The Journey of Tea
It was a rainy afternoon in the center of London. Small puddles had been formed on the sidewalks of Charles Street, as a result of a worker’s poor craftsmanship.
However, a look from the window of No 18 revealed a totally different picture. A spacious room with dark wooden wall coverings and ornate Persian carpets hosted the library of Lord Salisbury, who was sitting on a comfortable armchair in front of the lit fireplace. Opposite to him was sitting his beloved friend, Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerstone, a gentleman he had met at the club.
While they were discussing about the news of the week, the door to the room opened and an enchanting scent flooded the air.
– Your tea is ready sirs, said the middle-aged butler holding a tray with a porcelain teapot, two cups and some delights.
– You may leave it here Tomas, said the Lord showing a small table.
The butler placed the tray on it and served tea to the gentlemen. Mr. Salisbury added two cubes of sugar and some milk, while Mr. Temple avoided so, to enjoy the pure taste of tea.
Mr. Temple brought the cup close to his face and commented:
– What a lovely scent!
– Lovely scent, told Salim while he smelled the scent of tea from his earthen mug.
Salim lived with his wide and their seven children on the Ceylon heights. He worked hard at the tea plantations managed by the East India Company to make a living. Their house comprised a single room, where the entire family lived.
– When will Taylor come? Asked Latica, his wife.
– He will come tomorrow to take the tea of the week and transport it to the town for drying.
– How much will you earn?
– About 50 pounds. Its value has decreased due to the lack of rain in the area over the last month. We won’t make it.
Their state was poor. Their seven-year old son, Zafar, was very sick. They had already lost two children at birth.
Their children were asleep. The two of them had sat close to the small fire to get warm, after a long day of hard work. Every day, they’re used to getting up early, before sunrise, to go to the plantation and take care of the plants or, when harvesting time came, to collect the tea leaves. Ceylon, which was under British occupation, was mired in poverty, while the British colonial masters were wallowing in riches.
On the next day, James Taylor, a local landowner and the first to have brought the tea on the island, came to pick up the harvest of the week. His men loaded the trunks with the tea on elephants and Taylor paid Salim the minimum amount.
– I hope that you are satisfied, he told him and left.
Salim looked at the meager money and thought that he would have to get by them. Tea may not have made them rich, but it was keeping them alive.
At the port of Colombo, a ship loaded with tea was ready to sail to the capital of the empire on which the sun never sets. The nineteen-year old Yohan, a child from Scotland, was making his first trip as a mariner. He had been recruited a few months ago at the port of Edinburgh. He spent those months at sea and at exotic ports of the empire and beyond it. It was very common at the time for young middle-class men to sail around the world on merchant ships.
The captain, a stout middle-aged man, wanted the crew to obey his orders. The ship would depart in half an hour and the mariners worked hard to avoid being scolded by the strict captain. Yohan was keeping a diary, in which he recorded his travelling experiences and adventures, with the purpose of publishing a book when he would return home.
When the ship departed, everything seemed to be tranquil. Yohan was lying on the deck of the vessel, looking at the port that was getting smaller and smaller. Everything was calm and the hold was filled with tonnes of tea, intended for consumption by the British people.
A week later, while nothing was seen on the horizon, there suddenly appeared the mast of a sailing vessel. The lookout looked through binoculars and realized that the vessel flied no flag.
When the distance between the two vessels diminished, it was obvious that the vessel was not coming in peace. The vessels were off the coast of West Africa, an area where pirates often set traps. As soon as the captain realized what was happening, he called all crew members on the deck.
– Our ship is in danger!
– What will we do, captain? Asked a sailor anxiously.
– We will try to get away and, if we don’t make it, we will defend to the death the vessel to save the cargo.
The pirates’ ship had got very close to theirs. The captain ordered them to haul in the cannons, but realized that they had very little ammunition, as they had left most of it at the port, to make more room for the tea. Everything suggested that there was no hope.
The two vessels were now side by side. The dark-skinned pirates started jumping on the vessel and fighting at close quarters with the sailors. The battle was fierce. The sailors tried to prevent the pirates from stealing the cargo and killing them. With the few weapons they had, they had to defend themselves against the tough pirates, who had heavy weapons in their possession. Yohan leaped with courage and beat off the opponents’ attacks as if he were a perfectly trained soldier. The battle seemed lost already.
However, a few minutes later, fortunately a British warship appeared like a deus ex machina. The ship arrived quickly and defeated the pirates. So, it saved the merchant ship with her crew and, consequently, her valuable cargo. Four of the ship’s men, though, would never reach their destination.
Yohan recorded all details of his adventure in his notebook and was thinking that, some years later, he would narrate that story to the youth and they would not believe it. His life had been at great risk, but he seemed to be thrilled.
Mary entered the Twinings store at Strand Street, London. The store, a quite small place, was filled with shelves, on which beautiful glass jars with all kinds of tea stood.
– I would like some black aromatic tea?
– Is it for you?
– Of course not, I’m just a maid. I only drink the tea my master chooses for us.
– I see. Has your master any preference in terms of origin?
– Yes. Ceylon.
– Good. I have a new blend that arrived just yesterday. It contains various blossoms, citrus fruit peels and rose petals. Its scent is extraordinary.
– I’ll take it. Could you give me half a kilo, please?
The seller opened a jar and started filling another smaller one. Mary was enchanted both by the scent of the tea and by the seller’s politeness.
– Ten pounds, please.
Mary paid and headed back home. All way back, she was thinking about the young seller. She had fallen for him. She couldn’t have known at the time that, a few years later, they would have built a beautiful family with three children. She may have never drunk that tea, but it sealed her fate.
Lord Salisbury brought the cup to his lips and took a sip.
– That tea is marvelous.
– But how else could it be?
We want to give a special thank you to Kyriakos for his short story.
He is one of our favorite customers, we know him for many years, since he has been enjoying his tea in our teahouse as a little child, a teenager and now an adult.