Monday, July 27, 2009

I'm going to tell you a story

In the new year, I went to Alexandria, Va down near the water in Old Town to go buy tea. I like tea. Being from Taiwan, I have a certain tea affinity. The shop was in an old building. Lots of dark wood everywhere, most prominent being the richly-stained, giant, cavernous shelves that held beautiful apothecary jars of every size flecked with coffee and tea.

The shelves opposite the tea were packed full of beverage accoutrements. Infusers of all kinds, teapots, coffee mugs, tea mugs with built-in infusers, spoons to stir tea, spoons to measure tea, decorative pots, travel mugs, coasters, complete tea sets, serving trays, biscuits, cookies, chocolate, honey, and then there were other food items like fruit preserves, olive oil and vinegar, and food accessories like salt and pepper mills, egg-poaching cups, and placemats. Everything nestled something else.

There was a wonderful young man at the counter who had been working there for two and a half years. He knew the stock of tea very well, and was very excited about it. He made fabulous recommendations despite the fact that I was only making a small purchase. I ended up only buying three ounces of tea. Of course, together, me and my companion also ended up buying a ceramic mug, a tea-measuring spoon, some hot Hungarian paprika, and an oil mister (a veritable bounty of kitchen treasures) but we did spend a good deal of time with the young man.

That's how you know when a store really cares and is excited about its product - when no matter what you buy or even if you buy nothing, staff is willing to help you smell the product. I smelled a lot of teas.

That's when he walked in. He was an older gentleman, with little wisps of white hair on his head. Clouds mildly obscuring a mountain. He had a curved nose, wide, round eyes, and some age spots. The young man who had helped me make selections of tea previously asked him if he was looking for anything in particular.

"Do you have any verbena?"

"Oh you mean verveine?"

"Verveine, verbena, whatever you call it," he smiled as the young man reached up on the shelf to grab a mid-sized jar filled with large, brownish leaves.

"Would you like to smell it, sir?" the clerk opened the jar.

"I can recognize it just by the shape of the leaves, but sure!" He seemed thankful for the opportunity. He breathed in and sighed, "Ah, the sweet smell of verbena!"

The young man took the jar to the area where they portion the tea into small brown paper bags.

"How much would you like?" He grinned, everyone in the store was loving this man more and more every second.

"You wouldn't happen to have a pound of that, would you?" He asked.

"No, sorry," the clerk chuckled softly, "There's not even half a pound here," pulling out the long, whole leaves.

"I'll take what you've got!" He was adorable, gleeful extravagance.

"Ok," the clerk smiled, pulling out more leaves. They rustled deliciously. I wondered what distinguished verbena tea, never having tasted it myself. He ambled away with his purchase, clearly going straight home to enjoy. I envied the tea shop high-roller, buying the entire stock with innocent and unpretentious panache.

Rule: Become a delightful old person and clean out a store of some sort of indulgent item.

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