Strange Brew

I'm not a big fan of the mall—mostly because I tend to have horrible experiences there.  I frequently get hoodwinked by enthusiastic salespeople who sell me junk I don't need and never use, and I have had enough dressing room blunders to write an entire book of anecdotes on fitting room mishaps.

For example, when I went to the mall around Christmastime, I was confronted with the following dressing room horror show:

(Yes, that is a used Band-Aid, a packet of ketchup and an open safety pin.  I'm not sure what the pregnancy-test-like thing is.  I can only imagine what was going on in this fitting room before I arrived.) 

For these reasons I generally avoid the mall, but when my husband's aunt recently offered to accompany me there to get some new clothes for the kids, I just couldn't resist.  I had been lying around nursing my broken tailbone for so long that any opportunity to get out of the house was irresistible.

We had a plan—we would start at one end of the mall and work our way through the department stores, purchasing clearance clothing for the kids for next season.  All was going well until, as we strolled through the corridor between Macy's and Boscov's, I heard a friendly voice chirp, "Would you like to sample some tea?"

I turned and found myself gazing at the most amazing tea shop I had ever seen.  Wonderful, fruity smells wafted from the store, and I could see all manner of decorative teapots and pretty cups sparkling on the shelves.  I heard heady, new-agey music pulsing inside, and I began wandering in that direction in an awed trance.

Now, I think I should probably preface this next part by saying that I am not really a tea drinker—I prefer coffee.  I do love a good iced tea in the summertime, but I'm just not a fan of hot tea (unless I'm at a Chinese restaurant; for some reason I always end up drinking ten cups of the addictive concoction they brew in there).

Nevertheless, my curiosity was piqued by all of the sparkly tea paraphernalia, and between my good mood and the alluring music I just couldn't stop myself from wandering in.  I happily sampled the tea being offered.  It was delicious, and I readily agreed when the salesperson asked me if I'd like to try another.

I was led to a table with some science-experiment-like equipment on it.  I noticed little dried-up balls on a plate; they resembled owl pellets and I had a flashback to middle school science class. 

I screwed up my face and wondered if I was going to see some rodent bones.  Fortunately I needn't have worried; they were just tea balls, and the saleslady—we'll call her Betty—directed my attention to a clear glass teapot with what looked like flowers and moss growing inside of it.

Betty explained that this was called "blooming tea."  According to her, impoverished workers in China hand-roll dried flowers into these blooming tea balls for our American enjoyment.  She stated that the workers get paid, "A penny for every twenty they do...or something like that."  I thought this sounded like a lousy endorsement for buying owl-pellet tea balls assembled via slave labor, so I passed on those. 

I then continued my tea-sampling orgy, trying iced tea, fruit tea, jasmine tea, white tea, herb tea, and Chinese tea (which didn't taste nearly as good without the accompanying pork fried rice).  I was particularly fond of the iced tea, and Betty explained that it was a mixture of two different blends.  It was completely caffeine free, she said, and therefore it would be perfect for the kids.

I envisioned myself having a Martha Stewart-ish moment, mixing up delicious pitchers of fruity iced tea for the family in the summertime.  Heck, if I couldn't impress my family with my lousy cooking, at least I could make some yummy tea.  I immediately told her I would take some.

At the counter, Betty removed two giant metal tubs from a rack on the wall behind her.  She began scooping contents from each tub into two different bags while telling me all about the health benefits of fresh tea.

"We even have doctors sending their patients to our store for holistic remedies," she said proudly.  "The tea is so fresh and full of nutrients, it can even cure migraine headaches and other physical ailments."  I immediately grew curious and began telling her about my chronic muscle and nerve pain, which I take painkillers and muscle relaxers for on a daily basis.

"Oh, we have a tea that's great for muscle spasms!" she replied.  "It's got these special cherries that have relaxing qualities.  It would be very helpful for your problems."

I told her to go ahead and add some of that to my purchase.

By this point, my daughter Clara was getting restless.  She had been sitting in the stroller for at least twenty minutes while I sampled teas and talked about health remedies, and she now wanted to get out of the store.  Unfortunately we couldn't leave just yet, because scooping and bagging my teas was taking Betty longer than I'd expected, so I purchased a sugar spoon from the counter and handed it to my daughter.

"Look, Clara!  Lollipop!"

Clara picked up the sugar spoon, took a couple of sucks, and then promptly dropped it on the floor and started to cry.  I groaned.

"Oh dear!" Betty said.  "Would you like me to rinse it off with some water?"

"No, no...I'll just buy another one."  I gave Clara the new sugar spoon, and she successfully managed a few more sucks before dropping that one too.  She started to wail.

I told Betty I needed to get on my way, so I asked her if she could start ringing up my order.  That's when I looked at the counter and noticed that I had several mostly-full bags of tea, and I had not a clue how much any of it cost.  I buy tea about once a year—for my husband for Christmas—and I'm used to buying it at Target, where an $8.00 box of teabags will last us until the following holiday.  I realized that I was most likely looking at a forty dollar tea purchase, and I started to sweat.

As she started weighing everything, Betty asked me what I was planning on storing my tea in.  After all, she said, tea will degrade if exposed to light or air, so I needed something both air and light tight.

"Oh, I'll just put them in the ceramic canisters on my kitchen counter."

"Well, see, that won't work," explained Betty, "because light penetrates ceramic.  Only metal will block the UV rays, so you need to use something like these handy tea tins that you can purchase right here at the store.  You'll probably need two, because you have a good amount of tea here, and you don't want it to lose its freshness."

I looked at the obviously overpriced tea tins and tried to figure out if I could avoid buying them.  Clara was still mourning the loss of her second sugar spoon and was nearing meltdown status.   

"Fine, fine...just ring them up too," I added, anxious to get out of the store.

"Okay, and, um, how were you planning on brewing the tea?" Betty asked.

"Uh...with my one-cup coffeemaker?"

"Oh, well, this is whole-leaf tea, see, so you need a tea ball or other brewing device.  We have some right over here..." and she walked me to one of the walls full of fancy tea accoutrements.  I quickly selected what I hoped was a modestly-priced brewer and pulled out my credit card.

As Betty rang up my order I watched the growing total with alarm.  I silently prayed that my total wouldn't exceed sixty dollars.


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