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.