My Tea Girl
Steeping tea with the same girl for 16 years.
The girl sitting on the garbage can outside the punk store didn't look like the tea drinking type. She was letting passing people snip chunks of her hair with the scissors she had just purchased at the pharmacy next door. I happened to be one of the passersby that night. We were on State Street in Madison, WI. A street where not many things are shocking, but I had never seen a girl let random people give her a community style haircut.
Her Dr. Marten army style boots hung off the edge of the 50 gallon trash can as I tried to fix her hair. I had experience in cutting hair, and thinking myself a savant with the scissors, I found an excuse to touch her copper colored hair.
My sister was part of the group that met the girl getting her hair chopped. They hit it off and then exchanged addresses. We lived over two hours away from the girl, but one weekend she came to visit my sister. Her hair had grown out, but she still donned the boots.
I had recently discovered tea and was a budding enthusiast. I made the girl tea. She drank it, and was soon ready for another cup. This tea steeping repeated itself through the weekend. She consumed more tea in one weekend than I did in a month. I was impressed. I introduced her to my pet piranha, Earl Grey. She was impressed.
We exchanged addresses—before the days of email—and within days I received a letter accompanied by a teabag, so I followed her lead, and sent out a letter with a teabag. I was beginning to use loose tea, so I sent her a tablespoon of cherry-vanilla scented black tea. She wrote back and told me half the tea had billowed to the ground when she had opened the envelope. From then on I sent teabags. Being the nostalgic type I would save the tea she sent, but she would drink the tea I sent as she read my letters.
Eventually I moved to the city where she lived. Seventy-five percent of our time dating was spent with her grandmother. We played cards, watched Colombo, ate Tuna Helper, and drank tea. The girl ordered special teas for her grandmother’s health problems, but we also drank whatever other tea we could get our hands on.
We spent endless hours at a local coffee and tea shop, sipping tea and planning our future. Here I told her about a family from my hometown who lived on 120 acres, burned wood, kept horses, and drank tea. The perfect life.
Soon after we got married and moved back to my hometown, this family became one of her favorite families. We would drop by their house and be greeted by a fresh pot of tea. Their specialty was, “Welsh” tea, which was two parts black to one part green tea.
On our 2 year wedding anniversary I bought the girl—now my wife—a Yixing teapot. The lore of the Yixing pot is that if you brew enough tea in it, with time you will only have to pour hot water in it and tea will come out. We have been brewing tea in it for 11 years now, and still await this miracle.
While visiting Chinatown, New York we bought some Yunnan tea. We both agreed this was our favorite variety. Even though we both love tea our tastes differ. I love a malty Assam, she leans toward the gentler Keemuns. I brew all teas at full strength, but she prefers a carefully timed tea. She will put honey in her green tea and I would never think of it. I enjoy milk and honey in a bold black tea, but I’ve never even seen her try this, she says it grosses her out. I like mine scalding; she prefers to let it cool to room temperature.
Buying tea has become an addiction. We peruse the catalogs, in the haste of happiness we highlight teas we haven’t tried and ones we want to try. Our eyes have proved to be larger than our pots. At last counting we have over 47 teas; it will take a while to catch up.
We do try. We often announce early in the day, “Later teatime?” So far, neither of us has declined. During these sessions our thoughts and mouths are lubricated.
We recently moved to Nicaragua. We fretted over what to bring and what to leave behind. The airline allowed each of us two suitcases. One thing was sure, we brought the tea.