Natasha waited in line at the Transparent Temple – the nickname for their state-of-the-art community centre. Damn, she thought, there’s almost two hundred people here already; I wish I’d come earlier. Still, she remained hopeful.

“What do you think of our chances?” said the boy. He was being friendly, but also chatting her up, she thought. He appeared somewhat nerdy, but didn’t make her feel uncomfortable. There was no need yet to pull out her pepper spray.

“Pretty good,” said Natasha. “But I wish they were better.”

“I came at six am, and there was hardly a soul here,” said the boy. “So I went for a…”

“A coffee!” Natasha burst out laughing. “That’s what I did too. How stupid. I was only gone half an hour, and came back to this. By the way, I’m Natasha.”

“Hi, I’m Bobby. Have you attended a Tea Party before?” The queue eased a little, and they moved forward two feet.

“No, but I’ve been dying to go for ages. I missed the one in the City, and the one in Strattus. I’m so glad they decided to do an extra date here.”

Tea Parties began in England last year, and were now a global phenomenon. Their Anglo-Indian founder had very fond memories of clubbing from his youth, but now he’d hit forty, could no longer take the pace. He decided his future lay in being Teetotal: totally devoted to tea.

There are two origin stories for tea. The first concerns the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung. He was sitting beneath a Camellia Sinensis tree while his servant boiled water, a common practice to purify it. A leaf from the tree blew into the water, creating a pleasing aroma.  Shen Nung tried the brew and declared it an auspicious drink. The second story is that of Indian sage Bodhidharma, who spread Buddhism to China. He practiced very fierce austerities, believing in the power of ceaseless meditation and prayer. He fell asleep one day, and was so disgusted with himself that he cut off his own eyelids, and threw them away. From these holy relics the first tea bush sprouted.

The founder of Tea Parties was inspired by this story, and adoped the name of the sage. The new Bodhidharma decided there was a higher way to have fun, to connect with others, to avoid the toxins of alcohol and drugs, and negative effects of dehydration and sleep deprivation. The Way was all day Tea Parties.

“One of my friends has gone crazy,” said Bobby. “He’s taken a year’s sabbatical from his law firm, and attended Tea Parties all over the world. He started in England, where he had the most amazing luck. A girl he met in an arty bar knew one of the Tea-Jays. She got him into the Tea Party at Buckingham Palace! It was a classy affair; Will and Kate were there.”

“Wow!” said Natasha. “Now that’s what I call networking. Where else did he go?”

“The English Party was prim and proper. There was Earl Grey tea in bone china cups, followed by ballroom dancing. He wanted to try another country so went to India. He must have turned on the charm, because he got invited to attend a Tea Party at the Taj Mahal. They sat in rose-gardens and drank spicy chai from small clay cups, and then engaged in bhangra dancing, before smashing them. Next he went to Russia, and believe it or not, made it to the Kremlin. They mixed teas from a giant samovar, added vodka, and did Cossack-dancing. He particularly enjoyed that one. He went on to China, Korea, and Japan. In Japan they…”

Bobby cut the conversation when the line jumped forward. Within a few minutes he and Natasha were at the front of the queue. The bouncers waved them in. “Well aren’t you going to search me?” said Bobby. Natasha was surprised; most people would have gladly been spared the indignity of a body search. However you attempt to civilize it, it is, essentially, hairy dimwits groping you. But Bobby insisted upon it. And now that this protocol was established, bouncers searched Natasha and everyone else.

“What was that about?” said Natasha. “Because of you my pepper spray and mickey of rum got confiscated. No one else seemed bothered.”

“I’m sorry to upset you. But the essence of a Tea Party is purity. We can’t have people bringing in additives. That would ruin the whole effect.” Natasha shook her head. Maybe he was a creep after all – and now she was defenceless. She decided to distance herself from Bobby. She smiled and said, “See you later.”

The Tea Party wasn’t starting for another hour yet, but the Tea-Jay was already at his blending desk. And it wasn’t just some local lad with an ipod. Tea-Jays undertook a one-year, full-time apprenticeship. Internships in Ottawa – or at Google, Facebook, or Goldman Sachs – were child’s play compared to acceptance onto the Tea-Jay program. It was said that twelve people had been trained by Bodhidharma, of whom only six graduated. Their identities were never revealed. Today’s Tea-Jay wore a V for Vendetta mask. It was a little creepy.

Natasha seated herself on a cushion in half-lotus position. There was an even split of girls and guys, maybe 250 people in all.

The lights were dimmed, and soft chants filled the hall. The first cup was served. It was a delicate brew.

Chants became stronger. The second cup was served. It had a fresh flavour.

Light beats kicked in. The third cup was served. It had a hint of cinnamon.

Beats became harder. The fourth cup was served. It tasted of maple and chocolate.

A counter melody came in. The fifth cup was served. Its taste was of peppermint, and vanilla, and clotted cream.

The melody ascended. The sixth cup was served. It held many flavours – toffee, whisky, and yeast; melons, quail, and burnt caramel.

The melody expanded, and filled the room. The seventh cup was served. It was the agony of leaves unfolding, giving every part of themselves. It did not contain the previous mistakes of starting at the bottom – with bohea leaves, and working your way up to flowery orange pekoe. Instead you started at the bud, and worked downwards, encompassing all possible flavours. There were no broken leaves that had been crushed, torn and curled; only whole leaves that were withered and rolled by Masters. High rainfall and high elevation were there. Black, White, Oolong, Green, and Fermented teas. This final cup was brewed at the highest temperature to extract the large complex phenolic molecules. These active substances were shared with all the Tea Lovers present here now. They spoke of love, and beauty, and poetry; of hope, faith, and courage; of sadness and despair; and of dreams coming true, and spending forever immersed in bliss.

Bodhidharma didn’t mind filling in for his Tea-Jays in a crisis, and he enjoyed queuing up with the crowd. It gave him a feel for the energy present, plus helped to preserve his anonymity when entering and leaving. He preferred being known as Bobby rather than Bodhidharma. He smiled behind the blending desk and thought, “Another successful Brewing; Complete Infusion.” He wondered if they even knew that they were all on their feet, dancing and chanting, “Camellia Sinensis!”


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