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of the Lazy Literatus

Tea Love in the Time of COVID

Strange times we’re living in, huh?

For those catching this article from somewhere in the future (hopefully a brighter one), this is being written during the COVID-19 lockdown/quarantine. I promised myself I wasn’t going to comment on it. I really didn’t have much to say on the subject outside of making memes (like the one above). But then a few in my disparate tea circle encouraged me to do so, and one in particular made a conversation we had into an entire societal thesis.

Fantastic article, by the way, you should read it. I can wait.

So, with that push, I suppose I’ll get right to it. This is my quarantine story, so far . . .

In early March, I noticed a dry cough forming. I thought nothing of it. When the seasons change, I always develop weird symptoms. However, that cough soon turned into a sore throat. Still, I shrugged it off, and went about my daily life. By March 10th, things got worse.

After a get-together with friends, I felt light-headed, shivery, and all-around unpleasant. When I returned home, it—whatever it was—turned into full-on bodily chills, a massive headache, and general dizziness. I tried to sleep that night, but barely managed an hour at a time through the coughing fits.

I called in sick the next day . . . and then the next day. By then, news outlets and the CDC website itself instructed people to stay home if they exhibited any symptoms similar to the new, novel coronavirus that just made headway in the U.S. Dutifully, I self-isolated . . . and the symptoms worsened.

On March 15th, when I was lucid enough, I checked my phone. A group text from my work instructed employees to perhaps file for unemployment. Scheduling was changing by the day. Our regular clientele was canceling left and right.

Another few days coasted by, I didn’t sleep, and the times I did shut my eyes, I hallucinated. By Monday of the following week, I’d had it. I needed answers . . . while I still had health insurance. Propping myself up, showering for the first time in days, and putting on something resembling respectable clothing, I finally went to urgent care. When I ventured outdoors, I finally saw how much the world had changed in just a short period of time.

Image owned by Fox Searchlight Studios (and by proxy, Disney)

Traffic on the main roads had trickled to a smattering of cars. People who could were donning face masks, and every business was closed or boarded up. I felt like I’d awakened to the world’s most casual apocalypse.

I half-expected the urgent care center I shambled through to be littered with denizens in various stages of plague-death. Not the case, however. Sure, there were a few that had masks donned (hospital orders), but the place hardly had a soul in it. They checked me in rather quickly, and I saw a doctor soon after.

The doc all but ruled out the SARS-CoV-2 virus as the culprit of my particular malady. She theorized I somehow contracted walking pneumonia—a bacterial infection. That’s right. In the middle of a viral pandemic, I contracted a bacterial form of pneumonia; one that was difficult to catch, no less.

On the safe side, though, they swabbed my nose for the coronavirus. It felt like this.

Image owned by . . . honestly I dunno who owns this movie anymore.

Blood streamed from my nose as soon as they removed the swab. After cleaning myself up, they set me up with a prescription of antibiotics, and sent me on my way.

That Thursday, I had noticeably improved. The fever died down as well. I took the opportune lucidity to finally call my work up to see about the new schedule. Well . . .

There was no schedule. All employees had been furloughed. In my sickly stupor, I’d failed to check my voicemails confirming this fact. My immediate manager sounded heartbroken. I . . . had no idea how to feel.

I wasn’t worried about money. Luckily, until the pandemic hit, I had saved a hefty chunk of change for a new car. That immediately turned into an emergency coffer. Housemates were empathetic to my plight and supported me through whatever transition would come. The only forms of loss I was feeling were toward the people I loved – family, especially. It would be long time, yet, until I could see them again.

And then there was tea. In my two weeks of bedridden “bliss”, I hadn’t sipped a single cuppa. In order to ponder my next step (if there even was one), I put my ol’ gong fu tray to use.

At that point, I couldn’t remember the last time I sat down and had an honest-to-Lu-Yu unfettered gong fu session. One with no blog baggage or social media pressure, or one with no time-crunch. I whipped out a bag I neglected—a lovely Qing Xin Hong Shui from Tillerman Tea, Spring 2019—and spent the next hour just . . . sipping my way to thoughts of nothing.

A few days after that, I finally received the news my work officially had to lay off all its staff. My way of coping? Well, see above—rinse-sip-repeat.

But these sessions weren’t always solo; ooooh no. Thanks to enterprising “Friend Zero” glue-people like Marco from Steapd, or the the crew of the Tea Bloggers Roundtable, I got my occasional dose of “Vitamin Extrovert”.

Image owned by Steapd.

Such online gatherings not only kept me from wallowing in complete hermitism, but also gave me insight on how other folks in the tea community were coping. And . . . also witnessing how much tea they were consuming. Many of us admitted that our caffeine consumption had greatly increased once statewide lockdowns took effect.

One of the saddest fallouts from the pandemic came in the form of tea festival cancellations. Many such gatherings erred on the side of caution, and either postponed events entirely, or cancelled them outright. The biggest of which on the chopping block was World Tea Expo.

Pretty much annihilating any summer plans I made.

The purveyor of the Las Vegas outfit—Tealet—saw an opportunity in this, and viewed it as a way to bring the tea community even closer together. They announced the launch of the first ever Virtual Tea Festival.

I’m not sure how they got it organized so quickly, but I tuned in to over half the presenters; half of whom were friends. It accomplished the mission it set out to.

Other tea folks saw this forced downtime as an opportunity to finally launch long-gestating projects. Tea blogger compatriot Nicole (of Tea For Me Please) and her husband finally debuted their new YouTube series: “Husband Tea Torture”.

I don’t need to explain the premise, do I?

Tea educator friend, Rie (of Tea Curious) used the lockdown as an excuse to live stream tea experiments on Instagram. Every. Day.

Image owned by Tea Curious.

Even tea vendors got in on the action. My particular (and biased) favorite, the couple behind ZhenTea used their YouTube channel to not only educate . . . but to entertain as well.

Hilar-“tea” often ensued.

(I’m not taking that pun back.)

And just recently, I caught tea scientist friend Eric Scott‘s tea-heavy PHD defense video, which was delivered over stream.

Thus fully cementing his status as the tea community’s resident Bill Nye.

And there were scores of other examples. One with a penchant for tea needn’t have looked that far to find some enterprising nerd making the most of the bad situation wrought by COVID-19. One late night, I chatted with a fellow tea bro about the remains of the day (and week), and he mentioned how he spent the time roasting oolong, and . . .

Image by Greg Glancy

. . . keeping tabs on the burgeoning wildlife in his yard. This is Gus.

One random night, a random Assamese tea farmer struck up a conversation. I inquired if the India lockdown was affecting his ability to tend to his five-acre plot. He, then, proceeded to send me a video of him walking out his back door . . . to the tea garden.

Chah Bari. Image owned by Maddhurjya Gogoi

With all these tea community distractions, before I knew it, a month and a half flew by. At the time of this writing, it’s the late-afternoon, and I’m still clad in my “work uniform”. Out-of-season holiday pajamas, an old work shirt, and slippers. I still haven’t showered, not sure that I will, and I’m pondering what I’ll drink next.

It’s usually around this time when a housemate or a family member (via phone or social media) will chime in to see how I’m coping. The conversation usually goes something like this:

In closing, I’m not trying to make light of the situation. Many are experiencing loss, love, and lost love. I acknowledge that I’m luckier than most, and give gratitude to God I have this time to put my time into things I value, and into the people I care about most. But I also know full well, if tea had never been a part of my life, I would be lamenting a lot more than I am.

In another tea tangential conversation, a friend asked me if I’d had any epiphanies during this pandemic. I could only think of one: “I didn’t realize how much I was dying inside, before, until it was all taken away.”

But at the moment—in the moment—my cup runneth over.

If you’re reading this during the pandemic, please stay safe. If you’re reading this after the pandemic, stay well.

 

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4 Comments

  1. MADDHURJYA GOGOI

    You’re a great story teller. I felt like watching a movie now.😊😊

  2. Margo Hutchinson

    So that is what you have been doing. I will admit you have seemed to be
    existing rather well!! Keep it up

  3. Thanks for this. I’ve been lurking on the fringe of US tea culture these last few years. Mainly drinking oolong and black teas and occasionally checking out an interesting blog post or video. I’ve really been loving your “tea memes.” Every now and then I see one that totally resonates and reminds me of my happy years in the tea industry. Anyway, I enjoy and always read your posts so I’ll try to comment more.

  4. It seems I missed so much.

    And you are right, it is such a peaceful life.

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