Recently, Raj Barooah, the Owner/Director of Aideobarie Tea Estates, a tea plantation Assam, India, reached out to me. I met Raj a few years ago at the World Tea Expo. As the president of the Assam Tea Growers Association, he is putting together a newsletter for their annual conference. He was interested in getting the perspective of someone outside their tea growers’ association. I wrote the following article for his newsletter.

Tea is such a beautiful beverage, for which I am an unlikely advocate. I was raised in an industrial city in the United States—Detroit, Michigan—where no one ever drank tea. Coffee, sodas and alcohol were the beverages of choice. I never knew anyone who drank tea.

As young women, my girlfriend and I would drive to Toronto, Canada, for weekends. We liked the fashions from Europe there and the world class restaurants. An unexpected pleasure was finding Afternoon Tea served in nice hotel lobbies. We loved the fussiness of the Western tea ceremony—the fine bone china, the clotted cream, and the dainty layers of beautiful foods. The fancy dress and accompanying hats made taking tea even more special. We learned that eating a petit four made black tea with milk taste delicious.

Wendy joining James Norwood Pratt for Tea at The Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia

Wendy joining James Norwood Pratt for Tea at The Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia

I began experimenting with the teas that made up the English Breakfast blend, which had become my at-home favorite. Ceylon tea alone was crisp, but needed more heft. Assam alone was too malty for my taste. Keemun alone was too smoky. Through trial and error, I learned how blends came to be and I made my own blends.
Tea time became my favorite time of day. After working all day and returning home depleted of energy, a pot of tea and an hour later, my strength would return. I learned tea couldn’t be rushed. It took time to boil the water, and to steep the tea, and then for the tea to cool down enough to drink. The ceremony, for me, was like meditating. It forced me to slow down and “be in the moment”. After-work tea time became our happy hour, but without alcohol.
That is when I became a student of tea. I read how tea was a closely held secret in China until England grew impatient waiting for their primary export on the whims of the Chinese emperor. I was surprised by England’s determination to steal the tea plants from China and begin their own crop in India. I was more surprised to learn of Great Britain’s dominion over India and Sri Lanka. My favorite beverage was responsible for thievery, corruption, espionage and subjugation. It created and destroyed economies. It made fortunes and enslaved peoples.
Then I became a tea tourist. I traveled to tea destinations like a tea plantation in Westlake, China, where I saw Lung Ching green tea grown and processed. I attended tea festivals in Victoria, Canada & San Francisco and tea classes in Lexington, Kentucky. These trips put me in touch with others passionate about tea, and tea friends are forever. These trips also exposed me to many different types of tea and tea accoutrements. They taught to me tips, tricks and etiquette about tea. I learned how tea is celebrated differently in different countries. Each tea event left me exhilarated with the tea education and the tea booty I would bring home.

These tea events expanded my horizons to include white, green, oolong and pu-erh teas. Each of these teas brought such a different mouth feel and aftertaste. That’s when I learned the importance of water temperature and steeping times. In a way, these teas were less fussy because none of them required adding milk that my favorite black blends require.
Flavored teas were initially a shock to my sensibilities, but I can now see the value in some of them. Jasmine petals leave my green tea so fragrant, I am tempted to dab a little behind my ear as perfume. Lightly oxidized oolong tea yields a beautiful floral flavor. Dragon Well green tea is nutty and grassy and delicious.
And back in the United States, we have gotten over the taxation without representation and the whole Boston-Tea-Party thing. Tea is finally making its way back to the United States. As I pursued formal tea education, I have also been sourcing tea from US importers. When I retired from a 40-year career in corporate America, I decided to start a hobby business bringing tea education, tea tastings and quality loose-leaf teas to my community. As I knew they would, my customers are snapping up both the tea tastings and the tea leaves.
A black tea blend with milk is still my go-to tea. I start each day with that, and share a pot each afternoon with my husband and any guests we have. The rest of each day and evening is given to greens, whites, oolongs and pu-erhs. Tea is such a complex and lovely beverage and there is room in my heart for more. It is my constant companion. It brings comfort and sustains friendships. I would not like to give up wine, but I would never give up tea.
I am grateful to the growers of the fine teas I enjoy for bringing me the pleasure of tea time, for providing my avocation and my passion for tea. Tea time is the highlight of my day and I love sparking that fire for others new to tea. You keep the tea crops coming and we’ll do our part by buying, steeping, and enjoying tea.