Aleister Crowley’s favourite tea was not, as is widely believed, lapsang souchong. It was darjeeling. The Great Beast believed that the smoking process interfered with the passage of spirits.
An Englishman’s obsession with tea is widely documented. To many, then, it will come as little surprise that I found myself drawn towards that bleak tearoom down that darkening alley in this sprawling metropolis. The Soho sidestreet retained some of the area’s original air of debauchery, albeit on a way not wholly palatable.
I am teased from my reverie by the rising scent of tea catching at the back of my throat.
It is said that the Great Beast used to frequent this very tearoom, and made it his routine to sit and consume exactly one and a half cups of his favoured leaf. Oft he was noted to have breathed in heavily the steam of his brew and gaze for hours through the grimy window opposite my seat.
It was also noted that his tea never grew cold.
In taking tea from the East, the English brought with them much of its charm and ritual, although left behind its passion for green leaves. Men would kill for this stuff. It seems insanity to think that now.
I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be brewing my second cup.
That infamous Professor who wrote much on the life of Crowley and of such fell texts as The King in Yellow and Unauchsprechless Kulten would often muse on why Crowley never finished his second cup. I intended to think on that myself, but had not the Professor’s addiction to Italian roast espresso to curb my temptation for the Englishman’s poison.
I have often been called reckless, but those past misadventures were nought in compare with this.
Perhaps we are lucky for the overcommodification of tea. The ubiquitous teabag and reemergence of green and white teas have tempted the wicked Englishman from the darkness that is black tea.
Again the scent catches me. I lift the nested teapot and carefully lay the strainer across the mouth of the cup. In a long, fluid motion I pour the umber contents between the vessels, from teapot to teacup. The black leaves dance in the strainer and settle; the steam rises from the cup and twists and shifts into eldritch pattern.
I lift the cup to my lips and inhale a warm mouthful, my eyes widen and my stomach knots. The steam seems to have assumed the guise of a murd’rous imp.
It’s stench assaults my nostrils and the shape grins at me before all I can see is glassy blackness welling before my vision. The sounds of the tearoom fall away and leave behind a low, long cackle. I–