Tea Time

564_HighTeaAtTheEmprassHotelFor most of my life I have rushed around with a schedule so busy that I rarely stopped blowing and going until I fell into bed at night. Now that I am retired I have developed a lovely habit of pausing for afternoon tea. I noticed that between two and three each day I would suddenly become sleepy. I’m not yet ready to take naps so I decided to perk myself up with a cup of brew in the English style which meant drinking tea rather than coffee. I sit in my favorite easy chair with a view of my gardens and sip on Earl Grey, Chai, English Breakfast or some exotic blend of teas from the east. It is a rather invigorating experience that I have grown to love.

My daughter who is a nurse says that there is actually a physiological reason that we grow weary in the afternoon. It has to do with food intake and elevated body temperature. I suppose that long ago certain cultures took note of the general dip in energy that we humans experience and decided to create traditions of ingesting caffeine products to induce a feeling of well being. The afternoon tea was part of that trend and has been followed now for centuries. I am one of its more recent converts.

There is something very civilized about taking care of oneself by pausing for refreshment that we tend to ignore in our go go go society. It’s truly a shame that we mistreat ourselves. Back when I was a child my mother always took a break at almost the same time every day. She gave me and my brothers fruit or cookies and a glass of milk. She prepared herself a cup of coffee and sometimes shared it with friends who would drop in for a brief respite from their chores. The tasks that she had to perform seemed far less odious after a little pause. We tend to do less and less of that sort of thing as we focus more and more on constant productivity.

One year Mike and I accompanied a friend from Austria on a trip to his homeland. We enjoyed a lovely concert in one of the local schools which prompted a discussion of the school day schedule in that country. Our friend told us that the required time in the classroom was much shorter than what our American students experience. He said that pupils are usually finished with their lessons rather early in afternoon and go home. In fact, throughout much of Austria shops, banks, restaurants and places of business close for a time each afternoon so that employees will be able to relax before completing the day’s work. I know that we had to wait for almost an hour one day before getting inside a bank because it was the time of day for a long break. The coffee and tea shops opened for the crowds of people who sat for a time enjoying warm drinks and conversations.

I had always read about the tradition of high tea. On a number of occasions I found myself walking through five star hotels where people were enjoying such a luxury, but I never actually got to try the experience. On a trip to Victoria, British Columbia in Canada I finally fulfilled an item that had long been on my bucket list when Mike and I and two of my grandsons went to the high tea at the Empress Hotel. It was not exactly an inexpensive diversion, but certainly one that I will always remember.

I felt like a dignitary as we sat at a table draped with a brilliant white starched tablecloth in a room dripping with chandeliers and warm mahogany. An elegant waiter explained the process to us and asked if we had any special requests. Soon he was bringing us heaping bowls of strawberries with real whipped cream along with trays of crumpets, delicate sandwiches, chocolates, scones and other delights. The tea itself was a special blend unique to the hotel which was served in delicate china cups. The waiter was at our service and his every move was refined and almost balletic. The funny thing is that we had brought two ten year old boys, one of whom was in thrall with the occasion and the other who seriously wanted to get away as quickly as possible because he did not like the smell of tea. The disgruntled one behaved beautifully in spite of his reservations and managed to find enough to eat to make it worthwhile. The happy one was so ecstatic that he swore that he wanted to move to Victoria one day and then take his mother and his future wife to tea time whenever he wished.

I purchased some of the special tea and brought it home to share with my other grandchildren who like to have a tea party when they come. They insist on using my china and having sugar cubes to sweeten the lovely brown liquid. When I finally ran out of the exquisite tea I tried to send for more only to learn that the hotel will not mail items to the United States. A friend of my daughter’s who lives in Calgary came to the rescue when she heard of my dilemma. I have it sent to her and then she forwards it to me. It is a rather expensive process but so worth it in the long run. My grandchildren grow excited when they hear of a new delivery arriving at my home.

I carry a metal teapot in my travel trailer for afternoon tea time. We used it over and over again last summer when we journeyed to California. It made us feel as though we were passengers on the Orient Express, seeking new lands and adventures. I was so happy that I had someone with whom to share my special passion.

My sister-in-law introduced me to a wonderful tea store in Estes Park, Colorado not long ago. She recommended that I try their Cream Earl Grey and it is phenomenal. I try to visit there at least once a year now to replenish my stock. When I am unable to travel I use their mail order service to keep myself always at the ready.

Tea is so delicate and has such an amazing history. One of my all time favorite mornings was spent with two of my former students who treated me to a tea tasting. We sipped on golden colored liquids from China and India while talking of the world’s problems and solving them at the same time. Later one of them gave me a book on the history of tea and a lovely teapot with matching cups along with cans of my favorite varieties from a Chinese market. I remember our special time whenever I use those items. There is something about sharing food and drink that creates a never forgotten bond.

When I was still working at South Houston Intermediate one of the teachers hosted a tea time for her students. She asked them to dress in their finery and she brought lovey dishes and china from her home for them to use. Few of them had ever experienced such a thing and they were so excited. I suspect that they recall that lovely treat just as much as I do and think of their thoughtful teacher warmly. Maybe they even began the tradition in their own homes.

I truly understand why tea has played such an important role in the history of the world and why rebellious colonists scoffed at the taxes levied on the imports of their favorite brews. Enjoying afternoon tea becomes a delightful habit that makes even a dreary day feel a bit brighter. If you’ve never tried it maybe now is a good time. Even a pot of plain old Lipton served in a pretty cup will energize you and send you back to work ready to tackle anything.

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