We were both engaged (you for real and I in effect) by the time we met. We agreed we respected our respective partners too much to act on the unnameable thing that no doubt existed between us. We agreed it would be best to never meet in person ever again, but that we would find a way to keep in touch by other means. We ruled out phone calls. We ruled out texting. We ruled out emailing. We settled on snail-mail.
We exchanged a couple of letters before we realized that anything involving words at all was far too dangerous. I am good with words and so are you. I travel an inordinate amount for work and so do you. I was in London brewing myself a cup of 1837 Black Tea. It carried a lingering aftertaste of anise and caramel. The teabag told me these fruits and flowers were sourced from the Bermuda Triangle. I thought of how we would never go there—or anywhere else for that matter—and decided the next best thing would be to mail you a fresh teabag alongside my used teabag in a hotel envelope, without a sender’s name, without a return address.
Four years later we have not spoken a word. But I have drunk the world in tea with you. You’ve sent me New York Breakfast Tea, I’ve sent you Weekend in Dubai Tea. You’ve sent me Moroccan Mint Tea, I’ve sent you Place Vendôme Tea. Partaking in these notes and flavours we have crossed continents and tasted terroir without packing a suitcase or boarding a plane. When I sip the Grand Darjeeling you’ve sent, I see undulating foothills of tea bushes wrapped in mist, silver tips thick with the scent of wildflowers and cracked hazelnut. Tea is more than a moment; it is alchemy.
Last week you sent me Silver Moon Tea. Today I wake early so I’ll have the kitchen completely to myself. I set the kettle to boil. I place both the fresh and used teabags into the teapot, fill it with scalding hot water. As I let them steep, I wonder what you do with the teabags I send you. Do you brew them together, like me? Discard the one I’ve used, brew just the fresh one? Hide them away in a drawer, or toss them out? The tea is done now. I pour myself a cup, inhale the bouquet: crystalline green tea laced with ripe berry and a touch of vanilla. Suave, with just a lick of spice, and a sweetness so subtle. I drink you in.
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Amanda Lee Koe is a Singaporean author based in New York. Her first short story collection, Ministry of Moral Panic (Epigram), won the Singapore Literature Prize. Her debut novel, Delayed Rays of A Star (Bloomsbury/Vintage Anchor) was a Straits Times #1 Bestseller in Singapore. In the U.S. it was named a Best Book of 2019 by NPR, as well as a most anticipated novel by ELLE USA, The Los Angeles Times, Thrillist and USA Today.