I remember, many years ago, when tea leaves were used to make tea. A teapot often came with a beautiful snug cover, called a tea cosy, just to keep the teapot warm. There was even a mini industry - where the local grandmothers would compete with each other to create the best and most beautiful tea cosies .
Tea making was an art, and many long discussions went around the process. Some people warmed the pot first, others put their tea in first - others the hot water. There were rules for the amount of time that tea must steep, before it was ready for pouring.
There were beautiful tea strainers made, it seemed, by master crafters. The tea maker would proudly produce the strainers for the pouring of the tea.
But the best thing about tea leaves, teapots and strainers - was the giving and the sharing. It was the wonderful sense of family and community, that was warmly apparent, when we sat down together around a pot of tea.
One of us, normally mum, would prepare the tea, and we would share it together. There would be great conversation. World issues would easily be resolved, problems would be fixed and homely advice would be shared. Or we would all hug our cups, and simply sink into a warm and comfortable silence, together.
Then came the ubiquitous tea bag. Designed for the individual, to prepare a single, lonely and swift cup of tea. Initially, families would work out how many bags to put into the pot, and still drink together. As time went by, we began to make a cup of tea for ourselves. Some people retained their need to give, and made tea for others. But they would often walk off in different directions to drink their tea.
Recently I bought tea leaves in error. They lay lonely in our cupboard, until I awoke one day to find that we had no tea bags. I searched high and low, and found a tea pot and a very ugly mass-produced tea strainer. Wisely, I put the tea into the tea strainer and poured the hot water over it, into my cup. I jiggled the strainer as I tried to get the tea to steep into my single cup of hot water. It worked eventually - and I had my lonely cup of tea.
maMahlaba laughed and said, “Mthimkulu, we normally put the tea in the pot, and then pour through the strainer into the cups.” I was aghast! I had even forgotten how to make a pot of tea! A simple traditional art, is dying. The unity of the tea pot was gone forever.
Within traditional African and Asian communities families eat together, drink together and share everything. The sense of togetherness is strong.
In the rural areas of Africa, large beer pot is shared and passed from person to person. A 2 litre cool drink is opened and shared in much the way that tea once was. Communal pots and dishing bowls are placed in the centre of the table.
Sadly, as the World becomes more individual, so to do our people become more insular and lonely. Generally, our societies have become “faster is better” places. Almost everything is packaged for one person, for speed, and for separateness.
We often drink our tea alone in our offices. Food, in many families, has become something you eat to live. The TV becomes the source of family wisdom at dinner, as we separately eat we negate our love and relationships. Our kids sit absorbed in their inner worlds, with their eyes stuck on the computer, or some mind-warping TV game. Sadly, many of us are as focussed on our PCs, as the young people are.
What are we creating for their future families? Will they be able to talk, and build relationships comfortably? Or will having a family be a duty to perform, and talking only happen when there is a specific need?
We think that we have improved the World, with all of these new ideas and inventions. We are saving time and becoming mor efficient! Yet we are the greatest losers, as we have lost so much of the warmth of family and team. We have caused ourselves to carry our stresses alone, and we suffer the consequences - in our health and happiness.
Methinks it is time. Time to share a pot of tea, time to sit down together and just be people. It may be confusing at first. We may not know what to talk about. It will take practice, and it will take time. Yet, we can get back to a time when people added value to us, and where we added to them.
So my friends, get the old tea pot out of the cupboard, buy yourselves some tea leaves, look for a tea strainer and get your family, or team life back! It will be worth it!
Brian V Moore
Team Building in South Africa
Johannesburg - South Africa
May 28, 2009.