How I Came To Love Tea

"Theresa, will you take your tea in the garden, or in the lounge, dear?" Margaret pronounced the second "e" as "ay" -- Ther-AY-sa -- making it sound royal to my American ear.

I was staying with Gathaen and Margaret Jones, friends of my parents, during my first trip to England. Margaret informed me right away that it was delightful to have a girl in the house. They had two grown sons, but no daughters, and so I received generous attention.

On sunny mornings, Margaret and I took our tea in the garden. We both preferred being outside. She would spread the daily newspaper out for me "to read at your leisure, dear"--each section stepped down to show the one below.

The "garden" included everything that was outside the back door--table, chairs, chaise lounge, clay flowerpots, an expanse of lawn, and at the far end of the property, a manicured rectangle of vegetables, herbs and flowers. I didn’t know much about gardens then, and could recognize only tomatoes and roses. Later, Margaret and I would pick black currents, cucumbers, lettuce, and a variety of flowers. Sooner or later, everything from that garden would land, beautifully arranged, on Margaret’s dining table where tea was served several times a day.

Margaret didn’t approve of the way Americans soaked a tea bag in a cup of hot water. She was keen to tutor me on the ways of tea, British style.

Tea was always black, perfectly steeped. My hostess glided from kitchen to garden, her accoutrements on a large tray. I remember the china teapot, matching cups and saucers, sugar bowl, teaspoons, and flowered cloth napkins. There were always delicate scones or muffins fresh from her oven and served with soft butter. Freshly picked strawberries, blackberries, or blueberries were piled high in separate small bowls to be enjoyed with thick cream. Margaret insisted I take my tea the British way, with sugar and whole milk. We basked in the morning sun--her patio table had no umbrella--chatting about Lady Diana’s wedding. This was how I fell in love with everything about tea.

I realized how spoiled I had been when I came back to the U.S., where hardly anyone I knew served tea in a china pot, as a rule, like Margaret. I turned up my nose at Lipton in a Styrofoam cup.

Tea drinking has not lost an ounce of charm for me, even two decades later. My senses still become infused with the ritual of preparing tea. The whistle of my copper kettle. The almost-boiling water flowing over lavender-scented green tea leaves just covering the bottom of a two-cup pot. Pouring the steeped amber liquid into my favorite wide-mouthed cup. Carrying my tray to the window, to look out on the first orange and yellow tulips in the small patch of earth behind my townhouse. Closing my eyes I lift the cup to my lips with both hands and take a tiny sip. If it’s too hot, I set it down. These in-between moments are meditation. I become hypnotized by color, fragrance, taste. No matter what is happening around me, the space between the sips quiets my mind.

Today, I am creek side, sitting at a black wrought-iron bistro table at the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse. It’s four o’clock and most people have abandoned the patio, no doubt due to the dark clouds tumbling over the Rocky Mountain peaks. I take my time in choosing from the extensive tea menu that looks more like a wine list. What will it be? Scented Black or Oolong? Japanese Cherry Sencha or Moroccan Mint Melody? Those Jasmine Green Pearls are so tempting, though expensive. Splurging, I order a small pot and watch the leaves unfurl. I have plenty of time today, so I sip. A warm breeze interferes with the jasmine steam rising from my clear cup. Minutes later, a light rain begins but the creek drowns out any sound of drops hitting the table. I watch the space between lazy raindrops.

Sitting in the rain with no umbrella, I think of Margaret. "Ther-AY-sa! Four-o-clock, dear! Would you be kind enough and set out the crockery?"

Copyright 2005-2006

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About The Author, Terry Calamito
Freelance writer, tea promoter and healthy lifestyle advocate Terry Calamito publishes the free mini-course "Start Sipping." If you’re a tea lover or just want to find out about tea’s health benefits and maybe slow down a little to have a cup, subscribe for free at