What are you drinking today? Water, blood and juice were the basic thirst quenchers for many pre-contact communities around here, with the notable exception of the occasional pot of Labrador tea.

Tea quickly gained a foothold in many a packsack, meechuwap and Hudson Bay Store in most of northern Canada. Tea is now a staple for Cree and northerners everywhere. In fact, tea was such a staple, it replaced food in many grumbling stomachs when famine occurred, something that is no longer a worry.

Looked at another way though, the foods we depended on in the past are not around enough to feed entire communities. Therefore, technically, we are in a natural food famine, depending only on stuff shipped from the south or other countries.

Since tea is the main topic here, the gradual change from tea to coffee is slowly causing severe caffeine addictions in many of our former tea sippers (since tea sippers were never really existent in Cree territory, as most people I have observed usually gulp down sixteen liquid ounces of the amber fluid in two seconds maximum with varying degrees of sweetness, lactase and temperature).

Times have changed since the so-called discovery of the New World 500 years ago. The people of Central and South America have something to offer that is now perking our palate to a spicier herb, stronger than that Asian beverage. Yes, I’m talking Java here. The red beans of Columbia, the dark bean of Nicaragua, the coffee-laden donkey of ages (Juan Calderon really knows his name). All these exotic brews now scent out homes with their early-morning, red-eye-opening odours. The happy glittering of grateful eyes reflect the true value of this imbiber’s delight – a new reason to stop work and yap about nothing: coffee break.

As traditions go, nothing is as universal as a cup of tea to refresh one’s soul. Increasingly, however, coffee is gaining grounds (pun intended) over the leaf of passion. Since smoking is often associated with caffeine and the smoke deemed more offending than the coffee, coffee break is taken outside, where chattering teeth deliver the latest gossip in between sips and puffs.

Many people I know still cherish the thirst quenching-abilities of the tea and gladly and quickly pass gallons of the ambrosia after a lengthy stay in the south, where strangely enough, no one has the standard 10 gallon pot ready to be replenished every few hours. The homes I know have tea abundantly displayed stove-top and is always ready, always. An empty pot of tea is embarrassing and the tea keeper is admonished with fervour from every one within yelling distance. Oh woe the one who keeps the tea pot full! ‘Tis nothing but malady if the pot is empty, oh, woe the tea keeper!

Today, a cup of coffee is offered to guests and given the weather outside. Sometimes the china is saddled with an ashtray, but since we don’t keep very busy with sweaty work like chopping wood, fetching water (for tea), running for miles behind a dog team or just visiting neighbours, we tend to choose the drink that keeps us awake enough to do the chores. Alas, another tradition falls to the almighty onslaught of trendier, hipper and supposedly happier addiction.