Let it steep

I’ve felt for a long time that the simple act of making tea can be a perfect metaphor for life.

After all, just as we all have different ways to live our lives, tea drinkers all have their own way of enjoying their favourite hot beverage.

Some of us like the teabag to briefly visit a cup of boiling hot water. Some let the tea steep for a couple of minutes, resulting in a more pronounced flavour.

Many of us, including a sizeable number of Cape Bretoners, want the teabag – or teabags – submerged for several minutes, even hours, until the resulting beverage is strong enough to get up, walk away, and carve a cave out of the nearest hillside.

In any case, I’ve thought for a long time that the perfect cup of tea should mirror the balance we desire for our lives, with just the right mixture of colour, flavour, warmth, and edge.
And sometimes, to reach that balance, we have to be patient enough to let our teabag steep.

Now, while I have always appreciated the concept of strengthening tea by prolonging the bag’s exposure to boiling water, I don’t think I truly understood the idea of steeping until about a decade ago, when Tim Horton’s came up with a novel way to promote its take on steeped tea.
The commercial starts with a teenager bringing his mother a cup of Tim’s tea. Upon seeing her sip and smile, he tells her (in a throaty, almost too-cool-for-school voice): “Yeah, it’s steeped.”

A light bulb goes on in the mom’s head, and through the next few moments of the ad, she’s using – or more accurately, misappropriating – the word “steeped” to try to bond with her teenage daughter (“Steeped outfit, honey!”) and her next-door neighbor (“Mrs. Chen! The garden’s looking steeped!”).

That bit of levity aside, it’s worth examining the actual dictionary definition of the verb “steep.” The first definition given is “to soak in water so as to extract flavour or soften.” But it can also mean “to surround or fill with a quality or influence,” as in the suggestion that a part of the world is “steeped in history.”

All of this came back to me on the first morning of 2017, as I steeped my own teabag in a large mug decorated with the familiar red and white of the Canadian flag.

We’re not a society that appreciates the concept of letting tea – or anything – steep. Social media and the digital age have changed the way many of us connect with our family and friends, access information, and register our thoughts or emotions about anything, especially when we’re angry.

We’re not prepared to wait one second to let our feelings show or get that sought-after item, even if it’s the tiniest piece of information. We want it now. (Actually, in this day and age, we wanted it five minutes ago.)

I’m not immune to this.

I used to be content to wait for hockey scores to show up on the late TV news or even wait until the next morning to hear them on the radio. (The last time my Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup, in 1993, I actually missed five of their record 10-straight playoff overtime goals because I was disciplined enough to go to bed early so I wouldn’t be exhausted at my radio job the next day.)

Now I’m “that guy,” constantly checking scores, goals, saves and plays on everything from the official NHL Web site to Facebook and Twitter.

I’m not proud of this, especially since I recognize the value of steeping – this year, more than ever.

As I sipped my first cup of tea for the New Year, I realized that many of the ideas, plans, hopes and dreams I have for the next 12 months – on my own and with Cathy – are, like any good cup of tea, well-steeped.

Some have been in the works for weeks, some for months, and some for years. In at least two cases, God has been “steeping” 2017 developments for me over multiple decades.

I know it won’t all be pleasant. Hey, even a well-steeped cup of tea can be intensely bitter, no matter how much milk and honey I might add in a desperate attempt to sweeten it.

Still, as I ponder a Scripture verse that has meant a lot to me, Cathy, and even Cathy’s late mother over the years – “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) – I look forward to seeing how 2017 will teach me the value of patience, of letting things steep.

Happy New Year, everyone.