‘There is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson
I grew up in a busy, lively household. There was always someone coming and going, some project underway or some party planning afoot. But no matter how full the days were, the wheels of industry always ground to a halt at the sacred chiming of four o’ clock. I remember being up to my ears in a sewing venture or a literature assignment behind the closed door of my bedroom and hearing that insistent blaring whistle of the teakettle in the kitchen. It broke upon the most intent of pursuits without apology and summoned my sister and me to the living room post haste.
Mama would have the tea tray ready and would be laying out ginger cookies or lemon crisps on a Spode plate. More often than not she’d use her grandmother’s silver tea pot, though all of the loved china ones–especially the powder blue Hall–would come into service in their turn. Winter and summer we’d sit in the living room sipping Darjeeling or Earl Grey from Mama’s Blue Italian cups and discussing the events of the day. If Daddy came home in time Mama would fetch him a cup and he’d enliven our feminine chatter with a humorous story du jour from the courthouse.
Such happy memories those are to me! I still manage to wander towards Mama’s house when I’m in town on errands knowing that the kettle will be on the boil before I’ve gotten in the driveway good. What tangles we’ve sorted out, what godly counsel I’ve received over all these hundreds upon hundreds of steaming cups!
When I was newly married I mistook my late afternoon plunges for caffeine deficiency, and, amid the half-dozen things I was trying to wrap up before my husband came home from work, I’d brew a quick mug. Dashing all over the house with the label hanging over the edge of the cup, I’d partake of it like a stimulant, a last little surge of energy to squeeze one more ‘check’ onto my all-important ‘to-do’ list. It didn’t take me long to realize that this so-called tea time–which my mother would lament as ‘nearly-tea’, had she witnessed my cheap imitation–wasn’t having quite the same effect as the quiet pauses I was accustomed to. In fact, I was more harried than not by the time my husband came in the door, wound up as much by my frantic sprint as by the injection of the aforementioned tonic.
It finally dawned on me that it was the pause itself that refreshed; the calming ritual of a few moments’ preparation, the friendly whistle of the boiling kettle, the cherished cup and the small silver tray, the ‘little bite’ of something tasty–these were all part and parcel of the allure of tea. I now look forward to my afternoon tea as a reward for a busy day or a solace for a hard one. I make much of it as a gift to myself. And on the weekends, or when Philip is home in time to join me we have such merry little parties! I have my own favorite pot, and a stash of the loveliest teas, white, green, red and black, from my favorite tea shop. Seasonal fruit makes for a lovely addition, or a couple of dates and a dish of almonds. (And as a nod to some very happy trips to the Blessed Plot, I always have a tidy supply of digestive biscuits or custard creams on hand for those days when sugar is a necessity! ;))
Such a simple tradition, age-old and laden with benefits. (Who hasn’t noticed how the health gurus are singing the praises of tea’s anti-oxidants?) But perhaps it is the poetry of tea that is the very best of all. Steam curling upwards from fragrant leaves, the lovely chink of a china cup in the midst of an ordinary day, the ‘fine sentiment’ of all the ladies and gentlemen of old who have found beauty in the very same ritual. I wonder if there is a quandry in this world that cannot at least be soothed for a blessed moment by the almost indefinable charms of tea.