A GENUINE CUP OF TEA by Leigh Hunt

A GENUINE CUP OF TEA.

Did you ever return home from a long journey, cold wet, and weary, and unexpected, after tea was over and the tea leaves ejected from the silver? Bright eyes glistened at the sight of you—perhaps more than one pair, and a silvery voice names the magic word "Tea." Out of some dozen of these instances did it ever occur to you— when the tea had been made for you alone—to partake a cup whose delicious fragrance had dwelt ever after on your palate, like a vision of paradise, and of which you have sometimes a difficulty of persuading yourself that it was not all a dream? Such an instance once occurred to me, not after a journey, but at a dining out. I left the animals at their accustomed wine, and followed on the track of the girls, some of whom were so full of charms that, had Hebe fallen sick, they might have supplied her place at the board of Jove without the fair nectar-bearer being missed.

An hermetically scaled canister was brought, containing a single pound ; not a leaden canister, but one of tin; not block tin, either, but the pure metal—thin, while, glittering, and crackling. Talk of the charms of an uncouth novel, indeed ! Give me the opening of such a virgin case, pure as it left China. It was not green tea, it was not black tea ; neither too young nor too old ; not unpleasing with astringence, on the one hand, nor with the vapid, half-earthly taste of decayed matter, on the other ; it was tea in its most perfect state, full charged with aroma, which, when it was opened, diffused its fragrance through the whole apartment, putting all other perfumes to shame. About an ounce was then rubbed to powder by my fair Hebe, and deposited in its broad, shallow, silver receiver, with just cold water enough to saturate it. After standing twenty minutes, hot water off the boil, as it is technically called—that is, free from ebullition—was poured on it, amounting in quantity to three quarters of a pint, and the lid was closely shut down on it, while the cylindrical-shaped tea cup was placed on the spout to catch the aroma thence issuing. At the expiration of a minute it was poured out (what a beautiful hand it was!) and the rich globules of essential oil might be seen floating on the surface—a perfect treasure of delight. A small portion of Alderney cream was instantly added to prevent the escape of the essential oil, and just sufficient of the brilliant, large, crystalized sugar, to neutralize the slight bitter. Oh, heavens ! to sip that most exquisite cup of delight, was bliss almost too great for earth. A thousand years of rapture all concentrated in the space of a minute, as if the joys of all the world had been skimmed for my peculiar drinking ! I should rather say imbibing, for to have swallowed that liquid like an ordinary beverage, without tasting every drop, would have been sacrilege.—Leigh Hunt.