On Afternoon Tea Being Over All Too Soon
a tiny kettle
bubbles, we taste sweet treats and
cherry blossom tea
On Saturday we, that is my beautiful sister and I, took afternoon tea at the Chaya Teahouse in Westbourne Park in London – an oasis of calm, much needed after our flustered late arrival. From the multitude of teas on offer I picked sakura sencha, a dark green tea flecked with cherry blossom and was told the story of how the petals had been gathered by our host’s tea master in Japan from a tree in his garden. A little metal kettle boiled continuously on a heater on our table and our pots and cups were laid out ready for the ritual to begin. We were shown how to rinse the little pots, swirl the tea, drink from small cups, only holding a few slips of tea. A platter with open sandwiches was laid down – on first glance they didn’t look hugely exciting but when you tasted them – wow! Toasted wakame seaweed bread, topped with a fusion of flavours from East and West – cheddar with a ginger and plum preserve and little translucent pink pickles, creamy egg mayonnaise topped with silky smooth slices of chilli-coated bamboo (nothing like the tasteless slices you find in tins and anonymous stir-fries), and finally a garlicky miso-pickled cream cheese topped with curved fans of thinly sliced cucumber. Sandwiches but not as we know them! Each one so flavour-full and artful.
Then came the sweet treats – almost too beautiful to destroy! A warm scone, soft as a cloud, broken open to be spread with sticky rose petal preserve and topped with another cloud of clotted cream. How scones should be and a delight after the day-old, stone cold, stone-like scone we had at one of Edinburgh’s gallery cafes the week before. A stunning white square of carved marzipan, the proper stuff, that broke open to show a sliver of the pinkest guava gel. A chunk of the most amazing seed cake, light sponge topped with a lusciously sharp mango sauce. A large shard of peanut and szechuan pepper brittle – a strange texture but an unexpected burst of flavour and less cloyingly sweet as the traditional pure sugar versions that weld your teeth together. Two small soft chocolatey truffles, coated in coconut ended the petite feast. I had a dozen or so tiny cups of my cherry blossom tea and also a few stolen mouthfuls of my sister’s chosen tea – an even more delicious blend, light, slightly roasted, with a hint of citrus and the floral aroma of gardenias. We ate each morsel slowly, sipped our tiny teas, not wanting to rush through the experience, conscious with bite that our lovely afternoon tea would be over. A sense of sadness as each sweet treat was eaten and the clock hands ticked ever closer to the end of our allotted time. I tried to explain to my sister what wabi-sabi, the name of our chosen afternoon tea option, meant. My take on it is the bittersweet beauty of impermanence, summed up perfectly by the cherry blossoms in my tea. So gorgeous when in bloom but a tinge of sadness that you know they will soon fade and fall but that makes them all the more beautiful in that moment. I’ve read about it being far more eloquently put as transitory or short-lived beauty and enjoying objects which are fading or weathered. Enjoying the moment and life’s simple pleasures and bringing more of these into our lives. A way of life which helps us to connect with our true essence; the place within us where peace, serenity and harmony reside. And tea. And cake. Lots of cake resides there too…