Oh, tea! You are my special chum. How I love thee in every possible cliched way. Is there a writer, alive or distantly dead, who has never savored your goodness? The ghosts of your famous lovers must be everywhere. Oh, tea! Piping, steaming, swirling with heat. Homey: a silent, sympathetic witness to innumerable sorrows and hopes. Out of dainty cups, chipped cups, disposable cups, any cups at hand. Sweet or plain. Oh, tea! You are always by my side as I write or read. This, this is adoration. Please bask in that love while I tell my patient readers a story.
Every time the blonde child walked into the kitchen, she asked, aloud, the same question. “Is there anything, world, more beautiful than a brightly coloured tea tin?” It was, to be sure, a frankly odd thing for a six-year-old to think about, but think about it she did. The answer, internal rather than vocal, always echoed from her heart with happy assurance: “No! No! No!”
The blonde child liked to pretend the tins were hers instead of her mother’s. In these games, she lived in an alternate universe where she was a tea-drinking adult. One day, one day when she was big, the playacting would come true. One day, one day when she was big, the nameless mysteries trapped inside the fragrant, gem-coloured boxes would be known. Until then, there were thick-rimmed lids to pry open and exotic aromas to furtively inhale. The scents of orange and lemon and cinnamon lingered on her small fingers like the remnants of fancy perfumes. What heavenly things lived in those tins!
“When I am grown,” said the blonde child, “I shall have my own pretty tea boxes. I’ll make tea the colour of amber, and drink as many cups of it as I wish. Isn’t that the most magical sounding thing, Mr. Bear?”
“Come oh come ye tea-thirsty restless ones–the kettle boils, bubbles and sings, musically.”-Rabindranath Tagore, Collected Poems and Plays of Rabindranath Tagore
That the little blonde girl grew up to make a mean cup of (proper) tea should be no surprise to regular followers of this blog. Brewing tea, step by careful step, is an act of love; pouring it for others, an act of comradeship. I love shopping for it almost as much as I enjoy making, sharing, and drinking a nice cuppa. My favourite local (Cincinnati) store for loose-leaf is Churchill’s Fine Teas, which is located in a lovely old building at Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine (OTR). The staff is friendly and knowledgeable; the tea is exceptionally tasty and budget-friendly.
Last year, I entered a contest on Churchill’s Facebook page–and then promptly forgot about it. When, weeks later, the email announcing my winning entry hit the inbox, I was doubly surprised. The prize: a private tea tasting or blending class led by store founder and co-owner, Kathleen Kern. I chose the second option, and took my mom and husband along for the fun. Some highlights:
The man himself:
Although Churchill’s Fine Teas is the largest purveyor in the Midwest, their store is cozy and welcoming. They blend many of the 265-plus varieties in-house, which is why I selected this class. Check out those tins on the wall behind me. My favourite–Victorian Earl Grey–is there somewhere.
After being educated about blending basics, we were free to mix our own:
“His guests found it fun to watch him make tea–mixing careful spoonfuls from different caddies.”-James Hilton, Good-bye, Mr. Chips
It wouldn’t be tea time without something scrumptious to eat:
Churchill’s also sells beautiful tea pots and accessories. Their merchandise-as practical as it is charming- is my kind of eye candy. You can see some of their selection on the wall behind The Chef:
“Wouldn’t it be dreadful to live in a country where they didn’t have tea?”-Noël Coward
Tea is both a luxury and a necessity: a comfort, a ritual, a meditation. Tea drinking can be social or solitary. It enhances our existence, whilst contributing to the basic need of nourishment. Sipping a cup of this universally enjoyed beverage is an invitation to slow down, to relax. Preparing and imbibing tea is one of life’s truest pleasures, and, as Churchill’s proves, it needn’t be an expensive one.
CHURCHILL’S FINE TEAS
122 WEST ELDER
CINCINNATI, OHIO 45202
“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”-Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady