“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” – C.S. Lewis
This summer I was fortunate to spend a week in Old Montreal, one of the most beautiful places in the northern hemisphere: cobblestone streets, majestic Notre Dame Cathedral, quaint shops and restaurants nestled on the St. Lawrence harbor. It is really a delight for the senses. My husband and I walked all over the city exploring all the different neighborhoods in Montreal. For me, Old Montreal is a respite from the world, a solace for my busy soul. We’ve taken many trips to Montreal in the past five year, and so I’ve come to know this historic part of the city well. I love exploring all the shops, tasting culinary specialties at the various restaurants and cafe, but the place I go to treat myself, to take a mindful breath in my day is Ming Tao Xuan Tea House on the corner of Rue de Brésoles and Rue Saint Sulpice in the shadow of Notre Dame Basilica.
Pushing open the heavy glass door, I am immediately transported to a realm of beauty and quietude. It is a small space filled with wood and glass. There are floor to ceiling cabinets filled with teapots of all shapes and sizes: iron, clay, and porcelain. Huge colorful porcelain urns sit atop the cabinets like peaceful, sleeping sentinels. There are only four tables in the tea house. They are study, square, and ornately carved. I take a seat at one table in the back of the room near the small marble fountain. I look out the window at the crowds and city traffic, but cannot hear a sound. This is truly a sanctuary.
The proprietor comes to greet me, a distinguished gentleman with dark-rimmed glasses. He hands me a thick, celadon-colored menu. The food offerings take up one page while the next twenty pages are filled with teas of every color, aroma, and taste imaginable. I become a bit overwhelmed by the choices, but finally choose one that I think will sooth my stress away. After sipping and savoring, I meditate on this beautiful place and write a poem to commemorate this moment.
Ming Tao Xuan
Glass and dark wood,
The sound of trickling water,
People whispering tales
Around heavy square tables
Carved with flowers and serpents.
I take a respite here –
Set down my bones, and books,
and heavy backpack.
A tall, old man in dark-rimmed glasses
Brings me a thick, celadon-colored menu,
Six items: mango salad, tofu envelope, steamed buns,
Chicken skewers, cookies, and cheese cake.
And pages and pages and pages of tea:
Black, green, red, yellow –
There is such a thing as yellow tea?
Yes – aromatic buckwheat.
I choose the tofu envelope
And the Jasmine Pearl tea,
Because if I had had a daughter
Jasmine Pearl would have been
A beautiful name for her –
Jasmine Pearl – lavender and green,
Delicate and sweet.
The waiter returns unrolling
A red rattan mat,
Places the teak tray on top,
Arranges the tiny porcelain tea set:
The tiny teapot with a lid
Etched with a bamboo design,
The rounded pitcher with the graceful handle,
And a small white bowl from which to sip.
He prepares the tea,
Allowing the buds to open,
Pouring the first cup
And emptying the water through
The slats of the teak tray.
Now it is ready,
Now it is time for me
To sample and savor,
Relieve my mind,
Release my imagination,
Among the iron, clay, and porcelain teapots
of the Ming Tao Xuan Tea House.