Thursday, September 23, 2010

On Tea

According to Balti culture, as expressed in Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin’s famous book “Three Cups of Tea,” tea is a catalyst to transform a stranger into a member of your family. From a different cultural perspective, this transformation occurs by means of an alternate medium.

 In Georgia, family is united and born from times of unique circumstances, usually over an abundant meal and wine. Tradition and Religion create part of the foundation this culture was built upon. Celebrations of life and mourning of those lost intertwine with these values through the creation and consumption of wine. To an outsider or passerby, wine may seem excessive or unnecessary, however, approximately 9 glasses of wine provide the opportunity to connect friends to other friends, old and new; to family; to peace and the wealth of nations; to the recognition of women, of men, of harvest, of hospitality; to common beliefs and religion; to memories and the past; to children; to our future and to hope. These symbols and spoken words go much deeper than drinking tea to become family in this culture, and the ties you develop can last a lifetime. In my experience thus far, tea in Georgia, and arguably in life, serves a different purpose.

After recently acquiring a French press, I can safely say that it holds 4-5 cups of tea. Sipping tea throughout an evening home alone is quite an experience. When freshly brewed (at optimum temperature), the tea is scorching hot. The experience is indiscernible as your sense of touch is overwhelmed by the white, hot ceramic tea cup teeming with fresh flavors. The golden brim beginning to separate from age perfectly accompanies the dainty dark red design wrapping around the side. A swift brush underneath the cup reveals a hastily scratched Chinese symbol into the wet clay indicating where or by whom the cup was made.

As the tea in your cup slowly cools and readies for consumption, the tea in the carafe continues to steep, darkening as time draws on. You might fall to distractions of obligation and taking brief leaves of absence returning to find a bitter brew. The strength may leave you dissatisfied with your decision to take part in this experience, but if you believe in not being wasteful, you keep drinking. Stronger and stronger the tea becomes, you have already begun to know it well. Tapping out the last couple of dynamic drops, you are left wanting more.

Some may go back for more, may trade in their carafe for a larger one, and/or may decide to purchase a larger cup. A number of people will make their tea with the wrong leaves or will not give it a fair chance, tossing out a batch of unknown outcomes, yet still learning something about their selves.  No matter what blend or brand you choose, a nice hot beverage warms the soul. In the moments of silence between the ebb and flow of warmth against your lips can come reflection and balance, as wisps of steam gently rise from the depths of your cup to lazily linger along the surface.

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