My First Cup Of Green Tea Came From An MRE

Hey everybody! I'd like to share a personal story in honor of Veteran's Day. One of the things that has helped us make a name for ourselves is our Chai Iraqi Style, based on my experiences as a Marine Corps infantryman on the streets of a small city in Iraq and the tea we would often drink with the locals. It’s been a big hit with the veteran community and I think a lot of people liked the story behind it.  I had planned on telling a story from Iraq on Veterans Day, but it dawned on me recently that I have another tea connection with my time in the Marine Corps.  My first cup of green tea was from an MRE (“Meal, Ready to Eat”.  Those packages of food) and I remember it quite well. Around this time in the fall of 1999 (man, I feel old now!) I was at Camp Pendleton, California for infantry school.  I had just graduated boot camp and this was the next step.  While boot camp wasn’t fun, I had a lot of good memories of infantry school. It felt like we were doing the kinds of things you sign up to do, like firing all kinds of weapons, learning tactics and spending time in the field.  Plus it didn’t hurt that on most weekends we were given time off and able to go to San Diego and the surrounding area, which felt really cool for an 18 year old kid to have a couple dozen hours of freedom and week in a place like that. While a lot of military life looks exciting and glamorous from the outside, reality is that large chunks of it is spent actively doing nothing and on the day I’m speaking of, we were going to hone that skill.  Our task was to practice digging “fighting holes”.  The Marines don’t have “fox holes”.  We’re not hiding, we’re fighting from them.  Paired up with another Marine, we were to dig a hole on a ridge and spend the night practicing having one man up and alert, while the other slept or improved the position.   The menu that evening was “pork chow mein”. As far as MREs went, it was probably one of the better ones or at least somewhere in the middle.  It was a pouch with pork, some sort of vegetables (I just remember water chestnuts) and some sauce. Think a can of La Choy(™) Chinese food with a dash of plastic flavor to it.  It came with a packet of chow mein noodles, which definitely improved the flavor and texture. There were a few other “accoutrements” in the package, but the only thing I can remember was a small packet of green tea. The green tea was a bag in a paper envelope with some sort of a Chinese character (the one for “lowest bidder”?) on it. I suppose this helped the MRE seem more exotic and exciting, as they were trying to cater to changing tastes and bringing in more ethnic foods at the time.  I knew that tea should be made with hot water, but that wasn’t available.  Normally the bag of tea would probably be tossed aside and forever forgotten, but I had plenty of time so I decided I’d try to make it work.  I put it in my canteen cup (a metal cup that fits over a canteen, usually covered in grit and whatever the last thing you put in it) and poured cold water on it.   While a metallic cup of cold water with a hint of dirt probably wasn’t the ideal introduction to green tea, I’ll always remember the act of “being in the moment” and enjoying it.  There I was, enjoying a moment of solitude on a ridge, overlooking the beautiful, rugged Southern California landscape. You could smell the salty air of the near-by Pacific Ocean as well as the citrusy scent of wild fennel.  The temperature only had the very slightest bit of chill to it and the shadows on the hills and mountains became even more dramatic as the sun sank to the west. It was just a perfect moment that has existed since as a snapshot of my time in the Marine Corps and it lasted about as long as the cup of tea.  I don’t think it would’ve been memorable had my cup been full of “grape beverage base powder” (Kool-Aid), Taster’s Choice instant coffee, the powdered lemon iced tea mix (which was actually kinda good), hot cocoa or whatever else they usually put in MREs.  I believe the tea really completed the moment for me and my “fighting hole”. 

(I believe this photo was taken on that very day)

We would like to wish all of the veterans out there a Happy Veteran’s Day.  We hope that you can share stories and moments with your loved ones over our tea. Ryan and Mary

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