There he sits, still slightly damp and grungy from a backyard gardening adventure involving a chainsaw and several large implements and bags of soil and compost. He is semi-reclined on his porch swing; the Saturday paper tossed on the floor; the dog hanging out underneath; and in his hand a man-sized cup of tea. He takes his with milk and honey. Venturing into his kitchen we find a pile of spent teabags on a plate, and a spoon with a small bit of milky tea remaining. Honey close by. He’s a sight to behold: well over six feet tall, fit in body, kind in the face, and decorated from neck to foot with the artwork of a retired sailor. My friend, Stuart, is not the kind you would automatically picture when you think of taking tea. But there he is….taking tea.
When I first began my tea adventure about fourteen years ago, I thought of pretty tables, dainty sandwiches, sweets, and guests in their finery. It was a beautiful picture and a tasty occasion. The thought of creating this scene day after day intrigued and intimidated me. Then I got to know some regular tea drinkers, and studied tea and tea customs from around the world. There are many to learn. But if you look at any culture that drinks tea, you will find a full spectrum of formality as well as a full spectrum of tea drinking types. I began to relax. From remote huts in Asian countries where tea is prepared over an open fire on a dirt floor, to the minimalist opulence of the tea room and tea ceremony, tea is enjoyed by all, in all types of settings. The important and meaningful take-away is that the beverage refreshes and so has become a regular part of the daily routine. If at four o’clock in the afternoon you are tired, then the tea will wake you up a bit and lend that extra energy to get you to the end of the day. If, on the other hand, you are stressed and worked up, the tea will calm and soothe you. Now you can see why it is so popular the world over.
So the dilemma becomes how to introduce and serve tea to our guests. Our philosophy is one of full inclusion. We work to prepare fine high tea parties. We include several sandwiches, sweets, scones, doilies, 3-tiered racks, fresh flowers, and live “tea music”. I love these events. The ladies (and some gentlemen) come in their finery, all smiles and happiness. They sit a bit straighter than you think they otherwise would. We all use our best manners, and everyone goes home with a story to tell. On a regular day in the shop, we serve a simpler tea. On these days we get to meet people where they are. We make no demands where etiquette is concerned; not a single comment about your pinkies or your posture. If you’re tired and need to be refreshed, we’re happy to let you slouch in your chair a bit and wait for the tea to do its work.
If you are new to tea and need a little hand holding, we can walk you through the tea list and suggest something new to try. If you are British, we will make sure that the water is boiling when it is poured over your leaves. The English tea blends are especially strong and most people enjoy them with milk and sugar. Other types of tea can be enjoyed without sweeteners. Their subtle flavors are fun to start collecting. My favorite tea at the moment is an Oolong called Ti Kuan Yin, or Iron Goddess of Mercy. It is simple and earthy and requires no additions. Add to your tea visit a scone or two, a cheese plate, or a slice of homemade cake. If you are trying to introduce your man to tea, a good place to start might be with a Gun Powder tea. Just knowing it has that name might take some of the fussiness out of it for him. Then you can move straight into the Smokey Russian Caravan, which smells like a campfire. We are here for him too. If need be we will remove the white table cloth to reveal the masculine brown cloth beneath. Before long he won’t think twice about pouring up a cup of Monkey Picked or even Earl Grey. Then he may be only a few pots of tea away from a tattoo. Just ask my friend, Stuart.