The Joy of Tea

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I grew up in a household that was all about coffee. My mom was hardly able to utter a word before she had her first sips of dark black brew each morning. My grandmother gave her grandchildren milky cups of weak coffee filled with sugar. The only thing I really liked about coffee was the smell, and even as I grew older and desirous of the kick of caffeine to start my day I remained unimpressed by the favorite morning drink of most of the people that I know. It was not until I met my mother-in-law that I encountered the joy of tea.

It began on Sunday afternoons when we visited my husband’s parents for a family dinner. Once the leftovers and plates were cleared from the table where we had enjoyed Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding, the men would generally scurry off to see what kind of sports were on the television. My mother-in-law instead began the process of making tea, an art she had learned from her mother, an immigrant from England. 

My mother-in-law had an assortment of teapots that were worn and stained from brewing countless batches of tea. Her favorite was a rather nondescript chubby little pot that she called “Little Brown Betty.” She had inherited it from her mother who had taught her the correct way of brewing and serving tea. When the water was heated just enough she poured the hot liquid into the pot and swished it around to warm it before putting the tea inside and then covering it with just the right amount of hot water. 

She would carry the brew to the dining table along with pretty china cups and some cookies that she called biscuits in true English tradition. I loved the mildness and flavor of the tea from my first sip and I have never turned back. It is my morning drink of choice, the way I start each and every day. 

Over the years I have tried many different teas. My favorite is Earl Grey, but I am open to trying any variety. A trip to Victoria, British Columbia in Canada a few years ago led me to a blend from the Empress Hotel that is delightfully perfect. It was there that I also learned about the luxuries of an afternoon tea time done exquisitely. I found myself wishing that my mother-in-law had been with us to watch the masterful presentation of tea, scones, and tiny sandwiches.

I seem to collect tea wherever I go. A dear friend introduced me to chai tea and I immediately became a fan. My sister-in-law showed me a tea store in Estes Park that had a fabulous variety of every sort of tea including Cream Earl Grey. Sadly the owners sold the business and the new owners discontinued the brands that I had so enjoyed. When in England I purchased so much tea that I had to pay a fee for my overweight suitcase. 

One of my former students once invited me to a morning tea time at her home along with her brother who had also been a student of mine. She served many different Asian teas that were delightful. Her brother presented me with tins of the various varieties that we had tried as well as a wonderful book outlining the history of tea and tea making. He also gave me several beautiful tea sets that I enjoy using when guests come to visit.

There is something slow and purposeful about tea. It forces me to tarry for awhile, to slow down my pace from frantic to relaxed. When done right it is a kind of ritual that honors the people partaking of the brew. It is a tradition handed down over time and I have been lucky enough to learn of it from my mother-in-law.

I have converted a few of my grandchildren into tea aficionados and I have a niece who used to come to my home every Tuesday afternoon for tea. Covid interrupted that little tradition and now she is a high school student who is far too busy to pause from all of her activities. I generally sip on my tea alone now. As I drink from my cups I think of all of the joy and social interactions the taking of tea has brought me and countless souls over time. It is more than just the consumption of a caffeinated drink, it is an art form.

One of the grandsons whom I took to the Empress Hotel so enjoyed the tea from there that I used to regularly send him a box. He’s in his first year of college now and no doubt has little time for the rituals associated with tea, but I suppose it might be a wonderful surprise for him to receive a little bit of heaven in the mail. I think I will order some of that tea for him today. I hope as he sips on it he remembers the love that we all felt when we were together just as I remember my mother-in-law so expertly preparing the delightful pot of tea for me.

The history of tea is filled with all sorts of intrigue including revolutions. It’s more than just some tiny leaves turned into a delightful brew. It is my way of clearing the head, enjoying a moment of tranquility and remembering the love that went into creating the many cups that folks have enjoyed.  

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