I really like drinking tea and I buy it at a most fantastic tea shop in Lincoln UK – in fact I think it’s THE best tea shop anywhere. You can find it on Steep Hill in Lincoln or on their website here…
I also intend to post some stuff about tea that you’ll find here and on the Imperial Teas website. If you read ‘Cabal’ you’ll also find a direct reference to the shop.
Stories about tea.
‘Another Tea Ceremony’
I wasn’t sure he would come. It rains. It’s not cold outside in the open air. Air? I had looked ahead at the open road bathed in a pall of yellow smog. Thick, itchy in the eyes, smog. The city is an abundance of plants, some are alive. Out here, on the eight lane motorway green isn’t green. Each leaf, tendril, frond, whispering grass weighed down, dusty, choking breathless already fossiled weighted under grey sediment into a present antiquity. Chengdu. In the vehicle there is air – oxygen? Outside? The vehicle ploughs its furrow through the thick air.
I arrive. I am shown inside. I am shown outside. There is no one here. Just me.
In the garden.
It rains. Gentle rain. Rain you don’t know is there until you’re drenched to the bone. Bone? Quiet. Birds sing. Water drips. Sky grey. But somehow bright. Air, clear. Upon the lawn a square of tables, chairs, precisely placed as a border to a chess board. Black and red. No games here. Grass blades short, coiffured. There is peace. It is beautiful. Bamboo. Slivers, razors cutting the gentle breeze as water drips. Bamboo shivers, shakes, whispers of eternity. Nothing changes here. Just mortal passing.
I wait. He isn’t here. A noise. I turn. It isn’t him. A woman carries a white flask. She indicates a chair. I sit. The chair is wet. There are three teapots. She fills each teapot with hot water from the white flask. She smiles – she has no English. I am silent. I look left and right. He isn’t here. She smiles. She leaves.
I am alone.
Bamboo whispers. Birds sing. The grass under my feet doesn’t move. I watch it. Such green. So many greens. The table doesn’t move. Its legs nestle. The other chairs are empty. Wet.
I pour the tea into six translucent white tea bowls. Two gold. Two green. Two black. For choice. I breathe. Sit still. Wait. Soon.
I look up. He’s here. I stand. He knows. I know. I lift a chair and set it down across the table from my chair. Go first, I say. He smiles. Gold. My turn. Black. His turn. He laughs. Stands. Turns. Walks away. No, I say. He turns. Stands still. Chest out. Defiant.
I’m sorry, I say, that it had to end this way. He smiles.
It’s always loud, that bang.
Birds panic. Flee the bamboo. I drink the green tea.
He lies still. I check. He lies. Still. I walk away.
Birds return. Bamboo grows. Silent.
I walk away. I wasn’t sure he would come. I had no joy in it. But it was done.
A contract is a contract after all.
‘A Tea Ceremony’
A visitor, an acquaintance, not someone who knows me well, enters my kitchen.
‘Cup of tea?’ I ask.
‘Yeah, yeah that would be great. Bloody cold outside.’
‘What sort of tea would you like?’
‘What sort of tea? I have …’
‘Builders’,’ the visitor interrupts. ‘You’ve got a lot of CDs.’
I can’t help myself. ‘Builders? Builders’ what?’
‘Tea, just ordinary tea, milk, two sugars.’
There it is – the word! ‘I’m sorry but I don’t have any ordinary tea.’ This is the point at which choices have to be made, difficult choices – after all, this poor unsuspecting soul is a guest, but I really don’t have any ordinary tea. ‘Let me see what might fit the bill. I have a rather good Assam, I’ll show you what it looks like.’ I continue as I pull a caddy off the shelf, open it and display the contents. ‘Isn’t that beautiful?’ I ask as I shake the caddy revealing an infinite leafy tangle of seductive browns and golds. ‘And the smell – can you smell that? Isn’t it fantastic?’ I ask, holding the tin up to be sniffed. That’s when I first sense a slight wariness, the beginning of a physical distancing from the tea nerd-do-well.
‘It’s tea isn’t it?’ my guest asks.
My word this guy is right on the button. ‘Yes. Assam. Would this do instead of builders’ tea? I can make it quite strong?’
That would be good; thick enough to stand a spoon up in it.’
The kettle boils. Thank god it’s a noisy kettle; it covers the awkward silence. I put a double measure of tea into a small pot and when I’ve let the filtered water cool just a tad I pour it over the leaves. ‘That’ll be three minutes,’ I announce.
‘Thanks. Do you always make this sort of fuss over a cup of tea?’
‘Yes, I suppose I do; you wouldn’t put diesel in a petrol tank, would you?’ I wish I hadn’t said that; it doesn’t make sense. Could I ask you what you mean when you say ordinary tea?’
‘Tea, you know, that comes in a little bag with holes in it and the tea’s inside the bag, you put it in a mug and pour boiling water over it, squeeze it with a tea spoon to get the goodness out of it, take out the bag, pour in milk, stir in sugar and there you are, you have a cup, or rather a mug if you’re going to be pedantic, of tea.’
‘It’s not the bag I’m worried about because you can get tea in perfectly fine tea bags. It’s the tea you’re calling ordinary, what do you mean ordinary?’
‘Christ … um, just bog standard tea – the tea chimps drink, or little men with Yorkshire accents, or the cast of …’
‘I’m sorry. It’s okay. Forget it. Shall we just sit down at the table and get on with discussing the …’
‘Is that three minutes up yet?’ the visitor interrupts, ‘I’m parched.’
It’s not but I pour the tea through a tea-strainer into a mug.
‘You wouldn’t have to bother with all that faff if you were using a tea bag.’
‘It’s not a faff,’ I answer as I set down the mug followed by milk and sugar on the table. ‘It’s a pleasure making and drinking tea.’
‘Look, Phil, I don’t want to be rude, but can I be frank about this?’
‘Of course,’ I reply as I half fill my mug with double strength Assam and top it up with hot water.
‘You don’t think what’s in tea bags is tea do you? That’s the problem isn’t it?’
‘No, it isn’t. It’s the word ordinary … But you’re right in a way because the stuff they stick in mass produced tea bags may not be, no that isn’t right, it is a form of tea, a very acceptable drink, but it’s not tea in the same way as English ‘Sherry’ isn’t Sherry or in the same way that chalk isn’t cheese or an Osborne – the biscuit that is – isn’t a cream cracker – though in that case that may be true, he probably is. Do you see what I mean? The naming of things is very important. When, for example, did the word ‘radical’ become a term of abuse? When we misuse words to describe things which the things described are not, then we’re on a slippery slope.’
‘What has the possible misuse of the word ‘radical’ got to do with ordinary tea?’
‘Because the word radical is now being used to mean bad.’
‘So what’s the difference if you’re saying that ordinary tea is bad?’
‘I’m not making a value judgement – I am, aren’t I? Okay, you’re right. I am saying that the tea you describe as ordinary, that comes in those sort of bags, isn’t tea but a derivative of tea.’
‘Is this why you’re against fracking?’ my guest asks.
‘I’m sorry, you’ve lost me there. What has ordinary tea to do with fracking?’
‘It’s the same sort of connection you made between radical and ordinary, isn’t it?’
‘Would you like a piece of fruit cake?’ I ask.
‘Is it a Mr Kipling fruit cake?’
‘Just want to be sure what I’m getting – wouldn’t want it to be a scone would I?’
‘Another cup of tea?’
‘Ta. I was just thinking – what’s your opinion about Vin Ordinaire?’ my visitor asked.
© Phil Cosker 2014