“If a man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.” —Japanese Proverb
My favorite iron kettle is a deep charcoal Japanese tetsubin. Small, heavy and dark, it holds the promise that it will keep my beverage hot longer than it will take for me to empty it. At home I enjoy many varieties of tea ranging from soothing and subtle tisanes (herbal teas) to strong black and green teas. I like to drink tea at any time of the day but my favorite time is early in the morning, before my husband and baby are awake and all is silent except for the few birds singing the glories of a new day.
This morning, curled into my comfy chair, my sturdy tetsubin and a small tea cup by my side, the blinds slightly open, I allow the sun to slowly fill the room and let my tetsubin do its magic. Before my tea has sufficient time to steep, I resist the temptation (barely) to lift the kettle’s lid just to smell or quickly taste one of my favorites, Rouge Bourbon, an aromatic French vanilla flavored red rooibos tea from the French tea company Mariage Frères. Its delicate aroma smells, to me, of chocolate, vanilla and home. The oh so very subtle taste of the tea is divine and I understand why Monsieur Frères once said, “Un parfum d’adventure et de poésie s’évade à l’infini de chaque tasse de thé.” Or, “The fragrance of adventure and poetry endlessly pervades each cup of tea.”
With great appreciation and gratitude for my delicious morning experience, my mind wanders and I wonder not only about the countless others around the world who too enjoy a start of their day with tea but also of the person who actually drank the first cup of tea. How did that come about? What was their first reaction to the idea of steeping leaves in boiling water to create a beverage? So, I quickly investigate.
Ancient Chinese legend claims that tea was discovered in 2737 BC by Emperor Shen Nung, when a few leaves from a wild tea bush fell into a pot of boiling water. He apparently had a sip and became the first person to enjoy a nice, aromatic, hot cup of tea. Although the accuracy of this legend is often disputed, many can agree that the popularity of tea drinking began in China and quickly spread across Asia. Europe was later introduced to tea when Dutch and Portuguese missionaries returned from Asia carrying with them, spices, silks and tea.
Today, tea is an essential beverage throughout the world. More people imbibe tea every day than any other drink in the world. The customs and rituals surrounding tea preparation and consumption are as rich and diverse as the cultures from where tea is produced. It’s no wonder that tea often reminds me of travels to foreign lands. Sometimes a cup of exotic tea makes me feel as if I’m on a trip. This, to me, is both calming and relaxing. But this morning I’m happy to experience the adventure from the comfort of my home.
I’ve now had the pleasure of slowly enjoying two small cups of tea, I begin to hear the first stirrings of a household about to wake and I am ready to start my day, more capable of understanding the truths and beauties of the day.
What kinds of teas do you enjoy? Do you have any memories of teas from foreign lands? I’d love to hear about them. Until then, why not brew a pot and enjoy a lovely cup of tea.