Sharing Tea: The Art of Personal Ritual with a Friend

On a melancholy October afternoon, my friend Steve invited me to join him for tea and a torte at his teahouse. He packed a basket with loose leaf green tea, a clay pot, and delicate glass cups and plates. On top, he placed a gluten-free apple torte he’d baked earlier that day.

We walked from his home through an open field surrounded by white oaks which struggled this year with the same insects that attacked my forest. Fall colors were muted, but sunshine broke through the clouds and lit a break in the trees to show blue Seneca Lake in the distance.

Steve went inside the teahouse to get chairs and a Coleman stove. He set them up in a sunny spot on the teahouse porch facing west.

“You bake now?” I asked. I’ve known Steve since the mid 1970s and he’s a terrific cook, but I didn’t know he baked.

“I began baking during covid lockdown like everyone else,” he said with a grin. “There are ground hazelnuts and bits of chocolate in the torte, too.

“And cinnamon,” I said as I inhaled the scent.

“And a little cardamom.”

He kneeled on the wood floor in front of the basket, boiled water for tea, and arranged the teapot and cups. I exhaled to release the tension I’d felt since morning. Moving slowly and mindfully, Steve lifted a cotton cloth from the cake pan and removed the torte pan ring. He paused so we could admire the beauty of the cake before he poured tea, cut generous wedges, and passed me a plate. I savored the first exquisite bite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I felt the healing power of slowing down, being in the moment, letting go of spinning thoughts, and soaking in the beauty of the day.

Crows called in the distance as my dogs wandered the fields and splashed in the ponds. When  the sun dropped low in the west, the afternoon cooled. Steve put the Coleman stove and chairs back inside the teahouse and packed his basket before we walked back to his house and blooming gardens.

Inner turmoil had settled in a few hours of sitting and sharing stories, tea, and torte. I remembered the centering power of tea ceremony in Taiwan and also in Buddhist temples in Hawaii. I remembered how simple it is to create a calming personal ritual when I slow down and pay attention to the beauty around me. It helps to have a gentle friend who understands the healing power of ritual and knows how to bake.

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Have you experienced formal tea ritual? Have you created your own version of tea ritual alone or with a friend? I’d love to hear about it. For other posts about creating ritual, see How to Create a Sacred Grief Ritual Many Years After a Loss. For other posts about the beauty of the land in the New York Finger Lakes, see My Hector Home: Protecting the Forests of the Finger Lakes.

 

19 Comments
  1. Dear Elaine,

    What a beautiful, exquisitely penned post! Thank you for sharing your tea ceremony and long years of friendship with Steve. Oh, how my hungry eyes raced ahead as I took in all the small, tasty details of your visit and time spent together, especially the photos and that homemade apple torte! Yum! I remember reading about Steve in your wonderful book “Leaning Into Love: A Spiritual Journey Through Grief” and how treasured his friendship remains. I’ve just reread a few pages before Vic passed and know that at the end how deeply reassuring it must’ve been for you to have Steve with you. Thank you for breaking bread with us here too.

    Well, having taken “tea at The Ritz” (a famous hotel in London) I can report back that, sure, it’s a unique experience and a very expensive one I hasten to add! However, it was wasted on me because I would rather spend time with friends than ever go to a fancy hotel again and eat tiny sandwiches and tiny cakes with staff looking down their noses. For example last weekend we had friends over for tea, cake and a catch up, giving Lin an opportunity to bake her amazing gluten free flapjacks which were enjoyed by one and all. That’s my kind of ceremony!

    Love and light, Deborah.

    • Thank you, Deborah. It’s my kind of ritual, too. I’m grateful I’ve had a sibling relationship with Steve (I’m the older sister) since he was a college student at the university where Vic taught. And now Steve lives a 5 minute drive from me and he bakes! He was the best “uncle” to both my sons when Vic died and we’ve been part of the same spiritual community for many years. He is one of those people who takes care of others and supports his friends.

      I didn’t share images of his tea house which is astoundingly beautiful because we sat outside and in a short piece I focused on the simplicity and power of creating ritual. I love hearing about Lin’s gluten free flapjacks. Everything Steve eats and cooks is vegan and gluten free and you should see his flower and vegetable gardens. He’s created a spectacular home and still has time to help those in our community who need care. He also still has time to have tea and a walk.

  2. Such a sweet time you had with Steve. I felt calm just reading about it. I have a friend who buys and sells exotic and aged teas. He is an expert at knowing exactly how much loose leaf or part of a brick to put in the small teapots he uses; then boils it and lets it steep for the perfect amount of time. He serves it in small tea cups and we enjoy time and tea together. My favorite tea is pu-erh. I buy a bag of tuochas, little birds nests, of packed tea leaves that make a perfect pot. Next time we see each other I will bring some for you to try. I even have a sweet tea set that looks like a ying-yang.
    Thank you for sharing this story and for the reminder to live in the moment and soak up the beauty all around us.

    • Thank you, Wendy. Among so many other ways I’ve connected with Steve, we did Hospicare training together so you got to know him, too. I look forward to having tea with you and sipping pu-erh. I have a tea set bought in Taiwan–a little ceramic pot and tiny cups. We can use that and you’ll teach me a thing or two about tea. I can’t wait.

  3. Beautiful, Elaine. Rituals like that truly have a healing, centering power. I think because they involve and focus your whole mind and body in a memorable, centering way. And as you say, they slow you down, get you off the hamster wheel long enough to remind you of what’s really important. As I write this I’m thinking I could use some of that magic right now. Thank you for the reminder. Jeanie

    • Jeanie, it was wonderful to slow down and breath deeply as I watched Steve make tea and cut the torte. It was delicious, too. There was time to admire the beauty of the day, let go of worries, and feel the blessings surrounding me. I’m an expert on that hamster wheel, but it’s time for more quiet tea in these last autumn days. In FL, you can have tea outside in the winter. May the sun shine on you.

  4. How lovely Elaine to experience that beautiful ritual in Nature. Tea and torte, taste and trees – friendship and dogs. Birds and ponds …What could be better and more soothing to the soul. I’m meeting 2 friends tomorrow for coffee in what I know are beautiful surroundings. Maybe I’ll get there earlier and ask for a pot of tea before they arrive. Mmmmm, I like that idea. I’ll do my own little meditation remembering your post.

    • Susan, it was lovely and soothing. Of course, coffee can be served with that same mindful awareness and calm, but tea is traditionally meditative. I began writing a piece about tea ceremony in Taiwan, but switched after having meditative tea with my friend. I stopped drinking coffee many years ago because it made me agitated, but either way it’s wonderful to share time with friends.

  5. I can’t imagine anything more calming than sharing tea with a friend. Everyone needs a friend like Steve to help us calm our mind chatter and be in the moment.

    Years ago one of my students told me she had an English tea ritual every day around 4:00. I think she enjoyed both the ritual and the solitude. After I retired, she embroidered me a napkin with a teacup. In 2017 we had high tea in British Columbia. The thing I remember most about it is the floral ceramic tea pot and the view of the garden.

    Cheers to tea and torte–and to Steve! You can tell him I said so. Thanks for this lovely start to my day. 😀

    • Marian, I recall receiving a card with a tea bag in it from you. That was some years back, but I savored that tea. Like Asian cultures, the British know about afternoon tea. I don’t know how much that was influenced by ruling India which has its own tea culture. I love what you remembered from high tea in British Columbia. Those memories last long after the tea pot is empty. I enjoyed sharing this experience, so I’m glad you enjoyed reading it. I’ll tell Steve.

  6. Dear Elaine
    Beautiful. Transported me and really opened my heart to realize I have lost my ability to just be. You are indeed a guide….. I am always alone but never restful or peaceful. Mind always whirling. It started with the traumatic loss of my beloved pet dog Yoda. My partner through my cancer surgery, treatments and recovery that I cannot seem to get over the devastating grief. ( I’m embarrassed to say it’s been 4 yrs of gut wrenching grief and PTSD). I gather strength from your our journey of grief.
    Then enter the pandemic. I’ve been isolating since March 2020. I have no family here and most of my friends are either isolating or not safe due to daily exposure to many people. Not conducive for relieving stress. My only salvation was walking my new pup Finnegan. He has been a challenging dog, many tears wishing I had my sweet, loving, calm Yoda with me, but I never gave up on this guy, though my vets and close friends encouraged me to call it quits. We walk in nature most days and due to being in PA, and our unusually warm fall, our last two walks found us covered in ticks, even with protection. So that last pleasure is on hold until I can find a wide enough trail to keep him out of the brush. I envy your ability to be in the moment and have your dogs run free and happy in nature. ( In a good way). Also your lovely friendship with Steve. I’m going to try to find a mountain or lake overlook, pack my tea, a scone and a chair to create my own tea ceremony. Sending thankful wishes.

    • I’m sorry you’re struggling, Michele, and for such a long time. Can you contact a friend on Zoom or Facetime? I have a weekly Zoom meeting with 3 friends who all live at a distance from me now. After my husband died, I adopted a rescued dog who became deadly vicious. It was a nightmare. Now my young rescue is sweet, but without 2 walks a day, she’s a maniac. She runs and chases balls while I walk and I always have a pocket full of treats and extra balls to keep her engaged. Sometimes my older dog walks with me and sometimes she runs a little.

      Ticks are awful this year in western NY so I use Seresto tick collars on my dogs. Yes, they’re toxic, but I’ve had 4 ticks on my body this fall and got them all before they embedded, but I don’t want to get Lyme, so I put up with Seresto collars. I hope you have a park where wide areas or fields are mowed, but they can still get ticks. My Willow girl is 12 1/2 and showing her age. It will be hard when she dies for both me and my young dog who is so attached to Willow.

      Yes, you can create your own tea ceremony anywhere inside or out. It’s lovely to have Steve as a brotherly friend, but I also invite other friends for tea on the porch and walks at my house. I’m good at being alone, but need some human contact. Don’t let yourself get too lonely. Sending you love.

  7. What a lovely meditation, Elaine. Thank you!

  8. It’s a cosy and wonderful afternoon for sure, dear elaine. I feel even the calmness and peace in the air. Thank you. In Germany, they have such as coffee & torte ritual, which happens mostly on Sundays. I drink tea every whole day. That is a tradition from home, though my mother’s habit was to have a short afternoon sleep, and when she woke up, we knew we couldn’t talk to her until she’d drink her tea!

    • Thank you, Aladin. It was a meditation. (I also drink green tea every day, but not with as much reverence as on this day with my friend.)

  9. I read this shortly after you posted it, Elaine, and I have gone back to it several times, each time appreciating the sense of calm and delight it gives me, especially the photo of gentle, generous Steve with basket in hand and a beautiful expression on his face.

    I have been slowing down more as I sip my cup of green tea each morning — and some mornings I have been lighting a candle as well. Thank you for the inspiration yet again.

    • It was a calming experience during an agitated time for me. It’s a gift to get those healing breaks and Steve is expert at making them happen. So now I have to keep the ritual focus going, so that’s my challenge. Slow sips and more candles. May we both feel inspired.

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