“…As far as I know, my Mother never sipped tea out of a small Raku-fired cup in a tea house or nibbled Japanese sweets out of a lacquered bowl. To think of tea and Mom, it’s more the English approach that comes to mind. Earl Grey, a splash of half-and-half, a teaspoon of honey and Mom perched at the countertop, the sound of a slow stirring spoon tinkling the inside of a favorite cup, her pursed lips cooling the steaming surface.
As far back as I can recall, tea was an essential elixir in our home. Not exotic Pue-erhs or Oolongs mind you– more the kind that came in the red and yellow box marked Liptons, the little white tea bags stacked up firm from side to side, the string tucked up under and packaged tight. When I first made the move to San Francisco and was exposed to the burgeoning ‘tea scene’ by way of Samovar, my friend Jesse’s hip tea lounge, I was excited to explore a shared passion with Mom. Who knew my seventy-seven year old Mother and I would find common ground over tea?
Then again, when I sent her Samovar’s menu, the retail list tea list and a tin of – what else? – Mother’s Mint, I should have anticipated her response.
Mom: “I don’t see Lipton’s on the menu.”
Me: “That wasn’t a printing error Mom. Samovar doesn’t serve Lipton’s.”
Mom: “Well, look at all these. What am I going to order when I’m there?”
Me: “I’ll talk to Jesse and find out if we have some plain, bland tea socked away in the basement somewhere that I can bag up for you.”
Mom: “What have you got against Lipton’s? What’s the closest thing, then? The Lapsang Shoochang? The Monkey-Picked Iron Goddess of Mercy? The Maiden’s Ecstasy? Can you still drink that if you’re seventy-seven?”
Well, at least she had fun rattling off the names. Louise explained that at her age, some things still worked well and if they did, you stuck with them. It turns out the closest thing to Lipton’s was a Black tea and fairly straightforward, something along the lines of an Earl Grey. I sent her a tin along with a few other herbals, a wise choice considering caffeine intake was a concern. Mom’s tea ritual, practiced and perfected over many, many years, typically began in the early evening, when the backyard Oaks were splashed with dusky reds and purples.
It turned out she was a bit set in her ways, accustomed to the simplicity of dangling tea bags with stapled strings, and hadn’t sampled the loose teas I’d sent prior to my visit home this past Thanksgiving. But her curiosity – and no doubt willingness to indulge her son – coupled with my enthusiasm created an opening.
I walked her through the choice of waters and degrees of boiling (“Ooohhh, degrees of boiling” she intoned, pronouncing each word deliberately), the steeping, the subtleties, the beauty. She explained to me that she was quite familiar with things like boiling water and steeping, reminding me that she’d been steeping for years, long before I considered anything other than milk for a beverage.
And before I knew it, my Mom and I were connecting, as I had hoped, over tea.
To be sure, her Midwestern Way of Tea was less rigorous than some of the customs of my urban tea lifestyle. I had no illusion that anything but a uniformed bag of Liptons would occupy her mug the evening after I’d left and returned to San Francisco.
But something happened that post-Thanksgiving afternoon during that half hour, or was it longer? that Mom and I sipped tea, slipping in and out of light conversation and silence. It left me feeling that perhaps the making of a skilled Tea Master can take a multitude of forms….”
Thank you Paul for this story, and, for bringing tea to the Midwest. If you have had our teas make an impact on your life, or your Mother’s life, email us. We’d love to tell the world.