Tuesday, 9 February 2010

The best cup of tea

Was asked recently about my best tea memories. Might not be what you expect. Have never been much of an athlete and have lacked the consistency to stick with any sports I’ve attempted to master. There’s still that ornery teen-ager hidden inside of me saying, “Sweating and competition for no real purpose? Why would I want to do that?”

That is until I met hiking. For someone with existential hang-ups and raised to be very skeptical of overt competition, hiking is the perfect sport. You don’t see it as sport? Then what you think of as hiking and what I’m doing are two different animals. Even the preparation for a day of hiking exerts energy that I formerly would’ve balked at. That’s where the tea comes in.

Although I live relatively close to the mountains, to get there in time for the best part of the day one really should rise before dawn. Before I take care of anything else I warm up the thermos (or two) with boiling water before even considering the tea. My teapot makes exactly enough to fill my thermos and one mug of tea. I pack the tea at the bottom of my pack and drink that surplus mug as I arrange everything else. When I have enough room in my pack, I make one thermos of Oolong for the actual hike and another of Ceylon or Assam for the train-ride. That’s normally just enough. Just.

The reason these are my best tea memories are simple. Other hikers will tell you that the tastiest sandwich is the one you eat when you’ve struggled your way up a mountain and break it out of your pack and eat it as you look at the view of the range of mountains. The enjoyment of that cup of tea after all that exertion works according to the same principle. For me, there’s almost always a moment near the beginning of the upward climb where I think to myself, “What the hell are you doing this to us again for?” I ignore that voice. Don’t even reason with it. Have normally had a whole thermos of strong, black tea at this point and am rearing to go.

Surprisingly, it’s only at the beginning that I doubt my sanity. Another reason why I know this hiking lark is for me. The more I get into it, the more I enjoy it. When you can finally see the summit up above is not the moment you should wait for. That might be the next most difficult point. When you’re so close and it’s still out of reach. Soon enough, that’s over and you’re standing on the summit, looking out over the range of mountains that just a few moments ago was only in your imagination. There they are.

This is where the best part comes in. I sit down, unpack my things and crack open that thermos of Oolong that’s been waiting patiently at the bottom of my gear. The food is pleasurable, as well. Absolutely no doubt about that. But there’s something about that piping hot cup of tea while breathing in the mountain air that really does something to me. It’s the best tasting cup of tea I can think of. The best.

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