An Ode To Tea And A Gem Of A Tea Shop
There is no doubt that, for a great many people, tea is the great cure-all. Following bad news, accidents, deaths, shocks …. making a cup of tea is sometimes the only answer. Want to welcome a guest, or make time for a difficult conversation? Again, make tea. It sustains, how many times have you felt like this character in Jacqueline Kellys, Return to the Willows?
“He’d never in his life been so hungry and tired. What wouldn’t he give for a simple mug of tea and a humble fried egg sandwich?”
But perhaps the wise words of T’ien Yi-heng encapsulate it best:
“Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world”
And of course, all these thoughts are reassembled in the songs below. Jack Buchanan, in Everything Stops for Tea, claims obsessive tea drinking for England, but of course the Chinese, the Japanese and many other nations are just as obsessive about both the drink itself and the ritual which surrounds it.
Where is the best tea shop?
The best tea shop I have ever found for doing just that is in Amsterdam. In my day job I visit a fair number of exhibitions and I escaped from a frenetic amalgamation of equipment, displays, and perspiring, besuited salesmen to visit the Rijksmuseum. The queues were endless… impossible….. so I never got there, but I discovered instead a haven in the middle of the city. If you can manage half an hour’s repose in the Four Leaves tea rooms I highly recommend it. There is an extensive range and Wilfried Herijgens, the owner, will recommend a blend which is perfect for you and for the moment. I tried an extraordinary tea with a heavenly smell of ice cream and babies (the nice, just washed kind). I suspected the taste might in fact be a bit sickly and cloying but decided it would be worth the risk (Wilfried was very patient while I was deliberating). I also ordered a slice of apple pie (the choice of food was limited to that or carrot cake so this is not a place for a meal). I sat in the gallery looking down over the bar which has comfortable sofas and a good selection of magazines (business, science, travel and fashion) waiting for the tea to arrive. It came promptly and was simply but perfectly served (see photo), a light, fresh taste. It’s a wonderful place to relax, escape, try out different teas, and generally to treat oneself.
Keen on tea, and tea parties? The amazing Gandini jugglers invite you to an equally amazing tea party – follow this link to see it.
And continuing to think lyrically on the subject of tea, Ollie Hunter, October guru on street food, has co-written a poem to tea which pretty much says it all.
My Greatest Friend
There is no greater friend than a cup of tea,
Nobody’s sure if it’s a he or a she,
But one thing I am sure of, its destiny,
Is to always be there for you and for me!
First thing in the morning and last thing at night,
After a long country walk when the sun’s shining bright,
Sat on a sofa by a log-fuelled fire,
Crisp winter nights, the pale moon rising higher,
On summer evenings with sun-kissed light,
A tea in your hand makes these moments just right.
There’s no such thing as a tea that can lie,
A tea is honest and nor is it shy,
Whether you’re laughing or singing or having a cry,
My tea leaves are always there on standby.
Who cares if breakfast comes without juice?
Or there’s no Pimms with tennis and the score is deuce?
I can wait till evening for a glass of wine,
Travel the desert without water and still feel fine
And just before bed I love some hot milk and honey
(Drunk every day, I think I would feel funny!)
But a day without tea
Is as a pod missing its pea
(Which I’ve heard is cold and a little bit empty)
So wherever you are, or whatever you’ll be,
There is no greater friend than a cup of tea.
Ollie Hunter and Charlie Smith
I am often a bit ambivalent about modern art. Ai Wei Wei’s exhibition at The Royal Academy this autumn made some powerfully emotional statements, but when it came to Ton of Tea (Pu’er tea to be exact) I have to admit being slightly at a loss. The Learning Department’s helpful commentary explained that “the exaggerated scale and scent of Ton of Tea make the viewer aware of the work’s surface and of their own body in relation to the object.” I’m afraid I couldn’t smell or feel a thing – and I am all for multi-sensory exhibition experiences. The guide goes on to explain that the exhibit’s “organic quality and evocation of the domestic sphere call attention to China’s long history of exporting tea, and arguably to its global reach through manufacturing and export today.” The adding, “Ton of Tea also invokes tea’s material status as a luxury item in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Europe.”