The most difficult tea-making experience I ever had? Was it in Cuba? No, that was easy: I’d brought an electric kettle which seemed like a remarkable miracle to our Cuban friends. Even if I didn’t have it, I’d have been able to use the single electric burner hot plate to boil the water in the simple cooking pot. As it was, I poured the water over the oolong, which steeped in the pot each morning, then I ladled it out into our cups. Not difficult or impossible. Tea is a simple thing, based in nature. As long as we can heat the water, we are set. I could have even put the leaves into water left out to heat up in the sun and made a passable cup – in a pinch. More on tea in Cuba. And when the mosquito guys came around to fumigate the place, I made sure the tea was in a tight container so it wouldn’t be contaminated. No, Cuban tea was easy.
Okay so what was the most difficult tea-making experience? it would have to be making tea in the hospital while visiting my ailing mother. This was difficult tea. Yes there is a ward kitchen with an electric kettle for the water. There is a styrofoam cup for the tea, and the tea in bags is the most basic low-grade tea on the market. But even if I brought my own so-called “better” tea, making that tea was by far the most arduous. The tiny kitchen, the other people, our cheerful sadness, the little packs of digestive or arrowroot biscuits, the individual 2% milks and creams in the fridge. I made two cups. One for mum and one for me. With cookies on the side. Then took it to the hospital bedside, moving over the kleenex and other stuff to make space. Of course she could barely drink hers. For other reasons, I could barely drink mine, either, but I did. And in context, it seemed good anyways. It was tea after all. And it was both simulation and reminder of more everyday life.
The difficulty is not in the making of the tea (tea leaves + hot/boiling water = tea) but in its enjoyment. The pleasure of the tea culture, stripped from all its refinement, is made plastic and homogenously tasteless in any institutional environment. This, combined with the sadness and suffering in a hospital, makes the drink a joyless imitation. The same tea, perhaps made at a campfire in the mountains, in water brought to a boil over the fire, would have an energizing and invigorating effect, and wouldn’t be half so difficult to make or enjoy. Or the same tea, made at home, to share over conversation in an afternoon could reinforce the precious beauty of ordinary natural life.
As Brett said in his post: “This post is my contribution to the February 2011 Tea Blog Carnival as presented by the Association of Tea Bloggers. Our theme for this carnival was “What is the most uncomfortable place where you prepared tea and how were you able to overcome the difficulty?” This month’s carnival was hosted by the always fabulous Gongfu Girl and links to other participating posts can be found here.”