A few days ago, I accompanied a vegan colleague to a vegan café, where she ordered lunch (a vegan club sandwich and iced tea) and I ordered iced tea. I’d already eaten.
A handsome, young man with round glasses brought us our drinks—bright red liquid floating on pale yellow.
That’s not iced tea, I said.
Yes, it is, he said. Stir it.
I stirred it. The pale yellow liquid disappeared. So did the handsome young man.
I took a sip. Delicious. Fruity. But it wasn’t iced tea.
Someone from the kitchen brought my colleague her vegan club, which, I’d noticed, could have been ordered with organic, aged cheddar cheese.
Is this café vegan or vegetarian? I asked.
Vegan, he said, except for the cheddar.
The handsome, young man came around again to ask my colleague if she were enjoying her vegan club. She was.
But this isn’t iced tea, I said. I couldn’t drop it.
Yes, it is.
No, it isn’t. I was trying to smile, to argue amiably.
What do you think iced tea is?
It’s brown, I said absurdly, and caffeinated.
You mean like Earl Grey?
Yes, like Earl Grey.
You want me to make you one?
No, I said. What did I want? I wanted him to acknowledge that the words iced tea mean something. That there’s a received meaning for iced tea. That what he’d served me wasn’t iced tea. For me, this was a question of words and meaning, not of a bungled order.
What’s in this drink? I asked him.
Hibiscus tea with lemonade.
It’s delicious. I said. But it’s not iced tea.
Yes, it is.