Tea is not for the absent minded.
The perfect cup of tea must be treated as a meditation. One must eliminate all distractions, focus on the present, accomplish each step in the process mindfully, and savor the results.
First, think of the water. At our mountain cabin we used to use water from a mountain stream with its source in high wilderness peaks, cold as only recent snowmelt can be. Then we learned (the hard way) that our “pure” water must be filtered for giardia. Two years after a forest fire, word has trickled out from the Forest Service that our water has increased levels of arsenic. Distilled water , with a pretty picture on the front label, is probably best for peace of mind.
It does not do to leave the teakettle on the stove until the bottom of the teakettle melds with the burner. For those who prefer not to watch the kettle, a whistle is essential; it serves the function of a meditation bell that returns focus to center. Electric kettles cater to impatient tea drinkers and are much cheaper than a new stovetop.
If the water must be heated in a cup in a microwave, it is fruitless to press ”Start” and then abandon the kitchen to start something else. Unlike the teakettle on the stove, the microwave does turn itself off, and the water in the cup returns to room temperature.
Choosing the right tea for the occasion is a delightful exercise in mindfulness. There are the medicinal or soothing teas: lemon ginger, chamomile, peppermint. Morning may call for a bracing breakfast tea, late afternoon for Constant Comment. A delicate herbal brew is perfect at bedtime. Some teas may recall memories: a grandmother who insisted on gunpowder tea purchased at Marshall Fields, a sister who loves vanilla tea, new in-laws serving Earl Grey Persian style in clear glass cups. The choices are nearly infinite, and each kind of tea has purpose and meaning.
Once the tea is in contact with the hot water, whether by dunking a teabag or immersing loose leaves, it is usually suggested to brew the tea for five minutes, or according to taste. Thirty minutes is not advisable, unless strong, lukewarm tea is the desired result.
Names of teas strung together, repeated like a mantra, can calm the mind while passing the time. As soon as the tea drinker tires of saying “Darjeeling, Oohlong, Jasmine, Rooibos, Earl Grey” over and over and the mind begins to Constantly Comment, the tea is very likely ready.
It is indeed possible to recover from glitches in the tea-making process. Milk dilutes strong tea, microwaves can reheat it. Perfectionists can still enjoy tea.
Tea must be savored at once. Dispel any cozy notions of lingering over tea while snuggling up in bed with a good mystery novel. Evil is conquered, but so is the tea. It is best to make a full pot and keep it warm with a tea cozy, so that the perfect temperature can be maintained.
Tea is best pure. Milk and the smallest drop of honey may be added, but sugar pollutes the delicate flavor extracted from the leaves.
Tea demands to be served in cups inherited from aunts and grandmothers, given as gifts, or purchased as remembrances. Teapots can be quirky expressions of personality; cozies should be handmade. The one remaining spoon from a great-grandmother’s set can be dedicated to the tea ritual. Tablecloths, napkins, and coasters should all be carefully chosen to create a peaceful atmosphere.
The British and the Japanese understand tea. Each cup contains memories of sacred rituals, of comfort in hard times, and of friendship.
Tea is peace.