For me, there’s no worse way to start my day than coming downstairs and finding the kitchen full of people who all want to talk to me. Out-of-town visitors. Local friends. Complete strangers to me. My roommate knows better.
I’m not a “morning person.” It usually takes means a good 30 minutes to wake up enough to even begin to be sociable.
And a crucial part of my morning routine involves a tea ritual: I empty the tea kettle, fill it with fresh cold water, and put it on the stove to boil. While it heats up, I carefully measure out 2 teaspoons of my choice for the day: either a strong black Assam tea or a spiced version of the same blend. I always use whole-leaf tea.
I add the tea to the pot and wait for the kettle to boil. While waiting, I look out the kitchen window to see how the garden is doing. This week, the lilies are in bloom. In the evening, as the temperature falls, their aroma wafting through the house can be intoxicating.
Finally, the kettle comes to a boil. I pour the water over the tea leaves, set the timer, and wait patiently for the water to work its magic on the leaves.
This morning it’s Cardamom Spiced Assam. It’s a lovely blend from India. In fact, it evokes such memories of other times, other places, that I can almost hear Ravi Shankar performing a morning raga is the leaves steep.
Finally, the tea is ready. It’s a deep brown liqueur, hinting at hidden delights. I pour my cup and add a bit of sweetener and a splash of milk. I still haven’t managed to replicate the tea served by my favorite Indian restaurant, but it’s close. It, too, is intoxicating.
“In Ireland, you go to someone’s house, and she asks you if you want a cup of tea. You say no, thank you, you’re really just fine. She asks if you’re sure. You say of course you’re sure, really, you don’t need a thing. Except they pronounce it ting. You don’t need a ting. Well, she says then, I was going to get myself some anyway, so it would be no trouble. Ah, you say, well, if you were going to get yourself some, I wouldn’t mind a spot of tea, at that, so long as it’s no trouble and I can give you a hand in the kitchen. Then you go through the whole thing all over again until you both end up in the kitchen drinking tea and chatting.
In America, someone asks you if you want a cup of tea, you say no, and then you don’t get any damned tea.
I close my eyes, raise the cup to my lips, and let the first sip perform its magic.
Now I am awake. Now I am human. Now you may speak.