I bought a new teacup for my small collection when I last visited the Earltown General Store. When I asked to see the small yellow cup in the showcase the store owner was quick to let me know there was a chip in it. “Oh”, I said, “well... I’ll take a look anyway”. I almost didn’t buy it. In fact, I left the store, went for a 6 km hike, and then still thinking about the tiny cup, I returned to purchase it. I considered during my hike all of the chips I carry with me. And, I considered how over the last year I have thought differently about perfection, and what perfection really means. This little cup is to be my reminder that perfection is over rated.
This post though, is not about perfection. It is about tea. It is about the steaming hot liquid that will warm my hands in my new imperfect cup, the conversations that will warm my heart as I sip it, and what inspires me to have a teacup collection in the first place.
In rural Nova Scotia especially, it would be a rarity to enter someone’s home and not be offered a cup of tea – and a tasty treat to go along with it. In urban centres people tend to meet for coffee at quaint coffee houses, where they catch up on each other’s lives, share a little gossip, or talk about future plans. The same goes for rural Nova Scotia, only the coffee is usually tea, and it is shared in a slightly more personal and private setting.
In many homes, the tea is brewed as long as you’re awake. By the end of the day you can stand a spoon upright in the teapot. By the time the last fresh teabag has been added to the pot and the steaming hot water topped up, you might wonder by the color if it is tea or coffee. Decaf tea? Green or herb tea? What’s that all about? It's straight-up orange pekoe Red Rose, King Cole or Tetley all the way in rural Nova Scotia. For everyone. Children are sometimes even given a small amount to enjoy in dainty cups. Men and women alike enjoy a hot cup with a neighbor, or alone with a biscuit. If I had a dollar for every cup of tea I ever watched my father drink in my lifetime.....
Anyone reading this who calls Nova Scotia home will be familiar with Rita MacNeil, an iconic folk singer from Cape Breton. When Rita passed away, around this time last year, she requested that her ashes be placed in a tea pot. I remember hearing that and thinking - how perfectly Nova Scotian, and how perfectly Rita. I watched a documentary about Rita once, where she described meeting fans, and telling them to come see her in Cape Breton. She would tell them they should come for a cup of tea. Part of her invitation was quite genuine, another part was not entirely literal. The funny thing is, people took her up on her offer and did travel to Cape Breton to have tea with Rita, which was the inspiration for her Tea Room in Big Pond. Rita’s Tea Room is where her fans could now come “for a cup of tea”.
I have a small teacup collection not because it is the Nova Scotian thing to do. In fact, much of the tea I enjoy is from a large ceramic mug – so I can have more at one time, and so conversations with friends last longer between refills. But tea, whether in a sturdy mug or delicate cup, is certainly a part of Nova Scotian tradition.
My little teacup collection is in honour of the conversations enjoyed over a kitchen table with an ocean view, or over morning visits to pick up fresh farm eggs. It is also in honour of the delicate details, and the thin bone china that was used even if it wasn’t a special occasion, and the chips that are a result.