Have we lost the reverence of a simple cup of tea?
As she let herself in through the front door yelling out “Helloooooo”, I simultaneously yelled hello back and put the kettle on. The Cup Of Tea is how we’ve always done our times together.
My best friend and I have experienced many joys, delights, hardships, and lows, all over the traditional cup of tea.
I’d recently been pondering why the humble cup of tea was such a feature in our lives and noticed the decline of the reverence we used to hold for it. On the face of it, a cup of tea is a show of hospitality, of caring or in Te Ao Maori, an act of Manaakitanga. (You’re here! Let me welcome you show you how much I appreciate you coming)
Yet today I was acutely aware of my actions. After I had hugged my friend, I had thrown a tea bag into a dirty cup – just rinsed, carelessly poured water over top, and splashed in the milk before the tea had even brewed. I handed it to her while simultaneously asking a question and mind wandering to the black clouds outside looming over my washing line.
As I noticed myself doing these unintentional things my awareness was amping up. Is this truly a gift of care? Here is a friend that nestled her way deep into my heart many many years ago and this is the kind of care I’m showing her. I’m not even truly intentional with what I’m doing. Having a greater awareness is one thing but calling yourself out on your own behaviour can be incredibly humbling.
Instead of the self-flagellation that I used to do, (yes, I used to be quite mean to myself) I simply allowed my non-judgmental awareness to expand to other times I had not been intentional when making a cup of tea. Like when I was fatigued, often when I was bored, or sometimes just because. I would sit down and [read newspaper/ scroll through socials/work on laptop] with a cup of tea that would disappear without me even noticing. Like bad habit when you don’t even know you have a bad habit.
But then I remembered that I do have moments of intentional mindfulness like when I’m listening to the kettle boil louder and louder or when I take my first sip of tea, ahhhhhhh. And there was that one day recently when I was alone at my favourite cafe. I had left my phone in the car – intentionally- and was enjoying the experience of people watching. My earl grey came in a gorgeous one-person tea pot with a one serve milk jug and matching cup. It was nothing short of exquisite (all for me!) I waited for the tea to brew, my anticipation brewing alongside it. I poured the tea and then the milk and took a sip of pleasure. When my cup was empty, I repeated the process again. Again! I got to experience this a second and a third time – was a large-ish pot, I guess. My delight was so immense that I vowed I would share this whole experience along with my musings to the next time I saw my friend.
And so here we were, sitting on my porch outside, with our cups of tea in hand.
but let’s be honest Ange, these are usually when I’m by myself, plus there’re more moments of mindlessness than there are with intention.
“What’s happened to cups of tea?” I forlornly moaned to her.
“They’ve become an automated act of unconsciousness in my life. Have they in yours too?” I asked.
“I’m not sure I know what you mean Ange” she confessed.
I filled her in on my awakening of the decline of the cup of tea and then also my recent café experience.
We sat in silence for a bit, both absorbing the conversation as autumn fell around us from the old cherry trees in the garden.
Then a memory from my childhood surfaced.
“I remember my grandparents would have a planned cup of tea every afternoon. Poppa would start preparing for it ages beforehand like it was a special ritual. Laying out the crockery and utensils on the bench as if they were revered artefacts. Filling the jug long before the on click would be pressed. He would announce to Nana that tea was ready, and she would sit at the table before he would ceremoniously bring over the tea.”
“Yes, my grandparents did the same” she animatedly replied.
And we proceeded to talk over and around each other, in amongst laughter, in a rush to remember the intricacies of the tea pour.
Wind the pot around and around a couple of times.
Short pour, short pour, short pour
and then a long high pour from 8 inches above the cup.
We giggled in delight that our grandparents had such a mindful and reverent ritual – long before mindfulness became the new buzz word to better health.
The tea conversation took a side swipe as we discussed the cup of tea in other cultures. I reminisced of my memories of Japan, when tea WAS a ceremony, with elaborate clothing and specific gestures. I didn’t realise it at the time because I was all of eleven years old, but it was a spiritual event. A green tea ceremony steeped in Zen Buddhist thought and practice. Participants share a transformation into mutual generosity, self-awareness, and respect for all things nature.
We discussed the Chinese wedding ceremony where bride and groom kneel and serve their in-laws tea as a symbol of union, where each side welcomes the other. We