When you work in an office, you develop some strange habits. It’s said that routine is the enemy of innovation, but here at Tobias & Tobias, there is one area in which we would disagree this applies.
At 11:00 every day, a small cohort of the team congregates in the food preparation area to perform a ritual. No one knows the origins of ‘tea time’ or why it must be performed at precisely 11 am, but it is considered folly to organise a meeting that runs from 11 am and causes one to miss it. Although not compulsory, once a member starts to attend they quickly become central to the ritual. Excuses based upon having “already had one that morning” are frowned upon.
We leave our workstations silently and greet each other with reverence. Each brings a ceramic vessel. Each vessel is chosen by the individual for its specific qualities: size, weight, the thickness of the material or shape. Some are very attached to their vessel and will not use another. Others prefer not to wash the vessel between uses to increase the intensity of the experience.
We place small porous sacks filled with pungent dried leaves into each of the vessels. Some of the group have two in order to heighten the effects.
We exchange short anecdotes while the water being heated reaches a specified temperature. When the water is ready, a member of the group collects milk from a nearby cooling cupboard. Delivered by a ‘milkman’ (only some groups have one and are considered privileged to be served by him) in small opaque containers after an elaborate ritual to remove evil spirits, the milk can be entirely or partially purged of fat, and certain members of the group attest to the qualities of each. Usually, partially purged milk is agreed upon.
The ritual master, Mey, knows the preferences of each member of the group. Some require the tea sweetened with sugar. Measuring of the sugar can take up to 20 seconds and is a matter of some consideration. Other members of the group believe the addition of sugar to be sacrilegious.
During this time, the sacks of dried tea leaves have been ‘brewing’. Certain members of the group may become agitated, worried that the tea will become “too strong” or “get that weird film on the top from the hard water”. Some demand that the tea ‘bag’ is removed before the milk is added. If the ritual is broken, the tea must be thrown away as it becomes undrinkable, so each member watches carefully as their tea is prepared.
Once all the vessels are filled, they are distributed. Errors in handling the correct vessel to the correct member of the group can result in offence. These errors can take days to recover from and may even cause a rift in the group.
Once each member has their vessel, a final element of the ritual takes place. The ritual master is thanked, and standing together silently, the group takes a collective first sip. Often, some members of the group will make loud blowing and slurping noises, or expel satisfied sighs.
Murmurs of appreciation are shared, and the group returns to their work.
Seen above, fear of interruption of tea drinking can be acute.