One of my favorite quotes about tea is from Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog: “When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things.” It is the ability to appreciate the small, beautiful things in life that ground and enrich the landmark moments. I believe this sentiment also rings true when the act of drinking tea (or coffee) becomes a communal event.
Tea and coffee have always been social drinks, much like cocktails. Cocktails for me, however, exist in a different social realm. Cocktails are about fun, excitement, they’re often associated with glamor and frivolity. Where cocktails are the life of the party, coffee and tea represent something a little more grounded; we seek comfort in a hot cup of Earl Grey, or inspiration in the form of an espresso fuelled caffeine fix. Tea and coffee are also a form of social currency; they provide an avenue for catching up with an old friend, or forging new relationships with prospective friends or romantic partners. There is very little stress associated with spending a few hours chatting in a cafe.
Working at Oxford Exchange, I see these thoughts put into practice every day. One of my favorite aspects of working there is chatting with the customers who sit at the tea bar and tell us a little about themselves. Two high school best friends reunite for the first time in years and decide to split a pot of Rose Oolong. A man arrives early for a blind date, he orders an iced Peach Oolong to pass the time and calm his nerves. Business colleagues discuss an upcoming project while sipping chai lattes. The little details change from day to day, but there is always a yearning for human connection in these interactions. However small, these moments do amount to something great and, in my opinion, rather beautiful.