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Monday, February 28, 2011

A Simple Cup of Tea

Contributed by Valerie Battle Kienzle

The British had the right idea. Taking time to enjoy a cup of tea requires slowing down and calming down -- at least for a few moments. Tea soothes the soul and provides renewal for mind and body. Sipping tea allows a savoring of the moment.

Tea has been a popular beverage for almost 5,000 years. People have cultivated it, been nurtured by it and fought over it. Black tea, green tea, oolong tea, white tea. The plant species camellia sinensis, when combined with water, maintains unrivaled popularity worldwide.

Tea is my favorite beverage. Hot or cold. With or without lemon. Spiced or plain. Always sweet. (I'm a native of the south.) I love it! Drinking tea is an important part of each day. And as a tea lover, I have a large and varied collection of tea cups, saucers and tea sets. At last count, the collection includeds 19 assorted fine china cups and saucers, three demitasse (small cup) sets, seven assorted demitasse cups and saucers, and six miniature tea sets.

I never made a conscious decision to collect tea items, and I didn't purchase most of them. The collection just happened. Within a few years' time, a great uncle died, an aunt died, my dear grandma passed away, followed by my husband's grandmother. Wills were read. Household items were divided and distributed, but in each case no one wanted the tea cups and saucers. Family members claimed antique furniture, cherished quilts and silverware, but the tea cups had no takers. No one wanted them -- except me.

I took them, but didn't really know what to do with them. Large, small, plain, delicately decorated, all colors, footed and in various shapes. Each cup and saucer pair was unique -- and to me, beautiful. I hated to see them discarded.

Then I began to hear stories about the origin and history of the cups. The small demitasse cups marked "Occupied Japan" were souvenirs sent to my aunt by a relavite during World War II.

The cups marked "Fine Bone China" -- Anysley, Spoede and Wedgewood -- were given to my husband's grandmother by various friends who
traveled to Europe. She selected and drank from a different cup each morning. (What a lovely routine!)
The great uncle was mayor of a small southern town in the 1920s. He and his wife did lots of entertaining in their home, and served guests from the tiny footed cups at the end of meals.

The bright floral cup with the chipped rim and deeply stained white interior held Grandma's tea. She was a rugged Depression-era farm wife, but enjoyed a soothing cup of hot tea each morning -- a few moments of quiet refinement in a day usually filled with chores and manual labor. The cups' stained finish speaks of a thousand early mornings filled with her favorite warm amber beverage.

Each cup and saucer in my collection is unique. Each has a story. And I enjoy and appreciate each one. I like to think about the people who may have sipped from these cups -- members of the church service guild and the bridge club ladies, a young widow, the weekly quilting group, small-town politicians and circuit pastors, war brides and hard-working rural housewives. I gently hold the cups and feel a connection to those who drank from them long ago.

In today's fast-paced world, tea is often gulped from a coated paper cup or a Styrofoam cup. Tastes great and soothes the soul, but there's something special about sipping from a delicate china cup. It's a way to truly savor a few moments of luxury in a fast-paced world.

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