I have had a checkered life but my one unwavering passion has been for the modest evergreen known as Camellia sinensis, the tea plant. I was first given a cup of decently brewed tea by a neighbor lady who had no idea what she was doing to me. I was twelve. It was entirely like what lifelong tipplers say about their first drink; the doors of heaven opened and my heart leapt.
Tea, whether brewed green or fermented to the black leaf that turns to bronze mist in the cup, contains aside from its caffeine compounds like theobromine, which opens the airways of asthmatics and lifts the heart without making it race. Green tea most of all, but any tea, yields epicatechin gallate which busts up useless fat and stuns staph infections, yes ma’am. Theanine favors us with little drops of the serenity attained by the bodhisattvas.
Tea calms sunburns and stinging eyes. I have used it to soothe literally every bodily tissue that I could reach with it.
Darjeeling tea has the tannic complexity of a Cabernet or Shiraz. Earl Grey opens your head with the punch of bergamot (which Oliver Cromwell loved to cultivate, or so Milton tells us). Assam teas ferment to a scorched copper color in the cup and kick all your neurons until it feels as if every synapse were an astute eye. The half-fired tea called Gunpowder sends a smell up your head like a gust after rain.
I hold my teacups between my palms, in the space between what the East Indians regard as the hand chakras and which approximate in the greeting gesture of namaste, and breathe in from the jigsaw of clouds that jostle each other over the surface of the brew. Even crappy orange pekoe from the chain grocery has the spirit of Kwan Yin, the Asian goddess who lifts up the faltering, and who has a tea named after her. Ave Maris Stella.