Tea Tales: Facts & Folklore

By Brooks, Iris | The World and I, March 2015 | Go to article overview

Tea Tales: Facts & Folklore


Brooks, Iris, The World and I


"Life is like tea. The longer it is immersed, the richer it becomes." --Anon

Tea, a popular, 5,000-year-old beverage celebrated in many lands, is often linked with rituals, healing, history, socializing, divination, folklore, and more. Discovered by a Chinese Emperor in 2737, some believe "tea is liquid wisdom," while others call it the "divine healer." In my tea travels, I have sipped spicy, aromatic chai in India, discovered a luscious blue tea in Thailand, relaxed over a metal engraved pot of refreshing Moroccan mint in Marrakech, and tasted local varieties of green teas from silver needle to dragon's well along the Yangtze River in mainland China. I love the formal ritual of the tea ceremony, differing significantly in Japan from Hong Kong and learned tea trivia on tea factory tours in Colorado and the Azores of Portugal. Whether viewing the largest teapot in the world in London, tasting green tea ice cream dispensed from a machine at the Osaka airport, or harvesting herbal teas in Tuscany, I realize there are many ways to appreciate this well-loved beverage: tea classes, plantation tours, museum visits, ceremonies, tea tastings, and festivals. Here are a few of my favorites.

TEA CEREMONY IN YOKOHAMA, JAPAN

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

The ancient ritual of the tea ceremony is about so much more than the actual beverage. A tea master with a name like a poem-Dancing Snow Pine Bamboo-whisks the tea in rhythmic counterpoint to water trickling through bamboo. In a skyscraper in the modern city of Yokohama, proper tea etiquette means not stepping on the cracks between the tatami mats on the tearoom floor. Here you may experience the "way of tea" where the type and adornment of the cup, the kimono of its server, and the method of giving and receiving the tea cup, are all of the utmost importance. Tea is served accompanied by seasonal delicacies such as the cherry blossom-flavored, fan-shaped, melt-in-your-mouth offerings or a round, green wakakusa cookie made from young green grass. Most surprising is the delectable white bean pastry with a peach inside to connote the feeling of spring. The Japanese Tea Ceremony is an aesthetic experience for all of the senses. Participants take time from their day to appreciate and surround themselves with an aesthetically pleasing event.

The Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden in North Salem, New York also offers an annual tea ceremony with traditional Japanese music in their authentic, Japanese tatami-matted tea room, custom-designed in Japan. Other ancillary programs at the museum include workshops on brush painting, ceramics, Japanese gardening, and the art of bonsai.

TEA PLANTATION TOURS AND TEA FESTIVAL IN THE AZORES ISLANDS

"One can savor, but never express the sweet tranquility that comes from a good cup of tea."--Emperor Kien-Long

The Azores-which gets its name from the sea hawk-is an idyllic European archipelago known for its bio-diversity, (thermal hot springs, volcanic craters, and many hues of blues and greens), appealing year-round climate, and festivals rooted in medieval traditions. Midway between Europe and the United States, on the largest Portuguese island of Sao Miguel (also known as the Green Island) in the Azores archipelago, are the only tea plantations in Europe, Cha Porto Formoso and Cha Gorreana.

Visitors can take in tea history and view the entire process of the tea manufacturing before sitting down for a fragrant "cuppa" at a tea plantation. The first tea plants in the Azores (camellia japonica) were used ornamentally and there are currently about 450 species of them in the Azores with two or three unique to these islands, in addition to the tea drinking plants produced by camellia sinensis. Sao Miguel is a place where tea has less caffeine because it is grown at a lower altitude in more acidic (volcanic) soil, yet tea picked earlier in the season has more caffeine. …

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