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Blast from the past: a cup of compassion please

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 12:03

This article was originally posted to T Ching in September of 2011.


In the face of what on some days seems like a crumbling world, a planet in total chaos, we find ourselves retracting and hiding rather than confronting the fears that seem to be escalating around us.  With daily catastrophes playing out in real life and in the media, it is easy to let fear creep into our consciousness and immobilize us, paralyzing us from becoming fully contributing human beings.

One of the biggest problems with a society ruled by fear is that the one key emotion that unlocks the heart from its shackles and aids us in reaching out to our fellow men and women never finds the space to flourish.  With the ever-present sense of fear, our compassion suffocates.  Our lives and our cities are in dire need of deeper compassion.  The odd glimpse I see of compassion – whether in my daily treks or in the isolated feel-good clip at the end of the 6:00 o’clock news – never fails to move me, to stop me in my tracks to listen or observe what is transpiring.  I am quite certain I am not alone.

So I turn to my beloved leaf and seek solace in the cup.  This time, rather than it being a solitary ritual, I surround myself with other tea lovers.  When you are going to steer the conversation toward a discussion of compassion or the lack thereof, there is one tea that was truly designed for this unconventional get-together.  From a Buddhist goddess named Avaloki Tesvara Guanyin – woman with 1000 arms – comes the namesake tea, Iron Goddess of Mercy – “she who perceives the sufferings of the world.”  This archetype Guanyin vowed never to rest until she had freed all the sentient beings of the world.  The name Guanyin is short for Guanshiyin, which means observing the sounds and cries of the world.

Recently, as a group of us savored Tiguanyin, a reticent calm settled over the small gathering.  The subtle orchid aroma of the tightly rolled oolong wafted gently past our downturned faces.  It was the right moment to share a little history of this goddess tea and its meaning and why we need to gather and reflect on our lives and our planet.  It was the time to discuss the much-lacking emotion of compassion that we seem to be losing, not unlike the ability to nourish ourselves and to accept wholeheartedly the age-old responsibility of caring for our aging parents or the thousands of elderly who have no one left on this planet.

I believe compassion can be brought back through the ritual of sharing tea.  I have seen transformation in people.  I have seen hard, furled brows soften and recede, as the liquor of the leaf is swallowed one sip at a time.  There’s time in each and every day to invite your friends and your neighbors into the ritual.  Introduce them to the tea from our goddess of mercy and compassion and let them tell you their stories.  In doing so, you can practice becoming a great listener, you can nod and re-enforce, and when all are done speaking, you can ask questions.

Through this seemingly simple interaction, we can tap into our innate ability as humans to be compassionate, to be understanding, and to witness the goodness that resides in us all.
A simple cup of tea can be the seed of change that inspires us toward even greater acts of compassion.  There is no doubt in my mind that this will be of paramount importance in the years to come.

So take a moment this week to share a pot of Tiguanyin with someone who needs your ear.  A little love goes a long way these days.  There is a life beyond fear.  Trust yourself on this.


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A Crash Course In Tea

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 15:21

I was recently challenged to try my hand at writing a blog post. It’s been a few years since I last did much writing (basically since college), and I’ve never written for a blog so it seemed a good idea. I stumbled upon T Ching while searching for other things, and decided it sounded intriguing.

I’ve always been the crazy tea lady to my friends. The one who wants a cup every morning and a pot when we go out to a restaurant that has loose tea and will either let me steep my own or has proven that they consistently won’t over steep. I know the general tea types, and I’ve tried many, though I often lose track of what’s what. I’ve visited the tea plantation in South Carolina, gone to “afternoon tea” in the British style (scones and all!) at tea houses both local and in British Columbia, and visited many neighborhood tea shops. My friends and family LOVE to gift me with a bag of bizarrely-flavored teas from Teavana, which I smile my appreciation for and then quietly wonder how long I need to keep it in my cupboard before I can dispose of it guilt-free (and will I be required to produce and drink it when next they visit?). I have even casually studied herbalism over the years.

None of this prepared me for what I found in the blog.

Off I went and started skimming through existing articles. I’d hate to write about something someone else has already covered, and I wanted to know what kind of tone most of the writers use. I looked at how long the blog has been going, and a little voice in the back of my head wondered, “after running for 11 years, hasn’t EVERYTHING already been covered?” To my dismay, the first thing I realized was how much I simply do not know about tea.

While I am familiar with the different major kinds of tea and all of the basic terminology, there was still a lot I didn’t know. For example, what is a “gaiwan”? What is “gongfu” tea preparation? And how much does it matter? I know some of the Japanese teas and terminology thanks to my minor in Japanese (I even have a tetsubin), but my Chinese knowledge is vastly more limited. I’ve heard of Iron Goddess oolong, but what are the differences between types of oolong? (And are there actual monkeys involved?!)

I have also never really paid much attention to exact measurements of temperature, water, or tea. Skimming and reading articles on the blog was like taking a crash course, and I was opening more and more tabs in my web browser in order to google some term that I’d never heard or never truly understood. I felt the need to start taking notes, and will there be an exam later?

Information overload notwithstanding, I am looking forward to learning even more about tea, T Ching, and the unique individuals that are a part of creating–and those appreciating–the blog. In the meantime, every morning my husband drops a Twinings Irish Breakfast tea bag in my mug, pours hot water over it, and adds a dollop of cream. He then sets it on my nightstand for me to drink as soon as I wake up. No matter how much I learn about the ins and outs of tea, that first cup of the day will always be perfect to me.

Answers to most of my questions found here:





guest contributor – Jaelithe Crislip

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A New Legacy of Darjeeling Tea

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 12:49


The Darjeeling tea industry has been going through a difficult three months. Tea business owners and tea lovers read any news article they can find on the situation because their beloved Darjeeling tea stocks have been taken hostage for the sake of Democracy. Although there are some political and philosophical reasons why the Darjeeling tea industry has gone on strike, tea lovers should focus on what is really important if they wish to taste the beautiful terroir of Darjeeling tea again. It is uncertain if the central government of India is ever going to give Gorkhaland to the people of Darjeeling, but what is known is the passion and pride Gorkha people have for making Darjeeling the best it has ever been.

There is much argument about the indigenous origins of the people of Darjeeling. Gorkha people I have met on my travels to Darjeeling tell me that several different Gorkha ethnic groups were inhabiting the area way before the tea industry developed, while all documented history on the subject make claims that the Gorkha population current in Darjeeling was a direct import of labor for the industry. Regardless of the depth of the roots of Gorkha in Darjeeling, one can not deny that Gorkha people have the deepest roots of anyone else that has ever been a part of the area.

The start of the Darjeeling tea industry saw British and European pioneers developing systems to best utilize the skills and efforts of the locals in the area. Although the system was a mimic of the colonial slavery system of America, it has been said by many historians that there was a level of mutual pride between the European tea planters and local people to make a high quality product that was mindful to the condition of the environment and people of the area. When India gained its independence about 70 years ago, all tea estates of Darjeeling were sold to wealthy Indians (no Gorkhas) and the Darjeeling tea industry turned from a pioneering pride into a business. The new owners did not have a hereditary connection to the environment and people, so over time the locals became marginalized.

The current strike in Darjeeling is directly linked to the demand of the local people to manage their own affairs under their own state of Gorkhaland rather than being controlled by politicians in a far away place; Kolkata, as part of West Bengal. When I first heard about the strike and the Gorkhaland movement I simply asked “Why doesn’t the central government make Gorkhaland?” It seems easy enough and would be a great way to uplift the current situation of the Darjeeling tea industry which was already suffering before the strike began with low production profit margins and questionably unethical treatment of tea farm workers.

Over three months of suffering and the central government has not given any sign of Gorkhaland. The internet has been shut down for the area and leaders and activists for the Gorkhaland movement have been arrested and imprisoned, despite the nonviolent nature of the current movement. The government is controlling media and sharing a story that the movement is violent. Due to the politically hostile environment for the movement it is clear that us Darjeeling tea lovers must see beyond Gorkhaland and the current tea industry and look at the only thing that is going to survive this situation; the Gorkha people.

Gorkha people are the most peaceful and community-oriented people that I have ever met. On the other hand, I have heard of the legendary warrior spirit of the Gorkha people that shows their strength and ability to stand up for themselves. There is a pride they have for their heritage and community that I believe is going to make Darjeeling tea better than it has ever been before. Slowly, tea estates have been failing in the area and local people have claimed the leases on the land to harvest their own leaf to sell to the factories. They are employing archaic organic practices through intuition and have a desire to learn to make higher quality tea. With the help of knowledge exchange with other tea makers around the world it is possible that the future of Darjeeling tea, when managed by the Gorkha people, will be something that the tea world has never seen.

Not all hope for Darjeeling is lost. Although the tea bushes of the famous estates have overgrown this season and 2017 tea stocks have run dry, there is still hope for Darjeeling tea because of the local people. The Gorkhas can and will make Darjeeling tea better than it ever has been–we just need to understand their passion and support them as much as we can. Look out for vendors that are sampling and selling teas made by Gorkha small growers of Darjeeling and see the quality of their tea improve and their communities prosper.

The post A New Legacy of Darjeeling Tea appeared first on T Ching.

Caramel color and bottled tea

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 14:31

Caramel coloring in food and beverages is not new and not uncommon. It is the most commonly used food coloring in the world. It can be found in everything from breads to sauces to soda to even steak and liquor. And, unfortunately, a lot of ready-to-drink (RTD) bottled teas.

If you’re a regular viewer of broadcast television in the US, you probably have seen ads for Gold Peak tea and the like. They’re marketed to be like the tea you’d brew yourself at home, just in a bottle. In fact, their slogan is “The taste that brings you home”. So how different from home brewed tea could it be? Quite a bit actually. Let’s talk about caramel coloring.

The coloring used in the food industry is different from what you might make in your own kitchen, in that instead of the coloring coming from cooking sugar down into a caramelized paste, this caramel color can be the result of heating a number of different carbohydrates with or without (usually with) acids, alkalis, or salts. It generally has a bitter flavor when added to foods, and is why many foods that contain caramel color will have extra sugar added.

Caramel coloring is used both as a simple food coloring, but also as a preservative and an emulsifier, which helps keep foods on the shelf longer and prevents mixtures from separating.

Caramel coloring has come under fire for years, especially relating to sodas. California has put it on their list of possible carcinogens, and hence the common label of “This product contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects”. But is this true of all caramel color?

Types of caramel color

There are four types of caramel colors used in the food industry, each with different chemicals and applications:

Classes III and IV are the reason California has problems with the coloring. The presence of ammonium compounds in the production process creates what is known as 4-MEI, and this has been shown in studies to cause cancer to mice (but not rats. Part of the problem here is that we are not sure which test animal is more like a human in this regard). Laws in California control the amounts of this in products like soda, but having more than one can of pop a day will certainly put you over these amounts.

What about tea?

The important question here is: what kind of coloring is used in RTD teas? The answer: it depends.

A good number of RTD teas use Class I caramel coloring, which doesn’t have any 4-MEI, and which is safe.

But just as many RTD teas use Class IV, which does produce 4-MEI. How can you tell which is being used? Outside of a scientific investigation, it’s impossible to tell.

Bottom line

There is still debate as to whether or not caramel color is bad for you. Some question the amounts of 4-MEI given to the mice in the study and claim that in order to achieve the amounts to give you cancer you would need to drink the equivalent of one thousand cans of pop per day.

Why is it in tea in the first place? Besides the preservative qualities, it is likely the coloring is added to give extra color to an otherwise diluted tea. RTD teas are often diluted in order to counteract the bitterness caused by antioxidants. Yes, that’s right: RTD teas have fewer antioxidants than real brewed tea. So you’re not really doing yourself any favors by drinking bottled tea in the first place.

So whether you’re wary about caramel food coloring or not, if you want the real deal, make sure to read your nutrition labels, even for unsweetened tea. There is good bottled tea out there, you just have to look. And if you’re looking for a good source of antioxidants, just brew at home.



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Apples, honey and oolong

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 12:40

Sometimes the best ideas for cooking with tea come from a complete upending of one’s preconceptions. How’s it done? In my case I often open the tea cabinet and pick out a tea at random and then another without identifying which teas they are. I let them steep for three minutes each using water at just under the boiling point (Yes, I know that each tea likes its own temperature for brewing but I’m throwing caution to the winds here a bit). Then I taste the teas side by side and jot down without self censure the initial impressions of each. Sip each again, take more notes as new nuances of flavor become evident. Let the teas cool, taste and take notes once again. From those notes flows the ideation process of cooking with tea and pairing foods with the teas. The product of that creative outfall of ideas has led me to many inspired, good-enough-to-repeat dishes. Here’s one.

As fall seems to begin, however reluctantly, with summer letting go of its furious grasp, nationwide, I am turning for inspiration to my local farmers markets. Apples in many shades, shapes and flavors are starting to appear and I am drawn to one of those picked-at-random teas, in this case oolong, to use as the basis for a poaching liquid for the fruit.  For the fruit, I chose first of the season Pink Lady apples with their crisp texture and sweet/tart floral notes.  The tea, as many oolongs are, is delicate and fragrant.

Here’s a non-recipe recipe: Brew the tea, sweeten ever so slightly with honey and now tackle the apples. Peel and core them. Cut them into thick wedges. Place them in a buttered baking dish. Now sprinkle them with a very fine dusting of ground allspice and cinnamon. Pour the brewed tea over all, cover the whole thing with foil, and bake in a moderate oven (350° F) for about 35 minutes, or until the apples are tender when pierced with the point of a small knife. Served hot or warm with a dollop of crème fraiche or softly whipped cream melting into a delicious pool, here’s a dessert to herald the cooler seasons to come. Provide a spoon and a fork for this one. As textural counterpoint, crush some deliciously spicy ginger cookies and scatter over each serving, if you like.



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Blast from the past: the art of reading the tea leaf

Fri, 09/15/2017 - 12:44

This article by Tiffany Williams was originally posted to T Ching in September of 2012.

Tasseography or tassology is a fortune-telling method that involves interpreting tea leaves. “Tasse” is from the Arabic root word for “cup” and “graphy” means “map.” The cup serves as a map, and the tea leaves are interpreted based on where they fall on the cup map. Tea-leaf reading is often associated with gypsies, but it actually started in Asia. You need a wide porcelain cup with a handle, small tea leaves, hot water, and a list of symbols. You can read your own tea leaves or go to an expert.

First you think of a question, such as “Will you get the job?” or “Did you make a good decision?” or “Will you be happy?” Focus on this question during the fortune-telling session. The energy you use to focus on the question influences the leaves in your cup. The small leaves will form recognizable shapes. Wet leaves stick best to porcelain cups. A wide cup is great to help spread out the leaves. Using your less dominant hand, scoop a teaspoon of tea into your cup and infuse with water. Hold the cup in your hand as you focus on your question. If you have a lot of bubbles on the surface, you will have a financial windfall. A leaf floating at the top indicates money is flowing toward you. Those are a few predictions. Gently blow the hot liquid and sip your tea. Hold your cup in your less dominant hand.

Drink your tea until there are a few drops left. Keep focusing on your question. Swirl the tea three times counterclockwise with your less dominant hand. You want to make sure the leaves are coating as much of the side of the cup as possible. Give your wrist a full rotation. Gently turn the cup upside down on a saucer. Be careful not to bang the cup on the saucer. You just want the last of the liquid to drain. Wait a few minutes and start to read the map in your cup.

Try to use a cup with a handle. The handle should always be pointed towards the drinker. Think about your question as you look at the leaves. The cup handle represents “home,” or your personal life. The point opposite the handle represents “work,” or professional life. Shapes near the rim represent events in the near future – the next 3 to 6 months. The middle of the cup represents events happening within the next 6 to 12 months. The bottom represents events happening in the next year. Tea-leaf shapes to the right of the handle represent the past, and shapes to the left represent the future. You want to keep all this in mind as you interpret the shapes. Use a symbols guide. You can find many on the Internet.

What do you see in your cup? How does it relate to your question?


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Who has the best tea thermos?

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 12:00

It comes as no surprise that Zojirushi  won the Best New Tea Accessory award at the World Tea Expo last June. President and CEO Tatsu Yamasaki provided pertinent information about their insulated tea mugs in a World Tea News post. Having been manufacturing tea accessories for 99 years, they have found the sweet spot when it comes to all things tea. I’ve been using their electric dispensing hot pot for over 10 years. Works like a charm and keeps on going.

Vacuum insulation provides the best heat retention. Vacuum means the air between the outer and inner layers of stainless steel has been removed to create a vacuum insulation. It blocks heat from transferring through air (conduction). Our vacuum insulation also features a copper or aluminum layer that is tightly wrapped around the outside of the inner stainless steel layer. This copper or aluminum layer reflects heat (radiation), further minimizing the temperature change. Additionally, the lids are designed to be insulated and close tightly to block heat from escaping through the top opening (convection). We pride our vacuum insulation as the best in industry. Because we’ve been doing it for so long, we have many proprietary techniques to ensure the best insulation. Additionally, we have tight control over quality with multiple inspections before shipment.”

Whether you’re using it for tea or any hot beverage, this is a must have item. Available in a full range of colors, this lightweight tea mug is something that you’ll enjoy each and every day for many, many years to come. Can’t be beat as a holiday or birthday gift for your tea loving friends.

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A Tea Surprise at the SENA

Wed, 09/13/2017 - 12:00

This year’s Seafood Expo North America (SENA), the largest seafood trade show in the States, was held at Massachusetts’ Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. From March 19th to 21st, 1,327 companies representing 51 countries showcased and promoted a myriad of seafood products inside 252,660 square-feet of exhibit space.

Considering that LA Auto Show and Hello Kitty Con were the last few expositions I attended, SENA’s scale and energy overwhelmed me, an industry newcomer. My attention was first drawn to cutesy, whimsical displays such as a freezer service’s giant polar bear mascot, an aquaculture developer’s barramundi tank, and a Norwegian seafood company’s loft lounge. By the second day I was able to re-focus and re-affirm just how piscivorous homo sapiens are. At a tuna tasting booth I conversed with three gentlemen from Sri Lanka, first about seafood, then about my plan of touring the island country’s immense tea plantations in the unforeseeable future; one of the older gentleman immediately handed a box of tea to me. Never in my imagination had I contemplated a tea-related encounter at a seafood expo! Six months had passed since I received the gift which remains unopened; the production and expiration dates are very clearly specified on the package; I have plenty of time to savor this Ceylon tea.

I arrived in Boston on March 17th, two days before the expo opened. Right after picking up my luggage, I stepped outside the airport to wait for the hotel shuttle. It must have not been two minutes before I hurried back indoor to take shelter from a scene that I could finally describe using the adjective “bleak.” My senses were attacked by trenchant wind that permeated my coat and two layers of sweaters, by mushy, soiled snow piles everywhere, and by a sky that reflected and summarized all the insipidity, stagnation on the ground. Shouldn’t I be on an Arctic expedition if I were to endure this harsh environment? A business associate was right when he said Boston would have been much prettier a month or two earlier. I wanted to ask SENA’s organizing entity how they concocted this combo: Boston and the month of March. Without doubt I would be told that this exhibition was once called the International Boston Seafood Show, and it ought to be held in Boston to preserve the 37-year-old tradition. After SENA 2017, I recommend anyone to visit Boston, especially in March, just to attend SENA 2018.

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How to enjoy tea all year long

Tue, 09/12/2017 - 12:00

Most people think that tea is supposed to be enjoyed just on a cold winter afternoon, near a fireplace. However, teas have gone a long way in the past century and are no longer associated with the traditional Victorian period when the citizens of London paused their activities around 5 PM and made time for a cup of tea. You can actually enjoy this beverage even on a hot summer day, as well as during the night, so it’s safe to say that tea is the drink for all seasons.

Autumn teas

This is the season when most of us feel tired and weary, especially after a productive summer. That’s why we need something to pick us up, help us stay healthy and give us energy – and these are just some of the things tea can do for you! The best thing about drinking tea in autumn is the abundance of herbs and fruits everywhere you look, so just pick a few ingredients and make your favorite tea in a matter of minutes.

Autumn is also great for drinking both hot and cold tea, because the weather is always changing, so sticking to both options makes more sense. But, whichever you prefer, be sure you always have some hot and cold clean water near you, and since making tea using unsafe water can seriously damage your health. Finding a trustworthy UV home water treatment might be the thing to do. Only this way will you be able to prepare your tea safely and with proper care.

Winter teas

Of course, winter is the time to enjoy tea, and not just because you love it, but because it keeps you warm during the cold weather. There’s no saying which teas are the best during this season because all of them are a great way to spice up a cold evening after a long day at the office. All you need to do is find the ones you love the most, stack up your tea cabinet and enjoy different taste every day. Also, don’t forget to add some biscuits or cookies that will take this experience to the next level.

When it comes to tea types most people prefer in the winter, you have to start with the classics – peppermint and herbal! These come in various sizes and packages and you can opt for making an entire batch at once or go for just a single cup. Lots of people adore rooibos teas as well since they contain no caffeine and can do wonders for your health, so be sure investigate different rooibos-based combinations too.

Spring teas

While awaiting for the summer and trying to shake off any potential cold you may have caught in the winter, it’s important to prepare your body for the more active period. This is where teas can help due to numerous health benefits that come with their use – they can help you get your health back on track and leave all negativities behind. However, not all teas suit everyone, which is why you should investigate which types trigger what sorts of reactions and drink specific teas for specific purposes.

For instance, you may want to lose some holiday weight and get your beach body ready, and green tea is the way to do so – it will boost your calorie burn, stack your body with loads of antioxidants and speed up the effects of your diet. On the other hand, chamomile tea can help you relax and leave your stress behind, which is quite important at the beginning of the year, and ginger tea will prevent headaches and fight off allergies.

Summer teas

Although most people prefer a cold lemonade after arriving home on a hot day, choosing tea instead might be better. First of all, it’s much healthier and less damaging to your body than any other drink – except for water, of course – and makes a huge difference in your blood count. Also, if you make it beforehand and put it in your fridge, tea is just as cold and refreshing as a Coke, and it’s even tastier when served with ice! Finally, offering your guests tea instead of soda drinks just shows how health-oriented you are, and that’s always good.

Additionally, some teas can have a lasting effect on your mental health and successfully boost your energy level in just a couple of weeks. One of these is ginger and red date tea that’s a big part of Chinese tradition because it helps you restore energy, inspires body cleansing and prevents illnesses, so it might be the perfect beverage for a hot day.

All year long

As you can see, tea is an amazing drink that can be appreciated all year long, so don’t quit making it as soon as spring comes and remember that drinking it all year long will make you stronger, healthier and happier.


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A beautiful moment with Japanese green tea

Mon, 09/11/2017 - 12:00

Holly introduced me to Japanese green tea ten years ago, almost to this day. It was a sencha, and such was the uniqueness of the mouthfeel and sequence of flavours that I have been intrigued by it ever since.

Being a graphic designer by trade, I was just as struck by the aesthetics.

Here, I am not talking about the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, involving tatami mats, matcha, and a whole catalogue of choreographed gestures passed down the generations. (Although that too is impressive enough.)

I am referring to the simple kyusu, the tea pot with its spout 90º to the handle, and the yunomi, the handle-less vessel to drink from.

The combination of these simple elements along with the bright colours of sencha or kabusecha provide the whole package for a mini Japanese green tea experience whenever it is required (most often in the morning before heading to work).

The act of pouring tea from a kyusu into a yunomi feels special, ritualistic. The process of drinking from the yunomi seems to enhance my focus on the flavours. It is similar to paying attention to the breath during meditation: a cue to be present with the tea (and not to let emails or YouTube videos distract me).

At Chiki Tea, we want to draw people’s attention to the visual beauty of the tea as much as the taste of it. This is why we work with Lera, who runs her own tea blog and company, but also has a keen eye for photography. Lera creates the images for our website and marketing. She constructs “teascapes”, sometimes using props to accentuate the essence of the tea she’s photographing.

Working with Lera has taken my appreciation of the aesthetics of tea to a new level. By creating art out of tea she draws out moments in time. It makes it harder to carelessly throw back the liquid without giving it attention, respect even.

Granted, we might not always be able create a piece of art out of our kitchen table every time we need a cup of tea, especially when in a hurry, but to at least occasionally present it in such a compelling manner creates unquantifiable value as an experience and pays tribute to this fascinating, deep and complex elixir!

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