My cousin reminded me I haven’t said much recently about one of my favourite topics…TEA! And I even have a new one to rave about! So if tea is not your cuppa, sign off now…? (N.B.: if coffee is your thing, tune in another time; I’m bi-beverage-al!)
Tea… Today’s ‘lesson’ is based on what I’m learning these days, which is matcha. I’m an anomaly among many tea fans — I don’t care much for matcha. Which is kind of strange, given how much I love the ritual of tea (matcha has an entire code of rituals), tea history, and tea accessories. There are tools that are pretty helpful if you’re going to prepare matcha; the bamboo matcha‘s whisk — the chasen; the matcha bamboo scoop used to measure out the optimum 2 grams of powdered tea — the chashaku; the little spoon to stir the tea, so that the matcha powder doesn’t settle to the bottom of the cup… There’s even a super cute ‘rest’ you can buy to put the whisk on. My kind of toys.
But all I’ve ever had, apparently, is either ghastly matcha lattés, or super vegetal powder mouthfuls, or bitter bowls of tepid green stuff. Nothing to write home about. Then one of my favourite tea purveryors — Harney’s — sent me a note on their white peach-infused matcha. Verrry different!
I didn’t do the whole ritual, although I’m going to try it soon. Instead, I heated water in a glass kettle, as I usually do for tea, and poured it over the finely ground powder (Harney’s has sachets in the white peach matcha, but I usually buy looseleaf), in a small glass teapot, so I could see the colour. Didn’t add any sugar, either. Or honey. Just poured it in a small cup, and tried something new (which we should do regularly!).
Wow. It was GREAT! I know I’m a wimp to need the white peach to get me over the bad experiences of the past, but oh well! It WORKED. And since one cup of powdered matcha tea is equivalent to several cups of regular green tea (which is already über high in antioxidants), I can feel healthy! And it turns out, I’m not the only person who doesn’t like the junk masquerading as matcha; there are several pieces on the Net re: what’s ‘authentic,’ etc. Including YouTube lessons on how to make it ‘right.’
But I’m here to tell you: I didn’t make it right, & it was still great. Even when served from an English ironstone teapot, alongside Southern red velvet cake. So take a risk: go for it, sans the sugar & milk of a latté, or slushy, etc. (Although the red velvet cake was a definite bonus!). It’s definitely worth all the hype!
I’m drinking more tea these days. Often in the morning, I want the jolt of espresso — and we have a bangup cappuccino machine. But lately, I crave the comfort of tea, the ritual of measuring & steeping. The choice of a tray, a tea cloth, a cosy to blend. Rock sugar, honey, or Demerara? Or maybe a green tea, w/ no sweetener at all…?
It’s a hard time. I’m not happy with my country, & I have no recourse other than to keep on keeping on. I withdrew from FaceBook; my social media ‘outlets’ are Instagram — where I can post pics of teapots & my grandson!! — and Twitter, where I sometimes post current events, but mostly poetry & arts links. FaceBook became a place of such…anger. At least for me. I can’t feel the same about people I once liked well, knowing they elected a man who is, to me, a veritable monster. The lack of logic, & the double standards, visible in the totally unpresidential Tweets, media, et al…. I can’t handle them.
So I’m thinking about our upcoming move from the house where we’ve been so very happy these past many years. I’m creating gardens in my head, and tea in glass & china pots. I ordered a new tea cosy, with cats! I’m snuggling with our own two in my chair, & trying to ignore their ceaseless kneading (with their none-too-tiny claws!). It’s a wonderful way to spend time, infinitely better than considering a political situation rife with injustice.
Tea is good for all kinds of situations, from the grief I feel for a world gone crazy with greed & hate, to the discombobulation attendant on moving. I hate moving, as a process and as a situation. I will love being settled in our new house by the grandson(s), but getting all moved up? UGH. Shades of my itinerant childhood!
Hence the tea tray, the tea cloth, the choosing of a strong black tea. The pouring of milk, the measuring of sugar. And the temporary escape so very necessary some days!
Today I sat down to afternoon tea, as I do many days. I often start the day w/a cappuccino, which I make myself. But in the afternoon — especially one where I’ve been doing a lot of this & that — I want tea. In a pretty teapot, swathed in the perfect tea cosy. Set on a tray with a plate of some small treat. In other words? An oasis of calm & peace in an otherwise hectic day.
Since I had a pumpkin scone left over from a foray into town to look at lamps for our new house, I made plain tea — a nice English breakfast. With milk & Demerara sugar cubes. And a small pot of strawberry jam to go on the slathering of butter I swiped over the scone pieces. Then I sat down at the breakfast table, in the slant afternoon light, & inhaled tea steam. And peace.
Tea is such a peace-maker. Probably a peace-keeper, as well. For me, however, it brings in its fragrant leaves the reminder that life is best when we breathe. ???? Slooooowly. Deeply. And inhaling tea is as good a way to practice that as any!
This next afternoon, you should find a mug (or a cup & saucer), and pour some boiling water over a tea bag, or a scoop of loose tea in a strainer. Add a dollop of honey or raw sugar. Milk is good, if the tea is suitable for milk. If not? Just stick w/ honey. Hold that mug of peace & comfort up to your face & breathe. Let the warmth remind you of sunlight, and the smell of leaves startled by the hot water take you back to childhood tea parties, when life was far less complicated.
It’s a good practice, and one I give thanks for daily.
As we all know, I adore tea. But I go through periods — especially in the summer — when I don’t drink much hot tea. I drink a LOT of iced tea, and that satisfies my tea cravings. In the morning, I drink coffee (usually iced). My beloved bought me this amazing cappuccino machine, & I can froth w/ the best of them. So it’s mostly iced tea, and iced coffee. And I don’t do tea trays much in the hot Oklahoma summer.
But come fall — or even those lovely late summer days when it ‘only’ gets to 89º or 90º — I want a tea tray. And lately? I’ve been drinking spiced tea, something I haven’t always liked. But it seems just right on morning when the Okie mercury ‘dips’ into the upper 60s. I pull out my mother-in-law’s galvanised tray, with its lovely repoussé rose, so like the ones she loved. And then I have to decide, as always, what teapot. And what tea!
Since I’ve been drinking spiced tea — which doesn’t hold well; I can’t really iced tea from leftovers — I use a small glass pot I’ve had for a while. Recently, in an effort to get rid of broken things I don’t really use anymore, I replaced two sugar & creamer pairs w/ a ‘new’ one: a small vintage set from the 50s, sterling base & thin glass balloon shape for both the creamer & the sugar. It looks soooo cute w/ my teapot!
I decided it needed sugar tongs, so I spent more of last night than I should confess looking on Etsy for some I like & can afford. After a rather lengthy search, I remembered: I have sugar tongs! Although I remembered, looking at descriptions, a lovely British term for sugar tongs I’m reviving: sugar ‘nips,’ with which (of course!) you nip the sugar cubes. I sooo love words… Especially ones having to do with tea.
Today I got up, polished my own sugar tongs, and set the tea tray. As you see, it’s gorgeous! What you can’t see is the sugar tongs, so here they are. Look nice, don’t they? And I already had them. I just had to remember they were there, in a cupboard. Get them down, polish & wash them. Ta da!
How many times do I think I don’t have the resources to do something? Don’t know how, don’t have the skill set, just don’t don’t don’t… When whatever I ‘need’ is right there? Just something I forgot about, didn’t think about. Because I don’t use it all the time. I suspect I have all kinds of skills I’ve flat forgotten! My son is occasionally surprised that I can buy toys for my grandson that T loves. Hello! I raised two little boys! And classic toys may not be Captain America, but they still entertain kids for hours. (Let’s hear it for pull -oy bees! And big bowls full of water & measuring cups!)
Anyway, that’s my metaphor for the day. Happiness is sugar tongs you forgot you had. Honest. It’s something you already know how to do. You just have to remember where it is, and polish it up. Then have a cup of tea & enjoy.
The tea came! A big box, full of possibility. I don’t have the budget for ‘teas of renown,’ but I do splurge on good tea. And I don’t rebrew it. Well, hardly ever :). Maybe if there’s company and I double-splurged on Sunday’s tea (Hao Ya A, for anyone interested).
Most times I order tea, I’m just replenishing the house tea (Panyang Congo), or buying everyday tea. Occasionally I buy a couple of samples (one of the great things about Harney’s) ~ a nice way to try a new tea. And every so often (especially if a tea I liked in sample is available on sale) I buy a new tea. This most recent package has two adventure teas ~Pu-erh and Temi Sikkim. I confess: I was sucked in by the fact that Temi Sikkim was on sale (and it’s a great full-bodied Darjeeling, w/ that lovely floral aftertaste I find so seductive in a good Darjeeling) and the Pu-erh is billed as an ‘ancient’ tea.
The other day I made the pu-erh, a dark, ruby-red brown tea. A China black tea tasting of chocolate, almost sweet. I added my usual lump of Demerara, and then stirred in my usual milk. No change in colour ~ this is seriously dark tea. Still, it’s lovely: lightly astringent but smooth. A great breakfast tea. Makes me wonder: just how old is ‘ancient’ …?
When I make tea, it is always ~ even at the most hectic of times, like early in the morning as I rush to some appointment ~ a moment of quiet. Often it becomes, almost accidentally, an evocation of other days, when my children were small, when I was a young mother dependent on my expat family. Even now, with those two small boys (and early on, there was only one…) grown to manhood, fragrant steam curling from a curved spout takes me back 20 years. Or more.
Tea is an ordinary magic. Like coffee (which I also love dearly), it provides an enforced STOP. Halts my thoughts, distracts me from the hectic mania of contemporary life. Puts a gentle finger to my lips and reminds me to sssshhh…
So why write about tea, in the months running up to something as important as elections? Why take time for something so small, so intimate, when the world seems to be collapsing around my ears? Why take the time to celebrate these fragile, ephemeral moments that fall to the bottom of a china cup wreathed w/ flowers? Moments that curl in the heart of a summer rose, or hover on the wings of a drowsy bee.
We live in such a frenetic, frantic world. At least most of us do. There is never enough time… Right now I should be working up a course for September. Constructing a class schedule for another. I should be reading books for two presentations next month, and figuring out what I’m going to need in the way of help during my beloved’s upcoming surgery. I should be should be should be…
Instead, I be. Trying to not try tooo hard to breathe, as the pebble in the garden says. Just resting in the moment, sipping tea from that thin-handled china cup. Sitting in the early morning sun and remembering big sky mind…
I don’t know that tea, or coffee, or the quiet music of bees working the blue bells of the caryopteris can solve the world’s larger problems. But I wonder if we took the time to listen to them, to watch and pay attention, what we might learn… Who knows what we could do?
Hello. My name is Britton and I haven’t had any tea in 7 hours…
I’m nuts about tea. Crazy, obsessive, elitist (and possibly boring :)) on the topic. I love coffee as well, but that’s another post…
I have almost as many tea ‘cookbooks’ as the more traditional type. There are (at least) six tea sets in the china cabinet, including two hand-painted by my grandmother, who also loved tea sets. That number doesn’t include the celadon set my husband brought back from Korea, the antique Persian set he bought me in Saudi Arabia, the hand-thrown pottery set in our wedding stoneware, or the various tempered glass ones I mostly use. Did I mention I love tea?
If you don’t love tea, you should stop here. If the fragrance of a SFTGOP1 First Flush Darjeeling doesn’t make you swoon, then you may be beyond saving. An aside ~ in Singapore once, at (of course) the old Raffles, I drank a Darjeeling I still remember. Sitting in the unintentionally shabby-chic dining room, I inhaled a haunting floral nose, swirled colour like dark honey in my cup. You hear from some that Darjeeling tastes of Muscatel wine, but really? That was the only Darjeeling I’ve ever had that did. I still love Darjeeling — although not as much as China blacks, particularly Keemuns.
Tea comforts. When my world falls apart, I can create one small island of order: boil water, watch it climb the glass walls of the kettle. Measure out the Hao Ya A w/ the scoop Glen bought me in Dhahran. About 2-3 scoops, depending on the pot, in the filter. Warm the pot which one? the small glass 2-cup? the larger 6-cup? the Aynsley or the Wedgewood…?, throw out the water, place the filled filter in the pot. Pour the boiling water over. Steep four minutes. This is the ritual that rescues ~ focuses the galloping mind in its own Anglicised tea ceremony. Calm.
Sometimes just a cup will do. So I pull out one of the many tea trays — a small one, perfect for a glass cup, a smaller filter and the honey pot my niece gave me. Rooibos chai is good to soothe. So is verveine. Some of the flavoured teas out now are lovely in the summer. And most are even better with honey from a silver spoon. 🙂
Elsewhere — in poems, in essays, in letters and journals and who knows where — I’ve written about learning tea. Long ago, in a galaxy and time far far away In a desert city, in a box of a trailer, alone w/ the wintry desert shamal and new motherhood, I learned tea. It was my life line. Or rather, the other women huddled together for support were my life line. A Brit, a Madrasan (now a Chennaite? ), an Aussie, three Texans, an Okie, a Canadian, a Vermonter… an eclectic group, my tea family.
Some of them already knew tea — the Brit, of course. And the Canadian and the Aussie. The Queen’s brew has a long, wide and colourful history. Here in the US, we drink coffee — proof of our rebellious natures. But no one ever turned to coffee (which I also enjoy) for comfort. Few people write poetry to coffee. And rarely do people worry about ‘too much tea.’ That would be tea’s younger and more aggressive brother.
In that long beginning, when I was learning tea and motherhood and loneliness, my tea family shared our lives over pots and pots of tea. Lyn, the tall Brit who mothered me in the way all eldest children crave, patiently instructed me on the intricacies. First I had to buy a pot. Which I did — at the seconds sale at Harrods once, on a layover in London — a lovely curved Aynsley teapot, as old-fashioned as its cottage flowers. I must have bought a couple of cups too, probably four.
I know there was a teapot first. And black tea — always four minutes, never five. Usually English breakfast, those first years. Sometimes Earl Grey — was it Martha who loved it so? Occasionally Darjeeling. Later? Lyn would pick us up wonderful teas from Fortnum & Mason’s, teas as beautiful as Paris, as sophisticated as Bangkok.
So much of what I know now is the gift of women. How to mother. How to bargain. How to live through grief and come out the other side still capable of joy. Many of these things I learned from my tea family, none of whom I see now. One is on my Facebook, and her daughter — who once played in the bathtub w/ my older son — is now a mother older than I was then. Others I lost track of in moves, lamenting their loss.
In those far-off days, I still ran. And sometimes I would run the track in furious anger, homesick and terrified of the alien spaces I inhabited: landscape and motherhood and marriage and all that comes with ‘adulting.’
But when Ione — another of my tea family — and I sat down over tea, in the quiet breakfast room overlooking two small boys playing on a swing set, I belonged. For probably as long as there has been fire, women have steeped the gathered leaves and twigs of plants in water placed in a skin, a gourd, a bowl of clay. And shared their stories.
What is it about memory? A fragrance, a fragment of song, something as small as a shard of coloured glass, and time respools. I am standing in the long narrow living/dining room of a trailer, with sand sifting in through drafty windows. The sound track is the laughing voices of women thrown together by time and circumstance: not quite sisters, more than friends. The fragrance this time is the bergamot of Earl Grey, no longer one of my favourites. In a cup, it’s just tea. Except that nothing we remember is ever quite that simple.