Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Worth Doing Well

One of the things I enjoy about taking tea is that it can be done anywhere and anytime. Whether in a formal tea salon with others or alone in a favorite quiet corner at home, tea allows one to forget everything at least for as the cup needs refilling. Again, the key point is not how you do it but that you do it.

Like all children, I learned about taking tea from the adults who surrounded me. I must also say that I was blessed to grow up around phenomenonal women who knew how to take the ordinary and turn it, seemingly effortlessly, into the extraordinary. Each had her own style, but style was the common thread. Anything worth doing, I learned, was worth doing well.


Whenever someone would visit, either expected or unexpected, refreshments were offered. Often the kettle would be filled with cold water and placed over a gas pilot to boil. While waiting for the unmistakable kettle whistle, the visitor was invited to sit down to table. Then my grandmother, aunt, or mother would go about preparing tea and refreshments.

As our guest watched my relative make the preparations, the visitor would become visibly more relaxed and then the talking began. At this point, I would ask to be excused (before being asked to excuse myself). From the next room, I could hear the sounds of punctuated laughter. This sound let me know that whatever brought the visitor upon arrival, the tea and company would help our guest feel better upon departure.

Once Upon an Oolong

Curiosity is a strong indicator that our brain cells have not yet died. As long as we still have active brains, then learning is possible. However, humility must accompany curiosity because it takes humility to recognize and to admit that there is something to learn.

So it was with my curious colleague friend. A journalist by trade, she knew that I "liked" tea but readily admitted that she knew nothing about it. However, she wanted to learn about tea. A new tea convert?! How could I refuse? I promptly extended her an invitation to her first tea tasting.

In my experience, once someone tastes a properly prepared cup of tea, then their perspective about the drink and its customs alters considerably. For such a momentous occasion, I wanted to immerse my inquisitive comrade in tea culture.


Flushing, located in the New York borough of Queens, is home to 173,826 residents, 43.1% of which identified themselves as Asian during the 2000 United States Census. Those who seek authentic Asian cuisine (e.g. Thai, Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, Korean, etc.) make the 10-mile journey from Manhattan to Flushing, an easy 7 subway train ride to Main Street - Flushing.

Stepping down into Luh Yu Tea Emporium, we were warmly greeted by owner Annie Ro and Luh Yu's display of clay teapots. Once I explained our mission -- introduce my friend to our world of tea -- then the exploring began. We drank and savored Bi Lo Chun (green), Dong Ding Oolong and a Yunnan so spectacular that no one noticed the rain that started pouring profusely outside; we busied ourselves with drinking tea profusely inside. Our conversation covered several topics: tea origin, Chinese medicine, massage, benefits and customs. My participation surprised Annie, who pronounced me "half Chinese" and shared her local restaurant favorites.

Since then, I'm happy to say that my colleague friend now properly prepares her green tea, complete with rinsing the leaves, not boiling the water and warming the pot. Thanks to fellow tea enthusiasts, another person has been rescued from the perils of tea ignorance.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Finding Tea Room to Breathe

Constant pressure makes our need for relaxation even more acute. Regardless of how wonderful our family, friends and/or work may be, there comes a time when unplugging from all of the above ceases to be a suggestion and becomes an imperative.

So it occurred to me one Saturday. I was on a mission to:
  • Change scenery

  • Step away from the routine

  • Encounter a new tea experience

Enjoying Changing Scenery

Accompanied by a courageous friend undaunted by my impromptu adventures, we headed toward the hills. The previous night's rain induced the fall foliage to start its transition. As a result, we viewed an unfolding and glorious display of red, gold, and bronze leaves. Truly this was precisely the scenery change our weary souls craved.

It amazes me how easily conversation flows when we make a conscious effort to break away from routine tasks. Although the trip was 40 miles to our destination, it was a prime opportunity to unwind verbally, to enjoy unrestrained laughter, and to congratulate ourselves on our successful escape. Before we became too giddy, however, our insistent GPS guide would sternly remind us of our mission goals. No, she was not amused.

Focusing on Relaxation

Sufficiently chastened, we safely arrived at our destination: Charlotte's Tea Room in Warwick, NY. Admiring the tea saucer-lined pathway, we entered the spacious home prepared to unwind even further.

Instead, we found ourselves sharing space with a boisterous, three generation, feminine family reunion. I personally appreciate family as my family gatherings are anything but quiet. How did we resolve it? Did we move to another area?! No. This required focus: we determined ourselves to relax and to enjoy the charming Victorian decor, the friendly service, and the overall cheerful atmosphere.

It wasn't until our neighbors left that we noticed the soothing classical music softly playing in the background. That one adjustment ushered us into the "Wooo-Saaah" zone (read: breathe in, breathe out).

Charlotte's Tea Room (Warwick, NY)

Charlotte's Tea Room offers a wide assortment of Harney & Sons teas ( We selected "Chinese Flower", a blend of hand plucked Chinese green tea, three types of flowers, and citrus flavors. The tea paired beautifully with the Curried Chicken Salad tea sandwich, creating a citrus and spicy symphony for the palate.

Although our knowledgeable server informed us the damp weather prevented their import of clotted cream, lemon curd was available. My cranberry scone received this offering graciously and filled any remaining void.

The dessert course makes or breaks an afternoon tea. Our dessert selection, the Cheesecake Petit Fours, was a deceptively small yet rich plan to encourage abandoning any existing dietary restraints. As I thankfully have none, I greeted each one as a long lost friend. We left Charlotte's Tea Room and Warwick full and satisfied. Mission accomplished.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In the Beginning

For any endeavor, the start is usually the hardest part. What does this have to do with tea? There are individuals who admit to knowing absolutely nothing about tea. There are others who actually believe that a tea bag placed in a styrofoam cup of microwaved water is tea. (Excuse me: I must pause until the involuntary shudders that resulted from that painful statement subside.) Then there are still others who delight in discussing all things tea. All groups share this common denominator: everyone has to start somewhere.

Uncommon Courtesy
Where did this Straight From the Leaf blog start? My favorite childhood memories include watching adults receive guests and offer them refreshment, usually a warm beverage accompanied by a light snack. This, I learned, was a simple, courteous act of hospitality extended to every visitor -- regardless of status, background or circumstances. I also observed the guests evidently leaving far better than their arrival, their lively conversation and laughter now filling the air. The conclusion: sharing tea is a very good thing. Although I did not realize this 'simple' courtesy was uncommon, the lessons made their mark.

Unapologetic Tea Aficionado
For those who haven't guessed, I enjoy tea. No, that is an understatement. I adore tea. Tea is multifaceted, universal, and civilized. People from various backgrounds can find common ground in this beverage and, behind only water, tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world. By design, our world is a big place. Tea helps me enjoy my space within it.

Being the unapologetic tea aficionado that I am, I am constantly shocked at the multitudes who have never in all their lives enjoyed a proper cup of tea. By proper, I mean actual tea leaves rather than dust. Leaves or dust? that is the question. Straight From the Leaf's aim is to:
  • Inspire others to enjoy tea and its preparation
  • Appreciate all the elements adding to the overall experience
  • Create an atmosphere for purposeful conversation

In other words, we'll talk about ways to savor life one cup at a time. This is the start.