Tea is only this:
First you heat the water.
Then you make the tea.
Then you drink it properly.
That is all you need to know.
-Sen no Rikyū
This is just one reason I love tea ~ it can, with only a bit of mindful attention ~ become a ceremony of serenity, if that makes sense. It seems so easy, and has so many opportunities to reflect…
You boil the water — in our case we have a glass teakettle, and I often watch the water as it builds to a boil. How the bubbles first bead the perimeter, then burble across the surface.
Either while the water’s boiling or before you set it on, you lay the tray. This is the fun part :). I have so many trays ~ a wooden one w/ a hand-embroidered Beatrix Potter under glass, made for me by a friend many years ago. A beaten aluminum one I just brought back from cleaning out my in-laws’ home. A wooden one for everyday, that I change the tea cloth in according to season & whim.
Pick a teapot. Or a large mug, if you only want a bit of tea. I have so many teapots it’s very un-Zen — totally material girl when it comes to tea! Lately, I’ve used the Aynsley one, the one I bought at Harrod’s in London so many years ago. It’s a second, a relic of a time when every penny counted three times… And it reminds me of the women in my Tea Conspiracy (another post :)).
Another favourite when the great-nieces & nephew are here is the Beatrix Potter set I used for the boys — now men, on the threshold of marriage. And sometimes I use a small glass pot, only about two cups, when I’m in a hurry, getting ready for work.
You have to choose a creamer & sugar — unless you’re one of those odd folk who don’t require either :). And if you have company, putting out lemon & honey is also nice, in case they take tea ‘the American way.’ Sometimes I use the matching sugar & creamer for whatever teapot I chose, but some don’t have them, and sometimes I want to use something else.
After choosing what teapot, creamer & sugar you’ll use, pick a tea cloth. Or a doily. I have both — the doilies legacies of great-grandmothers, great-aunts, mothers-in-law and friends. The tea cloths odds & ends I’ve collected on impulse over the years. A brocade one my sister gave me, that blends beautifully w/ the tea cosy she made me. Several doilies of my great-grandmother’s. A tea cloth that was a napkin to my mother’s linen tablecloth.
Now you choose the tea — another fun part (actually, it’s all fun:)). A digression: if you’re doing this mindfully, each of these actions is framed by attention. Are you having tea w/ someone else? What do they enjoy? What time of year is it? Are there flowers in the garden that might look good on the tea tray? For instance, one niece & nephew enjoy the usual house tea — Panyang Congou. In the winter, we drink this from cups, adding milk & sugar. But in the summer, we add honey or raw sugar or (depending on who’s on a diet!) Splenda or stevia. And lemon and mint, fresh-cut from the garden. Again, it’s all about an important part of beginner’s heart: what does this person for whom you are making tea like? Enjoy? Need?
Once the tea is chosen, you put enough of it in a tea filter for your pot. I have a scoop for this, a lovely long-handled piece my husband bought me years ago in a small shop above another. Most of my smaller teapots take about 2 scoops — the largest one (an Asian-influenced glass one, w/ a rattan handle) takes 3 generous ones. A scoop measures about 1 tablespoon.
Rinse the teapot w/ boiling water. This serves two purposes: it warms the pot, so that it doesn’t crack when you pour boiling water into it, and it makes sure that the tea ‘blooms’ when you pour it in. In one of the many many tea books I have or have read, there’s a phrase that says the tea should be ‘startled’ by the hot water. If the teapot absorbs some of the heat, then the water isn’t boiling temperature when you put it to the tea.
Now you let the tea steep. Four for brewed, five for strong. Six is (to my taste) stewed, as my friend Lyn would say. A few seconds over? No problem. But for me, stronger tea means use more, not brew more.
When you set the tea tray w/ pot, sugar & creamer, you also should put out a small saucer for the tea filter. I have a whole collection of these (do you sense a pattern here?). My current favourites are a cast-iron leaf my husband gave me this past Christmas, and the tiny green Wedgewood saucer that was my mother-in-law’s. I drain the filter and let it sit in what used to be called the ‘slop bowl.’
Now you have a final choice: what cup & saucer? What silver spoon? Years ago, I bought several sterling teaspoons in different patterns, ranging from the simplicity of 1810 — one of my favourites — to the over-the-top scrollwork of Grand Baroque. Which one best suits you and your guest(s) today?
Another digression — if you don’t have china, sterling, antique linens, so what? Use a bandanna (done that) or an old scarf. Fill an ugly tray w/ crisp autumn leaves, and set a cracked cup no one will even notice against the fall palette. Don’t have China black tea? Make an infusion from the mint in the backyard, or use a teabag. The mindfulness of tea isn’t dependent on how many $$ you have or spend. It’s about how much time and love you offer :).
Now? Pour the tea for the two of you. Add what you like — Demerara sugar, local honey, milk or sliced lemon. And if you have treats to share, all the better. Just take time and celebrate each other. That’s what tea is for ~