A true-blue south Indian from India’s largest coffee growing state, coffee has been my go-to drink. Making the perfect cup of coffee just the way it should be (add coffee to boiling hot milk, don’t boil the two together) is the way we lavish love on our families and guests at home. Tea was a rare drink and drunk strong and sweet with spices until about six years ago, I took to drinking green tea.
I slowly started appreciating the merits of silver tipped to single estate to Sri Lankan to Assam and Nilgiri teas. Of late, the romance has bloomed thanks to the unending varieties of teas – from the rather sweet strawberry to the light vanilla to the exotic rose -in-bloom. Now my days begin with homegrown lemongrass- infused tea. And when something bothers me, I treat myself to an extra large serving of tea in a gorgeous and large cup. There’s a deeply aesthetic satisfaction to it.
On a recent afternoon, I was invited to a Japanese tea ceremony at a restaurant owned by a friend. It was a bit of a makeshift affair as they didn’t have the entire paraphernalia. But it was such a beautiful presentation with a measured pace that I could hardly cavil about anything.
My impression: The person who made the tea was completely focused on doing everything aesthethically – he took several minutes to arrange the pot and the cup, folding the napkin ever so delicately that it seemed like a special ritual in itself.
Before pouring the tea, he washed the cup in warm water, wiped it carefully before pouring the tea and served it reverentially. The guest thanked the server equally respectfully and took the permission of the neighbour before drinking.
The tea was served to one person at a time, and the cup was to be held in both palms, turned around twice before the cup was emptied in three delicate sips. The whole process of brewing the green tea, whisking it with a tiny broom and serving was repeated until all the guests had their turn.
I don’t know if the tea drinkers in Japan are a quiet lot ( they can be quite rowdy at a bar) but the handful of guests at our tea sat in silent communion, allowing each to admire the beauty of the ceremony and mutual courteousness. In the warm calm of the afternoon, it occurred to me that if everyone were respectful to each other, there would be no hostility. Politeness is an under-rated virtue, sadly.