I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical when the suggestion to take part in a tea tasting ceremony at a local tea house came up. A vivid picture immediately popped into my mind, that of Queen Elizabeth in a large, dark drawing room, picking up a fancy silver teapot and asking white gloved, hatted ladies Shall I be Mommy? before pouring out tea in paper thin teacups. I can’t stand pretentiousness, but after hearing the positive reactions of others around me, I decided to give it a try.
The chosen day turned out to be a basically boring and rainy Thursday afternoon, so it was a bright spot just to be able to gather together with a group of our friends (mostly female) from Osher for a tea demonstration at The Tea Grotto at 2030 South at 900 East in Salt Lake City.
(L-R) Kay, Mary, Vi and Alyce listen as Proprietess Rebecca Sheeran, (standing) after admitting that she’s something of a tea snob, surprises by giving us permission to slurp the tea, in fact encouraging it. Slurping tea, she explained, brings out the full flavor. Once more the previously mentioned picture popped up in my mind and I’m pretty sure I saw the Queen shudder.
(L-R) Polly, Benita and Carolyn listen and learn that Rebecca is certified in many levels of tea studies through the Specialty Tea Institute. She trained in Japan Town and China Town in San Francisco and, after traveling around many other tea rooms in the states, she most recently explored the most famous black tea region in India, Darjeeling.
I like Joyce because she laughs at my jokes!
I like Kay because she spilt a little water on her table too! making me feel not quite so bad about my spill.
We thought Vi (on the right) was memorizing the list of teas on the menu at the top. Turns out she was just picking out the teapot she planned to buy to add to her collection (one of the blue ones).
There’s Anne turning her back to me again, thinking she’s sitting too close to me for a picture!
These two, Jim & Pasu, deserve a medal of bravery for breaking the stereotype of men and tea rooms by being the only two males attending along with eleven chatty women.
Benita (L) shares a serious moment with Polly (R) while Rebecca assures us that no one can adequately appreciate or imagine the effort that goes into producing a cup of tea. She goes on to explain that Black tea goes through a process of hand-plucking, withering, rolling in two stages, oxidizing, firing, and sorting.
Now it’s time to learn the proper way to brew the tea as in the Chinese Gaiwan Ceremony. First we put a bit of water in the small pitcher, put the lid on and drain it into the big blue waste pail (see other photos) to wash away any dust collected during packing and shipping. Then we fill the pitcher with hot water and seep for exactly three minutes. We fit the small pitcher (which features a drainage lip) sideways into the cup, holding the lid tight with our fingers to fill. Now we’re ready to drink, I mean slurp, the tea.
Anne unrolls one of the tea leaves to show me how intact it remains. After this afternoon we’re going to have problems using all those tea bags we have at home. It seems those bags, if you cut one into half, is mostly all dust, the dregs left over after packaging. (Look at those fingernails! and she thought I was taking the picture for posterity.)
Carolyn, Mary, Vi, and Alyce (on the far right) chat about their tea preferences and other matters.
Benita, Polly and Karen agree that, for people used to drinking tea from a restaurant or from tea bags, this is a completely different experience. It’s all loose-leaf tea, which is a better flavor than you’ll get in a grocery store. Reflecting on the growing popularity of tea in this country, Rebecca says People are rediscovering it all these years after throwing it in the ocean at the Boston Tea Party.
I hope you disregard my comment about tea houses being pretentious, and go out and enjoy your own tea party at one near you real soon. Though we all had different favorites among the five we tasted, we all agreed that tea drinking can make for a mellow Zen like experience on a rainy afternoon.