A wild Camellia sinensis leaf falls off a tree 5,000 years ago, and drifts into a cup of hot water next to the Chinese emperor Shen Nung. The fragrant liquor that wafts to his nose invites a sip, and the worldwide dominion of tea is born.
Regardless of whether you believe the legend, it's hard to dispute tea's permanence- even in the face of the lackluster Coffee and Tea Festival, which I walked through on Sunday. It may have been just end-of-show fatigue, but the event seemed emptier, the exhibitors quieter, than in previous years. It was depressing to think that the current economic climate- which, while dire, is not all that significant from a thousands-year perspective- is to blame. Tea has lasted through upheavals of empires, world wars, and nearly every major human milestone. How could it possibly fade into obscurity now?
Of course, I am as prone as a heroine in a Thomas Hardy novel to fits of melodrama, and it seemed a bit premature to draft a tea obituary. So I decided to stick around for a seminar on the green teas of China, Korea and Japan by Yoon Hee Kim, president of TeaClassic. I figured that drinking those in particular always elevates my mood, so learning more about them could be as effective.
It started out a bit basic for a green-tea junkie, but Kim was a captivating speaker, not so much for the planned presentation but for her entertaining anecdotes and descriptive side tracks. Her passion for tea truly revealed itself at those moments, and I was moved (and annoying enough) to wrangle an invitation to come back to the TeaClassic booth and taste some mao feng, a Chinese green she had spoken lovingly of.
The tea was everything she promised: round, smooth and clean. It was an honor to share a pot with such a tea master, and made sweeter by her generosity. I'm so often drawn to the solo, quiet contemplation that a cup of tea brings, I sometimes forget how equally ideal it is for a more magnanimous serving to others.
Buoyed by my unexpected gift, I headed to Amai tea house (a festival participant a few years back), which was closing that day, to get a first and last taste. The dragonwell was lovely and the mini yuzu cupcake a tender, citrusy delight, even if the towering buttercream had a tendency to find a way up my nose with each bite. (I don't like it when frosting gets overly architectural, but I was still bereft when the final dollop of it ended up on the counter instead of the cake.)
It was a bittersweet snack. Why did it have to be so good if I could never taste it again?
When I got home, I read that Tafu, too, was closing the following day. Why, tea god, why? That was one of the only places in Manhattan to get a bowl of matcha that was practically a religious experience. The green-tea lattes were better than crack (and almost as expensive).
I need to get through this. And during the week, I've thought about how the recession can take many, many things away. But I like to think that even if we all end up sitting under a tree, just waiting for that leaf to fall in our cups, tea will be there.