Tea is one of the few things that has followed me throughout life. Palates develop, cravings come and go, phases emerge and fade away. Coffee, hot chocolate, Horlicks have had their moments. But tea is the perennial companion. To say that tea has evolved with me, through the peaks and the valleys, is to undermine the influence tea has had on how I have traversed the terrain. Even then, the picture might be incomplete. I have begun to wonder lately how much influence tea has on the development of the landscape itself.
There are two distinctive Samatar Elmi’s; before and after tea. I tried a couple of years back to quit all caffeine. It was an unmitigated failure. I could barely keep my eyes open after 7pm, falling asleep in my couch like a man twice my age. It was embarrassing. I quit quitting.
It’s not just the buzz. I like to see myself as a true connoisseur of the flavor; the ritual. Few things piss me off more than a Darjeeling in the morning for the first mug. God help you if you even think about drinking an Earl Grey, or heaven forbid, a Lapsang Souchong, in my presence before you’ve had a strong Assam. I don’t play that shit!
There are few luxuries in life that can compare to good company, a blazing sun, and a well brewed Ceylon, which goes into another gear entirely as a homemade iced tea. But like anything in life worth doing, you have to take the process seriously. If you’ve never considered the water hardness when you’re making a cupper, you’re playing yourself. Yorkshire Tea is a great blend for studying the impact of the local water on cracking the leaves open. A cup of Yorkshire can go from the sublime to the ridiculous depending on where you are in the country. And you can really go into overdrive; the temperature of the water before you brew, timing the exact duration.
But really, we drink tea as a communal act, a social ritual. Though I easily go through ten cups a day typing away at my desk, it’s the cups I drink with family and friends that go beyond quenching a simple thirst. The act of sharing a moment over a cup of tea has come to define hospitality, respect and, yes I said it, love. The tea shops around the diaspora have sustained our people for centuries – because, contrary to popular understanding, Somalis have always been a seafaring people, with hundreds (if not thousands) of years of exploration, trade and migration. For at least the most recent centuries we have had a strong tea drinking tradition, taking our leaves with us around the world. From the maqaaxis of Aden to the cafés of Cardiff’s Tiger Bay, we continue to convene in spaces that are quiet celebrations of this glorious obsession. In the 1950s, there were five tea houses belonging to Somali merchant seamen in Hull alone. My grandfather met my nana in a Somali tea house. You might call it fate that I would feel this strongly about this magic little leaf. It was meant to be.
AN ODE TO TEA
Samatar Elmi is a poet, PhD candidate and educator. His writing plays in the liminal spaces between racial, socio-cultural and political identity claims. He has been shortlisted for the Venture Award, the Complete Works II, New Generation African Poets and is a graduate of the Young Inscribe Mentoring Program. Poems have appeared in Magma, Iota, Scarf, Ink Sweat and Tears, Myths of the Near Future, the Echoing Gallery, and the Cadaverine. He is currently a Numbi resident poet and Obsidian fellow.
Image credit Aindri C.
Inspired by Sumaya Teli’s Mamanushka post.
Massive thanks for allowing us to combine these gorgeous photos, recipe and poetic meditative Somali tea stories.
A Heady Ginger and Mint Tea with Aromatic Spices.
How To Make Homemade Shaah Somali click here.