Monday, September 17, 2007

Tea and the Samovar

When outside forces have kicked me enough, when Storms are howling, inside and out, when Rain comes slanting down in sheets, mirroring tears...I brew myself a full pot of Tea.

It is the only thing, at times like these...times when howling weather systems pass through, times when the inner spirit is bruised.

As I brew...filling the kettle, choosing from herbal or green Teas, my attention is focused on the ceremony and the comfort of the time honoured preparations.

Nothing else will do, other than my special cup, for times like these. It is only a white mug; at one time, it had flowers on its side that have long since faded. I've had this mug since my children were babies. It is part of me; I know exactly how the rim feels as I drink, with the etching from the faded flowers still apparent to my lips.

It has just the right weight for a bracing cup of Tea; just the right heft to ground me when emotion overwhelms. I know well the distortions and nicks that appear in the bottom of the mug, diffusing through the golden liquid that fills it.

I let Water, fresh and pure, come to the barest beginning boil. Water can have the life boiled out of it; oxygen contributes to infusion of the Tea.

I choose Green leaf Tea. Using my partner's teapot, with the built-in diffuser, I add just enough of the leaves to the pot to brew a mild, light Tea. And since I've chosen Green Tea, I allow Water to come to the barest minimum boil, and then allow it to cool a little, before pouring it over the delicate leaves.

I don't warm the pot; it is a step I leave out of the Tea Ceremony, since I believe it makes little difference, unless the Tea Pot is very cold. I allow the leaves to steep, for a short time...overbrewing leads to a bitter concoction.

As I muse on this, a memory flashes to mind...of a long ago time, when I saw my first Samovar.

Taking my Cup, now filled with a steaming goldy-green liquid, I settle in the Big Chair and take a tentative sip of Tea. It burns a little and I blow on the golden surface, creating tiny tsunamis inside the bowl of the Cup.

Sifting through memories of childhood, since the death of my mother, has odd snippets of events popping up out of nowhere these days; remembrances of a long ago past, of days seen through the innocent gaze of a child younger than my granddaughter.

I don't remember exactly how old I was, probably about eight or nine, when a little girl and I became fast friends. Her name was Ann; she was only a part of my life for a few short months...and then her family moved on.

I admired her because she wore a kerchief to school, over her chestnut hair. There was gossip about her family...they were different, there were eight children, they were poor. And because of the gossip (and her kerchief), I was drawn to her. If she was so different, I reasoned, how come she was always so happy? And what was poor?

She invited me to her home for lunch, a few times. At first, I was hesitant...scuttlebutt around the school was that this family might eat cats and dogs, since they had no money. When I think back, I cannot believe I listened to these vicious rumours, almost keeping my distance. But I loved this little girl; I wanted to spend every moment with her.

I must admit, however, the first meal was looked upon by me with trepidation.

But it was a peanut butter sandwich, which was foreign to me, since we didn't eat that at home. The irony of this escaped me, back then. Peanut Butter was such a normal food for Canadian families; the foods I ate at home, from my German heritage, were certainly not.

In this old house where she lived, was a fine looking urn, which sat upon the mantel piece. I was enthralled with it; I had never seen anything like it. It glinted in Sunbeams that shone from the front window. It had something protruding in the front that looked a little like the faucets at school. There were bowls around it; steam seemed to escape in tiny tendrils, drifting to the ceiling. There was a Tea Pot, that sat right on top of the whole thing.

It was very odd to me, and I couldn't keep my eyes off it.

I might have got lost in this family crowd of children and all their friends. I was certainly quiet enough to melt into the woodwork. But Ann's father noticed my fascination...and he took me by the hand and showed me what he called a Samovar, in broken English. He told me I must never go near it by was very, very hot.

And then, he went through the ceremony of pouring me a cup of Tea. He did it quickly, fluidly. He removed the bowl, which caught drips, from under the spigot, took a glass from a variety of glasses arranged close by, and took the Tea Pot from the top. He poured a little of the blackest Tea I had ever seen into the glass, added a sugar cube, and placed the cup under the spigot, releasing hot water into the concentrated Tea.

He told me he would add Milk, if I wanted it, but he advised me I was always to try Tea without any additions, first. Then I would know what I was tasting.

He showed me how to drink it. With the remains of the sugar cube held in my lips, somehow, I was to drink the Tea from the glass, through it. He did it well; I covered the front of my shirt with Tea, when I tried it.

The room filled with hilarity; I wanted to shrink, back inside myself. I was not accustomed to being singled out. But there was a difference to this laughter...suddenly everyone wanted to try to drink Tea out of a glass, with a sugar cube. This laughter was not directed at me, was not unkind. It was joyous.

We all wandered back to school, joined by our successes and failures, at something that Ann and her family could do so well. It was a break through. I learned many lessons that day.

I met Ann again, many, many years later. She asked if I remembered her. She was a tall, self-assured woman now, well-groomed, obviously affluent. I didn't recognize her; but there was that strange twinge again, and she flashed before my eyes as a child, with her kerchief covering her hair.

She said...I cried and cried when we moved; my Mother did not know what to do with me. I missed you so much!

With tears suddenly springing to my eyes, I could not speak for a moment. Finally, all I could say was...Me, too.

We chatted for awhile, promised to keep in touch, exchanged addresses. But we were only meant to be the proverbial 'ships in the night'. We did not honour our promise to each other to keep contact...our relationship was what it was.

But I hope I gave back to our short relationship as much as she and her family gave to me.

My Tea grown lukewarm, now, in its Cup, I refresh it and concentrate on the flavour, just as Ann's Dad told me to, so many years ago.

Without the sugar cube.


  1. Hi Marion - I'm somehow not surprised to learn that you take the time to savor and taste what you drink. It is something I need to learn. I'm afraid I'm in the habit of bolting back what I eat and drink without properly tasting it. Not sure where this comes from. But I know when I was young, my mother got quite strict with me about eating up my food, so perhaps I instinctively bolt things back before I get into trouble! Or maybe I just need to learn to be in the moment more...

    Your tea ceremony sounds gorgeous. I could almost taste the tea on the white china, though it's black tea that I'm tasting because that's what I like.

    Even so, your post reminds me that I should really drink green tea more often. I don't particularly like the taste but it tends to make my brain feel sharp, which I could do with at the moment.

    (I like your 'autumn adviser' too!)

  2. A nice ceremony. You cant beat a good cuppa.

  3. Nice post Marion, lately I have been so busy I rarely remember what I just drank lol. I can't wait till things go back to a relative calm so I can enjoy a nice cup of Starbucks!

    Hope all is well in your world! :)

  4. Marion, I absolutely love your posts. I could almost taste the tea as I found myself absorbed in your writing. It is such a blessing to have found this blog.

  5. Well, I thought, Marion is writing about tea. And I thought I might not stay for this post. But, I did and I'm glad. Just reading your words and reflections this morning again brought forth emotions. As is often the case with your writing, this really was not so much about tea. Thank you.

  6. Simon,

    I think it does have something to do with anxiety, the bolting of food. Perhaps finding the root of the behaviour will help you realize you are no longer a child. And as an adult, you have tools to work on this, accept and carry on! Easy-peasy, lol!

    I drink green tea at noon every day. I didn't know until recently that Green Tea contains significant quantities of Vitamin C, even after being heated.


    I'm positive you could teach me a whole lot about Tea! The Welsh drink it very strong and black, am I right?


    It's so nice of you to keep in touch! At one time, I drank a lot of system can no longer take more than a cup or two in morning.


    Thank you for the Compliment! It is returned to you in spades...your blog is phenomenal for your personal and informative writing on PD.


    You're right. It really wasn't about Tea.

    Thanks for staying, lol!

  7. I was a habitual coffee drinker for many years until one day sitting in Starbucks (ironically) and talking to friends, I realize that I never have truly liked the taste of coffee.

    At that moment I switched to tea. It took me back to many pleasant memories of childhood with my grandmother and all her little rituals with tea parties with her grandchildren.

  8. What a nice post (again!). Don't know if you had trouble getting in my blog, but it's now fixed again.
    Guess what, I'm having a cuppa T right now!

  9. On my recent Coastal trip to Durban I visited a Jewish lady who had a beautiful samovar sadly as an ornament so I opted for the coffee rather than the tea bag in a teacup that has become so much part of our lives these days.

    I love to make my tea in a pot...I always warm it and if loose tea turn it three times anti-clockwise....don't know if that makes a difference but it makes me feel it is then perfect.

    I like Twinnings Lady Grey tea (sadly they are not Fair Trade so I shouldn't support them but one has to have a couple of pleasures in life even if bad) otherwise I have green tea and other herb teas.

  10. Jan,

    We had wonderful tea parties, my granddaughter and I. She was a natural at it...even to where she held up her little pinky finger, as she drank!


    I'm glad you're back...I wondered why I couldn't access your site some days. Great that it's fixed!

  11. Hi there, Marion. As always, you write with such humanity and warmth that it's hard to not draw parallels with our own lives.

    I've been playing with Facebook lately, and it's been reconnecting me with folks from my childhood that I thought had been "lost" forever. Yuor entry awoke some happily powerful memories.

    Thanks as well for your very kind comment on my first Wordless Wednesday entry. I knew the picture of the glass was special as soon as I took it. I was jet lagged after being awake for 24 hours and flying halfway around the world, so I was kind of amazed that I could still take a decent picture, let alone something like this. Sometimes, I guess exhaustion is the photographer's best friend :)

  12. This reminded me of meditation. The ones you do as your walking, just focusing completely on an action.. feeling that cup, tasting, smelling, feeling the steam on your face... So thank you for reminding me that we should all stop to "smell the roses".
    I actually have some green tea here, but it's a new flavour i'm trying with mint in it too.

    The ceremony sounds amazing. I think I should try it some time. Tea really can save the day sometimes. I'm only seventeen, but even I can appreciate a good cuppa. =]

    In love and light,
    Willow Myrina.