The Precision of Tea by Erulisse

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Disclaimer:  Tolkien built the sand box; I only play with the bucket and shovel that he left for me.  No money, profit or non, is made from the publication of this story.  


Title: The Precision of Tea

The Precision of Tea



For many yeni Erestor, as seneschal, had made sure that all visitors to Rivendell were made comfortable in the manner best suited to their particular race.  He had hosted elves from the various realms, humans from both North and South, and, even Dwarves.  But never, in his long existence, had he hosted a hobbit, and, for once, he was speechless. 


The small being standing before him was half his height, and infallibly polite, but absolutely firm in his opinion that the tea, as made available to all guests eating in the central dining area, was presented incorrectly.  Erestor wondered, what was wrong with how the tea was served?  He had been trained at the court of Gil-Galad himself, and had been overseeing the household staff for long years, this was the first complaint he had received about tea.  Yet...he had never met a hobbit before and, perhaps, their method of serving tea was different.  He sat down on the floor to better speak to this young hobbit eye-to-eye, listening carefully as Bilbo began his explanation. 


 “You see,” Bilbo began, “there is a pot of hot water on the sideboard and a variety of tea leaves next to it in various bowls.” 


“Yes...,” Erestor said cautiously, implying that the hobbit continue through the tone of his short response. 


“Well, the water isn't hot enough, the leaves have lost their virtue because they have been exposed to the air, there is no milk available, and most people who are making tea for themselves are drinking more sweetener than tea.  In short, the entire enterprise is seriously lacking!” the hobbit expounded. 


“Pray tell me, Master Baggins, how might I do better for the future?” 


“You  It would be far better to show you rather than tell you.  Could you come to my room this afternoon, two hours after luncheon?” 


“It would be my pleasure, Master Hobbit,” Erestor responded, gracefully pulling his feet under him and standing up again.  “Is there anything that I could bring with me to your rooms this afternoon?” 


“No, no.  I'm off to meet with the kitchen staff.  I'm sure they will have everything I require.  I will see you then.  At your service, Master Erestor,” the hobbit said, giving a jaunty bow in the direction of the tall elf. 


“At the service of you and your family,” responded Erestor as he inclined his head in return.  Thinking that the afternoon was suddenly looking more interesting than he had thought when he awoke that morning, he turned and left the room. 


Precisely two hours after luncheon, Erestor was standing at the door to the hobbit's rooms.  Despite having been told to bring nothing, after a quick discussion with the Head Cook, he had decided to bring a spice cake to contribute for the afternoon's lessons.  He raised his free hand and knocked gently at the door. 


Bilbo opened the door, a broad smile across his face and a welcome on his lips.  If possible, the smile got even larger when Erestor presented him with the spice cake from the kitchens of Rivendell.  Bilbo bowed, expressing his thanks, and escorted Erestor into the room. 


The elf looked around him curiously.  The room was an interesting mix of furniture designed for both short and tall beings.  The bed, chairs and tables were grouped to allow elves, dwarves and hobbits to interact comfortably.  Everything was meticulously neat and a covered pan of water was simmering on the hob. 


“Now, Master Erestor, why don’t you sit over here,” Bilbo said as he led the tall elf to a seat by the fireplace. 


“Just Erestor, please, Master Baggins, for I hope we can become good friends if time and circumstances allow,” the generally severe elf responded with a friendly smile on his lips. 


“Then you must call me Bilbo, Ma...Erestor,” replied the hobbit with just a small stumble over the honorific.  The elf nodded in reply. 


“As I was going to say, Erestor, there are several keys to proper tea service.  The first step is making sure that the tea will be the proper temperature. 


The hobbit began teaching the elf the proper method of brewing tea.  He preheated the tea pot by putting hot water into it, allowing the pot to warm up before introducing a second batch of hot water.  “When you do this, Erestor, it will keep the water at a constant hot temperature for a longer time,” Bilbo explained. 


While the pot was warming Bilbo reviewed the different tea leaf types and temperature and time requirements for brewing each type with Erestor.  “This is green tea.  It’s been heated quickly after harvesting and has a gentle, crisp flavor.  This is black tea.  The leaves have been allowed to ferment after harvesting, giving it a richer flavor.  White tea, like these buds, is quite rare with a delicate flavor.  Flavored tea has flavors introduced to black tea leaves, and finally, herbal tea is not truly tea, although it is often infused the same way.” 


In spite of himself, Erestor was impressed by the depth of knowledge that this small hobbit was teaching him.  He watched while Bilbo picked up an infuser and then discussed the amount of tea to put into it and how to properly immerse it in the pot.  While the tea was steeping, he reviewed the add ons of milk or, if available, citrus.  The hobbit then explained how sweetener should only be added in small amounts to allow the tea’s flavor to be expressed. 


Erestor and Bilbo shared the spice cake and small pastries that the kitchen had provided and discussed the cultivation of tea plants.  Then, brewing another cup and relaxing in the chairs, they began talking about many other topics, including the history of hobbits and elves in the northern lands. 


Later, the two of them stood on Bilbo’s balcony together, ending their afternoon with Erestor pointing out the sights of Rivendell to the esteemed “Burglar”.  Watching the sun approach the western mountain ridge, he excused himself, thanking Bilbo for an unusually pleasant afternoon, and left to check on the dinner arrangements and seating chart. 


The next morning, Bilbo entered the dining room and nodded.  There, on the sideboard, was a heated pan of water and several ceramic tea pots.  The milk was prominently displayed, and several varieties of tea were in airtight cannisters, described accurately on beautifully scribed cards in front of each jar.  Tea pots were already in front of Elrond’s sons, who seemed to be minimizing their sugar additions.  Looking over at Erestor, Bilbo solemnly winked.  Erestor, to the surprise of the Master of Rivendell, returned the gesture.  “Good morning Master Baggins,” he said, smiling broadly.  “May I offer you some tea?” 

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