As with anything, it helps to talk to someone who’s done it before. And so at the weekend, we drove two hundred kilometres north to Whanganui to talk to Kate’s mum, Sue, who has recently returned from Sri Lanka.
The first thing we noticed was the bright Buddhist flag fluttering outside the front door. Blue for compassion, red for the Blessings of Practice, and orange for wisdom. Next we spotted the green packets of leaf tea displayed on the kitchen bench. And then in full glory, the teapot, lid off, ready and waiting…
“Did I tell you no one in Sri Lanka uses teabags?” Sue tipped hot water into the teapot, then clanked in a teaspoon. “I bought this stuff direct from the plantation. You’ve never tasted tea until you’ve tried leaf.”
She let the tea brew for the requisite number of minutes, then expertly filled three cups – exquisite china from her mother – with dark black liquid. It smelt of earth and tannin and stiff old shoe laces, not your regular Gum boot. And as it swirled around inside my mouth, coating my teeth and dissolving my tongue, it tasted of all the teapots in Sri Lanka, a full and fearsome vintage, especially without milk or sugar.
“What do you think?” Sue eyed me expectantly. “Is it your cup of tea?”
“It’s quite strong, isn’t it?” I gulped and finished my cup. The liquid – raw and brackish, autumn leaves burnt and brewed – slugged down my throat. I probably wouldn’t be able to move for a minute or two, as long as it took to devour a rich tea biscuit or two, a couple of Scottish shortbreads. Hopefully there were a few lighter teas over there. Green or Earl Grey. Otherwise, after four weeks of this stuff, I’d be talking through a sieve in a harsh november whisper.
“You’ll get used to it.” Sue moved over to the bench. “Now can I pour you another?”