Monday, May 21, 2012

The eighth luminous thing... tea.
Hot tea.
Green tea.
Jasmine tea.
Organic spring jasmine green tea, my tea, the tea that gets me out of bed every morning.

I think about it all the way to work, especially on the damp, cold mornings, the ones when it's hardest to get up, when I don't feel entirely awake even when I get to my office. Six in the morning and I have an hour before the coffee shop across the street opens. I have a system: if I leave my office right at 7a.m. I can make the gritty city walk in about five minutes and be there just about when they unlock the door. The place is all concrete and old brick inside, narrow, bare, nothing to write home about, and they have the most wonderful jasmine tea. I order a cup to go and sometimes some sort of all-butter-and-caramel-sugar-pecan pastry. The guy who's really into tea tells me to make sure I take the tea bag out after exactly three minutes—jasmine is one of those delicate green teas that taste awful, he says, if you brew them too long. Sometimes he sets his stopwatch.

But, as I mentioned, I have a system. I get my tea (the clock starts), I put an extra hot sleeve on the tall paper cup, and put on a lid, not hurrying, and gather up my gooey sticky pecan bun that smells of heaven, and head back to my office. Usually I get stopped at the traffic light, that's 55 seconds. Then it's a long block and negotiating the front doors and the security desk and the elevator, and sometimes that stops on all the floors between one and five. Then there's a long hallway and another medium-long hallway and I'm back in my office, and sometimes another few minutes go by when I forget the tea (a bad habit of mine) and check email but then, then it's been seven or eight or nine minutes and the tea is absolutely perfect, a whisky-dark elixir as strong as ten men, its scent of bitter tea leaves laced with just the faintest trace of spring jasmine.

Years ago I started making tea mistakes. I started pouring the hot water over the leaves and going off and forgetting I'd done it for fifteen minutes or so. The results were, at first, terrible—strong is not nearly the word—bitter and quite a bit like mainlining caffeine mixed with road tar. I drank it, mostly, because I didn't want to waste the tea and after a while I started liking it. Delicate tea, the way green tea is supposed to taste, the three-minute green tea, tasted to me like watching the world from behind bulletproof glass. You got the sense it was there, and real, but you could never actually be part of it.

And so it came to pass that I take my tea powerful strong. It's tea you'd hand to sailors weathering a midwinter gale, and it smells like a warm blanket and a best friend, and it tastes like morning and clarity and consciousness.

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