Friday, November 17, 2017

my go-to panacea

"At first glance the formula is very simple: tea leaves from a plant from the camellia family + hot water = tea. This sum summarizes quickly the most beloved drink worldwide - tea. 

"As much as tea is a staple of daily life, it is anything but boring or mundane. For it was tea that inspired poets and prompted the invention of porcelain. 

"Tea makes every morning brighter, refreshes and revives in the afternoon, and warms the coldest nights. Tea soothes strained nerves, but also awakes fresh vigor. 

"Tea accompanies meals, lets words flow, and always stands for hospitality. 

"Tea prompts merchant ships to circumnavigate the globe and stands even today as a meeting point between religion, medicine, and art."

~from Lust auf Tee, my translation

This post was bound to come someday. I blog about things that make me tick, and tea is right up there with books and friends on my list of things that I couldn't possibly do without. So it was never a matter of if I would author a blog post about tea, but when. So settle back, because this is going to be a long post dedicated to my favorite beverage.

As I started this post, I was about to write something cosy along the lines of:

The days are getting shorter and colder, and I've started living in sweaters and scarves and slippers and wrapping myself in fuzzy blankets to keep warm. It's the time of year that I start to consume large quantities of tea.

But who am I kidding? I drink large quantities of tea regardless of the time of year. If it's cold outside I drink hot tea, and if it's hot outside I drink iced tea. That covers my bases: there is no time of year that tea isn't an important part of my life.

Hot or iced; black, green or herbal; loose leaf or in a bag; with company or by myself; at home or out and about; as an excuse for a tea party or as accompaniment to whatever I happen to be doing; it is always the right time for tea.

On one of my first days in Munich I was hanging out in a biergarten with some of the other Fulbrighters. Beer or tea? Is that even a question? Tea. Always.

I love offering hospitality, and if you've ever visited me, chances are that one of the first things I said was "I'm just making tea. Would you like some?" In my first couple of years of college, my dorm room ended up being a regular gathering hub for a large group of friends - and tea was always involved. I even had what I jokingly called my "tea shrine":

When I was in London a couple of years ago, I stumbled into this amazing tea shop called T2, where they have bowls of loose leaf tea all over the shop for customers to see and smell. I ended up chatting with an employee who said something along the lines of: "Tea isn't just a beverage: it's a means of bringing people together." Yes! 

"Strange how a teapot can represent at the same time the comforts of solitude and the pleasures of company" ~Anynomous

Of course, I drink tea alone frequently as well, and with great contentment. Perhaps one of the funniest memories I have of drinking tea by myself was when I was in Joliet very early on a Saturday morning. I had driven a friend there to take the GRE and drove downtown to hang out in a coffee shop while I waited. Not only was the coffee shop randomly closed, but the entire town seemed to be shut down. The only place that was open was a very large casino with a Starbucks inside. So I snuck in - feeling extremely out of place - got my London Fog, and hunkered down in a corner to do my morning Bible reading and count the minutes until the public library opened. 

I'm pretty sure that the baristas had never seen a college student come into the casino Starbucks to read her Bible at 8 on a Saturday morning. The moral of the story: tea can make a very awkward situation much more bearable. 

Speaking of morals and stories, tea books have their own little niche in the book market. It stands to reason: book-lovers are often tea-lovers. It's so much fun to flip through books on how comforting tea is, the social history of tea time, and those sorts of things. 

It's also fun to google quotes about tea and see what the internet comes up with. This page has many delightful quotes - both serious and silly - having to do with tea. 

And of course there are those great British tweets, like the following: 

If you don't like tea, we can still be friends. I just might be at a loss as to what to offer you to drink if you come to visit.

(An aside: entire books could be written about the Brits and their tea habits. I once heard an entire BBC radio segment where a panel discussed whether one should put milk into the mug before or after one pours the tea.)

I could spend hundreds more words rhapsodizing about tea, giving anecdotes, and telling you about my favorite tea shops in three different countries. But instead I'll wrap up by sharing some choice quotes, accompanied by photos. (Is tea photography a thing? Because if it is, I'm a tea photographer - there are dozens and dozens of pictures of tea in my photos. It's almost embarrassing...)

"There is no trouble so great or grave [for example, a disastrous round of Settlers of Catan] that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea." ~Bernard-Paul Heroux

"Tea is instant wisdom - just add water!" ~Terri Guillemets

"Coffee is not my cup of tea." ~Samuel Goldwyn

"Never concentrating so hard than when manoeuvring a full cup of tea whilst lying down." ~Rob Temple, @SoVeryBritish 

"Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea." ~Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady, 1880

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