Brett, the Tea Man

6 11 2004

It was mid-morning on a beautiful, fall Saturday in Seattle. We’d just finished a delicious breakfast at the 5 Spot, a fun and funky Queen Anne cafe, and we stepped out onto the sunny sidewalk. The trees lining the street were holding a color carnival in their branches, each shouting more loudly than the next. Their silent riot quickened our senses, and we plunged in among them with full tummies and an eye open for our next adventure.

Funny thing about adventure. It doesn’t always come with thrills or danger. Sometimes it shows up in the most surprising places and in unexpected packaging. We found ours across the street and a couple of blocks down when we wandered into the Tea Cup.

The young man behind the counter greeted us with a pleasant smile and asked if we’d like to taste the flavor of the day. “This one is called Poet’s Tea,” he said as he poured.

George, Grace, and I each lifted a white porcelain, handle-less cup and tasted the pale amber liquid. Our tastebuds tingled. This was not your typical flow-thru teabag experience.

Having received several gifts of tea leaves from his Taiwanese friend, I-kai, George has developed a discriminating taste. He glanced at the canisters behind the counter. “Do you have any oolong tea from China?”

The young man smiled and rang a bell on the counter. “You should talk to Brett.”

A few moments later another young man appeared from a back room. As wispy as a weeping willow branch, Brett approached us. He clasped his hands at his chest and dipped his head in a greeting. The subtle bow and the orange, oriental design on his navy-blue T-shirt provided the only hints at Brett’s passion. Shortly cropped, strawberry blond hair and tortoise-shell glasses — along with the “vegan” tattoo on his right bicep — suggested a typical Seattle college student. But Brett was a man of single mind.

He rarely made eye contact, and he spoke in almost a whisper, but once he began extolling the virtues of Chinese teas he became animated. Using a lidded tea cup, he prepared Shui Xian oolong tea, pouring hot water over the leaves, gently manipulating them with the lid as they steeped, all the while explaining where the tea is grown and how the leaves are processed. George asked questions. Brett knew the answers.

“Isn’t there some legend about monkey-picked teas?”

Yes, Brett explained, the ancient Chinese did train certain monkeys to pick the tea leaves that grew in high, hard-to-reach places on the mountains.

Another question brought out a book with maps. Brett told us he will be traveling to Taiwan in January. “I’ll be drinking tea nineteen hours a day.” He wasn’t joking.

George bought a half pound of Shui Xian Chinese oolong tea leaves. As Brett rang it up he asked if we knew about the tea-tasting event he hosts every Saturday afternoon at 3:00. Would we like to come back and participate? Of course we would.

When we returned, Brett took us and two other guests through the fine art of tea service as it is meant to be. He taught us how to “finger kneel” our thanks — a custom started by a Chinese emperor who loved to go out among his people and drink tea, but had to disguise himself to do it. The emperor always insisted on serving his entourage. They longed to bow to him in appreciation of the honor, but doing so would betray his identity. So they tapped the mid-joint of two fingers on the table. Finger kneeling. With each new infusion of tea Brett served, we tapped the table top and said, “Shyay shay.” (That’s a phonetic attempt at spelling the Chinese “thank you.”)

Brett warmed to us over time. He smiled and made more frequent eye contact. He even let George take his picture. As he served the tiny cups of tea again and again, he shared his dream of going to China or Taiwan every year for the rest of his life. “To better learn how to serve tea.”

We left with a couple of lidded tea cups, a strainer, a calm comfort gained from unhurried enjoyment of warm, fragrant tea, and a peaceful sense of having spent time with an artist who loves his art with passion and purpose.

Serving tea. It seems so insignificant in the overall scheme of things. But I can’t help wondering . . . if we all developed our passions and then devoted ourselves to serving one another, what would the world be like?

Comfortable, warm, fragrant, peaceful.

I didn’t expect to learn a profound lesson from the skinny, soft-spoken vegan in the tea shop on Queen Anne. But I learned several I hope I won’t forget.

Shyay shay, Brett.

Shyay shay.


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20 responses

7 11 2004
ilitherian

i want to be that man.

love,
luke

7 11 2004
ilitherian

i want to be that man.

love,
luke

7 11 2004
lbsteffy

I want to know that man.

7 11 2004
lbsteffy

I want to know that man.

7 11 2004
emma_furlong

Who is Brett? does he have an email address? Currently I am learning Italian so its keeping me rather busy at the moment, still……
Sono molto contenta!

7 11 2004
emma_furlong

Who is Brett? does he have an email address? Currently I am learning Italian so its keeping me rather busy at the moment, still……
Sono molto contenta!

7 11 2004
jeannedamoff

You know where to find him! ♥

7 11 2004
jeannedamoff

You know where to find him! ♥

7 11 2004
jeannedamoff

In your world, in your art, in your passion, be that man.

Love,
Mmmmz

7 11 2004
jeannedamoff

In your world, in your art, in your passion, be that man.

Love,
Mmmmz

7 11 2004
jeannedamoff

I don’t know if he has an e-mail address or not, but the shop’s website is http://www.seattleteacup.com

Pleasant journeys.

EZ

7 11 2004
jeannedamoff

I don’t know if he has an e-mail address or not, but the shop’s website is http://www.seattleteacup.com

Pleasant journeys.

EZ

8 11 2004
kathrynlena

the Mikado

my mother is also coming to the opera in january…so luke and i decided that you and she will have to get together and…ironically enough….have tea.
my mother loves tea, i think she would like this story
my sister lives in china so i think that she would also like this story
so Shyay shay for both of them

8 11 2004
kathrynlena

the Mikado

my mother is also coming to the opera in january…so luke and i decided that you and she will have to get together and…ironically enough….have tea.
my mother loves tea, i think she would like this story
my sister lives in china so i think that she would also like this story
so Shyay shay for both of them

8 11 2004
jeannedamoff

Re: the Mikado

I would be delighted to share a cup o’ tea with your mum!

I don’t remember how to say “You’re welcome” in Chinese. But you are.

♥ EZ

8 11 2004
jeannedamoff

Re: the Mikado

I would be delighted to share a cup o’ tea with your mum!

I don’t remember how to say “You’re welcome” in Chinese. But you are.

♥ EZ

8 11 2004
ragamuffen

I’ve tried to comment on this story several times, but the combo of myself and LJ are not working perfectly as of late.

I did want you to know that I loved this story.

I love meeting people with such a strong passion. I hope Brett gets to travel to China or Taiwan every year of his life to better learn to serve tea, as well.

Shyay Shay for the story, Elle.

8 11 2004
ragamuffen

I’ve tried to comment on this story several times, but the combo of myself and LJ are not working perfectly as of late.

I did want you to know that I loved this story.

I love meeting people with such a strong passion. I hope Brett gets to travel to China or Taiwan every year of his life to better learn to serve tea, as well.

Shyay Shay for the story, Elle.

9 11 2004
jeannedamoff

You’re welcome. And, since you’re one of my favorite story tellers, I truly appreciate the compliment.

xo

9 11 2004
jeannedamoff

You’re welcome. And, since you’re one of my favorite story tellers, I truly appreciate the compliment.

xo

Your comments are a gift. Please know I read each one with gratitude.

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