Diving headlong into the world of tea can be disorienting. I know this firsthand.
Last week I decided to kick the coffee habit for a month and opted to replace it with a more refined and elegant beverage—tea. But as I visited the local market’s tea aisle, my head swam with the options—black teas, green teas, white teas, red tea, herbals. Where’s a fella to start?
Knowing I was overmatched, I called in the expert, my gem of a friend Lindi. Lindi has collected tea experiences from Arkansas to Tibet, and is easily the most knowledgeable tea maven I know. Generously, Lindi agreed to give a sort of tea class to a couple of friends and me at Mama Carmen’s, the coffee shop where she hand-selected each tea on the menu.
The Tea Lesson
We sit at a large square table, five tea pots in the center. “All true tea comes from the same plant—camellia sinensis,” Lindi explains. “The color of the tea—white, green, or black—depends upon the fermentation or oxidation process. The darker the tea, the dryer the leaf and the more oxidized.” She points to the English black tea on the plate. Shriveled, it looks like pipe tobacco. In contrast, she points to the white tea leaf, which looks only slightly wilted.
“During the oxidation process, chlorophyll is broken down and tannins are released. That’s why darker teas have that slightly astringent quality.” She explains this as she begins to pull tea bags from red ceramic pots. “You should steep darker teas no more than three minutes. Over-steeping a black tea can lead to a bitter cup, leave that ‘bad wine’ taste in your mouth.”
“I see people leave their tea bags in their cup while they drink,” I say. “What about them?”
She looks at me like a nun, and I envision her peering over the tops of imaginary glasses. “Blasphemy!” she declares. “If you over-steep your tea, don’t blame the leaf when the flavor goes rancid.”
I think there is a life lesson here.
Lindi pours the teas and we talk about each. As she pours a red rooibos tea, she explains that it comes from a bush in South Africa, that it’s not really related to camellia sinensis but is actually more of an herbal infusion than a true “tea.” As I bring the cup to my nose (tastings are as much about smelling as tasting, she reminds me), I inhale slowly. “What’s your scent memory with that tea? What does it remind you of?” Lindi asks.
I find this to be a challenging, contemplative exercise. I sit thinking, and suddenly, I am swept back to Mozambique in 2008, when the rain was advancing across the plateau in sheets. Ozone smells were thick and infused with an herbal quality as the winds blew across the subsistence farm where my college roommate worked. We shared amarula cream in the evening and he asked me about friends and family stateside. A neighbor lady came into his yard, offered me a bowl of boiled bean greens. They were surprisingly tender and sweet.
The memory is a flash. I tell Lindi, “It reminds me of Mozambique.” She smiles, nods, and says, “Now you’re getting it.”
What about you? What memories do the smell of your favorite tea conjure? Will you share it in poetic form?
Now, without further adieu, let’s get some creative works brewing.
Tweetspeak’s September Tea For Two Prompt
This month’s found poem theme at Tweetspeak is Tea for Two, and we’re using words and phrases from tea (or coffee) related products as the prompt. We’d love you to join with is. How do you participate?
1. Look through your pantry and grab some tea or coffee packages, or any other tea or coffee related products you may have in your house.
2. Arrange a found poem containing words from the products. Make sure your poems touch on themes of tea or coffee.
3. Tweet your poems to us. Add a #tea42 hashtag so we can find it and maybe share it with the world.
4. If you aren’t a twitter user, leave your found poem here in the comment box.
5. Each week we’ll share a few of the poems. At the end of the month, we’ll choose a winning poem and ask the winner to record his or her poem to be featured in one of our upcoming Weekly Top 10 Poetic Picks.
The poet serves tea
in a pot shaped like a lotus
blossom. The pour streams
through a net at the mouth,
leaves caught from a fall
to the cup like so many
unwanted words discarded
from the final draft. The art
takes some practice, no little
experimentation to get right.
The secret is time, the ritual
of adding in and taking out.
Thank you for all your submissions. Now… who’s first this week?