The massive iron kettle burbled softly,
blowing steam stacks into the cold kitchen, the first rays of sunlight warming
the gnarled wood floorboards under my bare feet. Rummaging through the tea drawer, I nostalgically
recalled the arrogance of my youth: late nights spent drinking and eating
richly and with abandon, the crocodile clutch purse on my lap holding only a
lipstick, a credit card and a pack of smokes.
Between after-dinner drags and sips from a sobering espresso, I’d repeat
thoughtless half-jokes about the nails in my coffin being fashioned from
Marlborough cigarettes, the pine box burned on a pyre of empty cigarette
The hubris of health speaks without
I got religion of breath in mid-age
and quit the habit, an excruciation akin to leaving a marvelous lover who
will never leave his wife. Redefining my
fragile identity sans fume, the rugged transition was made worse without coffee. So hand-in-hand were these two co-dependent
devices of pleasure, I could not divorce them of each other. I can still taste the sour flecks of tobacco
on my lips mingling with the dark bitter notes on that first sip of black
coffee; my olfactory senses flooded with an anticipatory joy before my brain is
shot full of euphoric clouds. If I was
to finally sever nicotine’s delirious hold, certain activities would need to be
curtailed; its romance with caffeine would have to end, Romeo and Juliet-style.
From the tea drawer, I unearthed a
mid-century glass canister lidded with a tin top and etched with the word
‘tea.’ Inside rests my practical salvation;
hundreds and hundreds of tiny green-white balls, one-quarter the size of a
marble, and boasting the fragrance of an entire field of flowers.
Jasmine pearl tea is typically green
tea that is scented with jasmine flowers, but can also be a white or a black tea.
The young, tender tea buds are harvested
in China in early spring. Consisting of
two buds and a leaf, each tiny ball is rolled by hand, like little jeweled
baguettes on a rich old dame’s long thin fingers.
The tea balls are stored until late
summer, awaiting the bloom of the jasmine flower. Grown at higher elevations than tea, the
jasmine plant was introduced to China from Persia through India’s spice route
during the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD).
The jasmine flowers are harvested early in the morning, their tiny
perfect petals closed up tightly, a French Quarter convent at Mardi Gras. The flowers are kept cool until evening when
the petals open, releasing their heady perfume. The jasmine is then layered into the
tea, requiring several hours to impart their distinct aromas. As the tea will absorb moisture from the scenting
process, it’s dried once again to prevent mold.
For centuries, jasmine flowers were used to
scent tea, most often reserved for the aristocracy, the royal cuppa. Or in my case, enjoyed by a detoxing
gentlewoman from deep within the black abyss of mid-life crises.