Tea, & Beginner’s Heart ~

I sometimes (actually, often!) hear my friends, colleagues, & acquaintances say they don’t know what they want when I offer them tea. Oh, I’ll just have what you’re having, they answer a query about what they’d like. I really don’t know anything about tea…

Intimidated by what they think I know about tea, my friends revert to the Iranian custom of taarof, a ritualised form of polite refusal to an offer of hospitality that might, in any way, inconvenience guest and/or host. Do you want tea? Oh no, I couldn’t inconvenience you. No, it’s not an inconvenience, really. Oh no, I wouldn’t want to put you out. Really – I’d like to make you tea. 

Three times is the minimum refusal/response exchange, I’m told. But when my friends demur naming what they would like me to make, I can see them thinking that I’ll somehow judge them for their choice, that it might, in some way, diminish them in my eyes.

Really???

Tea, at least at my house, is about love. Seriously. I have to really like you to make you tea. And if I put on a tea ‘party’ for you (so-called by my grands, my sisters, my nieces & nephews and a few dear friends!) – complete w/ cookies, maybe scones, maybe even a savory or two! and maybe even 2 kinds of tea! – know that there is no way I’m going to think you’re ‘less than.’ Period!

I happen to have a pretty eclectic tea palate. I like blacks and greens and whites and herbals and rooibos and chai and…🫖. I like strong-flavoured teas and delicate teas, Lapsang Souchong and white jasmine. I like traditional tea – Earl Grey, anyone? – and the newest flavour of chai (I adore my anti-inflammatory rooibos turmeric chai!). So asking me what I’m drinking may well saddle you with one of those, which – I have on good authority! – only a few folks other than me like!

Today I’m drinking the last of my beloved Fortnum & Mason Smoky Earl Grey, dipped with loving regret (no one seems to sell it stateside!) from its beautiful aqua tin. With milk, sugar, and an amaretti cookie, it’s the perfect break to look out over the weekend’s heavy snowfall, still a smooth carpet over the yard.

In Buddhism there’s a lovely phrase – Shoshin, or Beginner’s Mind. I riffed on it with Beginner’s Heart, as the title of a blog I wrote for years, and that idea remains a guiding force in my life years later. The idea is that you just begin: with an open mind (& heart!), eagerness, and a lack of expectation or baggage, when you begin to learn a subject. Even when you’re at an ‘advanced level,’ you ‘study’ as a beginner would. 

This is how I want all of us (me too!) to approach the lovely, fascinating, engaging subject of what you’d like to know/ learn about/ or drink in the way of tea. And here’s a way to open the door to a tea lover’s beginner’s heart:

How about you tell me, next time I ask you what you’d like, how you might narrow your choices? And I’ll give you my handy/dandy ‘quiz’:

  1. Do you like black tea, like you get most places in the US?
  2. Do you like strong flavours or milder ones?
  3. How about smoky drinks? (If you like single malts, probably love Lapsang Souchong!)
  4. Do you like floral flavours, like the jasmine tea you get at so many Asian food restaurants?
  5. How are you about caffeine? Might you prefer one of my many herbal teas?
  6. And finally? Do you like spicy? If so, chai’s your cuppa!

In other words, tea has something for everyone, and there’s nooo need to be shy about sharing your preferences! I’m still learning tea, and it’s been my passion for more than 30 years. I definitely embrace beginner’s heart ~😉

So, how about we share what our favourite(s) are? Couldn’t we all use a new cuppa to try? ☕️ Why not share in the comments?

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