Tea is my beverage of choice.
I clearly remember entering the teashop. The walls are lined with shelves bearing square silver canisters tagged to name the tea encased inside. I clearly remember the sales clerk quizzing me about my tea favorites and feeding those back to her. That is when it happened. She reached into the first canister with a silver scoop, moving the scoop toward my nose for a whiff.
When I naturally reached for the scoop she gestured that I was out of bounds; she solely would hang on to the scoop. I remember a sense of feeling unattached,of floating light-headed, as she presented scoopful after scoopful of choice tea, testing my olfactory skills, patient with me and anticipating making a sale.
One sniff then on to the next choice, return to sniff again. I listen to the description of each tea, then move on to picking favorites, making decisions. The process lasted for many minutes. Perhaps the constant deep breathing as I sampled the teas enhanced the oxygen levels in my system. I felt strangely outside of myself, experiencing a dance through time. I was deeply engaged in weighing choices, conveying my responses and realizing that at least a dozen canisters sat before me, culled from the larger number offered to me as possibilities.
The word ritual had quickly flashed through my mind as I stepped over the threshold into the store, planting images of Japanese beauties in daunting kimonos performing an elaborate tea ceremony, stories of Indian, Chinese and African teas as cargo on sailing ships slipping through the pages of historical novels, my Russian grandmother’s hot tea in a glass with cherry preserves coating the bottom, boiling tea water over a campfire, brewing tea with great care in my own kitchen.
Shaking out of my reverie, I made several selections and departed the shop to continue exploring the “historical downtown district” of the town “of the moment.” How pleasurable it is to visit historical districts and hear the histories related to us by long-time shop owners. This is the real history of any community and the opportunity to sense what is au currant, to taste the present on the shoulders of the past.
So, for the tea lover, these are good times. A cycle of tea shops have opened in the last few years providing access to choice loose tea leaves from around the world. Within these shop walls, the tea leaves are not crammed into commercially packaged tins, or expensive bags crammed onto a shelf and vying for our patronage. In these shops, the tea leaves are most commonly stored in sizeable metal or glass canisters labeled simply to identify the tea inside.
The shop owners understand their products through their own love of tea, study the sources and offer “down home” service to please their customers. The tea ceremony grows less formal, less strict, but pouring boiling hot water over loose tea leaves, ingesting the aroma, feeling the heat and waiting the appropriate amount of time to brew still assures a perfect cup of tea.
Ann Carol Goldberg