September: Tea for Two (on smell memories)

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 Twoand 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.

Last week, many of you shared your own found poems about tea. I’m choosing Maureen Doallas‘ poem to highlight this week. In her piece, Maureen implies specific tea memories. She writes:

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?

Photo (top) by bitmask, Creative Commons via Flickr. Post by Seth Haines


Purchase The Novelist, by L.L. Barkat now!


  1. says

    i cannot bring myself
    to even buy the seeds
    to brew the tea
    in an open saucepan
    the way she did,
    cardomom seeds swirling
    and bursting with aromatic love

    and missing her
    swells in my throat
    with simply the thought
    of this fragrant delicious memory

  2. says

    I am sitting her having a cuppa herbal tea. I wonder what Lindi would say about that . . . I don’t think there’s a drop of camellia sinensis in it. But it’s delightful.

    Almost every time I drink tea, I think about a home in Massachusetts where I sat across from an elderly college professor and he gave me kind words about writing as a career over a cup of black tea with milk and honey.

    Does Lindi approve of milk and honey? It was an epiphany to me that day. I don’t remember any of the advice that dear man provided, but I remember the tea, and the kindness.

    • says

      In fact, she does!

      There is actually a black tea that we tried that had chocolate/truffle essence in it. She said it was really made to be had WITH milk, and let me tell you something… it was amazing!

  3. says

    Not the High Tea I Remember

    You don’t hear anyone
    say, Let’s take a tea break

    at Starbucks. Where’s
    the buzz in that?! You can

    get Earl Grey, it’s true, but
    forget asking for Devonshire

    cream. You’re not at The Plaza
    with little Eloise, spooning lemon

    curd onto tiny porcelain plates,
    enjoying your milk, warmed on

    request, fat slices of Dundee cake
    piled to the side. You don’t get

    tiered trays of delicate pastries,
    savories to sneak off in doggie bags,

    lemon slices thinly masquerading
    as wedges. Do I need to tell you,

    baristas don’t push finger sandwiches
    – with or without cucumber –

    at four o’clock in the afternoon.
    The hot water’s still plentiful

    but by that time, you need to know,
    all the currant-studded scones

    in America have gone stale.

  4. says


    The morning aroma
    Brought no comfort
    Perfectly blended ground
    Meticulous too
    The people in smooth black
    Sat back, un-relaxed
    The year, 2011
    The moment masterful
    The air distinctive
    Remembering steeps with
    An ever-changing array of
    Flavor to seal and pouch a
    Whole new grey
    Mother Nature’s gift? No!
    Her body, mind, spirit,
    Now wrapped and sleeping
    Protecting the intense
    Faint of heart in
    darkest time
    It is recommended we
    Create a long-term
    Stable future by
    Consulting a doctor
    We are to visit anytime
    Visit often
    Her smokey-grey grave

    © Emily Murphy – September 12, 2012

  5. Christine Boldt says

    Slow Learner

    I shall re-microwave yesterday’s tea,
    Convince myself that it doesn’t taste flat,
    For it’s Lapsang Souchong as fine as can be.
    I shall re-microwave yesterday’s tea.
    I could make a fresh pot. I have twenty three.
    But I’m studying Zen, can’t take time for all that.
    I shall re-microwave yesterday’s tea,
    Convince myself that it doesn’t taste flat.

  6. lynn says

    Authentic friendship is classic;
    like a freshly brewed cup of tea
    served outdoors on the veranda.

    A spiced aroma of well-blended,
    hand-selected, cozy comaraderie
    fills the relaxed afternoon air.

    Tea time friendship
    shares the comforting warmth
    of caring attention;

    Perfectly steeped in
    robust undertones
    of an exclusive conversation.


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