Friday, June 29, 2012

Time for Tea

I’ve been thinking about friendship lately. How the people who come into our lives as children, teenagers, young adults, and not so young adults shape and enrich our lives. Some come and go; some we meet early and don’t see often, but always feel connected to; others come into our lives later in life and we feel an instant affinity with them. I became friends with Linda Hampton Smith relatively recently (seven years ago), not because we were thrust together in a classroom or college dormitory, or because we faced the challenges of parenting young children together. Strong friendships are often born of these shared experiences, but as we progress in life (in other words, grow older), they’re more often born of shared interests.

Linda and I met at les Boulangers, a French conversation group that used to convene on Saturday mornings at the Bristol Bakery. It still meets regularly, but has since relocated to Middlebury. This eclectic group gathers together under the guidance of Simon Barenbaum, a très gentil Frenchman and retired French professor who entertains us all with stories from past adventures and shows ample patience with our flawed French.

Ardent Francophiles that we are, Linda and I aspire to speak the language as parfaitement as possible, and so, in addition to les Boulangers, we’ve enrolled in French classes together, viewed French films, and shared books, blogs, and websites on all things French. Did I mention that we’re both passionate about France?

Another of Linda’s passions is painting. She creates intricate water colors, with details so fine they look like they were drawn with the tip of a needle. Her exquisite artwork can be viewed on her website The French Easel.

Linda inspired me to take a few oil painting classes, which resulted in the paintings of pears and the lemon and lime that appear on this blog (my clumsy errors magically disappeared when the images were reduced). She’s also an aspiring writer and illustrator of children’s books, an aspiration we both share (the writing part, as I hold no delusions that I have the talent to become an illustrator!).

Our conversations about writing take place mostly in English and often over tea at the Stone Leaf Teahouse in Middlebury. Tucked away in the Historic Marble Works District, a collection of low buildings made out of rustic marble and dating back to 1898, this tiny teahouse is a sensory delight. Featuring a wall of tins full of teas from around the world, this shop’s only challenge to the customer is deciding which tea to choose. Green, white, black, oolong, puer:  there’s a tea to suit everyone’s taste.

Other shelves are lined with tea accessories, tea pots, and tea sets, and other walls adorned with diverse artwork. The shop feels like it's stuffed with the treasured finds of an avid traveler and collector.

Everything is pleasing to the eye, and at times surprising, like these parasols tucked into overhead slats creating an open ceiling above a section of the lower level.

Linda and I usually decamp to the second floor loft, a more private space with two tables situated very low to the ground. I’ve never been to Japan, but this is how I imagine a Japanese dining space must be: simple and serene. The aesthetics of Zen.

Since it’s a record-breaking hot day, we opt for the downstairs this time, parasols overhead. I order an iced Rooibos tea, also known as South African red tea. True to its namesake, it’s a luscious cherry red and tastes mildly fruity. Served in a tall glass, it’s refreshing just to look at it.

Linda’s hot tulsi basil tea is served in a clear pot showing off the tea’s deep golden hue.  Affable owner John Wetzel pours the tea in a long stream ceremoniously, but lacking any pretention. 

Tulsi basil also makes an excellent iced tea, which I've brewed at home. In addition to tea, a few snacks are available, including a selection of chocolates from Daily Chocolate, another reason this spot is a destination for me and Linda (see my previous post about Daily Chocolate).

Tea and chocolate. Simplicity and surprise. Linda and I talk for hours, occasionally punctuating the Zen aesthetic with an outburst of laughter.

Photo by Linda Hampton Smith


  1. Sheila, I'm honored to be able to share with you - not only tea, chocolate and beaucoup de bonnes conversations - but a dear and cherished friendship:)