A story of bloating, bonding and Plentea Tea Bar
I’m a coffee person. I’ve been a coffee person ever since my mother started sharing her Maxwell House with me in the kitchen before school. Of course, it was never much, but I grew fond of the distinct taste and ritual of spending time together. Later, I was a coffee person in university, toiling over fourth year papers, night after night for weeks, while steam from my ceramic mug swirled above my typewriter. I was a coffee person at my first adult job when Rebecca and I would linger next door at the Berkeley Cafe for hot java and gossip, and I’m a coffee person still, almost twenty years later. So you’ll understand why it was slightly concerning when my naturopath suggested eliminating coffee from my days.
Dr. Lanigan’s office was just a few feet away from mine at the downtown fitness club and clinic where we both worked. She kindly fit me in for unofficial appointments between patients when I needed it. Talk about work perks! Mature beyond her youngish years, smart and active, she had this whole “pretty librarian” thing going on, with nice delts and an authoritative but sympathetic manner. I’d easily come to value her advice and insights during the two years that I’d known her. She got comfortable on the padded seat of the short black stool, folded her hands on her lap and turned her attention toward me, “What’s up?”
“I’m wondering about my digestion”, I replied from the front edge of her micro-suede glider. I shared my concerns about the look and feel of my midsection, describing the roundness, bloating and constriction for Dr. Lanigan, as clinically as I could. I’d easily gained ten pounds over the year, which certainly accounted for the inching up of my pant size, but still, my waistline seemed disproportionately fluffy compared to my larger but still firm and shapely back, shoulders, arms and legs. By the time by three o’clock training session rolled around each day, my belly was full and filling out my less forgiving workout tops in a most unflattering way. But my concern wasn’t just aesthetic. The area around my navel felt tight, like the pressure of a balloon expanded to it’s limit. The discomfort and general feeling of heaviness had become emotional and physically intolerable.
We bounced questions and answers about my food and drink consumption, workouts, sleep, stress level and medical health back and forth. Our rhythm was broken only by her uncharacteristic reaction to my water intake. “Debbie!” she uttered firmly with a furrowed brow. Her intonation said it all. A half litre a day is what made her shudder, in case you’re wondering. Before wrapping up, she made a few notes and handed me the sheet torn from the top of her prescription pad. There it was in large, legible blue writing, right between ‘Protein within one hour of waking’ and ‘Probiotic at night. HMF Forte’: ‘Eliminate coffee in the day. Herbal Tea.’ Damn.
Turning Over A New Leaf
I typically had two, max three, cups of drip or Americano a day. Normal size cups that is, not those ridiculous upright troughs toted by women with top knots and torn jeans on Saturday mornings. I’d add a dash of cream, roughly a two second turn of the wrist, and nothing more. Aside from the smidgen of dairy which I knew my body didn’t love, I never thought it a problem, until that visit with Dr. Lanigan. Once I understood how coffee drinking elevated cortisol and affected digestion, I understood the need to lay off. And it’s not like she said no coffee at all. I’d still have the satisfaction of my most important morning cup.
There was no fanfare, no drama, no Facebook update about cutting down on java. I just quietly did what I had to do. Within a week or so, I had a new routine – one morning almond milk stovetop latte. And by latte I mean vanilla almond milk warmed in an old fondue pot and poured over a half cup of dark roast. Fancy, I know. I thought I’d miss afternoon coffees more than I did. I suppose on the spectrum of coffee addicts, I was merely a moderate user with no legit withdrawal symptoms, just the mourning of a familiar ritual. Some afternoons at work, once sips of cold water and green drinks no longer satisfied me, I’d go outside for fresh air and a hot tea: same ritual, different beverage. The busy King West intersection, with its honking horns and offensive fumes, was an oddly refreshing break from the sterile lower level of the fitness club. I’d cross the street to either of the nearby cafes and select from the standard choices: earl gray, ginger, a few types of green if it was a trendier spot.
Herbal camomile and lavendar blends became my go-to, aside from that week of chocolate mint tea from the new place north on Spadina. I didn’t understood how tea could have such flavour. Was it natural or concocted in a lab? The cold welcome from the clearly overwhelmed staff behind the crowded counter certainly wasn’t an invitation to ask. Besides, at four dollars a cup, that habit died fast! Seriously, it’s just hot water and leaves people.
Plentea To Talk About
By this point, I still wouldn’t say I was a tea lover, but I was sticking with the program. The quelling of caffeine past 9am, together with Dr. Lanigan’s other recommendations, all seemed to be working. After just a couple weeks, my waistline was trimmer and flatter than it had been in months, much to my satisfaction. So when my every-few-weeks-or-so catch-up with Susan came around, and I didn’t want to botch things with a mid-morning coffee, it was the perfect reason to try the new Parkdale tea cafe, Plentea. They had me at tea sommelier. Seriously, I love that word. Sommelier. Sounds rich, right? While the finer details of greens and blacks and oolongs may be lost on me, I was totally into the promise of sharing chichi chai and other bar blended fanciness with my friend.
I was still several blocks away on Elm Grove when I got her text: It’s nice in here! She was right. I stepped in and was immediately drawn to the design and openness of the space. After hugs and banter about the inclement weather, I began taking everything in. In front of me was a slick black bar with an unusual angular design. Along the back wall behind it, were two rows of glass dispensers filled with colourful tea leaves, spices and dried fruit. The baristas, both attractive and well-dressed, greeted us from behind a counter furnished with expensive looking machines. Baked food pairings were neatly presented on white plates and everyone and everything exuded a sense of sophistication, vitality and calm.
There were a handful of customers that Tuesday morning. With just us at the counter, Susan and I were able to chat casually with Trish and co-owner, Tariq, as they prepared our teas. Tariq was eloquent and genuine in sharing the fine points of the ‘espresso machine made for teas’ and his artisanal brewing methods, though I imagined he’d probably repeated these details a ridiculous number of times in the seven weeks since opening.
Roughly five minutes and ten dollars later, I settled at a small table with Susan in the sitting area above the bar. My tall cup of Coconut Cream – an oolong tea with creamy coconut and lemon essence – was the perfect complement to an overdue unfiltered exchange between women. Our conversation flowed from personal projects, to parenting of our six year old daughters, to her 70-year-old mother’s new ukelele-playing life in Mexico. Woven between my laughs, her sighs, and every knowing nod, were sensational mouthfuls of warm silky tea and smooth nutty flavours. All the while, the pleasant sound of world rhythms and millennial chatter mingled around us. It was one of those wonderful get-togethers I hadn’t realized how much I needed. Thank God for girlfriends!
After Susan had gone, I spoke at length with Tariq. As it turns out, he is a self-proclaimed sommelier, not officially certified. But what’s a piece of paper when you have passion, knowledge and can make tea blending look like a fine art? My words, not his. When Tariq was pulled away by contractors, I excused myself to the ladies room, which I thought was upstairs by the exit sign. Well apparently exit meant exit and I ended up locked out of the cafe and standing in a maze of cement halls in the back of the mostly vacant building. I laughed to myself as I excused my way through the contractors sanding the empty unit next door, popped back in through the front door of Plentea, and returned to the conversation with Tariq without missing a beat and still not having used the bathroom. Which by the way is downstairs and lovely, lol.
A smile swept across his face as he shared memories of family life in Abu Dhabi. “Each aunt had her own recipe”. I could imagine the sort of friendly competition between family members that he described, as well as, the winters barbecuing on the beach with all of the adults gathered and talking over tea. It was that sense of togetherness that inspired the communal picnic style tables upstairs, which I thought was a nice personal touch. I know die-hard tea lovers (and die-hard coffee lovers, for that matter) may want nothing to do with it, but I flat out love what Plentea is brewing.
So, am I still a coffee person? Absolutely, but not for the sake of habit. So much of our everyday consumption is steeped in routine, like that morning cappucino or that evening chardonnay. We enjoy them and that’s fine… but do we really? Dropping coffee from my routine, I’ve discovered that it’s sometimes good to press pause on our regular routines and reconsider the motivation and effects of our habits. Before you go cold-coffee, ask yourself a few simple questions: Why do I enjoy this thing? Is this still serving me? What if I occasionally trade it for a healthier choice? Could I do without it? The answers may be yes, no, or something in between. It’s not always black and white. Even Tariq enjoys a strong espresso now and then…from Plentea of course. Cheers!
Been to Plentea already? What’s your favourite blend?
Visiting Plentea for the first time? Here are my personal tips to get the most out of the experience.
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