He became voracious, obsessive even, in his desire for novel savours. A week never passed in which no new brew passed his lips. Long gone were days of yore when all he drank was Earl Grey or Assam. Now he quaffed far beyond even Lapsang souchong: high grade Rooibos or floral Manuka on honeyed, sunny mornings; herbal infusions such as fennel or lemon and ginger cleansed away a spicy lunch; while evenings saw him imbibe Masala chai or blackberry. Office colleagues placing mugs under a samovar’s drip would likely consider him weird – a ponce, even – if he revealed how far his obsession ranged, how imperiously dismissive of cheap brews and milk he had become, so universally was such a sorry commonplace held: char was char.
Of course, come mid-morning or four o’clock, his preferred leaves were connoisseur brews: scrunched green gunpowder; hand-rolled Darjeeling, pale and mellow; hand-picked Nilgiri Orange Pekoe; and famous makes of Chinese ‘black dragon’ oolong hailing from Wuyi in Fujian province: Red Robe, Iron Monk, Cassia, Narcissus. Noble and dangerous names which leisurely he unfurled in his mind; leaves he imagined picking in landscapes his eyes had never seen.
Some kinds he despised – he forbore from naming such cheap or queer-smelling brews. (Camomile was one; a brand famous less for savour and more for chimpanzees, a second.) Like any obsessive, he disliked as hard as he loved, and you should know he would kill for a rare pack of Junshan Yinzhen yellow, allegedly beloved of Chairman Mao Zedong.
Before long he was mixing his own brews from leaves expensively purchased online. He even essayed growing his own, a labour of love where a union of Camellia sinensis and Yorkshire’s growing season was concerned. Success was variable; however, he was proud of his home-brewed Bai Mu Dan, whose fresh spring buds and baby leaves he had himself dried. He ceremonially shared his inaugural bowl. She much preferred coffee, and only acquiesced for love of him. On occasion she feared he may be blinded by his obsession, wondered indeed if he was losing his mind; if char were peerless, life and she a mere second. However, she had never wished him gone, would never cede him, even if someone offered her every leaf of char in China. Caffeine junkie she may be – no force was required in drawing from her an admission of his calling: he had produced and brewed an unsurpassable cuppa.
May 31, 2012 at 2:36 pm
“Like any obsessive, he disliked as hard as he loved”
Nice. So true it is.
May 31, 2012 at 10:08 pm
Yes, you could swap tea for pretty much anything and it woud still apply.
May 31, 2012 at 10:12 pm
I am (shamefacedly) nearly this obsessive about my tea.
May 31, 2012 at 11:56 pm
No need for shamefacedness, I think. I guess I’m more or less like this over other things, or I have been in the past. And having researched my subject, I confess I now aspire to be nearly this obsessive about tea too.
June 15, 2012 at 4:15 am
I’m 90% a coffee person, but spent some time studying in India many years ago and have been longing for proper chai ever since. Reading this made me itchy in some way. It’s not just the tea I want, it’s the lumpy clay cups meant to be thrown on the train tracks when emptied. They’re probably made of cow shit, twigs, and rain water, but they do something special for the tea.
June 16, 2012 at 11:32 am
Well, I’m guessing you could find the chai somewhere in NYC, maybe even the cups. And if not, perhaps the internet can deliver? I guess it’s like wine aged in oak barrels, or the proprietary glass for a Belgian beer, and conversely why tea tastes revolting out of a polystyrene foam cup; you need that conjunction of liquid and the right vessel.