No. 9 Bliss and Loving in Tea City
I was somewhere around Paddington on the edge of Edgware Road when the tea craving began to take hold.
Thirty years ago, at the age of 24, I quit drinking booze and because I associated coffee with my hangovers, I had to quit that as well. That's when I started experimenting with tea. I did not grow up in a tea household. There were the odd bags of Stash and Lipton in a tin in the kitchen cupboard but they were rarely touched. After getting sober, tea became my drug of choice, my pack of cigarettes.
Today I always have a cup of tea I’m brewing, starting, or polishing off. When I go to my public library to write, I invariably reach for that cup of tea that isn’t there. Most of all, I associate tea with slowing down and taking the time to think and be still. It’s like the difference between taking a bath or a shower. You cannot rush a bath just as you cannot rush a cup of tea. Tea gives me a break from my compulsive thinking and reminds me to stop and smell the Jin Hao Jasmine. I get a rush from the sound of boiling water and waiting for the water to boil gives me a sense of ritual.
In her article, “When You Don’t Know What To Do, Make Tea”, Sarah Todd talks about her conversion to tea. While in the UK a friend told her, “People simply make tea whenever there’s a lull.” Todd also talks about the culture of offering and sharing tea in the UK, something I experienced when I lived and worked there. I lived in London for a year in the late 80’s and after six months of cleaning hotel rooms in Bayswater, I moved on to retail. I was a Laura Ashely girl. In the breakroom, the electric tea kettle was always on the boil and there were generous amount of sugar, milk and mugs to keep us going. We served tea to each other and learned quickly how the others like their tea prepared. As Todd suggests, this ritual offered a strong sense of belonging and community to this non - native.
“Speaking personally, I can see how the simple tradition of making tea for oneself and others could be enough to keep entire civilizations going for centuries. It’s hard to stay mad at your friends and neighbors if they’re serving you afternoon tea; it’s easier to get over minor quibbles with your colleagues if they’re also the people who are offering you a beverage five minutes later. Kristen Surak, a professor of Japanese politics and author of Making Tea, Making Japan, tells NPR’s Layla Eplett that at the heart of the Japanese tea ceremony is the idea that “if everybody sat around and had a bowl of tea, we could create world peace.”
-- Sarah Todd
The first time I read Todd’s article, I knew I’d found a kindred spirit. I related to the comfort and hospitality partakers receive from the social ceremony of tea, as well as the quiet solitude solo tea drinking can enhance. Perhaps what I thought was a addiction to tea was also a far reaching call from my Irish ancestor’s to be hospitable to myself and others.
Ba mhaith cuppa?
Todd, Sarah (2018 December 31) Quartzy Newsletter