The greatest part of our happiness depends on our dispositions, not our circumstances.

~ Martha Washington ~

Tea And Other Niceties

February 26th, 2013 ~ Est. reading time: 3 mins, 24 secs

What is it about tea and coffee?

Would you like some tea?” the receptionist kindly asked as she welcome me in. Ah, yes. Some civilities still exist, and I’m a pushover for all of them.

Unlike, North Americans who enjoy their tea iced, Aussies pay homage to a nice, hot, British-styled cup of tea with maybe a little milk and sugar. Of course, when you think about it, tea (like coffee) is nothing more than a little flavoring in a lot of water. Tea and coffee connoisseurs will be disgusted by my ignorance, but to me, the biggest pleasure is in the offering.

Unlike so many places today where you get shunted this way or that, the gentle art of receiving people creates a beautiful experience. Tea, coffee, a genuine smile, and a personal welcome are all ways to break down the barriers and, subtly, make life feel refined.

I love old traditions that put people at ease, though they are becoming a lost art. Yet, there’s something about them that is definitely greater than the sum of their parts.

Take coffee. Is it merely the cup with its aromatic brew that gives you a good feeling? Or, is it the atmosphere of the place where you drink it, the people around you (including those who make it)? Like tea, coffee can be per functionary: just something to throw down your throat so you can get on with the day. But it can also be a small joy, a highlight, and even a comfort

Please come in and make yourself at home.” The power of a few kindly words of welcome is incredible. Especially, when they contrast against the harshness and indifference we so often encounter.  Being the nostalgic bloke that I am, I warmed to all those old British shows where, after some distress or disaster, a caring neighbor would sidle up to the grieving hero and say, “C’mon love. How about you come in with me and we’ll have a nice cup of tea?”

Mind you, my favorite blend actually isn’t tea. It’s graciousness and hospitality. Germans call it “Gemuetlichkeit” and other nations have their own words. But the concept is much the same. That sense of being received and being put at ease in a way that washes your daily cares away, transforming the moment into something delicious. So, it’s no surprise people serve tea, coffee, and little treats. These are the things that say, “Please feel at ease. We are glad you are here and are happy to share.”

Growing up in Australia way back when, one of those little treats was called a “Devonshire Tea”.  British folk call it a Cream Tea and, though they’re not universal, I understand Scots, the Irish, Canadians, Kiwis, Argentinians, and Uruguayans also enjoy them too. But in case you’re not familiar, a Devonshire Tea is really a pot of hot tea accompanied with milk and sugar, a few scones (pronounced “con”), and lashings of jam and freshly whipped cream.

I suspect Enid Blyton’s Famous Five would have loved it as it’s a kind of dessert that easy to eat (though I’m not sure if little kids would want the tea).

Now, I know some American folk will still be wondering what scones are and also jam and cream, because they don’t necessarily mean the same thing across the Ditch (aka the Pacific Ocean). Apart from tea being served in a pot with perhaps a tea cozy and a cup and saucer, scones have a distinctive taste that’s different to American biscuits. While, “jam” is like “jelly”, only thick with plenty of berries. Cream, meanwhile is the genuine article from cow’s milk with nothing else added, then whipped with a mixer, or else by hand.

Now I know this sounds very twee and quaint experience and, you know, it definitely is. There’s a certain ritual to it, like all foods associated with hospitality, and the pleasure goes way further than its basic ingredients.

By now, you can tell I’m a contrarian. Just as so many want mass-produced-every-thing, I savor the uniqueness of people doing things because they care. Traditions of comfort and hospitality can be deeply satisfying and our ability to receive people with them brings kindliness to life. A coffee, tea, or some other beverage, are really an excuse to step back into a lovely place where people put you at ease and the cares of the day go away (at least for a while).

As for having Devonshire Tea, well, that doesn’t matter. Better to choose your own favorite hospitality treats and serve them in the tradition you wish. So long as you put your heart into what you do, everything tastes better.  Whether from a humble chipped cup or the finest china, with the simplest snack or the most elaborately produced food: the most precious ingredient is care.

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