nova scotia, part one: one perfect pot of tea

My favourite kind of travel is the kind that meanders me down side streets where there are no attractions, where the door of a tea shop invites me to sit at a sunny window and read the local paper while enjoying the perfect blend of leaves and ambience and ambient conversation.

Where there’s a table of older people and two tables of younger people and every single one of them strikes me as someone worth talking to. A woman comes in and gets a cup of tea to go, a few minutes later, a man arrives to pick up a large paper sack containing an order of various teas, his personal stock is running low he says. He chats with the owner, who explains that he’s leaving for India soon (I don’t catch the name of the place) to visit his tea farmers and attend the wedding of a farmer’s son.

Later, when I’ve finished reading and eavesdropping and sipping, I get up to pay and I ask the owner, Philip, about his upcoming Indian tea farm travels and… well… the conversation goes on for some exceedingly happy time about ethical practices and the choice to support small growers rather than large companies, the difference in quality, the science and pleasure of blending leaves, the art of using natural flavours rather than synthetics.

Philip tells me that last time he was in India he helped with the planting of tea bushes, that the farmer whose son is getting married is his mentor, that he’s learning everything he can and that he hopes one day he’ll be able to plant tea in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley.

He doesn’t have to tell me this is a lifestyle, that he doesn’t sell tea to get rich. In fact he nearly went bankrupt when the city closed his street for construction one summer.

By the time I leave I’ve had a fabulous mini tea course. (I thought I knew tea. Turns out I know next to nuthin’.)

As with everything, what I learn most is how much there is to learn.

At home a week later I brew a pot of the same blend and the smell of it, the taste, is as gorgeous as I remember and… presto!… just like that I’m right back in that sunny window on a side street in Halifax.

Which is my second favourite kind of travel.




yes, deer… tea


So I’m at a place. A place where I have just ordered a cup of tea. Not a coffee shop but a café-ish, snack-ish place in a high end facility of high-end art.

Wait. Let me start again. I have NOT ordered a cup of tea. Not quite yet. There’s a couple ahead of me who have ordered an Americano and a latte and the ‘beverage maker’ is tending to said order with an inordinate amount of flourish, twirling and dramatic gesture. It’s a production, a real bean-fueled drama, complete with intensity of face, a body one with the urns, flicking this way then flicking that. The only sound is the whooshing of steam. Whooooosh. We, the audience, are silent, some of us possibly in awe.

The whole thing seems a titch overblown but then I’m not a coffee drinker.
I stifle my inclination toward cranky cynicism at this point and consider the value, the ‘art’, of preparation instead…

The whole thing takes time.

Finally the coffees are served and the Americano and latte couple leave. It’s my turn. I step up to the counter.

“I’d like a cup of tea please.”

[cue the crickets]

The visual is this: picture a deer in the headlights. This artistse of foam and froth just stares blankly, no words, and then…

“Tea??” he asks in a tone that suggests concern, like maybe I’m making a rash decision.

“Yes,” I confirm.

He takes a cup and sticks it under a tap labelled ‘hot water’, drops in a teabag, shoves it in my general direction. “There you go.”

I laugh—part amusement, part delirium from having stood in line this long—and say I was hoping for a bit more ‘art’, and he, all seriousness and java wisdom says: “Nope, tea’s real simple.”

Real simple indeed.

It occurs to me that it would be pearls before swine to enlighten him… I make a mental note instead that next time I’m in the snack place of the high-end facility of high-end art, I’ll do us all a favour and just have a V-8.