My ritual process was drinking tea. A relatively simple ritual, but to do it sixty times in one week is quite a feat. Overall, it was a nice way to reflect and escape from the day-to-day.
Tea, for me, is a very nostalgic thing. Yet, at the same time, it continues to be a part of my life, a common practice and something I don’t think I’ll ever outgrow. I started drinking tea years ago, with my mom, mostly. We have a huge collection of loose-leaf teas in my house, taking up a wide, deep, full drawer. Mom was the one who taught me to brew tea, to appreciate it, how to smell it and know if you’d like the taste.
She also keeps a collection of antique teacups, and though it’s a small collection, it’s something that I continuously thought of during the process of drinking tea, reflecting back on the myriad cups of tea I’d had in the years before this project began.
I don’t have all sixty pictures, but I did do them. Fifteen tea rings, fifteen drawings–most of them blind contour–fifteen “artsy” photos of tea, and fifteen writing pieces (I’ll copy and paste those below my photos).
It’s a cool, calm afternoon, and I sit by the open window in my dorm room, on the window sill, hoping that the screen is in place securely enough to keep me from falling from the 3rd floor. Cup of matcha-green blend by my side, and snowflakes drifting in fine, dusty flakes through the mesh of the screen, tickling against my bare arms. A borrowed Colin Hay record playing on my turntable, hidden gem I’ve never heard before. Remembering that Kurt Vonnegut quote about recognizing happiness. This is one of those moments. A nice, introvert’s rest from the week that’s behind me now. Tea warming my insides, spreading through my chest and filling me.
Earl grey, peppermint, lavender, Sally’s secret, licorice, cinnamon, orange pekoe, spearmint, oolong, jasmine, coconut, rooibos, matcha, sencha , lemongrass, ginger, orchid, English breakfast, cacao nib, blueberry, raspberry, cherry almond, pumpkin, peach, apricot.
One time, my mother sat me down for a cup of tea. No real reason, other than that my brother and my dad were out doing something or other. It was summer, I think, and evening. We used the antique teacups that she collects, the ones that hang on the wall of our dining room in columns of four. Only maybe sixteen teacups total—three hanging columns, and one stack of four on the serving piece. I take the small one with the yellow roses and the gold edging. She takes the tall, straight-edged one with a magenta stripe. Both cups have little feet like a clawfoot tub, and saucers with geometric cutouts, diamond-shaped. We made jasmine green tea, sweetened with stevia, and sat at the kitchen table. It was before the remodel, I remember. I was maybe between ten and twelve years old. Probably twelve. I don’t remember a thing we said, but I remember it was meaningful.
Grandpa loves tea. Grandpa and I love cheap tea, the kind they used to give in the bag with fortune cookies from our local Chinese restaurant. We found, online, the company that makes the tea, and from Amazon, I ordered 600 bags for $11. Probably too much of a bargain to be trustworthy, but heck, we’re both still drinking it. I’ve got maybe fifty bags at school with me, and there are hundred more back home. Grandpa and I always call it “Sum Dum Crap” because of the technical quality and the anonymity of it. Sometimes he forgets that that’s not the actual brand name, but I’ve stopped reminding him.
I remember in high school my brother had a friend, Nick, that he only started hanging out with my sophomore year, his senior year. Nick was a bizarre kind of dude, very loud and theatrical. Whenever he saw me around the halls at school, he’d shout “CWAAAADIAA!” usually while wearing a ridiculous costume. Picture Duckie Dale from Pretty in Pink, and bring him to the twenty-first century. Give him a Tarantino obsession, and you’ve got Nick. Nick always hung around our house, played poker with Daniel, watched movies with the both of us, played cards with my parents and grandparents, etc. Every time he was over, I’d make a pot of Earl Grey tea, and split it with him. Mine with artificial sweetener, no milk. His, with at least three heaping tablespoons of sugar, and a load of Skim Plus. He loved that tea. Then Daniel stopped hanging out with him. Haven’t seen him in a year or two.
Tea never makes me feel caffeinated, no matter how much I drink. Three cups of good coffee and I positively shake, but with tea, no. Ten cups in a day and I’d be just fine. Until bedtime, of course, but sometime I wonder if that’s because tea fuels my thoughts in a more philosophical way. Deeper thoughts, the kind you can’t shut off with the lights. Like where am I going with this whole art thing? Like what happens when I inevitably can’t find a job after school? Like what if living a balanced life means you only live everything on the surface? Like maybe getting enough sleep that I don’t want to die means I’m not making the right kind of art? Like what if I’m just a screw-up and I’m kidding myself, and this whole new-found idea that I’m doing okay is just some weird illusion that I use to keep myself in the dark, when actually everything is horribly, terribly wrong?
Made a cup of tea to go along with my homework tonight. Taking the good with the bad. It’s decaf, Zingiber Ginger Coconut, which is technically rooibos, and not even tea, but Teavana sells it so I still shove it under the “tea” umbrella. Homework’s rough, lots of stuffy business statistics, but I’m pushing through. The tea helps. Just the right temperature, where you feel it in your chest but not on your tongue. Sweet, and just a touch of spice from the ginger. Settles the stomach. Calms the mind.
Step one, filter water. Step two, turn on coffee maker. Step three, pour water into the coffee maker. Step four, push down the “chachung!”-ing thing on the Keurig to brew. Step five, put mug under spout. Step six, get out box of tea. Step seven, choose tea (today is Paris). Step eight, measure tea into steeping pod (obviously the correct technical term). Step nine, put steeping pod into hot water in mug. Step ten, remove pod after five minutes. Step eleven, drink.
My mother raised me to be a tea connoisseur. Collecting loose-leaf, never tea bags. Harney & Sons, Stash, Teavana (occasionally, we stoop this low… but mostly refrain). All kept in small, green canisters in the bottom drawer of the cabinet section below the coffee maker in the kitchen. Round, five inches high, three inches or so in diameter, matte, forest green with labels on the top and around the sides, copperplate bold font. Cream-colored paper for the caffeinated. Warm yellow for the decaf.
Different ways to drink tea: by an open window, by a closed window, at a desk, on a bed, in a cafeteria, in a classroom, in a different cafeteria, at night, in the morning, at midday, while doing nothing else, while doing everything else, while doing homework, while drawing, black, with stevia, with honey, with almond milk, with regular milk, iced, hot, while reading a novel, while reading my Bible, while writing, to help sleep, to help wake up, while talking with friends, while alone, while playing the ukulele, while listening to records, while playing Sliter.io (high schore 17,982), green, black, flavored, unflavored, blended, unblended, from a bag, loose leaf, from a pot, from a Keurig, in a mass-produced mug, in a handmade mug, at a student-run coffee shop, and a regular coffee shop, while out for a walk, while on the way to the gym, immediately after the gym, while doing yoga, before meditating, after meditating, with the lights on, with the lights off, with one light on and the rest off, while thinking deeply, while trying not to think, to take pills, to get the taste of pills out of your mouth, in a paper cup, in a travel mug. That makes sixty.
In the cafeteria today, everyone got dessert. I, however, am on a sort-of diet. Lifestyle change, we’ll call it. So, Gilly and Morgan come to the table with their cake, and immediately tell me how delicious it is. I want to DIE (figuratively, not literally) at this point, when Nate looks over at me, hears the inner screaming of my soul, and says, “hey, let’s go get some tea.” Nate to the rescue. Tea to the rescue. Day saved.
Tea used to be a tool I used to help me stick to diets. You drink tea, it makes you forget how hungry you are (theoretically, but sometimes it doesn’t really work that way at all), and then boom, you haven’t eaten and you supposedly get thinner (but it’s all lies, so don’t believe it). I’m glad tea isn’t that for me anymore. Now it’s just something nice that I do to relax, and comfort myself. Tea has always been mostly about comfort for me.
Over winter break, my family held a bible study in our house. My brother led it each week, and we read through Peter 1 over the course of five weeks. I kind of hated it, if I’m being entirely honest. It’s not that I don’t like my religion; in fact, on the contrary, I love my religion a lot. But overall, my brother and my grandma are very hardcore-God-fearing-nasty-judging type Christians. My grandpa, my mother, and I are not. So, for the most part, those long discussions, for me, were spent in quiet contemplation of my own view of the reading, while I sipped on a cup of Jasmine green tea. It’s a mild-tempered tea, kind of like me, and it gave me a bit of security when the rest of the evening seemed a bit unsettling and pointless.
Tried English Breakfast tea for the first time today. Steeped it a little, then just right, then too much, then I watered it down to bring it back down to the right strength. Never expected myself to like English Breakfast, but at the end of the day, I quite enjoyed it. Not like Earl Grey, with those bitter, floral undertones. Much sweeter, simpler, straightforward. I could see why it goes well with scones and clotted cream.
Earl Grey has always lived as a character in my brain. He’s a tall, thin, old guy, British, with a monocle, of course. He’s got grey, curly hair, a cane, and a black jacket with coattails, grey pants. A bowtie, maybe. A sniveling expression, a handlebar mustache. He’s always walking through a garden and insisting that it needs to be pruned.