Friday, April 14, 2006

Transcendence, via the Tealeaf

Ancient Moonlight.
Black Velvet.
Monkey Picked Iron Goddess of Mercy.
No, these are not the names of medical marijuana strains, but of teas served at Samovar tea lounge in Noe Valley. However, if the menu is to be believed, the teas are almost as potent. Monkey King is “A deep, lingering sybaritic journey,” Black Velvet will “radically improve your day,” and Iron Goddess promises to “penetrate your issues and dissolve them.”

Like most English people, I find the phrase, "a nice cup of tea and a sit down" to be one of the most beautiful in the language. There is nothing like tea to banish the five o’clock blues. Anna, the eighteenth-century Duchess of Bedford, one of the first Brits to serve afternoon tea, claimed that it banished a “sinking feeling” and I think that she was right.

My friend Bodhi, though far from British, is a fellow tea aficionado. She humored me by naming our Burning Man camp “the Desert Tea Lounge” and serving tea in assorted garage-sale teapots. (She sported a skimpy dress that would have shocked the Duchess of Bedford, made of secondhand lace tablecloths.) Last Friday, Bodhi again demonstrated her commitment to tea by venturing out in a downpour to join me at Samovar.

Tea lounges are springing up everywhere these days, aspiring to do for tea what Starbucks did for coffee. Tea’s popularity now doubt owes something to its touted health benefits, but there is another reason that tea is the perfect beverage for our age. Coffee suited the work-obsessed nineties, but tea, which calms you down as well as stimulating you, is more meditative, more suited for our slower-paced times. This is a more spiritual age, one in which we are supposedly more interested in fulfillment than in getting rich quick. I believe that tea, because of its association with Asian cultures, has a vaguely mystical appeal. It is no accident that at Samovar there are statues of the Buddha and of many-armed Hindu deities.

You’d think that I would be overjoyed by the tea-lounge trend, but in fact the English like to drink bad tea (one reason is that in the nineteenth-century, unscrupulous tea merchants adulterated it with dried leaves and chaff and we got used to drinking swill). Our preference for bad tea is a matter of temperament as well as tradition. A nice cup of tea is perfectly lovely, but a “sybaritic journey for all the senses”? Well, it makes a Brit distinctly uncomfortable.

As Bodhi and I scanned the menu, I realized another problem with topnotch tea: it costs six bucks a pot. But then, I reflected, I spent $6,000 on therapy. If Iron Goddess could “penetrate and dissolve my issues,” then at one-thousandth of the cost, it was pretty cheap.


Anonymous Jeffrey said...

I, for one, can attest to the powers and potency of "Black Velvet" tea. That stuff is cracked cocaine in a pot. It really is a mood elevator, making your body feel awake and rejuvenated.

The problem for me, of course, is then that I cannot fall asleep for 18 hours after drinking a cup.

6:00 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

I did go to Samovar a couple of years ago, and I was disappointed by the "English cucumber sandwiches". I do like good tea, a lot, but on a daily basis I prefer the Tetley teabags my friend just brought for me over from England.

7:36 AM  
Anonymous Bodhi said...

Next time, I'll make you some Lipton in a styrofoam cup. xoxo.

11:54 AM  

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