Nothing political about this soothing cuppa

"Where there’s tea, there is hope.”

Printed on a sedate black and gold magnet, this quote by 19th century British actor and playwright Sir Arthur Pinero holds a place of honour on my fridge.

Tea time has forever served my family well, particularly at our Ontario island. Construction projects, swimming, waterskiing and gardening come to a full stop at three each summer afternoon. Steeped in tradition, the significance of our daily respite crashed home after a single windstorm felled more than 250 trees on our paradise. In five terrifying midnight minutes cottages were bashed and beloved 50-foot pines, cedars and maples uprooted.

Exhausted by the scope of the repairs, we gathered to discuss the damage. No electricity? No problem. My then 80-year-old mother, matriarch of the clan, rummaged under the cottage for the old green Coleman stove. We boiled water and huddled around a pot of Lipton Orange Pekoe cradled in the canopy of a once majestic maple, her crown now resting on the ground.

Sometime that summer I bought the fridge magnet. It’s been with me ever since. For my last five years as a Vancouver inner city principal it was displayed above the blue and white Chinese tea set on a table outside my office. The kettle was on at 3 p.m. most days, tea ready to refresh and encourage teachers who came by to pour out their hearts about the day’s trials and triumphs.

The power of tea has been acknowledged for centuries. According to one Chinese proverb, “Drinking a daily cup of tea will surely starve the apothecary,” while Noel Coward speculates on how dreadful it would be “to live in a country where they didn’t drink tea.” And the first thing New Zealander Sir Edmund Hilary grabbed on his return to base camp after summiting Everest was “a nice cuppa.”

While coffee franchises have exploded around the globe, tea drinking is once again on the boil, ready to challenge coffee’s grip on our travel mugs. Steeped tea is big at Tim Horton’s and one Okanagan Starbuck’s estimates 15 per cent of its business comes from tea-totalers. Home coffee machines like Tassimo and Keurig also offer tea-time discs and you can’t travel far in Vancouver without tripping over a Bubble Tea outlet.

Admittedly I cling to my morning java jolt. I’m a latte loyalist. And raised on Orange Pekoe, it was some time before I loosened up to explore the endless variety of leafy libations. I’ve found that chamomile calms my nerves at bedtime and a trip to Nepal was responsible for my  addiction to spicy chai latte. My health-conscious husband insists on a daily dose of antioxidant-rich green tea and when he’s down with the man-flu, lemon ginger echinacea.

In my multi-tasking life I try to remember the words of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nat Hahn who advises, “Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world revolves—slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”

So when I’m freaked out with errands, interviews and deadlines I find the closest tea shop.

Recently in San Francisco I was drawn into Teavana. As I sipped a few test brews, two enthusiastic young clerks took one look at me and custom mixed a tin of Youthberry Delight. Only $30. I know—but it was a large tin—and they promised it would make me look younger.

I’m going back for more.

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