“If you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Well I get it, but I can’t say I totally agree. Work is work. Work is hard. I’ve washed more dishes, mopped more floors and picked up more crumbs in the last four years of owning a tea shop than I had all my previous years combined. Sometime the actual work of stocking shelves or toting heavy boxes leaves me sore and exhausted, having no doubt I’ve put in a full day of actual work.
But, there is something…
There is something different about my tea shop work. At first I thought maybe it was the clean-page start of a new business or the satisfaction of reaching a goal and just getting the doors open. But time proved it was more deep-seated than that. I’ll save you my long, introspective, thought process and just tell you what I figured out.
Most of my guests probably won’t notice the extra time and attention put into every detail of my shop, but I think (or hope) many of them feel the love. Sounds corny even as I type the words. Do customers actually “feel the love” of a place?
This I know for sure, I feel the love I’m sending and that’s what makes my tea shop my dream job. It’s what drives me to make little heart-shaped peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and carefully wipe off the jelly that spilled over on the side. Every vintage cup and saucer I rescue from a flea market, every teaspoon of tea I scoop into a cup, or gift bag I fill with tissue paper, love backs my actions and that drives me to continue.
I’m still not sure if it has to do with my age and where I’m at in life, but I like to think I’m just where I’m supposed to be and doing what I am meant to do - sowing love and joy into people’s lives while working hard and living in the moment.
I’m proud to say, I grew up on good, ol’ fashioned Southern Sweet Tea. Everyday, all summer long, we had a big plastic gallon of tea in the fridge, and it was always sweet. There was nothing more refreshing on a hot summer day than to run in the house, fill the biggest glass available with ice, and gulp down the sweet tea nectar before returning outside to the relentless sun.
A genius marketing campaign from the 70’s & 80’s made my generation long for a “Nestea Plunge” where you would fall backwards into a swimming pool upon drinking a glass of iced tea.http://www.liketotally80s.com/2012/05/nestea/ We didn’t have a swimming pool (or air conditioning for that matter) but I remember resting the cold glass against my cheek and for just a moment, feeling the imagined sensation of taking that cool, full-body plunge - it was pure childhood joy.
I honestly can’t remember a time before I knew how to make iced tea. I guess if you are a thirsty kid, you beg your momma to show you how. First heat the water in a small pan and add two family-sized tea bags. 1½ cups of sugar goes into the pitcher before pouring the hot tea over. Stir to melt the sugar, then fill the pitcher to the top with cold tap water and stir. Quick, simple, cheap, delicious and full of sugar.
So now I’m an adult with a teashop of my own and hundreds of teas at my fingertips. I still enjoy an occasional nostalgic glass of sweet iced tea from my youth (I’ll forever love it) but I’ve so expanded my appreciation of tea and have discovered the world of Fine Teas. It’s a world where zero sugar is needed (resulting in zero calories), health is a big part of the equation, and rich flavor and aroma possibilities are endless.
As an American, I have no preconceived rules about which teas should be prepared hot and which are best iced. I will try any tea both hot and cold to see which I like best. This willingness to be open has resulted in many surprising and delightful discoveries (like iced cinnamon orange tea.)
I want to show you how to make some of my all time favorites:
*note: there are eight 8oz cups in a half-gallon
My son was in kindergarten and I had this thing to go to at his school. At work, I had just realized a big annual meeting for our whole department was scheduled at the same time. How did I miss that? How did I not realize it was the exact same time?
As a responsible and professional bread-winner, I knew I couldn’t miss the meeting. My decision was made. Like a mature adult, I told my boss I would be attending the meeting. I experienced a wave of relief as I sincerely expressed my commitment to my job and our team.
I will never forget the words of my boss (Mr. Roger Ludwig): “No! You need to go to your son’s thing - it’s more important.” Really? That’s not what I expected. Was I wrong in my decision? Was I not doing the right thing? There it was, the nagging knot in my stomach returned as my pathetic-parent punishment. With a deep breath of guilt, I took off.
In heels and a dress, I jogged across the school parking lot and down the long hallway, moments before the function was set to begin. There he was - my son Chad was standing at the door of his classroom with one other little boy.
The teacher asked the boy at the door to come on in. With staunch conviction, he replied “She said she’s coming! She’ll be here in a minute.” as he stood his ground with watchful eyes.
Chad gave me a corsage he made of paper flowers and placed a napkin and cookie on my personalized paper place mat. “Tea or lemonade?” he asked before serving a tiny plastic cup of tea.
The children excitedly gathered in front of the classroom ready for their song. I slipped over to the little boy still in the doorway to see if I could persuade him to join us. He declined and took another quick look down the hallway, with a heart still half full of hope.
My heart hurt for the mom of the little boy in the doorway. I’m sure she had no idea what she missed or how loudly her absence filled the room. Humbled, I knew that I was so close to being that mom.
So there it is moms. In case your boss never tells you (and by the way, thank you so much Roger!), I want to tell you - Don’t miss the good stuff. Savor the moments. Soak it up, bask in it, and let the love of your babies feed your spirit. The struggle to find balance will never cease, but err on the side of those whose heart you hold. And as often as you possibly can, show up at the doorway.
Chad is now 25 and married. I once asked him if he remembered the Kindergarten Mother’s Day Tea that so impacted me as a young mother. He said “No, not really.”
In my training to become a tea sommelier (like a wine sommelier but for tea) I’ve become intrigued by the Japanese concept of WABI-SABI [wäbē säbē].
Even the definition is beautiful:
“quietness, sober refinement, subdued taste, characterized by humility, moderation, simplicity, naturalness, depth and imperfection”.
Part of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony includes purposefully admiring the hand-made matcha bowl and its imperfections, as a work of art. This practice serves to remind us that we all have room to grow and there is beauty in our humanity and our flaws. Isn’t that a lovely way to look at life?
I can’t say that I personally am quiet and somber and I tend to like embellishments over clean, modern lines, but I definitely have an appreciation for the imperfect. One of my favorite things in life is to find a hidden treasure at a flea market or thrift shop - a piece that is time worn, weathered, once loved, previously purposeful - now discarded.
I see beauty in old books and bottles, tattered tables and tarnished silver. I see new chances and elevated statuses for objects others thought past their prime.
We can extend the same sentiment to people. There is elegance and beauty in wrinkled, work-weary hands and faces marked by many seasons of living. History and long-forgotten stories are hidden in the lines, faded colors and softened edges. Years of laughter and tears, triumph and heartache, give way to deep wisdom, rich character and great beauty.
Below is a picture of my dad with his garden bounty - his last summer, 2013.
Weeds as Flowers, Rain, Handwritten Letters, Homemade Pies, Pocket Watches, Wet Tea Leaves, Dirt Roads, Faded Fabrics, Storm Clouds, Gardens, Old Dishes, Chipped Paint, Journals, Old Photos, Wind Chimes, Rusted Cans, Quilts, Used Bricks, Blown Glass, Classic Cars, Pebbles, Old Violins, Vintage Tractors, Manhole Covers, Stained Glass… and a million other things.
Our culture is saturated with the idea of perfection - airbrushed, photoshopped, covered over, dressed up, fake perfection. But life is so much richer, more meaningful when we find beauty in the flawed, the simple, the ordinary, the authentic. As you sit to relax with a cup of tea, look for something to marvel at - something you never noticed before.
Extend grace and appreciation to the uncelebrated, the humble, the “ugly”.
In time, you’ll start to notice you’ve grown kinder and gentler even toward your own flaws, and life overall (including who you are) has become more beautiful.
Here’s the thing - all tea comes from the same plant, the tea plant, named Camellia Sinensis.
I know! I went half my life not knowing that. We’re not talking herbals, like peppermint or chamomile but actual tea.
The differences between green and black tea (as well as white, yellow, oolong & dark tea) is a result of processing. So I want to give you a quick overview. First there are a couple terms you should know:
A chemical process that takes place when the cell wall is broken and oxygen enters the cell. It causes it to turn dark. Example - when you cut an apple or a potato and it turns brown as the air hits it. (Note: This is not the same as fermentation. Some people get the two confused.)
The process of stopping oxidation using dry heat or steam. Just like when you bake an apple pie or boil a potato, it stops turning brown. Heat stops oxidation.
Leaves are plucked, and dried with as little handling as possible & little to no oxidation.
Leaves are piled up and turn yellow. Similar to a kiddy pool on the lawn that makes the grass underneath turn yellow.
Plucked leaves are heated (fixed) before they are rolled and shaped so they remain green with a low oxidation level.
Oxidized more than green tea but less than black tea. This group includes everything in between.
Leaves are crushed & rolled to promote full oxidation.
The only teas that are fermented with live microbes and will improve with age. Pu’erh is the most common.
It gets really complicated and chemically technical. Many factors determine the overall health benefits of each specific tea, including:
In general, better quality tea is better for you, regardless of the type. Whole leaf, mountain grown, new tender buds and leaves, are of higher quality than low grown, mass produced, cut into shreds and sprinkled into teabags teas. I suggest, try them all! Drink as many different teas as you can. Don’t rule out a whole category of tea because you tasted one you didn’t like.
I assure you, there is perfection to be discovered in each type!
Twenty years ago the tea business in the United States was under $2 billion (wholesale) annually. Today it is over $10 billion and growing! (Source: Tea Council USA)
In 1773 colonists threw tea into the harbor in protest of England’s taxes. This single event changed the course of tea in our country for over two centuries. In fact, at the time, if you continued to drink tea you were considered a loyalist to the king. Wrapped up in politics, tea became very unfashionable. Consequently, for every generation afterwards tea just wasn’t a big part of our daily lives.
So 200+ years later we ask ourselves “Why aren’t we drinking tea like the rest of the world?” Come to think of it, we’re not even mad any more. Our point was made - everyone got it, it’s over, now let’s get back to some tea drinking.
Okay, this too is part of our national collective psyche we inherited - “Only fancy people drink hot tea.” There was a time in England in the mid 1700s, when tea was taxed 119%. As you can imagine, this enabled only the super wealthy (or those wanting to appear super wealthy) to have access to tea. Aristocrats were so proud to show the world they were “sophisticated tea drinkers” that they often had their ornate teapots and tea wares included in family portraits. So, the stereotype spanned the ocean and Americans to this day still chuckle at the notion of a pinky-out, nose up, self-proclaimed dandy, drinking tea with a snide condescending look for the balance of mankind.
Well it turns out, tea has a rich history in some of the least opulent cultures in the world. Monks and peasants, field workers and laborers for millennia have been committed tea drinkers. Today tea is considered one of the most affordable luxuries on the planet. It crosses all social and economical lines and is the second most consumed beverage in the world (after water of course).
We’ve overloaded on sugary beverages for so long, our own US government has flirted with the idea of an obesity tax on soda. We’ve grown weary of not feeling well and being overweight. We are thirsty (literally) for something truly healthy and refreshing.
Enter tea! Who knew? Tea is a natural superfood! Studies have shown it may help protect the immune system, help prevent cancer, reduce cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar, and even protect against stroke and heart disease. Tea is loaded with antioxidants that fight against free radicals and cell degradation. Oh and bonus - it’s naturally calorie-free. (Source: “Tea Sommelier Handbook” written by Victoria Bisagno & Jane Pettigrew, copyright 2014).
I see it every day in my own tea shops - people come in, order tea and get antsy waiting for it to steep - 2 to 5 minutes. It’s not like coffee or espresso. There’s no grinding, tamping, or even dripping. With tea you just wait - as the leaves dance silently and gently release their bounty. You can’t rush tea. So I remind my customers (and often myself) that this is how it’s supposed to be. Tea forces us to stop for just a few moments, and invites us to be fully present. We desperately need this.
Even the chemical makeup of tea is kinder and gentler than other beverages. Tea gives a calm energy because the caffeine is released into the cells at a slower rate and over a longer span of time. You avoid the sharp rise in jitteriness and inevitable crash of coffee and energy drinks. Americans are discovering what the ancients knew, tea is good for the body and soul.
Mango Pomegranate, Ginger Honey Peach, Chocolate Strawberry Kiss - these are teas! Who ever knew tea could have so many varieties and culinary-inspired pairings of flavors? From the rarest imperial teas in the world to tens of thousands of blends and flavors, the world of tea is complex, exciting and rapidly growing! You could literally drink a different tea everyday for 10 years and never have the same one twice.
From casual tea drinkers to full-on tea connoisseurs, Americans are learning we love tea! We are starting to write the American tea story with traditions and customs of our own, while embracing aspects of rich cultures from distant lands.