Monday, January 28, 2019

Thanks, Mom! (2018 Vahdam, Okayti Premium Darjeeling Spring Black Tea)

Christmas, 1983 or so. My mother engineered a Christmas to remember. Kate and I were as always excited about the holiday, because at our house, we CELEBRATED. My parents' room was locked for the entire month of December, and my mom and dad would wink and make the "I have a secret" sign we used (thumb against nose twice, bumping hands together twice in a complicated gesture I'm powerless to describe properly). Christmas morning came, and Santa arrived. Schwinn 10-speed bikes for both of us, plus the 100 or so other gifts scattered through the house.

Every year is like this. My June birthday month has been renamed "Stevuary," because the party starts on the first day of the month, and continues on and past the 23rd. Each year, my mom tries to give gifts that are perfect. (Yes, Dad gives gifts, too. But no one I know can hold a candle to Mom, who makes it her life's business.) We never know who is going to be the recipient of pure perfection, but it's always at least one of us. One year, it was the expensive Russian teacups (podstakanniki, which I was informed by one of my former Russian students that I've been boldly mispronouncing for years, and the which I can't force my mouth around no matter how hard I try to copy her accent.) Another year, a sibling's difficult bill would be paid. A special gold head joint for our budding flutist. And on. And on. My parents were not wealthy people, but we always felt rich because somehow price never seemed to be an issue. Santa would come, the tree was surrounded with a knee-high drift of presents marked, "From SC," in my mother's graceful, old-school script.

This year, Mom had a health scare. When she was young, she had an undiagnosed cough that doctors treated with codeine and other palliatives. She coughed her way through high school, got better, and never thought much about it again. Then a couple years ago she found out she had cancer, and it would be treated with surgery and radiation. Unknown to us, the radiation that would save her life from the dreaded C word would also burn her lungs, reducing their function drastically. Eventually, she ended up on oxygen with fairly limited mobility. This means no more trips to the mall. And right about Christmas, Mom's breathing eroded to the point where she could barely talk for the coughing. (She was holding out against going to the doctor, convinced that what turned out to be a bronchial infection on top of her lung disease was going to land her in the hospital. Happy ending: She got meds and was soon well after the holiday season was over.)

And yet. Christmas must go on.

Mom has discovered the Internet.

Now, saying that makes my mom sound like a n00b. Yeah, nope. She's a pro. She broke the Internet making the best Christmas ever.

The last couple of years, as you may have noticed (those two of you who still know this blog exists), I've been too busy with real life, and not inspired enough to really write about brown leaf juice. How many more Simpsons references and high art images must I come up with every time I drink a cup of tea? Instead, I've been working on a novel (and, yes, there is tea in it, though I'm editing it out because only real tea-holics would appreciate such focus on gaiwans and gongfu), and on teaching literature, and helping my brother resurrect his very excellent business. So as a consequence of changing priorities, I'd rather run out of good tea. I was living in a tea desert. I was on one of the outer rings of Saturn, so far as tea was concerned. I was tea-ed out. I had no fu in my gongfu. I was an ex-tea-er.

Then December rolled around, and Mom found something new: TeaGschwendner's tea advent calendar. Hung on my classroom wall, I would open one each morning, and the students would pick among the stash what to drink for the day. I had to remember some of my high school German to describe to the kids what was inside each packet, or I could simply cut them open (the packets, not the students) and let the kids sniff and decide. Most of the teas were flavored, and so not my bag at all, but it's slowly converting the kids to the Good Stuff.

And then Christmas rolled around. Unbeknownst to me, Mom had spent weeks reading my old tea blog, finding which teas I had loved the best, and then going online to read all my friends' blogs to get their opinions on what the best Darjeelings were, and where to find them; and how to get her hands on dan cong oolong; and fancy greens; and a full pound of high-end Assam for day-to-day drinking. This lady is thorough when she does her homework.

Such a ridiculous, amazing Christmas. Mom bought presents like they were going out of style--not terribly expensive, but perfect for each of us. (Or were they? Price never seems to be the point; Mom gives gifts that are correct, and if that's five cents or five hundred dollars, it doesn't seem to enter into the calculations for any of us.) She celebrated Christmas like it was going to be her last one with us. The kind of gift giving I remember from when I was little. An embarrassment of riches.

And, no, I don't mean the tea.

. . .

Vahdam Tea (an Oprah Best Thing) distributes Darjeelings, among other things. This morning my wife made me the Okayti Premium Darjeeling Spring Black Tea: Single Estate, Private Reserve.

Golden-brown liquor, as one would expect from a Darj. But the flavor: sparkling, with something that reminds one of cherries, perhaps--fruity, to be sure, but only in the sense that it reminds me of fruit. Done correctly (as Suzanne did, saints be praised!), the tea is fragrant, able to grab my attention from a full five feet away. The aroma closely aligns with the flavor of the tea itself, which is not always the case. Gentle but bright, not too sharp, and utterly enjoyable. It is for moments like this that I drink tea, and read great literature, and write, and think, and study the Bible, and talk about what I love. It's the times that make me feel awake after a long winter slumber, that make it all springtime inside without its cleaning.

Thank you, friend(s) who remember this blog. Go grab some Darjeeling and let me know what you've been drinking lately.