Ritual is sexy.
And I don't mean rituals that are actually about sex. I would worship the goddess Aphrodite, compelled once in my lifetime to offer myself up to a stranger in exchange for a coin and a few special words.
I'll even tell you the words if you want...
But, I'm talking about something else.
The seemingly erotic or sensual nature within the idea of rituals themselves.
Rituals help us centre the experience of a moment, the focus on a subject.
A few weeks ago, on a cold night, I stopped in with Someone at The Queen Mother. We shared a slice of cake, drank coffee until late. It was a beautiful night, wet snow outside and steam on the windows, lots of bokeh winter streetlights smearing on the glass. Towards the end our meal a couple came in, an older couple, perhaps in their late seventies, the man looked younger than the women, she had a shaved head and thinning silver hair, long thin brass earrings. Their dark skin was lined, both of them tall and wiry, dressed in many layers, attractive and stylish.
They ordered tea and sat in comfortable silence. Tea at Queen Mother comes as a cup and tea bag accompanied by a little glass orb of steaming water with a short black rubber collar. I watched the women warm her hands around the orb before pouring only the smallest splash of hot water into her empty teacup and swirl it around the porcelain before adding the teabag. I loved it. It is so rare to see someone do that, follow that little drop of the protocol.
The reasons people tell you to warm the cup or the tea pit before adding the tea and water are varied. Some suggest it's intended to keep the porcelain from cracking, which is foolish unless you're talking about some very poor porcelain ( we are talking like 1740s derby factory china ). But warming the teapot is part of rituals that predate cheap British china. Some say its to avoid the rapid leaching of temperature from the water. Starting with a warm pot means less energy is lost, and more heat stays with the tea, improving its flavour.
In ancient tea rituals of china, the teapots were clay, which absorbed the oils from the leaves from every previous ceremony, and eventually, over time, develop a glazed appearance, especially on the inside of the pot. Warming the pot opened these oils, adding their flavours to the tea.
Heated porcelain also warms the leaves, which loosen and open, giving up their flavour to their water more readily.
I love that sorts of thing, seemingly trivial details that actually improve the experience, create a more rich process as well as improve the output.
Decimal places on tasks like making tea, sharpening a knife, polishing boots...These little traditional notes of knowledge are fractions of experiences that help ritualize them. At least the only rituals I really get. The universal ritual of detail. The real reason we do these things isn't because of inertia, its desire. Warming a teacup can be a lovely sensory experience, to feel something grow warm in your hands; and it helps the tea be more flavourful. The ritual of details improves the quality of experience and reminds me that pleasure is greater than the sum of its parts.