I’ve had a heavy morning and yesterday was pretty full too. Not sleeping that well and when I got up, too much to fit in and too many people pulling me in different directions. As the morning goes on I feel the tension rising and I’m getting wound up like nobody’s business so I make a point of escaping when it’s time for a tea break.
The break eventually arrives mid-morning. I make a point of using it to escape into my imaginary “safe place” where I can relax, and for these fifteen minutes nobody can disturb me.
I look into the hot, steaming, comforting liquid and take my first relaxing sip of this wonderful beverage. I focus on the swirling liquid as I straighten the cup and let my mind start to wander. The humble, soggy tea-bag sitting there on the drip collector makes me start wondering where the tea has come from to reach me here. It has come out of a box of 160, all exactly alike, so it has obviously been manufactured according to a 21st century fully streamlined process with an optimised supply chain. No doubt some clever person has arranged that the magic leaves have been grown to perfection and are preserved and shipped in a just-in-time plan that maximises efficiency and minimises costs and stock levels.
I think back to my childhood to before teabags were the norm and we used leaf tea. The tea was good then too, and the relaxation it gave started the habit of a lifetime. My mind moves further back in time to seeing the Cutty Sark at Greenwich to the time in which this sleek sailing ship would take six weeks to sail the tea back from China in the race to reach the dockside in London. Tea was a valuable commodity which ripened once a year in exotic places so there would be months in which England was short of it or even without it. So when it was ready in those places the ships would race for England because the one that arrived second would not get a good price once this dip in availability had been put right.
Reflecting on this, I realise that the humble tea-leaf had a great effect on sailing ship technology reaching its peak in the late 19th century until coal-fired ships displaced the sailing ship and supplies became more reliable. I think of the early 20th century films of people up the mast furling and unfurling sails on the way around Cape Horn, realising that if one of them fell off into the water and survived, the ship could not stop to pick them up. So people risked their lives for tea. I pause to wonder what Health & Safety might have to say about such working conditions nowadays.
I remember the tea chests holding that leaf tea, and remember how they were the staple of removals and how I would cut my fingers on their jagged edges and learned to take greater care when moving them and loading them on to the van. All that is probably gone now – it will be all those large plastic containers you see outside hardware shops.
I come back to thinking about the smokiness of the flavour of China tea and how I heard once that the tea would be smoked to preserve it. No way to know if this is true but the thought allows me to free-wheel to all those exotic sounding names and places. Darejeeling, Assam, Kenya; I start travelling in my mind to those places and the unique flavours of these teas. And equally exotic those strange names like Gunpowder Green, Orange Pekoe and Lapsang Souchong. No doubt there is history behind these – maybe one day I will come across it.
Those names remind me of the tea jars all with their labels in tea shops with their carefully crafted ambience taking you straight back to upper-middle-class Edwardian England. Crafted right down to the uniforms of the waitresses that clearly come from “downstairs”, and the silver teapots for customers who will be from “upstairs” or at least lured into believing so.
My mind moves on to nearer home and more recent times to
a holiday in Bath, a city which abounds in such tea-rooms. One such had a collection of novelty tea pots which amused though made me wonder how practical they are, and if you have one, how quickly the novelty wears off. Over the door, in the upstairs window, it had the biggest teapot I ever saw – over two feet tall. Certainly a good way to attract attention. I still have a memento – some of the packet of Orange Pekoe we bought there.
That takes me to wondering where we will be going this year and the organisation it is going to take to get there. Which brings me back to the hectic nature of the life from which I have taken out fifteen minutes to escape into my “safe place”.
I look at my watch. Ten minutes gone. Time for another cup and then I can face the world again, refreshed.