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POURING OUT/POURING IN

Pouring Out/Pouring In

Amongst other European and Indian nationalities, I largely descend from Burmese ‘Shans’, an ethnic minority from the Shan State in Burma. The Shan State is roughly the size of Texas and is a highland region, famous for its mountainous topography. Tea was introduced here via the ‘Tea Horse Road’, from the Yunnan and Sichuan provinces in China to Tibet, passing through Burma and Bengal. Here, bricks of Chinese tea were exchanged for Tibetan horses and this is possibly how tea was introduced to the Shan States. My ancestors would have most likely benefited from the tea trade and would have perfected the art of pickling leaves in order to make lahpet, fermented tea. (Shalimar, 2022).

This is the passage from my book which, most obviously, brought me to work with Suki Tea. It stands out as a direct reference to the enormous, sweeping scale of tea history and culture in East and South East Asia. Yet, as I open up a PDF of my book and use the ‘search’ function, seriously hoping I’ve got more to say on this matter, I surprise myself. The PDF tells me that the word ‘tea’ is everywhere. Early on, there is a mention of Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came To Tea, and its dark allusions to the ravenous destruction of war, then, there is Earl Grey, tea and sardine sandwiches, brown teapots which somersault in a flood, Burmese tea leaves, my parents sitting in our conservatory in Hayes sipping from their china cups, drinking tea elsewhere, in fact, in my aunt’s kitchen, in the garden with the dog. I do ‘tea’ as well. There’s me carrying a hot mug down the lane while my children ride their scooters, me at baby groups, me teaching online with a cold cup of tea, or several. During the latter stages of the pandemic, we take my mother out to tea at her favourite café and she removes her mask so that she might enjoy a quiet moment in wilds of Exeter. My father’s memories of his schooldays in Darjeeling, home to the most famous tea plantations of all, poured themselves into me as a child, and these images still swirl around inside of me as I stare out at an empty field from my bedroom window in Devon. He’s long gone now, but sometimes I see him lighting a cigarette and pacing the wheat fields, wind on his face, his hands slowly reaching out to feel the early shoots of spring crops. That field, which is not a tea plantation at all, but as close as I’ll get to standing where my father lived following the war. That field: a strange portal opened up in Devon and I enter it, willingly.

Please do check out:
Empire of Tea’ written and presented by Sathnam Sanghera 
Dispersals: On Plants, Borders and Belonging, Jessica J Lee (out now), contains a brilliant chapter on tea, ‘Words for Tea’.

Davina.