Too Long Tea by Richard LeBlond

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pile of Pingcha tea

There is a chocolate shop in the town of Joseph, at the foot of the Wallowa Mountains in northeastern Oregon. I visited the candy maker after discovering it is also a coffeehouse. Tea and a laptop would perfectly follow a morning in the alpine zone on Mount Howard. (The mountain has a tram to the summit, which is how my septuagenarian body got there and back in a morning.)

I asked the person at the counter what kind of tea they had. She waved her arm along a cabinet adjacent to the counter, filled with maybe 15 clear glass containers of loose tea, most with names I had never heard of.

“I have no idea which one to choose,” I said. “But maybe you can solve an old mystery for me. I once had a tea that tasted like new mown hay smells, and I would love to have it again.”

Behind the counter person was a large work area devoted to the store’s main activity, the making of chocolate confections. Three or four women were working back there at large tables. The moment I posited my recollection, a strikingly beautiful, tall, dark woman at the farthest table raised an arm. (She looked Mediterranean, though I am holding out for Nez Perce.) The woman wiped her hands on a damp cloth, came over to the counter, and asked a question that severed my anchor and set me adrift.

“Has the hay just been mown, or has it been lying on the ground for a while?”

As she asked her luminous question, full of portent and promise, she gently grasped my right hand between both of hers, our fingers extended. It was a surprising and intimate gesture. She couldn’t have been more than 25 years old. Although possibly denoting a personality disorder, there was excitement, even a hint of breathlessness, in her voice, as if we had set off on a wondrous adventure.

I would have robbed banks with her.

Somewhat less than fully conscious, I said the hay had been lying on the ground for a while. She brewed me a cup of Pingcha tea, which the Chinese normally ferment and age for five to 15 years. But the batch she brewed had been aged for 75 years.

After I tasted it, I realized the hay had been lying on the ground too long. I should have asked for the “just been mown” tea, but that was now a minor point – except as a reason to return.

When she asked if it were the tea of memory, I lied, and said the too long tea was the treasure I had been seeking.

In love and politics, truth is merely an option.


Richard_Leblond by water windyRichard LeBlond is a biologist living in North Carolina, where he worked for that state’s Natural Heritage Program until his retirement in 2007. He continues his biological research, and has added travel, photography, and writing. He says he had always wanted to be a “creative” writer but was unable to do so until he demoted his inner critic from chairman to alternate member. He has been writing about travel to Europe and North Africa in the 1970s, and more recent adventures in eastern Canada and the U.S. West. His essays and photographs have appeared in several U.S. and international journals.
Story image credit: Flickr Creative Commons/yoppy

  2 comments for “Too Long Tea by Richard LeBlond

  1. So much to appreciate in such a short piece: honesty (and the places chosen to withhold it), humor and a way of bringing me right along with you into the tea shop through your descriptions. Thank you for sharing your too long tea!

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