This time of year, there’s nothing I enjoy more than a cup of tea. When the sky turns grey and the moisture falls heavy in clouds of snow I come in from walking my dog with a thin icicle dripping from my nose. In a moment apart the steam from my mug then warms my nose and soon enough my gut. I am warm and refreshed.
It is the break that makes it special. The water has to be heated and the tea steeped for 5 minutes, and then it is time to relax. I have to make time for tea, I have to stop being in motion for a short while to enjoy it.
In this moment the revelation comes as the steam rises in thin curls that disappear into nowhere. Evaporation like this is what makes life on earth possible, although in nature it is driven by the warmth of the sun. But in my small mug I can imagine the mysterious forces that bring water away from the sea.
I am a bit of a tea snob. I only drink Twinings teas or those tins that come from an Asian market with the only writing in the Latin alphabet reading “Bonai” or “Oolong” or “Pu-Erh”. My favorite is Twinings Prince of Wales, which is actually a wonderful Keemun from Anhui Province in China. I always use what is called “loose tea”, or “tea” to me – never “bag tea” or “bag” to me. The inconvenience is worth it for a better beverage and a more sustaining moment.
In my black tin of Prince of Wales there is a small amount of water that makes up the plant material I am brewing. This water fell as rain with every indication that it would wind up in the Yangtze River. When I swirl out the leaves in the bottom of my cup and dump it down the sink, it winds up in the Mississippi instead. An Orange Pekoe from Assam similarly is made of water destined for the holy Ganges, but it also winds up in the Mississippi. The movement of these small amounts of water is far from what they expected.
This great movement of tea around the world is not new. As early as the 17th century large shipments were made to Europe. Attempting to tax it caused a riot in Boston in 1773. It was so profitable that the greatest technology of the time, the Clipper Ship, was invented largely to move it faster in the mid 19th century.
Water is supposed to move by evaporation and condensation. Ours is supposed to come up from the Gulf of Mexico in a great cycle that makes the Mississippi nearly a closed system. It is not supposed to come in on Clipper Ships, airplanes, or any other conveyance devised by man. But it does. Not very much, but some tiny bit.
This won’t change the level of the Mississippi one bit when everything thaws out in spring, but it changes the feel of the winter around me. A cup of tea, and the small moment it takes, pushes the winter back in a thin curl of steam with the warm smell of its own story written in the cargo hold of a ship or a plane crossing the globe.
With a bit of steaming water and a moment apart it becomes the stuff that life is made of.
There’s nothing like a hot coffee waiting when you come in from shoveling to me.
You never told me and, sad to say, I never asked…with but a few keystrokes (over at my place) I’ve certainly upset this delicate “tiny little bit” of which you speak…Earl Grey and Barry’s Irish–indeed!
My deepest and most sincere apologies. 😐
[It IS okay if they remain my favorites, isn’t it?]
Darjeeling tea at about 2:00 in the afternoon in the winter. Hard to find, sick to death of Early Grey.
Ah, Tea Best Drink Of The Day. For me it has to be a smooth genetle green tea.
Sencha or Dragon Well. It’s not just the tea but the act of making the tea that I find so relaxing, medatative (indeed there are entire rituals both Chinese and Japanese dedicated to the art of making tea). It allows me to take time out, to think to pause, to enjoy the aromoa, the taste, to savour the moment
Ah, Tea Best Drink Of The Day.
For me it has to be a smooth genetle green tea.
Sencha or Dragon Well. It’s not just the tea but the act of making the tea that I find so relaxing, medatative (indeed there are entire rituals both Chinese and Japanese dedicated to the art of making tea). It allows me to take time out, to think to pause, to enjoy the aroma, the taste, to savour the moment
I’ve been a tea snob for years… I tend to prefer loose leaf though and favor anything in the scented blacks. Have you ever heard of SpecialTeas? It’s my favorite place to order from – high quality and volume with fairly low prices. [http://www.specialteas.com/]. They have so many variations of Earl Gray, it gives me an excessive happy.
Been a bit slow to respond to my own post – sorry, my laptop died and I’ve been working from the desktop. Not nearly as much fun.
Jack: Tea is a personal thing, like a stolen moment in your bathrobe before you shower in the morning. For me, it’s exactly like that at its best. 🙂
T: Darjeeling certainly has its moments. I have some Ceylon Orange Pekoe that I use in the afternoon sometimes – the sun streaming in the window sometimes says to me, “It’s Pekoe time!” Dunno why, to be honest. It just does.
Gwei: Thinking about the rituals and the moments apart from life forced by the gentle time it takes for a good steeping reminds me of pipe smoking. A much more filthy habit but one that has its own pace and requirement to slow down just long enough to enjoy the fruits of the world. Moments like this are why I can never be completely aesthetic and why Tao will always have an appeal over essence of Zen to me.
Tarra: A very good tip I am checking out now. I have to confess I’ve been buying some teas locally from a tea store to supplement some of my habit – particularly in the Lapsang Souchong area, which is hard to come by. Earl Grey is a very special tea – the Bergamon in it makes an excellent iced tea that is lemon without being harsh.
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