Not Even the Rain

Today’s tea, drunk this afternoon, was a black tea that purported to taste of Red Velvet Cake. Accordingly, it was suitably rich, more dessert than breakfast tea. This was more or less as we expected; we still remember, after all, the days when our academic grandmother aspired to bake red velvet cake. The trick, as per her recipe book, was to lean in hard to the richness of the cake. Never to use margarine when it called for butter, or milk instead of cream. It worked for her. The tea was like that too; creamy and full-bodied, unapologetic in its luxuriance.

The same academic grandmother was responsible for the founding of what was then the Poetry and Cake Society. We met, a moveable feast, at a different house each week. Read aloud, drank tea and baked for one another. Nothing so indulgent as red velvet cake, to our memory, though courgette cake was quite thing in the society’s last year or so.

We were thinking of this over tea, it being about the time when Poetry and Cake would hold its Christmas party. We think we’ve told you a bit about some of the games. Guess the Rhyme, for instance, was the favourite. There was another, unnamed, where we had to justify a dislike of one famous poet and a taste for an overlooked one. The less expected the answer, the higher your score. We did terribly. Such are the hazards of narrowly focusing on the Romantics. But we did once confess to a certain amount of disinterest in Cummings. The lack of capitals, you know, irritate us. Far too obvious an answer.

But then, in rewatching The Hour the other evening, we realised that, as with every other rule, this one had an exception. So here, with no more regard for capitalisation than red velvet cake has for calories, is the one bit of Cummings to really win us over.

Somewhere I have never travelled gladly beyond

e.e. cummings

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me ,i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

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Snow Days (or Lack Thereof)

Over 14 years of school, we had all of two snow days. This was in Toronto, Ontario, where we walked home in drifts up to our pink knees and it was uphill both ways. So, naturally, we laughed appreciably when, in 2020, we were delayed in the return to Scotland by centimetres of snow. We seem to remember Wales was well and properly snowbound, but London was dusted lightly, and still it ground to a halt. It was eleven before we regained St Andrews, and the first time the British Rail service properly betrayed us. The makings of a great and lasting relationship, that.

We’re thinking about all of this in light of today’s tea, dubbed Snow Day. We’re not sure exactly what those taste like, having, as we say, limited experience, but we didn’t reckon on chocolate and mint. More peppermint than chocolate in this case, too. This is odd only inasmuch as a quick look at the ingredients would suggest this should be the other way round. Still, we’d rather the peppermint, and as an uncaffinated cap to the evening, it does what it says on the tin. We like it fine, you understand, but there have been more interesting teas in this Advent Calendar. To us it tastes like any agreeable mint tea.

But in keeping with the spirit if the thing, here’s a poem by Billy Collins. We knew him first through The Writers’ Almanac, whereon was recited his ‘Reasons I Do Not Keep a Gun in the House.’ It still makes us laugh, but as we now live with the Dachshunds, posting it would probably be disloyal. Instead, here’s a theme and variation on the tea. You can tell us if it’s anything like the reality.

Snow Day

Billy Collins

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,
and beyond these windows
the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.
In a while, I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,
and I will shake a laden branch
sending a cold shower down on us both.
But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,
a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.
I will make a pot of tea
and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,
as glad as anyone to hear the news
that the Kiddie Corner School is closed,
the Ding-Dong School, closed.
the All Aboard Children’s School, closed,
the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed,
along with—some will be delighted to hear—
the Toadstool School, the Little School,
Little Sparrows Nursery School,
Little Stars Pre-School, Peas-and-Carrots Day School
the Tom Thumb Child Center, all closed,
and—clap your hands—the Peanuts Play School.
So this is where the children hide all day,
These are the nests where they letter and draw,
where they put on their bright miniature jackets,
all darting and climbing and sliding,
all but the few girls whispering by the fence.
And now I am listening hard
in the grandiose silence of the snow,
trying to hear what those three girls are plotting,
what riot is afoot,
which small queen is about to be brought down

Canadian Winter

Winter in Canada. It’s here now, the snow on the ground, and the chill in the air. It was book club this evening, and breakfast with relatives downtown, all of which meant walking across the city in boots. As ever, this time of year, we find ourselves wondering what it is about winter boots that seems to find them without arch support. Or maybe it’s something we do to them. Either way, we’ve been acutely aware of it ever since we took up dancing. Suffice it to say we miss the days of mizzling, Scottish winters. The haar, the rime, and the bleakly grey mornings. At least we could run everywhere in ordinary shoes.

But we’re in Ontario, documenting the creeping start of one if our milder winters. after last year, anything above -20 would feel mild. Still, we have a tradition of magnificent winters, and in the course of nursing tonight’s Nuts and Spices Oolong we’ve stumbled across a poet that felt the need to render them lyrical.

The tea, incidentally, is more spice than nuts. Not surprising, since we’re still fuzzy on how exactly essence of peanut would diffuse into an oolong. We can vouch for the presence of the peanuts though; they’re jolly hard to get into a tea infuser. Muse on the how and why of all that while reading through this description of Ontario winter. It’s nothing like the Scottish Decembers we miss, but it’s spot-on for Canada.

How One Winter Came in the Lake Region

Wilfred Campbell

For weeks and weeks the autumn world stood still,
Clothed in the shadow of a smoky haze;
The fields were dead, the wind had lost its will,
And all the lands were hushed by wood and hill,
In those grey, withered days.
Behind a mist the blear sun rose and set,
At night the moon would nestle in a cloud;
The fisherman, a ghost, did cast his net;
The lake its shores forgot to chafe and fret,
And hushed its caverns loud.
Far in the smoky woods the birds were mute,
Save that from blackened tree a jay would scream,
Or far in swamps the lizard’s lonesome lute
Would pipe in thirst, or by some gnarlèd root
The tree-toad trilled his dream.
From day to day still hushed the season’s mood,
The streams stayed in their runnels shrunk and dry;
Suns rose aghast by wave and shore and wood,
And all the world, with ominous silence, stood
In weird expectancy:
When one strange night the sun like blood went down,
Flooding the heavens in a ruddy hue;
Red grew the lake, the sere fields parched and brown,
Red grew the marshes where the creeks stole down,
But never a wind-breath blew.
That night I felt the winter in my veins,
A joyous tremor of the icy glow;
And woke to hear the north’s wild vibrant strains,
While far and wide, by withered woods and plains,
Fast fell the driving snow

In unrelated trivia, Campbell was an Anglican priest before he was a poet of Canadian winter. We’d never heard of him prior to this evening, and we rather wish now we could talk Advent with him over a cup of oolong. This one is particularly good, nuts or no, and we have a feeling he’d speak our particular liturgical language.

Advent II

This afternoon we opened our Advent door to White Cranberry tea, which was really an infusion. The white turned out to be chocolate, though we only know this from an examination of the ingredients. Pour out too early and it makes for lovely, pinkish cranberry-flavoured tea. Pour out later and its darker pink, tastes more strongly of cranberry, and the chocolate still isn’t in evidence. We don’t mind, not being people who much fancy chocolate in tea. We also happen to have a taste for tart things, so the cranberry flavour agreed with us. For anyone with more of a sweet tooth, we decline to pass judgement.

Instead we lost our half-hour teatime to mulling over Advent, and why exactly we’ve spent the last week or so protesting the renaming of the Advent Calendar. We don’t do it, you understand, out of contrariness. Well, not sheer contrariness anyway. Partly we really are baffled by the idea that Advent is somehow exclusive to church-goers. Doesn’t everyone observing the season, even the ones observing in secular fashion, by counting down the days ’til Christmas?

And yet, for all that, Christmas is only part of the point to us. At the end of the day there’s a flatness to Christmas that we don’t find with other holidays. Easter is triumphant and Lent is majestic and sombre. But Advent, that four-weeks journey of counting down until Christmas, is complex. It’s Little Lent to some people, all grey and solemn. There’s a theological school of thought that says it’s apocalyptic. But it’s also the liturgical New Year. Above all those things though, it’s expectant and hopeful, and giddy with blossoming gladness. It comes into fullness at Christmas, we suppose, but to us the exciting part is really the anticipation. It’s watching for the Christ-Light, or any light, on a grey sunrise, or a three o’clock sunset, or on a monochrome winter day.

Advent to us is full of shifting light as we move ever nearer to Christmas Eve. It’s why, although the candles aren’t the most Anglican of traditions (terribly Lutheran, according to a chap at last week’s Agape) we continue to love them and all they stand for. Who doesn’t need light in the darkness? To know that however grim or bleak the hour, there may yet be something coming to buy the spirit? That’s the gist of Advent to us, the nutshell version. And why it matters so much that we’re doing something more here than the 24 Days of Tea. It’s not just about the tea and the boxes, but about what is coming, and more than that, how we get there.

After all that, here’s a well-loved bit of Yeats. Normal people remember it for it’s closing lines. We remember it for the glorious descriptions of shifting light – perfect for Advent whether you see it in rushing to a half nine choir rehearsal by Scottish sunrise, or from some comfortable Canadian fireside, or indeed, somewhere else entirely.

Aden Reaches for the Cloths of Heaven

William Butler Yeats

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Other revelations that came today included the rather eclectic one that Wake, O Wake  is excluded from the Anglican Hymnal of Canada. This dawned on us when listening for the second time in as many weeks to Wachet Auf on the organ, we went in search of the words. We’re not sure why they weren’t there, and we’re convinced we will never parse the logic of this particular hymnody compiler. In compensation, we’re sending you on your way today with the hymn for an ear worm. It’s early in Advent for it, we know, but it’s also lovely, and we’re starting to think there are a shocking number of Canadians who have been cheated of the fun of singing it. This must be rectified.

Christmas Trees and Ritualised Tea

In departure from our usual tea-making ritual, we’re having just a cup this evening. Typically we’d make up a pot in the Wings of Grace tea-for-one with its butterfly pattern. It came back from Scotland with us, and has survived years of ritualised tea. We’d put on a show, and Miss Marschallin would commander our lap and we’d nurse a cup over a leisurely 20 minute interval.

But it’s late, and we’ve just seen off guests after a lovely, long evening. So instead of all that the tea infuser is sitting unorthodoxly in the teacup – still Wings of Grace with the butterfly stamp – and steeping as we search for a poem.

It’s Zest Wishes tonight, an oolong with cinnamon, cardamom, orange peel and apple. Didn’t we tell you this calendar had an apple-themed preoccupation? No complaint at this end. Zest Wishes joins the ever-expanding list of oolongs we have never yet disliked. Though in a first for an oolong, this one tastes a bit like a Christmas fruitcake. It’s the orange peel, we think, combined with the cardamon. Both blend well with the oolong and the result is a tea that is long in the mouth, and intensifies without turning bitter. Just what we needed, as it turns out.

We confess, we didn’t have the energy for much poem-hunting once we’d seen everyone off. Certainly, having done away with all our other ritual trappings for tea, we most wanted to sleep for a week. Imagine our delight then, when this piece by Robert Frost fell into our lap. It’s new to us, and perhaps a bit bittersweet. But then, so can Advent be – more on that another evening. One when we aren’t half-asleep and recovering from a depleted social battery. In the meantime, here’s Robert Frost on Christmas trees, the buying and selling of them.

Christmas Trees 

Robert Frost

The city had withdrawn into itself
And left at last the country to the country;
When between whirls of snow not come to lie
And whirls of foliage not yet laid, there drove
A stranger to our yard, who looked the city,
Yet did in country fashion in that there
He sat and waited till he drew us out
A-buttoning coats to ask him who he was.
He proved to be the city come again
To look for something it had left behind
And could not do without and keep its Christmas.
He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;
My woods—the young fir balsams like a place
Where houses all are churches and have spires.
I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.
I doubt if I was tempted for a moment
To sell them off their feet to go in cars
And leave the slope behind the house all bare,
Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.
I’d hate to have them know it if I was.
Yet more I’d hate to hold my trees except
As others hold theirs or refuse for them,
Beyond the time of profitable growth,
The trial by market everything must come to.
I dallied so much with the thought of selling.
Then whether from mistaken courtesy
And fear of seeming short of speech, or whether
From hope of hearing good of what was mine, I said,
“There aren’t enough to be worth while.”
“I could soon tell how many they would cut,
You let me look them over.”
                                                     “You could look.
But don’t expect I’m going to let you have them.”
Pasture they spring in, some in clumps too close
That lop each other of boughs, but not a few
Quite solitary and having equal boughs
All round and round. The latter he nodded “Yes” to,
Or paused to say beneath some lovelier one,
With a buyer’s moderation, “That would do.”
I thought so too, but wasn’t there to say so.
We climbed the pasture on the south, crossed over,
And came down on the north. He said, “A thousand.”
“A thousand Christmas trees!—at what apiece?”
He felt some need of softening that to me:
“A thousand trees would come to thirty dollars.”
Then I was certain I had never meant
To let him have them. Never show surprise!
But thirty dollars seemed so small beside
The extent of pasture I should strip, three cents
(For that was all they figured out apiece),
Three cents so small beside the dollar friends
I should be writing to within the hour
Would pay in cities for good trees like those,
Regular vestry-trees whole Sunday Schools
Could hang enough on to pick off enough.
A thousand Christmas trees I didn’t know I had!
Worth three cents more to give away than sell,
As may be shown by a simple calculation.
Too bad I couldn’t lay one in a letter.
I can’t help wishing I could send you one,
In wishing you herewith a Merry Christmas.

Canada in Tea; Cedar Canoes and Silver Birch

Today we decorated the Christmas tree  -late for the family, early for us after years of no tree. Miss Marschallin is fascinated by it, having resigned herself in bygone years to the glory of being Overlord of the Nativity Crib. (We all know there was a tortoiseshell cat of giant proportions at the crib.)  The Dawlish Dachshunds ran riot, the tree dropped needles, and the upshot is that it all looks very nice now. Though probably Miss Marschallin will continue to be Supreme Overlord of the Nativity Crib. She must, after all, keep the wooden tabby in its place. (There was definitely a tabby at the crib. There’s a myth that says so and everything.)

Later, we made what the package pronounces to be S’mores Chai, and we’ve ranted too often about the oddity that is chocolate in tea to subject anyone to that again. There is nothing new under the sun there. We do want to know though, what there is exactly in S’mores Chai that it should taste of biscuit. It’s an odd thing, feeling one is drinking biscuit. But the sweetness of it blends well with the chai. We can readily picture returning to this particular blend.

S’mores, of course, hearken back to the days of camping, and fires, pines all around and swatting mosquitos. No one else ever had to worry about them when we were sitting by the fire. They evoke cedar canoes and summers spent on the camp’s summer time – all quintessentially Canadian things that we never could translate to the British experience. (Midges come close but are a different variety of mundane evil.)

With that in mind, here’s a poem by L.M. Montgomery. She’s better known for her novels and her purple prose, but she wrote poems by the sheath too. We won’t defend all of them, but we do think she has a knack for capturing that peculiar Canadianness that is so incommunicable to outsiders.

For Little Things

L.M. Montgomery

Last night I looked across the hills
And through an arch of darkling pine
Low-swung against a limpid west
I saw a young moon shine.

And as I gazed there blew a wind,
Loosed where the sylvan shadows stir,
Bringing delight to soul and sense
The breath of dying fir.

This morn I saw a dancing host
Of poppies in a garden way,
And straight my heart was mirth-possessed
And I was glad as they.

I heard a song across the sea
As sweet and faint as echoes are,
And glimpsed a poignant happiness
No care of earth might mar.

Dear God, our life is beautiful
In every splendid gift it brings,
But most I thank Thee humbly for
The joy of little things.

Nuts in Winter

The calendar that isn’t Advent related would appear to be stuck on an Apple theme. Tonight it was Forever Nuts, a well-balanced herbal blend of apple, raisins, and as the name would hint, nuts. It’s a good tea, one we always keep a stock of. Shockingly pink, as we perennially observe when it bobs up jack-in-the-box fashion behind a door, but warm and autumnal tasting. A lovely shock of colour for grey days and rainy days, dreich spells and snow.

Also perennial is Thomas Hardy, it seems. Inevitably we dip into his poetry at least once through the Advent cycle. And every year we comment on the metre, how musical and playful it is. There are things he does rhythmically that no one else risks doing. Here’s an autumnal poem for an autumnal tea. No nuts -we did lo looking for literary ones – but there’s that feeling of looming endings and waning light that comes with Advent.

The Later Autumn

Thomas Hardy

Gone are the lovers, under the bush
Stretched at their ease;
Gone the bees,
Tangling themselves in your hair as they rush
On the line of your track,
Leg-laden, back
With a dip to their hive
In a prepossessed dive.

Toadsmeat is mangy, frosted, and sere;
Apples in grass
Crunch as we pass
And rot ere the men who make cyder appear.
Couch-fires abound
On fallows around,
And shades far extend
Like lives soon to end.

Spinning leaves join the remains shrunk and brown
Of last year’s display
That lie wasting away,
On whose corpses they earlier as scorners gazed down
From their aery green height:
Now in the same plight
They huddle; while yon
A robin looks on.

On Friendship

It was cream of earl grey today, and we didn’t even bother with a tea infuser. It was still murder to get out of the bag and into the teapot though. We made it up in a large pot, you know, and drank it with a friend. Earl Grey isn’t our go-to black tea, but this particular blend is a staple of the Advent Calendar, and we’ve learned over the years that it holds up black. Also when the cups involved haven’t been lately rinsed with dish detergent. But there’s also something about the sharing of tea that improves it. We like to joke about tea being the eighth sacrament, but like any joke, it has logic in it.

With that in mind, here’s Katherine Phillips on friendship. There are some poets we circle back to yearly, and there’s no one quite like her. She writes about friendship the way anyone else would write a romance – and all before C.S. Lewis was on the scene to write a book to that effect. So pour out a cup of tea, summon a friend, and see what you make of this Carolingian era treatise.

Friendship

Katherine Phillips

LET the dull brutish World that know not Love,
Continue heretics, and disapprove
That noble flame; but the refinèd know
‘Tis all the Heaven we have here below.
Nature subsists by Love, and they do tie
Things to their causes but by sympathy.
Love chains the different Elements in one
Great harmony, link’d to the Heav’nly Throne.
And as on earth, so the blest quire above
Of Saints and Angels are maintain’d by Love;
That is their business and felicity,
And will be so to all Eternity.
That is the ocean, our affections here
Are but streams borrow’d from the fountain there.
And ’tis the noblest argument to prove
A beauteous mind, that it knows how to Love.
Those kind impressions which Fate can’t control,
Are Heaven’s mintage on a worthy soul.
For Love is all the Arts’ epitome,
And is the sum of all Divinity.
He’s worse than beast that cannot love, and yet
It is not bought for money, pains or wit;
For no chance or design can spirits move,
But the eternal destiny of Love:
And when two souls are chang’d and mixèd so,
It is what they and none but they can do.
This, this is Friendship, that abstracted flame
Which grovelling mortals know not how to name.
All Love is sacred, and the marriage-tie
Hath much of honour and divinity.
But Lust, Design, or some unworthy ends
May mingle there, which are despis’d by Friends.
Passion hath violent extremes, and thus
All oppositions are contiguous.
So when the end is serv’d their Love will bate,
If Friendship make it not more fortunate:
Friendship, that Love’s elixir, that pure fire
Which burns the clearer ’cause it burns the higher.
For Love, like earthly fires (which will decay
If the material fuel be away)
Is with offensive smoke accompanied,
And by resistance only is supplied:
But Friendship, like the fiery element,
With its own heat and nourishment content,
Where neither hurt, nor smoke, nor noise is made,
Scorns the assistance of a forein aid.
Friendship (like Heraldry) is hereby known,
Richest when plainest, bravest when alone;
Calm as a virgin, and more innocent
Than sleeping doves are, and as much content
As Saints in visions; quiet as the night,
But clear and open as the summer’s light;
United more than spirits’ faculties,
Higher in thoughts than are the eagle’s eyes;
What shall I say? when we true friends are grown,
W’ are like—Alas, w’ are like ourselves alone.

Hymn to the Marschallin-Cat

In the ongoing saga that is our battle against the parcels of Advent tea, we experimented with a different tea infuser tonight. Whereas our usual is large and bell-shaped, this one is small, squat and house-shaped, what the giver dubbed our ‘tea grotto.’ This makes no difference, if you were wondering, to the elaborate procedure of tea leaf extraction from vacuum-packed plastic bags. We have, however, extracted a considerable number of tea leaves from the rug. Packaging 4: Us nil.

It was another apple tea tonight, appropriately dubbed Apple Cider. It’s supposed to taste like the drink – the wintery, non-alcoholic one. It does too, alternately sweet and tart by turns, depending on the length of steeping. It’s also a herbal tea though, and to our mind is fractionally too sweet. We blame the combination of apple and blackcurrant for a base. Overtop a green tea it would be perfect; as it is, the cinnamon and vanilla don’t quite balance out the fruit.

It also sports that most disturbing of things, cream essence. That’s not really a point against it; we’ve seen cream essence in enough teas by now to accept it as mundane. But we would someday like an explanation as to what it is. Is it manufactured? Powdered? Does one wave the prepackaged tea in front of a creamer? The tea proper doesn’t taste creamy and it also doesn’t smell of it, evidenced by the Marschallin-cat’s utter disdain for it.  Miss Marschallin, to the uninitiated, has a sixth sense for all things milky.

Miss Marschallin does her best impression of Miss Jean Brodie, also of Edinburgh.

We were going to segue from tea to the virtues of the Marschallin-cat, but it’s late, and she’s quite well-documented here. Less well-documented though is her origin as an Edinburgh cat. She came to us from Lothian Cat Rescue, where the felines are undaunted by quarter hours,  flatten others’ scorn under the chariot wheels of their superiority, and, are, of course, in their prime. Certainly the Marschallin-cat is. Accordingly, here’s a hymn to Miss Marschallin. Well, to an Edinburgh cat, name unspecified. But don’t let on, will you?

An Edinburgh Cat 

M.L. Dalgleish

There are cats in the Canongate and cats in the Cowgate
Up ad down Lawnmarket and right round St Giles;
Urban cats in Trinity and rural cats at Howgate,
Toms and tabbies purr and prowl for miles and miles and miles.
But not a single cat of them, claims where I wait
High in Ramsay Garden, clinging to the tiles.

From there I peer at Edinburgh with eager eyed felinity.
Traffic and humanity, at work and sleep and play,
From West end to Waverly, from Sun. to Saturday;
All the chase and chatter of the city’s femininity
On bargain hunt at Jenners and Binns, and C.&A.

Storm clouds over Fife, in the Firth the white spray curling;
Loud with the north easter, I shriek a merry mew;
Summer time in Princes Street; kilted dancers whirling
Where the flowery gardens hear my purring all night thro’,
Bagpipers on the Esplanade, and high above their skirling
I sing in shrill cacophony my joy at the Tattoo.

Grey friars Bobby sits smug beside his Candlemakers
A burgess and a movie star grown pompous by renown;
The unicorn of Mercat Cross mounts guard on holy acres,
Law-abiding citizens who view me with a frown;
Yet if I ever fall victim to town planners and house-breakers,
My loss would be catastrophe for Edinburgh-town.

*We can’t go without observing that while we lived many years in Scotland, we never once met a cat that joyed in the Edinburgh tattoo. Come to that we’re not sure we met non-tourists who joyed in it. But if you have, do get in touch!

On Tea – and its Ritual Trappings

Give us time, we said. We’ll try we said. Three days of wrestling with the plastic-wrapped tea really was us trying. Turns out the old saw about Anglicans and lightbulbs is absolutely true; you need one to pour the sherry, one to change the bulb and one to complain about the superiority of the old bulb. Being neither mechanical or keen on sherry, we clearly fall to the complaining. Swap in tea for lightbulbs and it works a treat.

The thing is, it’s not just that the plastic is different. It’s that its badly designed. In spite of assurances that the bag contains ‘two perfect spoonfuls,’ the opening  of the packaging is engineered to be at peek narrowness. Consequently any heaped teaspoon emerging therefrom scatters gaily across the kitchen counter. We then sweep the leaves into our hands, and thence into the tea infuser. But since we can’t hold the infuser in one hand while spooning stuff out of a hopelessly narrow bag, that too empties on to the counter. We gather it up. We take out a second spoonful. It spills across the counter. We combine it with the leaves we are now sheltering in the palm of one hand.  (Pause here to say a quick prayer that it staysin the confines of one’s hands and doesn’t, say, overrun on to the floor.) We portion the combined lot back into the tea infuser and weep for fellow tea-drinkers partaking in the  24 Days of Tea /Advent Calendar That Isn’t. Are you keeping up? No? Don’t worry, neither are we and we’re living this experience.

Please. For the love of this tea-drinker’s sanity, reinstate the silver and gold tins.

Scrap that. The tins can be whatever colour the cosmos fancies. Blue, green, multicoloured with leprechauns and gremlins. Just bring them back.

Today’s tea was ‘Let it Snow’ a lovely green tea that is the tea company’s newest and latest take on our beloved Crumble Tea. As you’ll appreciate, we took great pains not to let that scatter counter-wide. It’s a bit sweeter than the Crumble Tea, maybe not quite enough spice to balance out the apple flavour. But it’s good all the same and we’re guarding the current supply rather jealously. Even if we do have to tip it into a recyclable tin to ensure its used to its full potential.

And for a tea that tastes like an old favourite, here’s a lovely and well-worn poem to go with it. We’ve always skirted it on the blog, thinking it’s probably the obvious tea poem, and everyone familiar with it. They almost certainly are, but it’s lovely anyway.

Tea

Carol-Ann Duffy

I like pouring your tea, lifting
the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
so the fragrant liquid streams in your china cup.

Or when you’re away, or at work,
I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.

I like the questions – sugar? – milk? –
and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.

Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say
but it’s any tea for you, please, any time of day,

as the women harvest the slopes
for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,
and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea.