As crucial as the herbs and spices that create a flavorful tea are the circumstances that surround its consumption. Tea steeps the stories that are created while we drink it, and allows us to recollect those stories the next time we taste it.
Once, my friend Alex put googly eyes on various objects in her kitchen, breathing a sort of magical realism into them. The microwave was animated; the cupboards suddenly had a soul. We made up stories about her two tea kettles, their eyes facing each other on the stove top, while we waited for the water to heat. One of them – silver and old – shook with age as the water reached the boiling point and steam whistled through the kitchen, while the other remained calm as the water shifted temperatures. They were in love; one stood by the other, even as its joints and bones trembled. The one that remained polished felt charmed by the other’s rust, knowing it was a gathering of experience in its body. Despite its faltering hips, its voice still rose in a pitch that brought to mind the nostalgia of a distant train at dusk. In the warm light of the kitchen, we knew we would someday feel nostalgic for those very moments as we absorbed them; that time seeped into us for all time as we drank lemon, chamomile, and Earl Grey teas. The warm, smooth, and colorful flavors of the teas blended with those worn and polished voices to breathe new life into us with each drink.
Once, after my heart was broken, my friend Katrina took me to a tea house. She listened to the cluster of dried and fragmented words falling from my voice. We ordered Chai and I recollected the nasal voice of a man strolling the aisles of a train in India droning “chai chai coffee chai” throughout the trip. This tea – full of strong, aromatic, and subtle spices – was served with honey and warm milk in a quaint saucer with a tiny lip to pour. The cloves, cardamom, and ginger, combined with the soft silky texture of warm milk and thick honey, filled my heart. With each sip, I felt as if I were drinking in a whole landscape, not just tea contained in one cup. The voices of the people I’d met in the Himalayan Mountains came back to me as when one reads a long loved poem aloud. The presence of Katrina’s heart and the full-bodied embrace of that Chai quieted me as I basked in its all-encompassing deliciousness.