For as long as I can remember, I have subscribed to a dangling carrot approach to life. I’m always looking forward to the next special thing, whatever it might be – a vacation, a birthday party, a visit to a winery. This never-ending pandemic that we find ourselves in has made me question the sustainability of such an outlook. In short, the carrots these days are in short supply.
Lately, I’ve been thinking that maybe this is a silver lining to my life in lockdown. I’ve had to search for smaller carrots – like the perfect cup of tea on a grey winter afternoon. English Breakfast with a touch of cream. Making tea has become a bit of a meditation for me this past year. It’s a quiet ritual – just me and the kettle. I should say that I’m a lifelong coffee drinker, but in the pandemic, tea has become the thing I look forward to a couple of times during the day and always in the evening. I guess you could say that my tea has become a daily cup of tiny carrots and that’s probably enough of that analogy.
I should have been on to the magic powers of tea long before now. My dear wife and I watch a lot of British television and we’ve noticed that the Brits first response to any dramatic or emotional incident, ranging from the confession of an affair to a grisly murder, is to put the kettle on. This has become a running joke for us, and we often call the phrase out loud when some poor bloke gets knocked off on one of our shows. In British films and television, no grave news can be processed without a cup of tea. We’ve noticed that the standard American response to the same news is to offer a glass of water. I’ll take me cuppa, thank you.
I’ve observed that tea pairs well with a pandemic. There’s something inherently comforting about putting the kettle on and waiting to hear the familiar whistle. And after you drop your tea bag into the cup, the one you pulled out of the cabinet because it’s just right for tea, you must wait a bit. Tea requires more patience than coffee – a helpful quality during these trying times. Tea feels more intentional – more like a journey – coffee feels like a destination. You never really hear anyone say, “I’m going to grab a quick cup of tea.” No, tea is a stroll and coffee is a run. Coffee would text if it could and tea would send a handwritten note.
Okay, you might be worrying that I’ve run out of things to entertain myself with in this pandemic – just because I’m analyzing the personalities of hot beverages. Not true at all. In fact, I’ve found that the art of tea drinking has made me more present to things around me – small things, like the soothing shade of butterscotch that my tea turns when I put the cream in. And I often look out the kitchen window as I wait for the tea bag to steep. I may see a neighbor walking by and wonder how they’re navigating this bizarre time. When I drink my tea in the evening, I’m usually sitting beside my sweet wife and I am as aware of my gratitude for her as I am the warmth of the cup in my hand. Tea is thoughtful.
I must admit that tea feels fancier to me than coffee and I’m here for it. Years ago, a lovely young woman in Stoke-on-Trent introduced me to the splendors of a full English tea. She had me at clotted cream. You see, the Brits have snacks with their afternoon tea – proving once again that they are a more civilized nation. Tea is usually served on a two-tiered tray with both savory and sweet snacks. And, of course, at a proper tea, the tea is made from loose leaf tea and not a tea bag. I’m much too lazy for that and besides, I enjoy the dunking of the bag. In a pandemic we take our pleasures where we find them.
The joy of tea drinking has been one of the rare, pleasant surprises of the pandemic for me. It has provided me with a daily peaceful respite from the anxiety of the past 11
years months. It makes everything around me feel quieter and more centered and I’m happy to have been lured by the kettle’s whistle. The Brits are famous for another bevvy that my dear late father was fond of – the gin and tonic. And I’m so fortunate that I married a woman who can mix a G and T that would make Winston Churchill weep. Bloody hell, summer can’t be that far away. Things are looking up, mates. Cheers!