“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
– Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady
It’s highly probable that each of us have some sort of tea ritual. Some of us may cherish the first cup of tea in the morning, when we are bleary-eyed, cold and disoriented. Others may prefer the tea of the afternoon or early evening, perhaps taking it on our own, hands cupped around our mug, our thoughts a million miles away from the moment. We may only be able to take our tea a certain way: with a dash of milk, a slice of lemon or two spoonfuls of sugar; in our favourite cup, at the right temperature, or made by our Mums.
There is simply no other beverage that exists which is as diverse in its benefits as tea: “Tea tempers the spirits and harmonises the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thoughts and prevents drowsiness, lightens or refreshes the body and cleans the perceptive facilities,” wrote the Chinese writer Lu Yu in what is considered to be the earliest specialist work on tea, ‘The Classic of Tea’. But tea is more than just an antioxidant or detox for the body and mind; it’s the fabric that holds society together. The ritual of tea in the morning brings the groggy and moody to the breakfast table seated next to their bright-eyed counterparts; the tea-round in the office offers respite and relief from the grind, giving each colleague the chance to be charitable and sacrificial by making tea for the greater good. Putting the kettle on can be an ice-breaker between us and the builder, plumber, electrician or a new neighbour. It can be an offer to make amends or build relationships. Making the tea is the modern day metaphor of extending the olive branch. The stakes are high however; not asking how someone takes their tea could just as easily undo all good intentions.
It’s always the simple things in life which gives us the most pleasure. Having a cup of tea is not just enjoying a hot drink, it’s an experience to be savoured and enjoyed. It’s an alms-giver, peace-dealer, relationship-forger. When we decide to make someone a cup of tea, it’s an expression of our willingness to that person: be it to love, to tolerate or to show humility.
Let’s have a tea truce, a tea party, or just a tea for two. Then let’s take pride in the joy and harmony that we have just created.