News and Announcements
No, this isn’t about current politics.
For the last two years of posting articles to this blog I’ve been guided by the question, What is it about tea that inspires art?
In asking the question, there is an assumption that it is the spiritual aspects of the leaf that inspire. I’ve mentioned books of that theme; Spirit of Tea by Frank Hadley Murphy, Tea Here Now by Donna Fellman, Meaning of Tea by Scott Chamberlin Hoyt and Philip Cousineau, Cha Dao by Solala Towler and Three Cups of Tea by Greg Morteson and David Oliver Relin. But in almost every tea book, there is the element of spirit steeped into an ancient and profound history. They’re filled with beautiful stories and powerful images. I delight in the pretty side of tea. The elegance. The beauty. Since I write for and most often speak to children about tea, they fit well into my presentations.
But, last week I spoke to a horticultural society about tea, the plant. Questions about the health benefits came up. One man asked, “How many cups a day should we drink?” Issues with caffeine. Concerns about importing. “How do we know what’s true?”
That’s when I saw the elephant.
The pretty stories sell tea and books about tea. Knowledge of health benefits sell tea. Tea can sound so good that we can create an illusion that, the more the better. If one cuppa is good for us, does it follow that 8 per day is better? More consumers are asking questions about the real health benefits and quality control.
There’s no question about the importance of tea in the world. But, is there a problem with steering the public concept of tea to something innocent and benign? In doing so, do we erode the power of the ancient spirit of tea?
I’m reminded of the comic strip, Rose Is A Rose by Pat Brady and Don Wimmer. Rose is a gentle mother who has an inner motorcycle-riding, black leather wearing wild woman. They coexist. Her son, Pasquale, is guarded by a sweet angel who morphs into a titan if the situation requires. Pasquale needs both aspects of his angel. Rose needs her alter-ego, Vicky The Bike Rider to jump in with force.
I’ve come to think of the spirit of tea like this. The elegance and beauty and healing thrive on the power of those little leaves. In the last post to this blog, I cited the stories of two old Chinese men for whom a cup of tea was precious. Will making tea more innocent make it less precious? If we drink 8 cups a day, will each cup seem less important? In making it more convenient, do we make it seem less rare?Where’s The Elephant?
Now, we’re a month away from Expo. There will probably be more than 5000 tea people gathering in Las Vegas to drink and talk about tea. But it’s also about selling more tea. More people drinking more tea is a good thing. Adding tea to more products is a good thing. Right? It’s in chewing gum and chocolate bars. I love it! There will be samples of hundreds of teas and amazing new concepts. When attendees enter the exhibition hall the will be almost lifted off the floor by the fragrance. Classes with experts in all aspects of tea will be filled with people who need to know the best and latest to build their businesses. And schmoozing. Networking. Discussing weather conditions in China and new production in Africa.
Within the convention center will be a blend of all things tea. Technical, whimsical, historic, authentic, playful, and scientific. If it were not all part of the blend, would tea be the inspiration that it is today; the muse of painters and poets, icon of novelists and filmmakers?
My imaginary elephant looks a bit like Disney’s Dumbo with his unusually big ears making him rare and lofty.
I like to read tea books. Don’t you? I’ll admit that they can be redundant. That’s OK. I’m still relatively new to TeaLand and in each new book is a sparkling nugget. I’m like a child who want’s to have Winnie the Pooh read again every night. There are the tea facts, tea stories, legends and history. The bigger picture seems to come into focus with repetition.
What I’m posting today are two stories from fiction of old men and their tea. Both characters are Chinese men. One story is from a newly released collection of essay’s, Cha Dao, by Solala Towler. The essays themselves are written from a Taoist perspective; a spiritual perspective. But Towler goes further and includes history, brewing, health benefits and types of tea. Then, the end of the collection offers the story, Tea Time.
The old man in this story rises early to greet the sun. He goes to his garden to collect dew for his first cup of tea.
When he judged it ready, he took from a shelf a small bamboo canister of tea. it was Lung Jing, Dragon Well, the first of the season. It has cost him quite a lot of money but he had such simple tastes in everything else that it was well worth it.
The short story takes us through the details his preparations - not quite boiling the water and drinking from an unglazed cup.
He sat there, slowly savoring his tea and watching the world wake up around him. he felt his own body and mind waking up along with it, as the tea did its gentle work. he treasured these first moments of the day, when it was just himself and the world around him, sharing his first cup of tea of the day.
Cha Dao, Published by Singing Dragon
Towler’s simple story beautifully illustrates what the entire collection of essays have tried to explain. Through the purposeful and meditative preparation of his tea, the old Chinese man helps us understand the simplicity of the spirit of tea.
This story triggered a dusty memory of another old Chinese man and his tea.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
It is the protagonist’s wedding day. The young, impoverished farmer, Wang Lung has purchased a slave to become his wife and this is the day he will bring her home. In preparation, he prepares by using a precious amount of water to bathe. The only water he does not use in his tub is what he reserves to make a cup of tea for his father.
He opened a glazed jar that stood upon a ledge of the stove and took from it a dozen or so of the curled dried leaves and sprinkled them upon the surface of the water. The old man’s eyes opened greedily and immediately he began to complain.
“Why are you wasteful? Tea is like eating silver.”
“It is the day,” replied Wang Lung with a short laugh. “Eat and be comforted.”
The old man grasped the bowl in his shriveled, knotty fingers, muttering, uttering little grunts. He watched the laves uncurl and spread upon the surface of the water, unable to bear drinking the precious stuff.”
“It will be cold,” said Wang Lung.
“True - true” said the old man in alarm, and he began to take great gulps of the hot tea. He passed into an animal satisfaction, like a child fixed upon its feeding.
The Good Earth, Published by Washington Square Press
I recently reread the book after many years, enjoying and appreciating, with a new perspective, the meaning of tea. The spirit of tea. The first time I read The Good Earth, I barely noticed the tea. It slipped by as an oddity. So much to-do about a few leaves. Such a minor part of the story.
We couldn’t say that this is a story about tea. But, in searching for stories of beauty and meaning where tea is a main character, it is exciting to realize that the story is contained in a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. And, that the same novel contributed to the author being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1938.
I’m writing this while enjoying a cup of Zhen Qu, a gift from a good tea friend. There are more of us in the US now who know the teas, the traditions and the potential for a more involved life in tea.
How many people in the US at that time noticed the tea? To a very poor man, drinking tea is like eating silver. How was that understood?
Books like Solala Towler’s Cha Dao and Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, help us realize the potential for a greater spiritual relationship with our tea. It helps create a framework for appreciating what Pearl Buck tried to show decades ago as well as what we have an even greater opportunity to enjoy now. The enduring gift of tea.
I like to write about tea books and support tea authors and teachers. This one is a particular favorite.
Tea Here Now, by Donna Fellman & Lhasha Tizer is one of the first tea books I read cover to cover. My desk copy is now rather worn. If you pick it up, it will fall open to page 9 - to a tea story that is almost always one I want to share. This is a story shared from another book, Creating True Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh. Not a tea book, it is remarkable to find such an incredible bit of tea lore in other genres.
This particular story is one of the most beautiful images I’ve heard in the art of making tea.
As it goes:
The monk, Thich Nhat Hahn in exile from his native country, tells a story of how the Vietnamese people row small boats on a lotus pond just before sunset, filling the open flowers with tea. The flowers close during the night, scenting the tea. The tea drinkers return the next morning with water, small stoves and teacups to collect the tea as the flowers open and prepare it on their boats, still relaxing peacefully on the water.
The authors of Tea Here Now add commentary on the story:
“The poignancy of the beautiful picture of the lotus pond and its tea drinkers lies in the wanting it stirs in our hearts. We all desire to have the time for living. Drinking tea can teach us to take the time to live, to breathe, to share with others, and to stop and sit still long enough to feel our hearts and our aliveness.”But That’s a Hard Sell
But this whole spirit-of-tea thing can be a bit off-putting to some. Even with stress and anxiety as contributing factors to many serious illnesses, we (the collective we) still have trouble embracing something as simple as relaxing with a cup of tea intrinsically therapeutic. We want more validation from medical science. But even with that validation, we’re still shaking off an image that tea is fru-fru and mild-mannered.
How is it that a story as enticing as people rowing boats out onto a pond to brew tea that has spend the night wrapped in a living lotus flower hasn’t made the front page on a single major newspaper? Oprah interviewed Thich Nhat Hanh, but I don’t see her actively promoting the health and peacefulness of a tea lifestyle.
Back down to our real daily life - we don’t have lotus ponds. And as romantic and cleansing as these images may be for us intellectually, the problem is that they are so far from our experience of daily life, they are inaccessible.
We need more visual images of a western tea lifestyle. We need more tea experiences. And we need more tea story tellers.“Relax and Rejuvenate with a Tea Lifestyle. Rituals, Remedies and Meditations”
The above quote is from the cover of Tea Here Now. What has become the most important part of that phrase to me is “Tea Lifestyle”. That phrase is a kind of turning point between people who drink tea as a beverage and those who make the decision to delve deeper into the culture of the leaf. Almost all tea drinkers resonate with the “relax and rejuvenate” part. But the “rituals, remedies and meditations” are a path that cuts deeper into the tea field. What I most admire about Tea Here Now is the gentle way it bridges that gap with chapters as basic as how to gradually switch from coffee to tea. Just a few pages separate that section from “Steps For Bringing The Sacred Into Every Day Life”.
Somewhere in there are our stories.Most of the people I know are still at the beverage stage.
Donna Fellman and Lhasha Tizer, the authors of this compact little pocketbook have create a valuable curriculum for everyone of a mind to teach tea. With the flip of a few pages, we are reminded that learning curve for the tea lifestyle is very broad. There is actually so much to know about tea that it can be intimidating. But this book takes a gentle and non-judgmental tone that I’ve come to trust for new the new-comers. It does so by weaving the many virtues of tea together rather than focusing full attention on one aspect.
From how-to-brew to health under the umbrella of awakening your spirit.
The spirit of tea.
The book closes with, “A Toast To Tea and Life” - and another of my favorite lines:
“The adaptable, all-occasion spirit of tea sparks a renewal of playfulness and possibility.” And a photo of the authors, Donna Fellman and Lhasha Tizer
With playfulness and possibility!
On December 19th last year, I posted an article that needs correcting. I thank Mary Douglas, curator of the Kamm Foundation teapot collection, for adding a comment that set me straight. She has been the curator of The Sparta Teapot Museum which is now closed to the public but the foundation continues to provide pieces from their collection to shows around the world.
My error was thinking that they also managed the blog, “Teapots, Teapots, Teapots”
Andy is a ceramic artist, trained in ceramic sculpture at Exeter College of Art in the early 1970’s studying with Brian Southwell, Edward Allington and Lawson Rudge. He went on to be the first ceramist hired by Paul Cardew at Sunshine Ceramics.
This was around the same time that I started working in clay. And we all made teapots at one time or another. Ceramic art education seemed to require mastery of the form. Andy stayed with it as his life’s work.
I became more interested in drinking the contents and let go of my time in my own ceramics studio. I recently gave away my largest kiln and put most of my tools in storage. And yet, part of my heart and soul in tea is still very linked to those experiences. We ceramists chose the teapot form as a medium to say something. The form itself begins a conversation by asking the question - particularly in the case of sculptural pieces - WHY TEAPOTS? WHY TEA? And even those who have a basic appreciation for the brew still find themselves drawn to teapots. Why?
This same question drives my blog: What is it about tea that inspires art?
As I was clicking through Andy’s blog of sculptural and functional teapots, I was reminded of the vastness of teapot history and artistic interpretation. But who knew? Thanks to his blog archives, years of writing about this art form, we begin to appreciate the diversity this form (ultimately, the leaf) has inspired. Attending a teapot art exhibit like the ones the Kamm Teapot Foundation supplies with piece from the thousands in their collection is highly recommend for tea lovers. The current post on Andy Titcomb’s blog, Teapots, Teapots, Teapots offers an opportunity. The Newport Potters Guild is currently hosting a show, Tea By The Sea. This lasts through April 5th. The teapot on the right is one of the pieces in this juried show by Tony Wright. Black and Red Pod Teapot. Stoneware.6″ x 10″ x 4″. 2009
The show contains not only teapots but also tea bowls and other tea accessories. I looked through the collection and the phrase I’ve heard about some of the new tearooms came to mind. Our new tearooms “. . . aren’t your grandmother’s tearoom!” These teapots venture far from the traditional. The work is humorous, sometimes masterful, sometimes bold. They stretch our minds with possibility. Out of the box. Beyond the mold.Isn’t it similar?
On the tea side of the equation, there is another enormous body of knowledge which is almost invisible. Once again, Who Knew? Here in the US, access to fine tea and information about them began to be more available in the 1990’s. Even now, it seems as if very few people - even the ones who consider themselves tea drinkers - know much about the whole leaf teas. But, isn’t it a delight when you have a first tea discussion with someone?
Last week it was my roofing inspector. The inevitable question was politely asked, “What do you do?
“I’m a writer.”
“Cool! What do you write about?”
This is followed to the inevitable pause.
“Like the tea you drink? Like Lipton?”
It’s my favorite opening. I know now not to overwhelm the new converts with too much information - especially when you’re sitting on a roof in need of serious repair. The conversation didn’t venture very far into the difference between whole leaf and bagged or the health benefits of black tea vs. green tea. It was about how any cup of tea he substitutes for any canned soda is a good choice for his family. Suddenly, the tea parties his young daughters prepare for him on the weekends has a new meaning. The mere suggestion that there are so many choices of teas grown around the world gave him something completely new to do with his little girls. Even the assortment on the grocery store shelves offers adventure to the newly initiated. This wasn’t true ten years ago.
We’ve come a long way . . . . a bit of tea humor.
In the ancient history of tea and tea art, thousands of years of it, we’re finally catching on.
My dreams are still sprinkled with memories of last year’s tea party at the lovely vintage boutique in Philly, Vintage Connection. Heather, VC’s owner, hand selects beautiful pieces to line the exposed brick walls. I am often scouring the racks for dreamy dresses and delicate blouses that inspire a spring tea party or picnic in the park.
In an effort to beat the winter blues, I asked Heather to send me a photo of the ultimate spring tea party dress that is currently in her shop. Of course, I was giddy with spring fever when I opened my email and treated my eyes to this beautiful blue dress. Heather shared that “the dress is blue lace with a rosette from the 1950’s.” She had me at “the 1950’s,” as my vintage-loving heart skips at beat when you mention any year between the 20’s and the 50’s. What can I say, I’m an old soul.
Many thanks to the lovely Heather for taking the time to select the perfect spring tea party dress. And consider yourself lucky if you’re a Philadelphian, because Heather is offering a special discount to teaspoons & petals’ readers. Just mention “teaspoons & petals” at the register and you’ll only pay $250 (it retails for $350).
Not in Philly? Head over to your nearby vintage shop and scoop up a warm-weather dress. Hang it on your wall as you sip a cup of tea and let it inspire a spring tea party, or at least suppress your winter blues.
You might have already come across this exciting tea packaging. If so, consider it a welcomed encore. If not, then treat your eyes to this inspiring tea bag design. Hanger Tea’s designer, Soon Mo Kang, carefully crafted these tea filled bags to literally hang onto your cup. A companion to its delicate curves.
Beyond spicing up a normal tea bag, this particular design truly aligns with the role that tea plays in our daily lives. We wake up every morning and choose a shirt hanging in our closet and select a tea from our collection. In essence, this playful packaging embodies a routine that is simple yet also filled with exciting colors and tastes to brighten each morning.
I love the leaf. The history. The legends. The art and literature. I dream of visiting all the places where it is grown and the many ways it is brewed. The brewed tea that fills my cup becomes more magical as I venture into new taste experiences. The teaware. The tools. The people. Even the Business of Tea. I’m smitten.
The Tea Industry is its own world-wide-web; a network necessary to bring the product from field to cup. Let us assume for the moment that this network is actually the Spirit of Tea.
For countries of origin, places where tea is grown, the time and distance between the freshly picked leaf and the brew in the cup are short. The process visible. The hands involved all rather well known. And the importance of tea in daily life is undisputed. Those of us who do not live within picking distance of a plantation must depend on the industry’s network bring tea to us. Whether we buy teabags at the grocery store or loose leaves from specialty teashops, we must trust the experience and integrity of the purveyor. Or we must educate ourselves enough to discern a tea’s quality and value. Actually, it’s a bit of both.
This article was inspired by a discussion on one of the LinkedIn tea groups - Tea Enthusiasts and Entrepreneurs. Quality Matters. It was started by Kim Jage as a possible theme for the upcoming World Tea Expo.
One interesting point was that high price does not = quality. Giving the consumer what she/he wants at a fair price is the key. We have tasted the trash tea cutely packaged and priced as something it cannot live up to. Not the tea’s fault. On the other hand, there are specialty teas that most consumers cannot appreciate - yet. This is the challenge tea presents. How do we respect and value such a broad spectrum of tea experiences?
A comment from this on-going discussion came from Ruben Marley, comparing tea to wine:
Whether these wines were high or low-end was almost never a real factor in the final results of our efforts… the bottom line was always based upon the level and quality of education we gave our customers. I think tea is no different, because it offers a full range of product to suit anyone’s taste or budget.
Perhaps it is because tea is associated with many spiritual traditions and deeply rooted cultural experiences that we want to hold it to a high standard of integrity in business. Some of us may feel drawn to the world of tea with a belief that we are inherently networked through a loftier business model. We’re looking to escape the world of unconscious marketing - promise and package anything to make the sale.Quality Education & Quality Information
One of my good friends in Tea Land, Amy Lawrence of An Afternoon to Remember, was asked by a Sacramento TV station to come on their morning show and tell the audience that all tea was the same. She refused to make this statement but he still allowed her on the show and still tried to bully her into saying that all teas are equal. She defended the position.
If we allow the public to believe that all teas are equal, we are injuring the spirit and beauty of tea and the potential for the industry.
Our strength is in the diversity of product quality and a culture experience that connects the entire world. Just as we are drawn to an assumption of quality in tea and a desire to trust the packaging claims and marketing spiels, so are the new consumers exploring beyond the grocery store shelves into the larger world of tea.
The Spirit of Tea seems to attract an educated and inquisitive imbiber. We have lured them away from other beverages with the promise of health benefits and the allure of traveling the world through their teacup.We don’t have to be snobs.
My last post featured some of the tea books for children. It’s a niche I’ve chosen for myself. Or maybe it chose me. Either way - one of the remarkable things about introducing children to the whole world of tea is their delight with the legends and fascination with the differences. They’re a long way from feeling like they have to choose between one way or another. They want it all. Even young children are excited to try something new. One cautious sip might be enough. Or, if I show them the tiny rosebuds in the oolong, it could become there new favorite of the day. Tomorrow it could be a tea with chunks of apple and cranberries. The next day a child might want to watch a tied tea flower open and taste the interesting blend of green tea and osmanthus flower. One of my 5-yr-old friends just loves saying the word lychee. His older brother will drink anything if he can stir the teacup with a whole cinnamon stick. Their sister likes to unfold the reconstituted leaf. She considers that she has “won” if she finds two leaves still attached to a bit of stem.
In the Spirit of Tea, I know I can give them a quality tea at a price their parents can afford. It’s do-able. And I believe that the wealth of tea experiences can keep them interested and satisfied for the rest of their lives.It’s not easy but it is fun.
So, now I’m precariously perched on my soap box - or my tea crate. I have to add that tea isn’t easy. There’s a lot to know and here in the US, we’re still relatively young. We’re like children in many ways depending on others to help us understand “quality”. But this year TEAUSA and the Specialty Tea Institute have graduated 35 students through Level 3 - teachers who have invested in something comparable to a college curriculum in tea. We’re preparing for the 8th World Tea Expo where tea pros gather to taste, learn and celebrate this spirit we share. It bridges the gap between the retailers and the plantations be luring people from all around the world to display and sample the newest teas. There are more tea books, tea artists and tea educators every year. We’re all starting to experience a more educated consumer and appreciate the physical and virtual resources available to stay current.
A writer friend recently asked me if I don’t get bored writing about tea?
I love tea. Don’t you?
Russian designer, Natalia Ponomareva created this beautiful origami tea bag for a sencha & berry tea. As you steep this delicate blend, the carefully designed bag expands into the shape of the bird. As it spreads its wings to take flight from your cup, one can imagine it soaring to your senses and captivating your taste buds.
Now if only this was more than a concept design….
It’s been quite a while since I’ve shared my tea filled thoughts with everyone. Oh how I’ve missed it! But during this quiet time I wandered through the land of teaware as I searched for a new cup. And I’m thrilled to announce that teaspoons & petals has a new signature cup. Hooray! This delicate little beauty will hold 8oz of your favorite tea and its curves will rest gently in your palm. Its elegant handle is roomy, allowing a few of your fingers to rest within its bends and arc.
But before you scroll down to take a closer look at the new member of the teaspoons & petals family, just let me whisper one more secret in your direction. While searching high and low for the perfect tea cup, I fed my senses musical caffeine from the lady songbirds of jazz & blues: Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday and Etta James. These smoky notes inspired my newest line of haiku that features 5 haiku exploring the intimate relationship between tea and music. Each word was inspired by a sip of a nutty oolong or floral jasmine and blues notes or a jazzy scat. Hear my inspiration for yourself.
So without further ado…I’d like to introduce you to Music & Tea:
Meet Ella, Etta, Billie, Nina and Dinah…
tea drips like the rain
torn between two loves
sing dear lady blue
steam rises from tea
smoky voice lingers
Be sure to check my etsy site shortly, as I’ll be uploading the cups to my shop later today so that you can take a closer look at each musically inspired haiku. But before you go, I’d like to send some love to Courtney Apple, the fabulous photographer who creatively shot the new music & tea line. I highly recommend that you steep a fresh pot of tea and browse her online portfolio that allows viewers to see the world in a light that is hopeful, vivacious and honest.
Back in the fall, I hopped on a Bolt Bus headed towards NYC to attend a private screening of The Meaning Of Tea, not yet knowing that this film would greatly deepen and grow my connection to tea. The Meaning Of Tea is “a 74-minute documentary film that travels through India, Japan, Taiwan, Morocco, England, France, Ireland, and even Tea, South Dakota to ask a variety of people about their relationship to tea as a beverage, a means of relaxation, and a way of life.”
To state it rather simply, this film intensified my love affair with tea as it explored the emotional, historical, cultural and experiential role of tea throughout the world.
Scott Hoyt, the director of this cinematic journey, notes that “In this film, I seek to capture the compelling essence of tea as philosophy, art form, and as an old tea master once said, a means to cleanse the senses. While other documentary films on tea have focused on its history or sociology, I will focus on what Suzuki calls “the spirit of tea,” the rediscovery of simplicity, harmony, purity, and reverence for life.”
I feel truly fortunate to have experienced such a defining film, as it offered me the opportunity to take a look at how those closely connected to tea viewed its deeper meaning and significance. From tea sellers and pickers, to tasters, teapot traders and plantation owners, each offered an honest insight into the complexities of this plant and beverage from a deeply emotionally perspective. Each carefully crafted and seamlessly integrated scene touched upon the ritual, history, picking, selling, buying and tasting aspects of tea.
As the film explored tea’s role in our modern world and its meaning in our fast paced culture, I was truly inspired to ask the questions, what does tea mean to me? Although its role in my life has changed throughout the years, tea began simply as a welcomed escape from coffee. It would soon evolve into a beverage that excited my senses, then a restorative treat, before becoming a ritual, and now I am proud to say that tea is truly a part of who I am. Tea defines me and has inspired my values.
Although I have no intention of spoiling your viewing experience by exposing details, I need to share a truly moving quote from the film. The carefully considered and soulfully expressed words of lu-feng lu from Wu-ling tea farm in Taiwan captivated my spirit and soul.
“When I drink a good tea, I use my heart to smell the aroma. When I inhale, it goes right into my soul. So when I come across a good tea, I remember it for many years. The memory of that tea stays with me for a longtime. For a tea to be very good, you need the right combination of heaven, earth and man. Sometimes it takes years to comes across one. I feel fortunate, as I’ve experienced this a few times in my life. I’ve come across a good tea only four times. It’s so rare. Some people never come across a good tea in their lifetime. For this reason, I feel lucky. My life is fulfilled.”
Take one more slow sip from your cup and gently read the quote once again.
I highly recommend that you add this film to your collection, as it will help you better understand and define what tea truly means to you. Steep your favorite tea, watch the trailer and take the first step on the path towards understanding how tea has lifted your spirit.
One of the many benefits of sharing my passion for tea with friends, is that I often receive emails filled with photos of teaware, updates about new tea companies and invitations to join them for a cup of tea. So, I was thrilled when my friend, Jolene, emailed me this fabulous photo (originally from the Just Be Splendid blog).
…time to resteep an oolong and dream of the day that I’ll have a tea room with built-in bookshelves lined with my teacups…
Tea allows me to travel via slow sips of exotic blends that conjure images of foreign lands and cultures. Beyond the steep, I often find that I can take a journey through the words of tea enthusiasts, such as Kate Gover of Lahloo Tea located in Bristol, UK. After exchanging emails with Kate a few months ago, she agreed to answer some questions about her love of tea and the story behind Lahloo. I’m thrilled to share her words and beautiful images with you.
(p.s. I’ll be posting reviews of teas from Lahloo very soon!)
What are your top 5 favorite pieces of teaware?
What are your top 5 favorite teas at the moment?
· WAZUKA SENCHA Beautiful deep jade-green leaf full of fresh, grassy aroma and bitter-sweet taste. Grown in full sunlight in row upon row of luscious tea trees in the Wazuka Hills, Uji, it has beautifully balanced flavours. This is thanks to the special care and attention, from harvest to delivery, of Hidekazu and the steaming rather than pan frying of the tea leaf.
What inspired you and your husband to launch Lahloo 3 years ago?
We researched everything we could about the very best tea, where it was produced, who produced it and the history behind its production. Despite the UK’s long relationship with tea, it became clear that to experience truly great tea beyond fancy food halls such at Fortnum & Mason, you had to visit Europe. We did just that, visiting teahouses and boutiques across Europe sampling tea and speaking with tea enthusiasts. She drank very bad but expensive tea in teahouses which should have known better and truly great tea in places you wouldn’t expect to find it. Inspired by what we found, we launched Lahloo.
Lahloo is named after the 19th century tea clipper my great-great grandfather sailed on. In the 1800’s the demand by fashionable Londoners for the earliest spring crop tea created massive competition. The first ‘clipper’ that sailed into London would be met by an almost carnival atmosphere in the docks with its cargo of tea reaching the highest price. Built in 1867, the Lahloo was one of the most famous tea clippers of the 19th century. So-called because of the way they “clipped” miles, clippers were built for speed and raced to bring tea from China to London. Having grown up around dockside in London, my great-great grandfather George Hockaday was drawn into a career as a sailor and he worked on the Lahloo as she joined the clipper races.
The concept for Lahloo has been born out of the knowledge and passion gathered over a decade of research, travelling, sampling, smelling and tasting. This journey of discovery will continue for us. Our ultimate ambition is to open Lahloo tea bar & boutique offering the Lahloo experience: the very best artisan loose-leaf teas from around the world, served with the ceremony deserving of the world’s finest teas. We hope to encourage others to discover delicious artisan tea through Lahloo’s rare and unique collection of loose-leaf teas.
How long did it take you to find tea importers, Alex Fraser and Tim d’Offray?
Beyond your White Chocolate and Matsukaze Matcha Green Tea Truffles, in what other ways do enjoy incorporate tea with your food?
I often wander over to Flickr.com and search the word “tea” just to see a variety of photographic gems fill my screen. I stumbled upon this delightful photo of teacups hanging from a lit chandelier, and it inspired me to write this haiku:
flickering lights gleam
photo credit: Sherry’s Rose Cottage
Hooray! My tea granita was featured in the Food Trust’s newsletter (yes, this announcement is a tad delayed as the warm weather was just fading to chilled air when it was published). For those of you not familiar with the Food Trust in Philadelphia:
“The Food Trust strives to make healthy food available to all. Working with neighborhoods, schools, grocers, farmers and policymakers, we’ve developed a comprehensive approach that combines nutrition education and greater availability of affordable, healthy food.”
I often dream of the day that my closet will be filled with the elegant creations of Leanne Marshall (winner of project runway 2008). When I stumbled across this dress on her blog and in her etsy shop, I was blown away by it’s delicate beauty. Even though it’s designed to be a wedding dress, I’ve imagined wearing this to a garden tea party while serving flowering teas from large glass pots. Champagne pink roses and lilacs would be strewn about the table. Maybe I’d serve lavender cookies.
While dreaming of wearing the dress, I was inspired to write this haiku:
peony tea blooms
While exploring the multiple ways in which I can use my tealeaves beyond the steep, I stumbled across info about environmental chemist turned sous chef with a passion for tea, Melanie Franks. After realizing her heart was in the kitchen, Melanie dove into the culinary world as a sous chef at Hook Restaurant and minibar chef at think FOOD group (Chef Jose Andres), just to name a few.
Although her passion for food spans cuisines, there is one beverage that excites Melanie’s palate. Yes, you guessed correctly, it’s tea. Beyond serving as a tea sommelier and training her staff about pairing and serving tea, she also completed all level three certification classes with the Specialty Tea Institute. Now a sous chef at NYC’s Degustation, Melanie is developing recipes that incorporate tea. How fabulous!
Lucky for me (and you), Melanie (pictured below) agreed to answer a few questions about her love of and experience with tea! Enjoy!
1. What are your top 5 favorite teas?
This is almost impossible to answer there are so many teas I love. However, there are a few favorites that I always come back to. In general, I am an Oolong girl. The complexity of flavor and aroma is unequal. From Pouchongs to Champagne, the range of oxidation levels in Oolongs creates an exceptionally pleasurable experience. I can talk endlessly about Oolongs so it is best for me to move on. Another tea I would have to mention is Silver Needles. Indeed, this tea has the power to transport me to a misty mountain day whenever I take a sip. From the leaf style to aroma, it is simply amazing. Another tea I can’t live without is Puerh, because of its’ distinct earthy qualities and deliciously mellow finish. There is almost a change in mood one experiences when they drink this tea. It is for this reason that I often drink Puerh after a long day at work. Pi Lo Chun, is a great tea that I revisit on a regular basis. Between the tea bushes of Pi Lo Chun apricot, plum and peach trees are planted which yields a beautiful aroma and clean finish. The last tea I will mention is Sencha. I love the oceanic quality of Sencha and brilliant color of the cup. It simply energizes me. In reality, I could easily mention a dozen more teas.
2. Do you have any favorite tea accessories?
When I left Hook, the staff bought me a teapot from China that I adore. It has a natural rough glaze and yellowy brown color. It is beautifully made and has sentimental value. I can’t live without my tea tray that I use for Gung Fu tea service. It is just so practical to have a beautiful vessel that serves for both serving tea and disposing of water. I also have an affinity for my everyday tea cup. It is extremely simple. It is an all white porcelain cup with a matte glaze and has bowl shape that is perfect for holding with both hands. The white color allows me to enjoy the color of the liquor.
3. Can you share a favorite moment/memory of your experience at the Specialty Tea Institute?
This is also a very difficult question to pin point one experience at of two years. However I will say this, the teachers and the people you meet taking these classes are amazing. During the session breaks I still keep in contact with my teachers and friends that I have made along the way. To have such an immense amount of knowledge of tea gathered together in one place solely to educate one another is a beautiful experience. I have to mention Phil Parda (Zhong Guo Cha), Donna Fellman (Tea Education Alliance), and Yoon Hee Kim (Tea Classics) because they truly gave me a diverse and solid foundation in tea.
4. Tell me more about your position as a tea sommelier at Hook restaurant…
This was a large undertaking. While working as a Sous Chef, I changed over the tea program from bag teas to loose leaf tea. Training my staff properly was so very important. We averaged around 250 to 300 people a night, and I learned very quickly that the wait staff did not take the care to brew some of the more temperature sensitive teas when they got busy. In this particular restaurant setting (high volume), I put together a tea list that was both provocative and service friendly. It was exciting for customers because instead of the normal pedestrian cup they were able to have the opportunity to try an array of different teas. Talking to the customers and staff about tea on a daily basis only increased my love of tea. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
5. How do you incorporate tea in your dishes?
Cooking with tea as an ingredient is really limitless. Tea can be both savory and sweet as well as earthy and aromatic. I love cooking with tea because of its flexibility. Right now we have a soup with tea as ingredient that just speaks spring is here (finally). It is a nettle soup with Lapsang Souchong yoghurt, salmon roe, cured Tasmania sea trout, and fava ban flowers. I am going to put on a desert of a chilled chamomile soup with mint and lemon sorbet this week. I can’t possible pick a favorite dish that I have done with tea, but I did really enjoy a desert I that consisted of Matcha tea cake, maldon salt, strawberry sorbet and thyme syrup. My favorite teas to cook with are the highly aromatic teas like Lapsang Souchong, jasmine green, Darjeeling as well as tisanes like chamomile and Rooibos. As for tips with cooking with tea, I find it helpful to infuse tea into oils and liquids first. Then use the tea flavored components in your recipe just as like normal. For instance, if you wanted to make a vegetable puree of some sort take the liquid you are going to use in that recipe and infuse the it with tea. The Infusion should not be stronger than normal, infuse it just as you want to drink it so that it is balanced. This method is more user friendly to start. Than as you get more comfortable with tea one can experiment with smoking, curing, and steaming with tea for example.