As promised in my previous post, here is my story of how I got into tea and how my tea practice has changed. I believe tea is something that for me is a way to both cope with and enhance the journey of life.
As I believe I have mentioned in the past, my first experiences of “tea” were actually tisanes in the form of “tea bags”. My favorites were always mint, hibiscus or a blend of star anise and chamomile (never chamomile alone though, chamomile alone has always made me feel odd for some reason I can’t explain). This was mostly around my high school years (maybe even as early as middle school) and early collage days. At this point, the memories and feelings that tea invokes is one of a relatively carefree time and lovely friendships. Tea was an excuse to get together and talk with family friends at least once a week until late nights. I remember that while most of our friends fancied coffee, they always took out their selections of tea for me. I remember looking through at each box, I remember the colors, the brands and the flavors. I smile at the thought of those simpler times and I also shake my head at my naïveté not only on my tea knowledge but on my lacking experience and wisdom for life in general (I’m still no where near being a tea expert but I know a lot more than I did then). I am only grateful of those times, they were a journey I had to take to progress in this pilgrimage. Certain faces, emotions, thoughts and events are conjured up when I see a teabag and mug.
As I went through collage and my taste for tea grew beyond simply being a means to late night conversations, I realized that I could up my game by choosing loose leaf teas. Even though I knew that they existed, they suddenly entered my line of sight as a possibility within my grasp. I don’t remember my first loose leaf, but I do remember my store of choice slowly changing from Hot Topic to Teavana (yes, I was the Hot Topic type, still am somewhere deep inside haha). Every time we went to the mall, I had to take a peek inside and sample the teas on display. I don’t remember disliking any of them, I remember the employees trying to allure me by wafting the lids of their large tea tins into my face. Who can forget the fruity, floral decadent smells that came from them?! I remember the small shop, I remember the curiosity, the exciting feeling of slowly realizing that tea would be “my thing”. My wish list’s contents changed from studded belts, chains and pants with hanging suspenders to cast iron tea sets, trips to tea shops and of course, teas. I’d get excited (still do) when I discovered new tea shops and companies. At this point, tea was a means to exciting, maturing changes in my life, it began to to be something I could use to describe myself, something that made me, me. It is during this stage in life that everyone knew I liked tea very much, people would see little tea ball infusers, teapots and tell me they thought of me. This is also around the time I met my now husband, Gabe. My most fond memory of tea at this stage is the day we got engaged. Since he knew my love of tea, one of our stops was at an Argo tea shop downtown Chicago. He let me choose all the teas I wanted, I remember telling him I felt like a kid in a toy shop! I made him wait forever as I looked through all the glass tea containers. So many choices! I have always been more conscience of ingredients in foods so I spent a long time reading ingredients although at the time “natural flavors” didn’t seem like a big deal to me. That day I picked out three teas, a Genmaicha, a Coconut Oolong and the last one is a little fuzzy but I believe it was Moroccan Mint. The nice packaging, bright colors and sweet smells are all ingrained in my memory. After finally making my selections, I also ordered us teas to drink there at the shop, I got some sort of fruity iced tea and we sat outside surrounded by the tall city buildings. Later that night after having dinner, he proposed and I was ecstatic!
As my interest in learning about tea grew and my tastes started to become a little more refined, I discovered Adagio. I would on occasion accompany my new husband downtown, as he worked, I would explore the city. It is on one of these occasions that searching for “tea” on google maps that I found Adagio, it was a 20-30min walk from where I was and I didn’t think twice of taking the trek. It was hot that day I remember, and by the time I got there I was sweating. The store was small but packed with lots of tea and tea wares. I quickly noticed that tea education was a big thing for them. Many of their teas had little fact sheets above them and I saw they even offered mini “classes” about different families of teas. They also created this really cool concept called “fandom” teas- basically people make up their own blends that can be based on popular shows or personal ideas. If they’re popular enough, they will be offered at the store with the individuals own artwork, read more about it here.They gave you the chance to create your own blend in house and take it home with you immediately! This was all too exciting, I spent $60 that day and I remember feeling like I went on a huge shopping spree. I credit Adagio with helping pique my curiosity about the origins and processing of teas. While I seldom shop there now, I believe they are a really great bridge between the world of flavored loose leaf teas to “true” loose leaf teas. Not to mention their creative ways to get people excited, curious and personal with tea art! Adagio definitely had it’s stand alone season in my life!
Some time later I remember feeling like my tea experience was lacking something. I like to say that I “instinctively” knew that there had to be a better, more enjoyable way to drink tea. I have clear memories of trying to just throw loose leaf teas into a mug and pouring water directly into it and trying to drink it, using my mouth as the filter. Some teas worked better than others but still not ideal. I’m honest when I say I had no idea about “gong fu” or “eastern style” brewing at this point but I wanted to try my own brewing experiments. Fast forward maybe a year after that, my husband and I took a spontaneous trip to Japan! There were so many tea shops, and tea confections that I felt overwhelmed! Every store in little tourist areas offered tea (in real cups) to their customers as they browsed around the store. Even cafes offering tea drinks like lattes and smoothies used high quality tea. I am not a big sweet tooth so one of my biggest complaints about America is that sweets are too sweet. Don’t get me wrong, I like sweet, but I like to taste things too, not just sugar lol. But anyway, you can bet I bought lots of tea and tea wares while there. We found a lovely local tea shop in the neighborhood we stayed at where I did most of my tea related shopping. We also grabbed a few things from Ippodo in Kyoto and a last pair of teacups at Narita airport. I remember when I got home and started reading the suggested brewing instructions I was surprised at the much larger leaf and smaller water ratio that I’m used to, 10g about 2tbs of sencha per less than a cup for only a min?! (and this is Japan mind you, not even as big a difference than gong fu brewing). Right after my first steep I knew this is what I had been looking for! It made so much sense! Immediately after our trip, I basically went to “YouTube University” and exhausted all there was to see about tea and tea brewing, I thank Don from Meileaf for being the first person who explained gong fu brewing to me and thus changed my tea life forever! Finally, I had arrived at what would set in stone a constant exploration and practice of tea!
While I still have a lot to learn about the tea world, I think I have gotten to a pretty established routine and method of brewing tea for myself. I’m at the point of it becoming familiar to my every day life. There are indeed still experiments done, but I know the craft well enough to have a “Danae way”. Once I was well established into daily tea practice, tea time was just something I did every day, meeting new teas in what I now established as a familiar fashion. I took lots of notes and made lots of observations. Tea time was like school time for me, with my peers being the Facebook Gong Fu Cha group. Soon after, we became foster parents to a preciously little 11 month old baby girl, Melody. Immediately, tea adapted itself to becoming a time for rest and unwinding. At this point I could only brew tea once a day during nap time. Up until she was about 18 months, Melody would sleep a consistent two hours a day. This was enough time for me to unwind a bit and regroup myself. It was a crucial time for keeping my sanity and also allowed me a bit of time to eat or do some chores around the house.
However, after hitting 18 months, Melody began sleeping less and less until I would be lucky to get an hour of nap time, but it was more along the lines of 45-50 min (sometimes she’d only sleep 20-30min). Now tea time was rushed, an art and comfort that I didn’t want to loose touch with but sometimes had to give up in order to do more demanding things around the home before the little one woke up. I still adapted tea into my life though, through cold brews and often times meeting with friends who also have little ones, we did noisier, much more improvised tea sessions together. A couple of the kids even tried a few sips of tea at times. These have always been fun, “real life” tea sessions but still have an air of rushing and tenseness. We could enjoy the tea but had to keep a constant eye on the kiddos. I believe it was around this time that I became part of the Steap’d with friends group that Marco from Steap’d organizes. This group has offered a much more enriching and personal “tea-ing” experience for me.
Finally, fast forward several months later, to our present, our foster daughter Melody returned home to her mom. This is a time of both joy and sorrow, a time of dramatic change in our lives that we are slowly but firmly navigating through. I’ll use this as a shameless plug to invite you to read more about our foster care journey, as it is something we are passionate about. Check out my other blog to read about it, and please, feel free to ask me any questions about it. Foster care is near and dear to my heart and I can talk about it for hours as I can about tea! I will give a disclaimer that my other blog is explicitly from a Christian perspective.
Anyway, I have found that at this time, tea feels like an old friend I am getting reacquainted with. Although I still regularly had tea during the time Melody was with us, as you can gage, it was a very different relationship to it. It’s funny because lately my routine has been waking up, eating breakfast and then brewing up some tea. When I’ve spent the leaves I walk away and start doing something else only to realize that I have the freedom (and time) to brew a new batch of leaves if I so desire! Right now, tea is a comforting thing that is helping give me time to reflect, and process this past year and a half of our first foster parenting experience. I have to remind myself that I don’t need to rush, that I can pause, breathe in and take my time. Right now, tea is like an old friend who says they’re there for you and really are. That even when you think you’ve exhausted their time and company, they’re still there.
This is where my journey is at now and I’m excited to see where it continues to lead. I have a few tea related dreams that I hope to realize in the future but we will see what happens. Thank you for taking the time to read my story, have you thought about how your relationship to tea changed and developed over time? What first got you into tea? Please share! I’d love to know!