The hottest cup of tea

Sipping her favourite brew on the verandah long ago, Leone Redman stored up treasured memories and learned a lesson for life

Illustration by Tessa Alexander

In Trinidad, for generations, we have been a nation of tea-drinkers. The British governed the island for over 200 years, until 1962, and one of the things we adopted from them was a passion for tea. Tea rituals differ from culture to culture and from family to family, but my mother preferred black tea, and what Mom drinks the whole family drinks, so I have always liked tea, especially in the early evening after the day’s trials.

The tried and tested instructions for making a good pot of tea still hold true. The water must come to a tumbling boil, the teapot heated with boiling water, and the tea must steep for about three minutes.

Tea triggers some of my fondest childhood memories. I grew up in San Juan well off the main roads. Evenings were quiet then, and there was no television. We would have our tea and homemade cookies or sweetbread on the veranda in the early evening. We enjoyed seeing humming birds taking sips from flowering hibiscus hedges, or watching neighbourhood boys play a rousing game of street cricket.

But my favourite memories revolve around sipping tea and watching the sun go down. There are no scenes as beautiful as a Caribbean sunset.

I have lived in Canada now for almost 40 years, but have not lost my relationship with tea. I enjoy many types, like loose-leaf Chinese tea with a bit of honey, which I think goes better with something salt like crackers and cheese, rather than cookies. My sons were not particularly tea drinkers, but my granddaughter, at a very early age, enjoyed tea and biscuits with Grandma. She is now a young adult and we still enjoy our special time together over a cup of tea.

Several years ago, on one of my many trips to Trinidad, I discovered a new brand of flavoured tea, and immediately fell in love all over again. This is a product of the Ceylon Tea Company in Sri Lanka, a special blend of black tea, with such flavours as mango, passion fruit and my favourite, coconut. I have made converts in Canada, among my friends, to our particular blend of tea. Some have come to like it as much as I do. Tea energises, refreshes and heals us.

Our traditions might not be as old as those of China and India or Europe, and certainly not as elaborate. But this one is every bit as firmly entrenched in our Caribbean culture. It is part of our life, like sandy beaches and warm starry nights.

As a child, I would sometimes complain that the tea was too hot. My mother would say. “Just wait. The hottest cup of tea will cool.” Over the years, that has become a metaphor for my life. When faced with what seem like hot-button issues, I recall that advice – “the hottest cup of tea will cool” – and I have avoided making rash decisions.

And if I do make a bad decision, I have a cup of tea, close my eyes and imagine flocks of birds in the evening sky over the Caroni swamps as they come home to roost. Either way, it soothes me.