The creaky, rickety wooden rocking chairs sat expectantly. Reclining on their ankles, they remained stoic despite the rows of knitted wool draped across their laps in oh such a casual way. The roughness of their curving lines paid homage to their time in a faraway wood, as they waited to become the frame for a human form that would try to rock them into a slumber.
“Would you like some twig tea?” the man with twinkling blue eyes asked. I was musing on my surroundings at a café in Louisville, Kentucky. His question drifted through the air. Flavors ranging from smoky to caramel to charcoal presented themselves on the menu, and I chose the cocoa variety.
Man, I still think about that twig tea, though. Tree bits in hot water sounds like nature in a teacup. And sometimes in a city, we need every bit of nature we can find.
Settling into the weathered wooden chair, my naturally blurred vision blended the cucumber green walls with the wooden furniture, producing a forest of curved tree branches with ice cream treetops. What a privilege it is to turn a corner in a city and jump from the pavement into a hazy teahouse!
Was this café an ode to old-fashioned mountain living, or an ironic, modern take on Appalachian identity? Perhaps both, I thought. Either way, finding a country abode within a city framework is a breath of fresh air, especially if it feels authentic. This search for “green relief” is a daily part of my New York City life.
Sometimes the greatest moment of happiness can come from finding grass growing in sidewalk gaps, or a café with décor that resembles a cedar forest. While these joys are only reflections of the magnificence of open land and wild woods, they balance the artificial elements of urban life, from glaring neon lights to unforgiving cement sidewalks. The confusion between nature and culture, authentic and artificial, and reality and art is thought-provoking and necessary in a changing city.
The man with the blond mane, rosy cheeks, and decisive steps appeared next to me. Instead of asking if I wanted cream or sugar, he used a few fingers to slide the teacup, positioned on a sliced tree log, across the table. The cup’s rings resembled a stove top. The herbs stuck to the side of the tea glass, happily saturated. How quickly the water in that curvy cup had been transformed from its pure state into an emblem of well-being and a cultural remembrance.
The impatient bluegrass banjo’s strum rhapsodized on this moment.
I wondered, why pay $3.50 for a cup of water with herbs? But tea is an experience. The scent can evoke a memory. The herbs can promote wellness. The sharing can honor a tradition—or break one. And the setting of a mountain teahouse can pull a person into a world of sweet potatoes, smoky tea, and burlap bags faster than you can say, “I’m busier than a moth in a mitten!”
Put at ease by the homey, honey interior, and restless due to my understanding that this was just a space, not a reality, I burned my tongue from drinking the tea too fast. Was I experiencing Appalachian culture or a theme park in downtown Louisville? The sweet cocoa and cinnamon tea reminded me once again of the land where they had come from, and I decided that it was the former.
Even so, I gathered up my imaginary petticoats and skedaddled past the dozing rocking chairs. As much as I had enjoyed the mountain teahouse house, it was time to find new spaces to explore around the corner.