Right after I finished the sous vide salmon and soba noodle, the waiteress brought the black sesame soy milk hojicha latte I ordered. In the middle of a pond of light grey foam floated a simple white heart. The heart sat in the ceramic mug of concrete colour and dim café space, quietly. I sipped gently to avoid getting burnt and ruining the pure heart. The temperature was just right. The sweetness was just right. Narrower than usual, the mug was slender so that you could comfortably hold the curve of it in your palm. Slightly arched at the middle, the mug handle ran from the rim all the way to the bottom. Slipped in four fingers while having the thumb rested on the arch, you could lift the mug from the table effortlessly to drink and felt the delicate yet round mouthfeel of the ceramic rim, complementing the creamy body of the latte. Everything came just right, adding up to a soothing satisfaction. My friend ordered the same beverage as mine. We drank without exchanging words. The words uttered by others seemed moving more distant, and the interior muted.
I remember one time that my aunt brought me for an afternoon tea when I was little. When the waitress asked what she would like to drink, she replied that she wanted a cup of hot black coffee and asked the waitress to serve it after we were done with the food. “Coffee has to be hot enough.” She, obliviously, said after the waitress left. I bet she enjoyed her black coffee very hot. We finished our food. She blew on the steamy hot coffee and sipped it. After every sip, she looked more relaxed and had more space between her knitted brows. That was the first time I knew a cuppa or coffee – being just right to the person – meant well beyond the desire for the palate. I could understand the meaning of it years later.
Being “just right” is personal. For instance, my aunt likes her strong black coffee boiling hot, while a friend of mine enjoys brain-freeze iced lemon tea regardless of seasons. And me, I like my tea, without sugar and milk, somewhere between being drinkable and undrinkable hot. For day-to-day, I enjoy a slightly strong Earl Grey tea after dinner. If I have a little drink at dinner, I will gravitate toward a cup of rather hot black coffee or smoky black tea after a meal. One time I was dining at an Indian restaurant at a hotel where the food was so spectacular that one could hardly pick on it. After dessert, the waiter brought every one of us a cup of masala chai. “Ah, it’s gone cool.” My friend and I said it almost in synchronicity. It is a pity that the impression of the not-so-warm chai has overridden that of the delicious food.
Is there any difference between the morning coffee and night cuppa? I guess, what is drunk in the morning is out of habit and necessity, and what is drunk at night after a meal is more for the sense of ritual. That sense of ritual can be the act of drinking a cup of tea, smoking a cigarette, burning an incense or even listening to that “click” sound when you switch off the light. Routine and familiar, the daily ritual is a button to turn off your mind, telling you that the day is over, and you can drink a cup of tea that is not brewed for work, for getting by or for physical needs. A ritual is a set of innate activities related to religions or traditions where designated sequence, texts and acts are involved so as to create a bond with God or ancestors, or even attaining a certain sacred purpose or showing gratitude. A sense of ritual is nothing religious but, perhaps, a rite people nowadays coin to anchor their dispersed mind, close enough to a religion in a loose sense. These daily routines are repetitive, expected and nothing unordinary, which soothes the mind, the same goal of a religious ritual.
Having a cup of tea that feels just right after a meal creates a sense of ritual to keep one in the moment, here and now. It allows one to stay longer between thoughts, and a little longer. And then, in your quiet mind, you feel in control of simple happiness and peace in your own life despite the unsettling world.
- 茶葉放入沸水中，泡 5 分鐘後，隔去茶葉備用。
Black Sesame Soy Milk Hojicha Latte
Black sesame seeds 6g
Genmai hojicha 6g (Plain hojicha will do too)
Unsweetened Japanese soy milk 100ml
Soft light brown sugar ½ teaspoon / to taste
- Steep the tea in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain the tea leaves and set aside.
- Toast the black sesame seeds in a grease-free pan till fragrant.
- Grind the sesame seeds into paste in mortar and pestle. Add the paste and sugar into the tea. Blend well with a milk frother.
- Bring the soy milk to just under a boil. Pour the soy milk into a clean pitcher, froth it up with a milk frother.
- Pour the soy milk into the black sesame hojicha. Ready to serve.
It’s raining outside, crisp and bleak. Three chubby sparrows took shelter on my balcony and I gave them the baguette bits left on my breakfast plate but they flew away. I stayed in, played Damien Rice on vinyl and made apple crumble. Repeat.