time that was simpler to me, a time where things were much more emotionally charged, more black and white than they are now. I just wish that there were some way to recapture that scent and keep it with me.