About Me

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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why no two cups of tea will ever be the same

Photo credit: Leila Aghdassi, 2009
Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.  ~Thich Nat Hahn

Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage.  ~Catherine Douzel

You have probably been wondering where I have been. Two words: Drinking. Tea.

I have started writing some articles about tea for a friend who owns a tea company back on PEI. I have been a big tea drinker my whole life. Growing up in Cyprus, there is a tradition of sitting around the kitchen table catching up with friends while sipping endless cups of hot tea (or coffee, but I am not a coffee fan). As a child, we used to pick fresh mint in the mountains, brew it up, and sweeten it with honey. It was the perfect pick-me-up on a grey day!
Bread and water can so easily be toast and tea.  ~Author Unknown

Living on PEI, tea became a much larger part of my life. Winters on PEI were very long, and very cold. Especially for a Mediterranean girl like myself. I soon discovered that Prince Edward Islanders have discovered that the best way to get through tough winters is to come together regularly to enjoy each others company -- usually over a hot cup of tea. On PEI this was usually Red Rose tea, which has a robust flavour and a deep reddish hue when held up to the light. The company's mantra is: "Here's one more reason to stay indoors this winter!" The tea definitely does not keep Canadians indoors, however it was a great way to warm up before heading back out into the cold. Over the six years that I lived on the island, I spent many an afternoon or evening sitting around a table with groups of women of all ages, listening to, and telling stories, laughing, and sipping hot sweet tea. Tea brought people together and lifted spirits.

Enjoying tea with some of my favourite tea-drinking companions on PEI
 Working on a farm, it was also an opportunity to bustle into the farmhouse at Springwillow Farms and warm my hands up after harvesting vegetables in the fall. One of my best memories of working on the farm was the time I spent in the farmhouse kitchen sipping tea with Joyce Loo (the owner of the farm), and listening to her tell stories about life on the farm. It is something I miss now that I am in California, and I often find myself thinking of her when I sit at my kitchen table sipping tea.

Joyce Loo and I in her farmhouse kitchen at Springwillow Farms
Another tradition that I built for myself while living on PEI was going to the farmer's market every Saturday morning to buy my food directly from local farmers. Charlottetown has a great farmer's market, if you ever find yourself in Charlottetown and are looking for something fun to do. It is open year-round on Saturdays, and during the summer months it is open on Wednesdays also. It has lots of organic fruits and vegetables, superb baked goods, fresh meat and fish, locally made arts and crafts, a coffee bar, a tea bar, and a number of food stalls selling everything from traditional Canadian dishes to Indian, Lebanese and African food. After I had all of my groceries, I would get myself a cup of tea from Lady Baker's Tea Trolley, and migrate into the adjoining community room -- a room filled with picnic-style tables that all sorts of people would share, everyone hunkered down next to everyone else. That room was a great way to meet people as well as a place to catch up with old friends. I would take my tea with me, and settle down at a random table. Sometimes I would take my journal and write. Sometimes I would take a novel. But often the book or journal would stay in my bag because I would sit down next to someone who would strike up a conversation, and would forget I even brought something else to do. I loved sitting in this room sipping my tea. I loved the bustle and laughter and the sound of people selling their products. In the summer months the market expands outside, and there is often live music. It is a great place for community gathering and connecting.

Over the six years that I visited the farmer's market pretty much every Saturday, I developed a great love for quite a number of Katherine's teas, and so when I left to move to California, I bought quite a bit of it to bring along with me. I still have a considerable amount left, and I enjoy sipping it while I write, because is tastes divine, and because it connects me back to PEI the minute I inhale the aroma from my cup. Right now I am writing about my favourite tea, which is called Lady's Slipper blend. Fingers crossed, she will love my description of it, and will add it to her web site. Keep checking here.

If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty.  ~Japanese 

Lately I have been spending a lot of time with a new friend who is Iranian. You may already know this, but Iranians are tea connoisseurs. From childhood they are steeped in the tradition of tea drinking. They drink mainly black tea, but they have a particular kind of black tea for first thing in the morning, another for the mid-afternoon, and yet another for the evening. And so whenever I visit the home of an Iranian, I always know I can expect an excellent glass of Persian tea. Notice I say glass and not cup or mug. One lesson that the Iranians have taught me is that tea should be drunk in a glass (and yes, I realize that the photographer of the first picture in this entry is Iranian, and yes, I realize that her tea is in a fine china cup, but she was drinking that cup of tea in a fine British hotel, so I am thinking we can let her off the hook just this once!). The reason for drinking tea out of a glass instead of a mug becomes immediately obvious the first time you drink tea (without milk) in a glass: you can appreciate the beautiful amber colour of the liquor. If you are sitting in a room bathed in sunlight, it is even more spectacular, in an "I need to write a poem about the colour of this tea" kind of way. I usually drink my tea with milk and honey, but over the past month, as I write about tea, and try to detect the subtle notes of various distant flowers and spices, I have also started drinking more of my tea clear to enjoy the warm rosy amber or coppery hues as I sip it. It does add a new dimension to drinking tea that I had never considered before. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

There is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Letters and Social Aims 

Tea intrigues me because when I drink it I feel as though I am experiencing another, very distant and often rather foreign (to me) part of the world for a brief period of time. I am fascinated by the idea that no two cups of tea are ever exactly the same, because the weather, the harvest time and method, and the processing and tea crafting techniques are always fluctuating and changing. The idea that the flavour, aroma, and yes, even the colour of my cup of tea is a reflection of the monsoon rains in India or the drought in China blows me away. These tiny furled leaves are unfolding themselves in my cup and telling me a story of the shift of seasons in the tea plantations in India; the story of the women in China or Sri Lanka whose hands picked the tea; the story of the new mechanized harvesting being used to increase profits; the story of the wildflowers that grew near the tea plantation in Sri Lanka, and whose perfume wafted over the tea while it was growing. Every little element of place is subtly infused into the tea leaves that are in my cup here on my kitchen table in California.

I have a passion for stories. The story of people, of plants, of the food on my plate. I love learning more about what went into something before it reached me. How place influences who we are. How climate and culture influence the flavour and aroma of our food. How knowing the story behind something or someone changes my experience of that thing or person.

So when I vanish for a few days, it is usually because I am tracing the path of some new story -- exploring its contours and textures, and how change has influenced its current state. I do return from my journey though, and when I do, I usually have something to share with you as well!

Do you have any interesting stories about tea, or any favourite teas that you think I should try? I would love to hear from you if you do. I am looking for some new teas to try and write about. Especially ones grown on islands. Any suggestions?


  1. I loved reading this blog on tea and was delighted to see the photo of you and friends in my kitchen drinking tea the day of Elliott and Dellaram's wedding last summer. Such good times and more to come, I hope.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Gloriajean! Yes, that was such a superb day. You always have such a warm, hospitable home! And yes, definitely more to come! :-)