I walked into a little tearoom at a nearby park hoping to while away half an hour or so reading my book. It was more of a tea-corridor, a counter occupied one half of the café and the other half was seating. A booth ran along the wall, complete with a few tables and chairs. There were a couple of old women sitting here and there.
Two women were working at the counter. One had black dreadlocks with the odd dash of purple. She wore a tie-dyed Grateful Dead t-shirt. The other woman had short hair her face was studded with piercings.
“Hi there darling,” the dreadlocked one greeted me with an unnerving level of enthusiasm. “Take a seat and one of us will come to you.” She grinned at me. I did my best to squeeze into the booth but kept disrupting the tables on either side, I opted for chair instead sitting with my back to the counter. I opened my book, Hegel’s Outlines on the Philosophy of Right.
I was concentrating on making sense of the words in the book when a woman’s voice rung out behind me, “SO!” I jumped. “Oh sorry darling,” she touched my shoulder. “I didn’t mean to give you a fright, sometimes I’m sneaky. Like a sneaky ninja.” She was clearly insane.
“Can I get you a tea, that is our tea menu over there,” she pointed to the wall behind her, but before I had a chance to look at it she began, “We have rooibos, jasmine, lemongrass and ginger, oolong, peppermint, red tea and – “
“I’ll just have English Breakfast,” I said, and smiled up at her.
She flinched, “We don’t serve English Breakfast, but I can offer you a pu erh po instead, it’s similar in taste just less… imperialistic.”
“Okay I’ll have the pooey poo”
“One pu erh po it is.” She left me; I listened to the inane banter she was having with her colleague. I couldn’t make sense of most of it but I’m pretty sure she said the words, “Imperialistic arsehole.”
I glanced at the old woman sitting next to me. She looked almost paralyzed, her hands placed on either side of her untouched teacup. Just as I went to check for a pulse, she turned her frizzy haired head to me. She opened her mouth and begun to say, “run awa –“ but she was interrupted.
“Here’s your pu erh po,” the dreadlocked woman arrived carrying a tray of equipment. She began placing all the parts of a medieval chemistry lab in front of me. Metal jugs, measurers, an infuser, a little ceramic pot, and my cup. “Wasn’t the teabag invented to synthesize all this?” I asked, motioning at the paraphernalia. She ignored me, “Okay. To do this, you put some tea into the infuser, then you place it in this pot and then you pour water from this jug over it, wait for it to infuse, then pour it in a clockwise motion into your cup. Got it?”
“Got it”, I said, I didn’t.
I sat there in silence, lost. I looked over at the old woman for a clue. It was then I realized why her cup was untouched, she was surrounded by metal jugs and pots too. She leaned over to me, “I just wanted a cup of Earl Grey tea, then the woman called me a racist, and brought me all this stuff.” Her voice cracked, “I just don’t understand this system. Aren’t we paying them to make our tea?” She was right, but I still wanted my pooey-poo tea. I could do this.
I scooped some tealeaves into the infuser and placed it into the cup, I began pouring the boiling water over the infuser. Most of the water just ran down the side of the pot, pooling on the table. To compensate I tried to pour faster, the puddle got bigger. I aborted. The puddle of hot water crept towards the table’s edge, I tried to block its progress with Hegel but it was useless. “I need a napkin!” I blurted out.
“A napkin?” came the waitress’s voice from behind me. I jumped. “How long have you been standing there?”
She ignored my question, looking at the wet table, soggy book and mishandled equipment. “Had a little accident, have we?”
“It’s just that, the pot,” I reached for the poor quality teapot but she whipped my hand away with her tea towel, “Don’t blame the pot,” she said, “haven’t you ever had tea before?”
“I have but usually just from a teabag,”
She threw her head back and laughed. “You little idiot,” she laughed again and shook her head, “You little idiot man.”
“I – I – I,” I stammered.
She became wild-eyed, “I couldn’t have been clearer. First, you place some tea in the infuser,” she tipped the ceramic bowl over the infuser spilling tealeaves everywhere. “Then you put it in this pot, this pot,” she shook it in my face and then shoved the infuser into it. Her voice got louder. “Then you put the water into the pot,” she carelessly tipped the boiling water into the empty pot; it sloshed onto the table and floor. “Pour it into your cup in a clockwise direction!” She tipped it into my cup the infuser fell in too. “NOW DRINK IT,” her voice reached a crescendo as she thrust it into my face. I recoiled but she pushed the cup to my lips and roared, “DRINK IT!” Shaking, I leaned forward and took a timid little sip.
I looked up at her and said, “Oh it’s quite nice actually, thanks.”