As the sun sank slowly behind the majestic mountains to the west of the city, the Imperial Airways flying boat skimmed, then touched, the tropical waters of East Java. The third day of our journey. From outpost Darwin across the Timor Sea to Kupang, then Bima, and finally, our first taste of the spice islands, Surabaya. 15 of us, encased in leather luxury, the rugged mountains with their luxurious forests were visible through the build-up of afternoon storms. That night we relaxed in luxury, swapping stories with our attentive crew, enjoying a sumptuous meal, and delicious chamomile … ahh such serenity … brewed from aromatic leaves in pretty porcelain teapots – then peaceful slumber between crisp white sheets.
I cross to the sideboard and select my favourite cup and saucer. I hold the tea pot – it belonged to my grandmother, fine white china, a faint hairline crack belies its age. That pot kindles memories of the past, the stories of her travels, our family days, laughter, children playing, other stories shared between the grown-ups, all sitting easily around the huge wooden table in my grandma’s old house.
I add a splash of hot water and swirl it around to warm the pot so that the eventual boiling water retains its heat for longer. Now the tea – a gift from a friend: La French Countess Grey – how special. The water is nearly boiling, I empty the tea pot and add the leaves to the pot, but not before breathing in their delicate aroma – superb.
We breakfasted on the balcony, the first rays of light peaking over the shimmering sea, before wandering along the jetty to the waiting Clipper, the fragrance of frangipani lingering heavily. Our leather suitcases were already aboard, thanks to our ever-diligent hosts. Our brilliant white flying-boat released the last rope, and we glided effortlessly out with the current, ready to begin our run, the last legs along the northern coast of Java, exotic Singapore awaiting.
I remember all my grandma’s stories so well. She seemed to enjoy the luxury of time. These days, of course, things are much more streamlined. Now we jostle with the crowds, run the gauntlet of security checks, follow the signs, grab a quick snack, find the departure gate, squeeze into our seat, doors closed, safety announcement, meal on a tray, watch the movie, sleep – not, not really – legs ache, back sore, refreshing towel, snack, disembark. All done. I’m here, but oh dear, it really wasn’t enjoyable.
My mind comes back to my delicious pot of tea, and I think how the making of tea also has been streamlined. Finely crushed leaves are now packaged in a small bag, the bags are glued or stapled closed. Pop the teabag into the mug, add boiling water, jiggle it a few times. Done. That’s it, I have my tea, back to work.
My eyes squinted to pick out the detail in the lush mountains off our port side. High peaks with the lush growth of tea plantations, the most tender tips of Camellia sinensis hand-picked before they began their journey to the tea drinkers of the world. A white gloved hand silently placed the tea tray on my table. ‘Tea, Madam?’
I pour the boiling water into this beautiful white china pot and watch the leaves dancing and swirling as they begin to release their marvellous aromas. With the lid now gently inserted, I turn the pot – one turn clockwise, three turns counter-clockwise. It’s probably a ridiculous habit, although some say it works, but I don’t care, my grandmother did it every time and made delicious tea. The ritual helps me remember her.
I watch, enjoying the moment, as the boiling water and the leaves combine to perform their magic. I place the strainer on the cup, pour the brew, take the first sip. Sublime! What a wonderfully relaxing few minutes this is – the process, the ritual, the journey… of making tea.