By Marcee Murray King
There is a magic found in threes.
I always come to attention a bit more when things happen in threes, noticing the significance of the moment, waiting to find out what follows, or—as I did this time—stepping into it as if it is an invitation to something new.
This is how I had my life-changing cup of tea.
I was visiting my son in Ashville, North Carolina. We met each other downtown for lunch, and while walking to a restaurant he pointed to Dobra Tea and said, “Mom, you should go there.” I looked at it, thought “eh,” and walked into the Indian restaurant. While we ate, we discussed what I would do that afternoon while I wandered town, as I am not a good tourist nor much of a shopper. Again he told me, “You should really go have tea at Dobra.” Mentioned twice. A blip on my radar. He had to go back to work, and as we parted he reminded me a third time, “Really, if you can’t find anything to do, stop by Dobra.”
Three times he told me.
I wandered into stores, was mostly bored and started wandering back to my car, thinking I would rather go sit on the porch of his mountain home. I saw a used bookstore (always a hit with me), walked in and found a copy of Eknath Easwaran’s “Words to Live By.” Perfect! As I walked out after making my purchase, I saw Dobra Tea across the street in front of me. Sigh. I didn’t want to sit down and order a cup of tea, but he had told me to try it out. Three times he told me.
Three. Three is the magic number.
I walked in and through. First space: tables and windows open to the street. Second space: soft booths with quiet comfort. Third space: shoes off and sitting with legs crossed in the mostly-dark with quiet whispering. I chose space two.
I sat in the corner. Catty-cornered along the wall were two men having a business meeting, and they were the loudest in this whole space. A waitress came and sat a menu in front of me—it was thick. Quite thick. And she placed a bell with a wooden handle next to it.
“When you are ready to order, just ring the bell.”
Oh my. So many levels of discomfort. How would she hear me and know which table was ringing the bell? Did I actually have to ring a bell? How could I possibly choose a tea to try when I know nothing about tea? And when I said the menu was thick, I am talking about 50 pages worth of thick. How to choose?
Last night I was talking about how I want to go to Vietnam someday. There were only two teas from Vietnam on the menu, both green. I had never thought much of green tea because I didn’t think there was much flavor to it—it sort of reminded me of grass—but I was trying new things, so why not a pot of Vietnamese green tea? There was also a very short list of desserts to try…vegan cookies and mochi filled with red bean paste. The mochi sounded great to me—an only slightly-sweet treat.
I closed the menu and sat there, hoping someone would just notice me and I wouldn’t have to jingle that damned bell. No such luck. I sighed, and gave in and rang that bell. A waitress quietly came straight to me.
You know how people can discuss the subtle nuances of wine or fine cigars? The servers at Dobra are like that, but with tea. Very impressive. I asked her to help me pick between the two teas. She told me about the subtle differences between the two. To me, it sounded like a foreign language that I didn’t understand. I told her I was from out of state and this was the one time I would probably ever be there, and asked her to please pick for me. Not too long later she arrived with a clear pot of hot water sitting on a little stand with a tea candle below it. Yes, a tea candle actually used for tea. My mochi was on a plate, looking delicious. And there was a little round brown tea cup without a handle. Next to is was a small porcelain blue-willow style “cup” with a lip all the way around and a lid on top called a gaiwan.
“Do you know the repeat infusion method for making tea?” she asked. No, I didn’t. She explained that the gaiwan was ready for me to pour off into the brown cup, and that when I wanted a new cup I just needed to refill the gaiwan with the hot water, let it steep for a minute, then pour it off and drink it. I thanked her and poured the first cup of tea out of the gaiwan.
I sipped it. Bland. Typical green tea. Drinking grass.
I looked around for some sugar, but there wasn’t any around, anywhere; it was absent from all tables. I paused a moment and then realized that sweetener in tea is my habit, but maybe this tea wasn’t meant to have any. Maybe I just needed to try and really taste the tea. I sniffed. Sipped again. I started noticing more flavors, subtle ones that I had not noticed before. For the first time, I realized how wonderful green teas may be if appreciated just as they were when truly savored.
That is when everything got very strange. The tea house was already very quiet. I pulled out my little book and started reading quotes and Easwaran’s musings on them. Each new cup of tea tasted different than the one before—apparently, something that happens when steeped this way, one cup at a time, reusing the same leaves. Time lost its hold on me. As I sipped more tea, everything seemed brighter—sharper—and I felt so deeply peaceful. I felt fully present. There was only now, and there was no time. I wanted to feel like this for the rest of my life.
After a while, I realized I had been in there far too long. Time hadn’t really stopped—it only felt like it had. I wanted to sit there longer, hold onto that moment, and keep sipping on that life-changing cup of tea. But all things must come to an end, and I finally put my book in my bag and went to pay. That was when I noticed all the gaiwans they had for sale. Oh my. I could have my own! Did I really need one? No, and to me they were pricey. I left.
That evening I was telling my son about this amazing tea experience. I talked about the mochi with red bean paste—and then the gaiwan and the joy of drinking tea in this way. I told him I almost bought one but talked myself out of it. “Mom,” he said, “just go get one if you liked it so much.” I thought about it, and decided we should stop back down there the next day.
I looked at what they had, the costs, and then realized that the collection of locally made gaiwans also came with their own matching cup. I decided to select the one that looked the most like the cup I used at Dobra and bought the set.
My life-changing cup of tea and my own gaiwan have given me a gift: a mindful cup of tea. I decided that I may only drink green tea out of my gaiwan if I stop everything else and sit down, either with nothing to do but experience the tea or with Easwaran’s book that I read off and on with that life-changing cup.
Now I drink my tea out of my gaiwan, really paying attention to the experience in the present, allowing that soma memory of my life-changing cup of tea to wash over me.
Photo: The Bojon Gourmet
Feature photo: (source)
Editor: Dana Gornall
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