Skip to main content

Out to Sea in a Cup of Earl Grey Tea

Out to Sea in a Cup of Earl Grey Tea

I was born with a rare mutation of an eye condition called Leber’s congenital amaurosis. Several of us in my family were born with some vision but have lost more of it over time. We don’t want you to feel too sorry for us, though. Disabled people for sure grieve physical limitations and societal barriers to belonging, but we can and do lead fulfilling lives.

At 32, I have just a little more than light perception, but as my vision loss has progressed, something magical has happened. Studies have shown the visual cortex in a blind person’s brain repurposes itself, assisting with other tasks. For me, one of the ways that took shape was that I developed synesthesia at a young age. Synesthesia, meaning “a union of the senses,” can show up differently from person to person. For example, the letter “A” is white in my mind’s eye, but it’s yellow for my sister. So I can’t speak for all synesthetes (or all blind folks either), but my life and world are much enriched by this adaptive blending of the senses. Music and other sounds have color. Letters and numbers have color, making spelling, memorization, and mental math easier. Touch, pain, and even emotions sometimes have color.

And you know what else has color? Smell and taste, which is exactly how I found myself drinking an afternoon cup of Earl Grey 10 years ago and wondering, “Why does this remind me of the ocean?”

A poem resulted called “Earl Grey,” in which I let my synesthesia take me time traveling. The poem, which was later published in my book, explored some of the things I grieve about vision loss but also how I see beauty in the world. After all, pain and beauty have never been far apart for me personally. Maybe there isn’t always something beautiful to see about a situation, but I can make room for the love, joy, hope, and beauty that keep me anchored in a stormy sea. All this from a cup of Earl Grey! Thank you, brain.

The Poem

One sip of Earl Grey,
and the hot, earthy steam
on my face
suddenly turns
to a cold, salty mist.

I open my mind’s eye
and behold a memory from
some thirteen years ago,
of my ten-year-old self
leaning up against
the railing of a ferry,
staring in wonder
at the iron sea below,
teeming with foam
as it laps against the siding
and reflects
the overcast sky
until they meet and merge
at the horizon.

After trying in vain
to see my own reflection
on the water’s surface,
I feel disappointed,
but only momentarily so,
for I am just as soon distracted
by the beauty around me.

Hindsight whispers
that it matters not
what I see;
rather, it’s how I see things
that counts,
and these visions
are my reflection—
not of my face,
but of my soul.

I glance down
at my tiny hands
gripping the railing,
and once more
they are grown-up,
by my open window,
and lifting
a well-worn mug
to my expectant lips
for another sip
of Earl Grey.


Recipe: Sea Salt London Fog 


  • Earl Grey tea (my Cultured Cup favorites are Crème de Earl Grey and Decaf House of Earl Grey)
  • Your dairy of choice (I use oat milk)
  • Your sweetener of choice (I use stevia or turbinado sugar)
  •  Sea salt (you’ll thank me later)

How to steep Earl Grey tea:

  • For these blends, The Cultured Cup recommends 1-1.5 tsp, 8 oz water, 212°F, 4–5 min.
  •  My approach: A bit stronger because of the doctoring, with 1 tbsp to 14 oz for 5–7 min.

How to culture this cup:

  • Add preferred sweetener to taste
  • Add a pinch of sea salt and stir
  • Add a splash of preferred dairy and stir

Hope you enjoy! And please feel free to share in the comments—does Earl Grey or another favorite tea transport you somewhere?


Mel Finefrock is the author of Patchwork Poetry and is in search of a home for book two. She has received creative writing awards from the University of North Texas and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities. Her work has also appeared in publications including Elephant Journal and Plano Magazine and on websites such as HuffPost, Conscious Style Guide, and Aromatica Poetica.


Be the first to comment.
All comments are moderated before being published.