Have Tea Mug, Will Travel!

Recently I bought myself a great overnight bag, and decided my spiffy and capacious new purchase would be the  bag to end all bags: I would give away all others, but I decided to check into all the pockets first, to make sure nothing valuable was being discarded before the bags would be reincarnated in their new life as hand-me-downs. In addition to the predictable bric-a-brac I extracted, I found  dozens of …. tea bags.  All flavors. I was slightly, but not too, embarrassed. I am, as my daughter Bella calls me, a tea monster, and couldn’t possibly bear the thought of finding myself anywhere anytime without my tea paraphernalia, so I make ample previsions for any days away from home. What if, Heaven forbid, I am spending the day somewhere they only have the same old same old teabags? So my tea mug and my tea flavors are one quirk, OK obsession, I unabashedly indulge in. My house and my children’s are all stocked up with my tea arsenal: You never know when I might strike, and what the craving du jour might be. You would think I would get tired of piling on the teapots, the mugs, the cups, the strainers, the pitchers, the tea bags, the tea leaves, but no: I always manage to find some esoteric difference in this flavor, this spice, that shape mug, the gauge of that strainer mesh. Years ago a friend and I took my mother antiquing in the mountains where we were summering, and as she entered one of the stores my mother whispered to my friend: “I pray my daughter finds a teapot she doesn’t like!” That’s right, she knows me: some habits die hard.

Growing up in Morocco each house was ready to receive a guest at any time of the day: a giant brass samovar always sat on a low coal stove exhaling a fragrant smoke, side by side with a silver tray carrying a teapot, a sugar bowl, gold-rimmed tea glasses, mint leaves, tea leaves, pastries and dates. The memory of the aromas, the tastes, the good cheer, the togetherness this simple ritual still conjures up in my mind is enough to make my tongue smile, even after all these years.

Please bear with my rudimentary graphics skills: I trust you get the idea!

My husband, who buys his coffee at a Starbucks right near his office every day, had a nice Christmas present for one of the salesgirls who always dotes on him, and she also had a surprise for him: A gorgeous stainless steel mug, which he brought home to me with this rye comment “I buy all this coffee and give this salesgirl a nice present, and she reciprocates … to my wife!”

Years ago my husband bought me a stunning silver necklace from Tiffany’s, which much  to my chagrin I couldn’t keep, as the precious metal, the Tiffany repair department explained to me, had a way of “bleeding” onto some people’s skin, leaving an unsightly metallic trail. A lovely young woman listening in exclaimed she had no such problems, and would love to buy the necklace from me, as she had looked for it but  the store had run out, and while the little transaction went on, she contentedly clasped the necklace around her neck, right there and then, for keeps. It did look lovely on her … Oh well…. I exchanged it for a gorgeous cashmere shawl and …. and this magnificent tea set, exquisitely decorated with Tiffany’s trademark colors: Cobalt, coral and gold leaf.

A funny tea-related thing happened on the way to the opera on a recent frigid winter morning. A very off-the-cuff type friend called me to ask if I could meet her in the next hour: She had box opera tickets for a matinee, and her date couldn’t make it, so could I make an exception just this once and run to meet her? Drop everything  for Rigoletto and Placido Domingo? You bet I could, and in no time I filled my mug, grabbed my coat and headed out the door. During the intermission I asked the waiter at Lincoln Center Cafe if he would please give me the tea I ordered straight in my mug. He looked momentarily puzzled, and then, dear friends, here is what he did: he placed my selected tea bag in my mug, filled a tiny paper cup with hot water from his percolator,  poured the contents into my mug, and simply said “Three”. Then he started again, filled the tiny cup with water, poured it into my mug and said “Six” He repeated the tedious process half a dozen times, then said, “Eighteen dollars please!” causing total consternation all around us. I tried -very briefly – using logic with him and asked him if he didn’t think eighteen dollars was totally absurd for a cup of tea no matter the size, and he simply explained, with a perfect poker face, that the small cups of tea and coffee on sale at Lincoln Center Cafe were three dollars each: 6 refills, eighteen dollars: Simple math, what’s the question?

I beg you, please let me know how you would have handled this situation. Until then, allow me to tell you what I did, and please don’t let that influence you in any way: I poured the whole contents of the mug into a trash can conveniently located next to the waiter, while he watched me with a shrug. He’s just a regular guy doing his job, OK? PS: Don’t you worry about me: I raced across the street and asked the salesman at a nearby deli shop to please fill the mug for me, and he winked at me and said, sure, that will be $3.00, have a good day! I got back to my box in the nick of time to enjoy the last act of Rigoletto: It was wonderful!