Taking tea: Experience During my Travels – B. Lynn Craig

I am a tea drinker. I’m not fond of coffee. During the early part of my life I drank Orange Pekoe black tea. I had it with lemon. When I graduated from high school, I got a gift from my elderly neighbor – a fancy cup and saucer with painted yellow flowers and gold trim. The cup survived several moves, but eventually it got broken.

After I moved to San Francisco, I went to the Japanese tea garden in Golden Gate Park in the spring when cherry trees were in blossom. At the Tea House with purple wisteria hanging over the roof toward the pond I had green tea. It is important to drink it when it is fresh, because it becomes bitter if it sits too long.

In 1971 I moved to London, and in winter my English boyfriend took me to a country inn and it had snowed. The inn was several hundred years old. There we had “high tea” in a large cottage like building with a low ceiling. Tea came with trimmed cucumber sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Black tea was served with cream and sugar.

Jonathan, my English boyfriend, has been to Morocco before, but this time he took me with him. During our stay in Marrakesh, in the mornings we would go to the open air market where the food was prepared. We would get fresh doughnuts and take them to the tea stall, where we had mint tea. It was made by taking a handful of fresh mint, twisting it into a tall glass and pouring hot water over it. Brown sugar was chunked off a large cone and put into the tea. This was in autumn and all of the colorful harvest was in the market square.

In 1971 I was in Afghanistan when it was peaceful and ruled by the king. We would travel in the country on narrow roads, and would come upon three sided tea shacks and have tea. I remember one orange tea pot with white polka dots that was broken and put back together with big brass staples. Clear tea was first poured hot into and around thistle shaped glasses to sterilize it. This tea was thrown on the mud floor. The second glass of tea was for drinking. It was best to drink hot tea, because the water was boiled and therefore safe to drink. Tap water in third world countries is dangerous.

Sometimes in India I traveled by train. When the train stopped tea sellers would come to the train windows bringing tea in wood fired crude clay cups. The clay cups contained tea that would have smoky taste from firing. When we finished with the tea, a cup would be thrown out the window to break up on the roadbed for the train tracks. This was very ecological, leaving no trash on the tracks. In Northern India the traditional chai, Eastern name for tea, is made with milk and spiced with cardamom. This is a usual regional drink.

I traveled on to Nepal. At the outskirts of Katmandu there is a Monkey Temple. This is a large square white building with a sizable four-sided triangle on top painted with a large blue eye on each side. There was a concession stand that sold tea in disposable cups and snacks like a samosa, which is dough stuffed with spiced vegetables such as potatoes and peas. As I was sitting about to put a snack in my mouth, a furry paw with long claws snatched it right in front of my face. When looked into the monkey’s face fangs were bared. He took the snack and raced away, leaving me with only the tea.

In the fall of 1985 I traveled with a group of 19 friends via the anniversary tours. We went to Japan, the Soviet Union and Mongolia. We flew to Tokyo and went to the Society for the Preservation of Japanese Arts and Crafts. Since there were 19 of us, a traditional tea ceremony was performed for us in a small room with a painted scroll that usually depicts the season. There was also a flower arrangement and a charcoal cooker for hot water on a straw mat floor. A woman in kimono crawls toward the seated guest and proceeds to make tea for him. A fine powdered bright green tea and water are poured into a tea bowl and stirred with a fine bamboo whisk. The tea bowls are each individually made and many are kept for generations. Some are made in the following tradition: they are covered with paper when they are fired, so it makes an iridescent pattern that is unique to each one.

We took the bullet train to Yokohama where we boarded a ship that took us too Nakhodka, Russia (that was Soviet Union in 1985). We boarded the Trans-Siberian Railway train in an area that is called the Far East. We were in a car to ourselves with an English-speaking official guide. We traveled first class, but it was called “soft class”, and second class was called “hard class”, because they were classless communists. We were treated to beautiful fall colors as we went through and endless forest that went on for days. In each car there was a large tea maker called “samovar”, tea was available 24 hours a day. Black tea was served in tall glasses contained in a fancy metal cage like holder with a handle called “podstakannik”. Sometimes the wealthy had ones with a silver holder. 2 cubes of sugar were wrapped in paper showing the Trans-Siberian Railway. I brought some of them home to show my family and friends.

When we reached Lake Baikal, the deepest fresh water lake in the world, we transferred to a Mongolian train. We progressed to Ulaanbaatar, which is the capital of Mongolia. Third of the people there had high walls around their yards with a yurt inside. Our seven-story hotel, which was the tallest structure there, looked down upon the city. We went to a very old Tibetan style Buddhist temple in the fall with that seasons leaves in color, and we took photographs. The temple had sloping roofs that ended with sculptured animals. Next day it snowed, and we went back and took what looked like a winter scene of the same temple. In the Mongolian city museum we had tea. Blocks of large disks of tea in the far past were used as currency. The national drink is fermented mare’s milk. Next is tea mixed salt and butter, useful in high harsh Himalayan environment, because they need fat and salt in their diet.

After returning home to San Francisco in 1985 I continued to drink tea. I have a classic iron tea pot with a removable screen cup that is used in Japan. It is important to remove the tea once it is brewed, because it becomes bitter. Sometimes I make jasmine tea that has little fragrant flowers in the tea. Jasmine tea was created in China. Other times I drink Japanese tea that is made from roasted rice. Some of the rice grains pop like tiny popcorn. Sometimes roasted rice is mixed in with green tea when it is prepared. Currently I drink black tea with cream and sugar most of the time, which is a habit that I picked up in England.

B. Lynn Craig
I was born on March 9, 1942. My father was a beekeeper. I graduated from San Francisco State in 1976 cum laude. I worked as a social worker for the city for 10 years, did private counseling, worked on a doctorate in Human Sexuality, and was a professional dominatrix.

Tokyo in Bloom
Photography
Nadine Peralta

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