It is almost as if I always have to have something to do which has absolutely no value other than my own pleasure and of course some form of associated commercial transaction. In other words as my parents always said to me and I’ve not heard said since: money burns a hole in your pocket. Well right now it’s tea. I first enthused about tea in the very early 1980s when, yes agonising but true, I went up to Cambridge, to the University that is. John Cordeaux – I think he spelled it like that – used to drink tea each morning and made a mixture of Earl Grey and a standard black tea which I drank with huge pleasure with milk and sugar. It was made in a teapot and drunk not necessarily from tea cups. It was a revelation and I spent hours browsing loose leaf tea shops, reading books from libraries, filling containers with loose black teas, green teas, herbal teas much to the amusement of my mother who listed them all as smelly teas and refused to be drawn in to my tea world. She’d been brought up on tea and rejected it from some point in the mid 1950s in favour of coffee which must have smelled of beat poetry and not being boring and predictable. There must have been a difficulty of access to coffee as well in those days and tea had always been common, not as a derogatory term, but simply ubiquitous.
My tea crusade lasted perhaps a year, I doubt it even that long and but I never lost a respect for tea from that day onwards. Some years later I still had the last vestiges of the love affair in dried teas at the bottom of dusty tins inside some stored boxes that I finally lost. Some years later, the mid 1990s I met an author on a walk in Italy who had written an account of the journey of tea through history and through our sitting rooms and kitchens. This rekindled a tea love briefly inspired by knowledge and stories of spies smuggling tea plants from China, first and second flush Darjeerlings and endless lovely anecdotal stories.
Now, for a reason I will try to recall, tea has returned and I am in a tea shop in Birmingham tasting a Darjeerling Himalaya Blend (apparently a very similar second flush to the Darjeerling Margaret Hope but in Nepal where the Indian Govt cannot own the name and thus cheaper); a Ceylon Pekoe Lovers Leap and another nice Nepalese Darjeerling style, Maloom. They are all very stimulating and I feel quite wired after drinking them with the odd sensation of sweetness that keeps coming from the back of my mouth. There is the ritual, there is the sight of the leaf tips resuscitated from being steeped. The second flush Darjeerling has the nicest leaves! The Ceylon an almost wooded flavour, musky. The Darjeerling the most alert.
What brought me to loose leaf tea this time was a brown betty tea pot I bought in Pwllweli in the summer of 2012. I used it since even though the glaze was poor and recently a good friend Kim gave me another brown betty, much finer in form as a gift. How nice. Then there are my maternal Grandmother’s tea cups of course but that’s another story.
I ponder so intensely over whether to treat myself to a couple of their loose leaf teas to take home and I do buy two and a glass tea pot with infusion basket – I feel so spendthrift and then I realise a bit later that a pack of tea was not even the cost of a pack of fags and I smoked for thirty years and didn’t agonise over the money. Partly that I realise is that tobacco was bad for me so in a sense it served me right.