The menu board at LaBella Bean Coffee Shop and Cafe in Bridgeville, Pa., invites, “Check out our loose tea!”
“Tell me about your loose teas,” I said on my first visit. I was told to look behind me.
In this case, loose tea means boxes of Choice brand teabags, not corralled behind the counter but on the loose in a lovely old piece of furniture repurposed as a tea display case, accessorized with some vegetable-shaped teapots. Customers are free to peruse and choose their own.
The other customers that morning included a table of older guys drinking coffee and talking, guys who probably meet there regularly. When the morning roundtable retirees choose a place like this instead of McDonald’s or the donut shop, it’s a good sign.
I had a view of the coffee guys because I was considering my tea options. It was nice to have time to browse, read the flavors and ingredients, and finally settle on jasmine green, instead of standing at the cash register as I must at some coffee shops, holding up the line of people getting their morning coffee fix.
All my life, Bridgeville has been simply the first in a series of suburban exits on I-79 leading to Pittsburgh. For three weeks it was also the town where I went regularly to see a relative who was in a rehabilitation center to get stronger before going home.
I could have made tea at home and put it in a travel mug, and I did that on many mornings during that spell. But when life pulls the rug of routine out from under you, it’s nice to find a new place to help maintain the ritual of tea. I found LaBella by asking my smartphone’s Maps function “tea bridgeville.”
If I lived in Bridgeville, this would be be my go-to coffee shop (and not just because it’s the only indigenous coffee shop). There’s a sunny glass-walled area with lots of small tables, and a cozier living room area near a fireplace, with a couch and big leather chairs good for sinking into. A bar along one wall has ample outlets for those who came for the free WiFi. Outside, a few tables offer more seating in the shade of some trees.
LaBella serves breakfast, lunch and plenty of baked goods. I never tried anything on the breakfast menu, but the egg white, spinach and feta wrap sounded good. On my third visit, for what might be called an emergency self-care lunch, I chose a half-and-half option—half a Mediterranean Salad with a generous amount of chickpeas, half a LaBella Bruschetta sandwich. Both were attractively plated and delicious.
The last time I stopped in, the morning coffee guys were sitting at the outside tables. One had a huge poodle. He pulled it closer to him when I came near, but the dog seemed placid.
“Does your dog bite?” I asked. Naw, he told me.
I petted its honey-colored head, scratched the curly fur on its neck. Then, with perfect timing, he made an old joke that made me feel like a regular.
“That’s not my dog.”
On that last visit, I chose Dragon Well, a strong green tea. Legend has it that the name comes from a Chinese well with dense water. After a rain, the lighter rainwater floats on it in a jagged curvy pattern resembling a dragon. I also like to think of it as having curative properties enough to make a dragon well. It seemed an auspicious tea to choose on the day my loved one was well enough to be driven home.
The woman behind the counter put my tea in two paper cups plus the cardboard sleeve, as if she knew I was taking it on a journey.
The chalk drawing visible on the way out said what it always says: “Each day is a fresh start.” Yes, it is. Some days, it’s a fresh cup of green tea. Some days, it’s a discharge from a medical facility back to the familiarity and routine of home. And every day, it’s the ability to choose how to roll with what we can’t control.
Browse more in the Tea Quest series
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish