Tea and Tig

The lowly hedgehog* is a favorite creature of mine, adorned as it is with defensive bristles, close to the ground, sturdy and enduring.

So, though I have not yet fathomed the hedgehog’s significance to Muriel Barbery, having only penetrated the first third of her excellent novel, I sense a fellow traveler in her celebration of camellia sinensis and its ceremonies, of the ground, sturdy and enduring.

Kakuzo Okakura, the author of the Book of Tea, laments the rebellion of the Mongolian tribes in the thirteenth century not because it brought death and desolation but because it destroyed one of the creations of the Sung dynasty, the most precious among them, the art of tea. Like Okakura, I know that tea is no minor beverage. When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?

The tea ritual is such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accession to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a license given to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and of the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony. Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us. Then let us drink a cup of tea. Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light. And with each swallow, time is sublimed.

Barbery takes her place in the queue of writers who say what I was going to say, when I found the words.


*Hedgehogs share distant ancestry with shrews (family Soricidae), with gymnures possibly being the intermediate link, and have changed little over the last 15 million years. [Wikipedia]

The Cup That Cheers

Not out loud, of course, but in a decently restrained and modulated tone of voice.

How to make a decent cup of tea, following George Orwell’s golden rules. – By Christopher Hitchens – Slate Magazine.

Go, Christopher. I nearly moved to the UK, not just for love (that started to go horribly wrong almost immediately) but because even in the Little Chef, something like the Denny’s or HoJo chain in the US, you could get a perfectly brewed, celestially uplifting pot of tea.

“It is already virtually impossible in the United States, unless you undertake the job yourself, to get a cup or pot of tea that tastes remotely as it ought to. It’s quite common to be served a cup or a pot of water, well off the boil, with the tea bags lying on an adjacent cold plate. Then comes the ridiculous business of pouring the tepid water, dunking the bag until some change in color occurs, and eventually finding some way of disposing of the resulting and dispiriting tampon surrogate. The drink itself is then best thrown away, though if swallowed, it will have about the same effect on morale as a reading of the memoirs of President James Earl Carter…” more

T-Shirt Friday, August, 2009 – The Important Things

I have several times mentioned Donna Barr and her creation the Desert Peach, who is my hero for many reasons, not least because he has his priorities straight.

Harlan Ellison once said that the important things in life were sex, violence and labor relations.

The Peach is more idealistic and votes for Love, Honor, Death, and Tea.

Peach Shirt

I am a Darjeeling and Assam woman, myself, though all tea is divine; I must find out from Donna what the Peach’s favorite brew is, when he can get it.

Camellia Sinensis


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.180px-deity_lady

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.