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ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: A cup of Christmas tea

© Another Day in the Country

There was a knock at the door while I was sitting at the table eating breakfast.

“Come in,” I called but she was already through the door.

“I forgot to give you this,” Jess said, “and here we are already well into December. It was just setting there under my tree — being part of the decorations.”

She put down a box that looked like a lovely Christmas book and inside, amidst the yuletide illustrations, were 25 little perforated doors that one could open — a countdown to Christmas, filled with tea.

“How lovely,” I chimed. “This is my very first Christmas gift.”

And, as she had breezed in, she breezed back out, on her way to work.

As I finished my breakfast, I studied the box. It was beautiful, rather “English” in its style of decorations with old-fashioned telephone booths, antique-looking cars, vintage Santas, and Christmas trees. The numbers on the perforated boxes were not arranged in numerical order. You had to look for the appropriate door to open and I spied Door #1.

Very carefully, I ran my fingernail around the perforation on the first door and used a table knife to open the little flap. Inside the tiny enclosure was tucked a tiny tea bag — not made of paper — but silk! You’ve probably been lucky enough to get a luxury tea encased in little silk triangles, like this. The artistic, beautiful tea bag seems to promise an even tastier, more fulfilling, teatime experience.

“How delightful,” I said, right out loud, and giggled. “What a thoughtful gift. I wonder what kind of tea this one is?”

I was searching around on the table to see if I’d brought my eyeglasses to breakfast, so that I could read the fine print on the label.

My “usual” breakfast beverage, these days, is a Korean French coffee drink that my very Korean son-in-law introduced me to a couple of years ago. At first, it was a novelty, an unusual gift from Richard that I enjoyed. And then, it became a ritual, a mild refreshing taste — served hot or cold — quick and easy to use. Now it is a habit and the regular coffee pot only comes out for use when company arrives.

Tea — Earl Grey or Lemon Lift — was my favorite breakfast drink for years before the Korean coffee landed. I’ve always loved Chai Tea because I’m enthralled with anything laced with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger — and after actually traveling to India, Chai was my favorite for years.

Now, here in front of me, I have this opportunity to experiment with 25 varieties of tea, as part of my 2018 Christmas experience. On the back of this gift box, I discovered the “tea dictionary” listing what kind of tea I’d be tasting on each day.

The first tea is English Breakfast. It sets on my desk, now, as I write, brewing in an old teacup with a lid that keeps the tea hot and tasty if I go on too long.

I pick up the celadon green cup, lift the lid and breathe in the scent of this tea. There’s a fragrance, almost like perfume, as I inhale the steam. And then, very carefully, I take the first sip — it’s hot, nicely so, and warms my body as I swallow.

Now is the time to stop typing. Tea is an experience, not just a liquid beverage. Tea is for savoring, and savoring means stopping, contemplating the warmth you have just consumed, the feel of the old cup in your hand.

I have a habit of leaning the cup into my chest, as I ponder what to say next, the warmth familiar and comforting. My mind wanders to the first and only tea ceremony I experienced in Singapore.

Friends were living there, briefly, and I was invited there to do a work project — a college bulletin that needed writing and illustrating. I was doing writing and photography. They said, “Come,” and I came. It didn’t pay a lot but the experience was beyond remuneration. “We want to take you to a tea ceremony,” they said and I went.

At first, I was put off by all the ritual — the swirling leaves, the pouring out, the smelling, the smallness of the cup, the unfamiliar flavor, the sacred quality of the experience with friends.

And now I understand, as I hold my warm cup of Christmas tea, remembering, on another day in the country.

Last modified Dec. 12, 2018

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