Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cupan Tae?

When I moved to Ireland I had a coffee habit befitting a woman who lived in a neighborhood with a Starbucks on every other corner.  And I had it bad.  I suffered severe coffee withdrawal in the first few days I was in County Clare.  At that time you couldn't really get a proper cup of coffee.  Even if you ordered one in a posh restaurant, chances are, you got a cup of instant coffee.  Higher end instant coffee, but instant nonetheless.  Blech!  I was devastated.  Coffee was the fuel I ran on.  As I worked my way through increasingly more stressful jobs, my coffee intake increased accordingly.  It was the fuel I ran on.  And I kept running.

Life in my little village didn't require that much extra fuel.  No one I knew had a life so complicated that they couldn't stop for a cup of tea.  If you met a friend on the street one of you would say 'Fancy a cuppa?' and you'd tuck in to Connie's crowded little cafe in Ennistymon, the Atlantic Hotel in Lahinch or on a fine day, the garden of Mary Gray's Doolin Craft Shop.  Or if you found yourself in Dublin, the little girl's tea party fantasy filled with fairy cakes, scones and crust-less cucumber sandwiches served to you on tiered trays to the overstuffed sofas of the Lord Mayor's Lounge at the Shelbourne Hotel.  When the tea arrived, you'd relax and catch up for as long as you had.  Tea always fits into the time allotted.

Tea in Ireland is not really considered an event but it is treated like one.  In keeping with the Irish tradition of chatty hospitality, when you arrived at someone's home before you found yourself a chair you'd hear 'Will I put the kettle on?'  And not any kettle.  They have fabulous electric kettles that boil water in two minutes.  Then the biscuits would appear, not the everyday plain biscuits but the 'just for company' biscuits.  If it was near the holidays, giant tins of assorted biscuits would be offered up to guests.

There are rules for the making of the tea.  I have had instruction from the best experts in the field. Liz's husband, Liam, got me up to speed on the proper method for warming the pot to improve the brew.  And Mary's Auntie Mary in Tullywinney gave me a piece of advice I will treasure always.  "Kathleen,' said she, 'it's not worth boiling the kettle if you're not going to drink it from a china cup." She was right. It just tastes better.'

After a few days at Auntie Mary's house, she began to treat me like family.  She asked me to fill the jug from the milk in the fridge.  She laughed at my surprise when I opened the fridge to find a bucket of milk sitting on the shelf.  On a dairy farm, they don't bother putting it into a carton.

When I moved back to America, I felt a few steps out of sync with everyone else.  One thing led to another and I started drinking coffee again.

Recently while I was visiting Washington I had the pleasure to see some of my favorite friends.  The pace of the place makes it hard to catch up with folks.  It was just lucky this time.  Everyone I wanted to see was available.  I had some lovely visits and I drank countless cups of tea.  A lovely Chinese green tea with a faint fragrance of damask roses with Juliet, iced tea with Renee, and my favorite Lapsang Souchong after an afternoon of crunching through the fallen leaves along the canal with Kurt and the dogs.  Each was an event, perfect in it's own way.

A nice cup of tea always reminds me that Life is good.  So I've put my coffee pot up on the shelf for a while.

Will I put the kettle on?

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