Mr. Wu is a patient man, the kind of man who stands his ground quietly, with dignity and self-awareness. He is not the type to be swayed by pressure or suggestion. I would know this because the air was thick with the scent of magnolias when I entreated him, “Now Mr. Wu are you suuuuure that you don’t drink coffee?”
He looks at me as though I have asked him a question with the world’s most predictable answer. And in a way it was.
“No, no,” he answers, dismissively. ” I don’t drink coffee, no coffee, I drink green tea, I like green tea.”
“For sure, not ever, not even one li’l ole cup?”
I am providing him with every opportunity to make my night by allowing my next morning to begin with a medium cup of coffee, five creams, two splendas–but he is not playing ball.
“No, ” he says this simply, as he makes what is clearly a half-hearted attempt to look as if he is trying to recollect the last time he enjoyed a cup of joe.
I fervently hope that his face will brighten with the dim memory of a wonderful steaming cup of coffee. But from the look on his face, I would guess the last time Mr. Wu had relations with a coffee bean must have been forty years ago.
It is worth noting that I have never been a serial coffee guzzler. One cup a day. How can you miss one cup of coffee a day? It is even arguable, and my friends would testify, that what I may actually be missing is not my coffee, but the copious amounts of cream I depend upon to displace my coffee.
Isn’t it funny how often we continue to ask the wrong questions, so that even when the right answer is in front of us, we don’t recognize it? In this instance, the answer was not about how the tea tasted. It was about how the tea was served.
Last night, as we waited for the red snapper to emerge from its steam bath, Mr. Wu prepared a pot of heavenly scented jasmine tea. Letting it steep, he poured a bit into a cup, testing it and waiting until it had steeped just enough. When it was perfect, he filled two cups, one for each of us. And then we talked. After the meal, we talked some more, about our childhoods, our aging parents, our sons, and about fish.
I was reminded of all of those lazy summer Sunday afternoons spent idling on a pallet on the cement floor of my grandmother’s screened-in porch while my aunts visited and laughed, sipping from cold, sweating glasses of sweet iced tea.
I noticed that as we sipped the jasmine-scented tea from the small cups, Mr. Wu kept a watchful eye on my progress, filling my cup not when it was empty, but when it was still partially full.
It was the most gracious of gestures, because it was kind, and I read the attentions paid the half empty cup to be a delightful form of hospitality. “You are most welcome to stay, in fact you really must, because of course, you are not yet finished with your tea.”
So today I missed my coffee, but not nearly as much.
My cup runneth over. With tea–and hospitality.