the Agony of the Leaves
The leaves and buds of the Camellia Sinensis were plucked by small teams of sweaty men working 5,000 feet above sea level on a tea plantation in Sri Lanka. Once picked the tea leaves were spread on a rack quickly to reduce their moisture content. The tea leaves were then rolled in order to break down their structure and release their natural juices and enzymes. This began the fermentation process which took place when the leaves were spread on a tray in a cool, humid atmosphere to oxidize the leaves. It changed the chemical structure of the leaf, and allowed the tea’s characteristic flavor to emerge. After that the leaves were fired… meaning the leaves were dried and the fermentation process was retarded. In this stage, the leaves moved through hot air chambers to stabilize the leaves and lock in the flavor. Then came the grading stage. Tea produced in Sri Lanka carries the “Lion Logo” on its packages which indicate that the tea was produced in Sri Lanka. Each and every consignment is inspected by Sri Lanka Tea board officers before being shipped.
Through numerous handlers and dozens of ships and trucks the tea moved slowly from far-off of Sri Lanka to my local supermarket. After being loaded in an enormous freight container in Colombo it made its way across rough seas to arrive in Newark, NJ, stopping to change ships and containers no less than 3 times. It is loaded and unloaded from there, countless hands toiling to make sure it reached its intended destination. Finally the last pair of hands lifted up the box of tea bags to my grocer’s shelf awaiting my patronage. To be perfectly honest, one more pair of hands did handle the box… the checkout girl sliding it across the scanner before depositing it in a bag next to my other items.
A week later.
I remove the tea bag from the box and boil the water. Minutes later I climactically pour the boiling water (212 degrees Fahrenheit give or take a few degrees) over the bag and allow it to steep. As the tea leaves unfold (“the Agony of the Leaves”) they give up various parts of themselves to the water and thus the taste evolves. Ideally I should have allowed it to steep for 2-3 minutes but in this case I went into the other room and forgot all about the fact that I had made myself a cup of tea. Therefore when I found it later in the morning I was forced to pour it down the sink.