For most people, time is usually measured by clocks, watches or phones; for me it has always been measured by coffee. A bitter punctuation between deadlines, pick-ups, drop-offs and appointments, and a fuel that helps me tick things off lists, reach goals, meet expectations (sometimes even exceed them), and basically do stupid things with a faster speed and loads more energy. Meetings aside, I don’t like to drink them sitting around in cafes either; I clutch one hand around a cup like it’s an Olympic torch, the other hand free to hold my phone, the keyboard, or my child’s hand as we march to and fro. I tell myself (rather anxiously) that coffee simply helps me get things done.
Turkish tea (or çay as we call it) is right at the other end of the spectrum to coffee, helping drinkers to slow down and enjoy small pockets of joy through the day – even if they’re not aware they’re doing it.
I first became attuned to its power to stop time, chaos and the outside world when I was a child, sitting at the feet of my mother, begging her to stop whatever she was doing and just go shopping with, go out with me, just go, go to (Yep, I was still the same, even at a young age). My mother, rather frustratingly, has never much cared for this attitude. Although she worked hard, when she clocked off, she clocked OFF and could not be disturbed from the stillness she felt she’d earned. “Let’s have some çay together first,” she’d eventually sigh and my heart would sink. This was no quick dip of the teabag operation, it was another hour of sitting at her feet, staring at her over rim of my own çay glass like a Doberman staring through the butcher shop window. Years passed through us this way and although I was late for a lot of things (after-school jobs, Wonderland dance parties, everything else), deep down I must admit that I never stopped enjoying drinking çay with my parents.
As I’ve gotten older, my brother and I have come to enjoy the ritual of drinking çay at my parents with gusto, often spending Sunday afternoons sipping glass after glass under walls of jasmine as we listen to the suburban symphony of lawnmowers, crickets and children squealing around the pool. It’s our version of ‘stop, drop and roll’, the one moment in our pressure-cooker weeks where stirring a tiny silver spoon in a delicate hourglass-shaped glass is the most taxing activity we do. That’s why when I was having a hard time earlier this year and my body began failing me in all manner of ways (constant lethargy, painful ulcers, suffocating anxiety), I didn’t go see a doctor, but went to a Turkish supermarket in the Sydney suburb of Auburn and bought myself a Turkish teapot instead.
The method of making cay is time-consuming you see, but like most time-consuming acts, entirely worthwhile.
First you must boil the water in the bottom section of the teapot, before you pour a good third of it into the loose tea leaves heaped in the top compartment. Then, for the next 20 minutes, it’s a waiting game as the flavour develops and deepens.
Once the tea is ready; you’ve committed. Committed to drinking tiny cup after tiny cup until the thing is finished. Committed to sitting still and reflecting as you’re forced to wait between cups, between sips, before fresh boils and pour. For that hour, that tea has you within its grip so that you cannot rush out of the house to take the kids swimming or race of to a meeting or an appointment. You simply have to learn to be still, and to enjoy it.
Since the addition of our simple teapot, life has become a little more balanced for my family on the weekends.
Having switched the times of my daughters’ sports engagements, we now wake up on Saturdays and Sundays and spend an hour or so drinking cay and celebrating doing nothing at all. While I take my sips, my eldest daughter sings songs about butts while her younger sister holds up her feet to my mouth and asks me to kiss her ‘morning toes’ and I finally have the time to drink it all in without rushing anyone out the door. Sure, sometimes my kids get antsy because they want to go to the park and play. “Are you finished yet?” They want to know, sitting at my feet, just like I once used to with my own mum. I can’t help but smile at them. It’s history repeating itself yes, but I know I’m teaching them the importance of slow. How sad it is it’s taken me so long to understand it myself?