I go back three to four decades at least once every year. It’s only for a week or two, but I wouldn’t trade the back-in-time trip for anything else in the world. My annual trip to the Old Country – India – typically starts over the phone, reminiscing about the good, the not-so-great, and the fun times of yesteryears. The trip plans gather steam when the heart-strings win over the daily cold-water showers, the waves of people that will be everywhere, and the recognition that abject poverty and first-world affluence can coexist in fair harmony. Luckily, the heart-strings are egged on by my ears that will be listening for the oft-repeated words “Let’s have some tea”, “Let’s relax in each other’s company”, and, as Joseph Campbell so aptly put it, “Let’s share our experience of being alive”. The tea leaves, the boiling water, the cups and saucers, the chairs, the table, and all the tea-making and hustle and bustle serve to calm the give-and-take of a relaxed conversation.
This social preference for relying on tea to calm and facilitate conversation is evident all over the world. On a recent trip, when I arrived unannounced at the Botin of Cuchilleros Restaurante in Madrid, the Maître d’ recognized me and insisted on my sharing a pot of tea with a member of the owner’s family. Only afterward, he insisted, would he serve the drinks and food I was craving. For them, a meeting over a pot of freshly brewed tea rather than over alcoholic drinks was the way to rekindle a happenstance friendship and offer a continued apology for an event long ago. Maybe, this is one reason why the restaurant has testimony from The Guinness Book of Records as the longest continuously operating restaurant in the world, beginning in 1725. And also, maybe, this is one reason why the restaurant was a favorite haunt of Hemingway’s.
Tea drinking has also become a preference here in the U.S. It’s worth noting that annual spending on tea has grown in the U.S. to $7.1 Billion from $1.8 Billion in 1990. What’s even more amazing is that the largest portion of this increase has been in spending for in-home tea brewing and serving. One recent example of “Let’s have some tea” is my becoming reacquainted with a gentleman I had lost contact with over 12 years ago. It began when he found me on the social media website LinkedIn. We exchanged a bunch of quick emails and ended up meeting at his home and polishing off two large pots of tea.
Some things will never change for me. “Tea”, for me and many others, is code for “Let’s relax and travel life together”.