Tea is a way of connecting. Drinking tea is one of my favorite rituals.
You might call me a “tea snob” because I have come to love tea and am pretty picky about it too. It wasn’t always this way. Years ago I attended a tea event at my friend’s chic tea import store on La Brea in Los Angeles. Owner Gail Baral was my guide to all-things tea. How to make it, what to eat with it, and which countries did it come from. I got hooked. Drinking tea all day works for me because the buzz from tea is a smooth uplifting constant as opposed to coffee which can be a roller coaster of ups and downs. At least, that was how Gail explained it to me many years ago.
I learned to brew loose leaf tea. I studied different tea regions like Darjeeling in India and Ceylon in Sri Lanka. I enjoy a strong black Aasam tea during the day and calming Chinese green tea in the evening. More importantly I experienced tea rituals through global travels.
In Europe, it is common to add milk. This came about because in the early days of tea arriving from the East India Trading Company it was low quality so milk made it taste better. The highest quality was super expensive and saved only for the rich. Today in India adding milk is the norm. Usually it is a hot steamed milk or even ground spices are added calling it masala tea. BTW did you know that the word chai means tea, so when you ask for a chai tea, you are asking for tea tea?
What really took me over the edge understanding tea was when my friend in London, Pete Hendricks, suggested I read one of his favorite books, “For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History” by Sarah Rose. Based on journal notes and historic events of Scottish botanist Robert Fortune who was sent to steal the crop from deep within China and bring it back to British plantations in India, it reads like adventure fiction. The odyssey of this tall Scottish man who went undercover in 1848 pretending to be from Northern China (because Northern Chinese are taller) is a fascinating read. One of my favorite books.
The art of negotiating always takes on a tea component throughout Asia, especially in Bali. Traveling to the small craft town Tenganan in East Bali with my friend Robert in 2000 I witnessed a master class. Tenganan is famous for beautiful baskets handmade according to ancient techniques with a smokey scent. They are said to be so sturdy they last a hundred years. Robert was there to purchase baskets for a client in Sweden. When we reached the village I stood back to watch him work his magic. Like the ancient art of tea, the ancient art of shopping has important lessons too. Don’t talk business before making friends and sharing a cup of tea. Bicker about the price then have another cup of tea. Finally, meet in the middle so everybody walks away happy. And then of course there’s a final cup of tea to seal the deal.
If you are already a tea drinker, enjoy. If not, maybe you will give it a try. I have found tea to be so much more than a hot drink and it’s always “tea time!” My favorite new find is Steven Smith Tea from Portland. Their flavor combinations is superb whether loose leaf or sachets. Try Mao Feng Shui or Portland Breakfast! Cheers!