Friday, December 31, 2010

To Spill Or Not To Spill The Tea

Words are the containers we use to carry our fragile thoughts and ideas from ourselves to others. Once we put our thoughts into words, they no longer exist within the private domain of our individual craniums. The words we share become as public as the audience who hears and sees them.

What's In Your Cup?

Words also flow in a stream and have the capacity to spill over based on the carrier. Growing up, my elders taught me that "whatever is in you will come out." In particular, my maternal grandfather, a gifted and eloquent speaker, admonished us children to pay especially close attention to a person's words. I recall him saying that "you hear a person's heart through his mouth. When it's time [to speak], you don't have to say everything because it's not their business. But when you need to say something, speak up!" Because of our relationship and how I observed my grandfather live behind the scenes, the words he spoke carried considerable weight. Consequently, I speak up.

Speaking up, however, is as different from spilling as pouring hot tea into a tea cup is from pouring hot tea into someone else's lap. Both share the same tea. The outcome yields two results: the tea cup produces a smile and the lap produces a hot mess literally. Let us use our words as carefully as if we were pouring hot tea and stop pouring them out before the cup overflows.

Tea Vernacular

Tea and words interwine within different cultures with astonishingly varied meanings. For example, isn't it odd how the current expression "spilling the tea" is now American slang for spreading gossip? As a native Philadelphian and unapologetic tea aficionado, I must protest such tea misappropriation.

In Middle Eastern countries, tea is offered to every guest and served by holding a metal teapot filled with steaming hot liquid held aloft. While mid-air, the tea is then poured into a small glass via a graceful arc. Yes, this takes strength and skill as the host takes great care not to waste a drop of tea. Certainly spilling scalding hot tea onto one's guests is not a welcoming gesture. For the record, spilling tea is not an American past time.

Tea is a sign of hospitality and welcome where someone can come, take a break, and relax from the journey. Every host takes responsibility for each guest's comfort and safety; the guest trusts the host to do so or the invitation is declined. So, spilling tea is not only rude but it violates the sacred trust that tea creates. In addition, tea generates conversation where people feel it is safe to share their words and their hearts. So, no spilling the tea here. What's put in the cup stays in the cup. That is, of course, until the first sip.

Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, December 23, 2010

When Steep Turns to Stew (Part One)

Tea preparation is both art and science because timing and temperature are critical factors that affect the results. Every tea, i.e. pu-erh, black (red), oolong, yellow, white, and green, has a temperature range and steeping time that combined offers an ideal flavor profile. On the other hand, there are few things more tragic than a delicately fragrant Jasmine Pearl green tea gone wrong. This signals a less than ideal outcome and our taste buds remember the experience.

Some Like It Hot - Others Do Not

In order to make a good cup of tea, the water must be hot enough to open the tea leaves yet not hot enough to destroy the leaves themselves. Achieving this balance takes practice.

It was a great day that I learned that one should not allow water to come to a full boil when making green tea. Green tea leaves are not oxidized during its manufacturing process. The freshly picked leaves are:
• Steamed or pan-fried
• Rolled and shaped
• Dried until 2-3% water content remains

What does that mean? It means that water does not have to boiling hot for the leaves to open. The green leaves are willing to open and to release their flavor at a lower temperature.

Taste the Difference

For tea, one temperature does not fit all so please read the suggested time and temperature guides printed on the tea's packaging. However, for those who choose to ignore the difference water temperature makes, there are bitter consequences.

Not very long ago, a colleague issued me a challenge equivalent to a pistol duel at dawn: attend a coffee tasting. I met his challenge, attended the event, and demonstrated to coffee merchants how to improve their tea. True, I didn't go into the establishment to gather new tea converts but... tea draws followers.

Teas Worth a Sip

At your request, here are some teas and/or tisanes to try and to buy:
• Thé des Sables (Le Palais des Thés, @LePalaisdesThes) - Dragonwell green tea blended with Damas rose, yellow peach, mango and citrus fruits

• 3 Essence of Beauty (Fang's Leaves & Petals, @fangtea) - a fragrant, relaxing tisane of rose, jasmine and marigold/calendula

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Greene Ave,Brooklyn,United States

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What the Tweet? Tea and Twitter

Growing up I was taught that it's not wise to say everything that comes across our minds. Our thoughts, we were instructed, are privacy's final frontier. As a result, be wise in what you share and with whom you choose to share it. That's a beautiful thing: we have the ability to think and to make decisions. Being human has benefits.

Participants Determine Agenda

Unlike some, I do not view social media as evil in and of itself. I find it interesting that the same accusations surround various musical genres. Social media and music are similar in this regard -- the intent determines the outcome and the participants determine the intent. Please search the Twitter hashtag for tea (#tea) for an example. For the record, there is no tea party where tea is not served and the guests leave more bitter than when they first arrived.

Connections, Friends and Follows

Face-to-face conversations are human interaction's platinum level: they are priceless and must be treasured. Social media enhances and supports human interaction. However, social media lacks the nuances that make conversations so rich, e.g. vocal inflections, body language, emotion, etc. So handle social media tools wisely. For Facebook, remember that everyone is not your friend. For Twitter, remember that if you're prepared to walk alone it ceases to matter who does (or does not) follow you. For LinkedIn, remember that there is a person behind that thumbnail-sized photo. In all you do within social media focus on the "social."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Greene Ave,Brooklyn,United States

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pursuing Tea Perfection - Palm Court at The Plaza

Events are what we make of them. The most linear route to spoiling any event is a simple, two-step process:

1. Obsess over the details
2. Ignore the intention

Balancing Intent and Intricacies

Full disclosure is necessary here: I adore details, the more intricate the better. Details are the small touches that demonstrate personal care and consideration. For example, it is the difference between hand craftsmanship and machine mass production or between a handwritten thank-you note and a form letter addressed "to whom it may concern." Details inject evidence that someone cared enough to produce something worthy of the recipient.

Details do matter for any event; they accent the occasion. However, the guests attending the event matter far more than any detail, regardless how expensive or exquisite. Indeed, there is no event without guests. Guests, then, trump all pursuits of tea perfection.

The Palm Court at The Plaza

I intentionally selected The Palm Court at The Plaza to transport a colleague from her current stressful atmosphere to a more serene state of mind. In my experience, sharing afternoon tea is a proven method for achieving this goal. Remembering my previous afternoon teas under The Plaza's stained-glass dome, I desired that she leave tea feeling relaxed, refreshed, and nurtured. Thankfully she did, but it surprisingly took some effort.

Arriving six minutes prior to our 2:00 p.m. seating, we were shooed away to meander through the now sparse Hotel Lobby. We reappeared promptly as requested, only to join a bewildered crowd at the Palm Court's entrance. We managed to make eye contact as a signal that we were present. Then we heard our name mispronounced. We took our cue, emerged from the throng, and gratefully took our seats.

We dined sumptuously on a well-planned, three-course afternoon tea and enjoyed edifying conversation too. Yet, it seemed that we were taking up space because a steward started clearing us out mid-conversation. Since we were previously interrupted with the check and had paid it, I resisted the not-so-subtle hint to leave before this tea's mission was fully accomplished.

Even though I'm glad to say my guest thoroughly enjoyed our tea, I lament over this particular Palm Court at The Plaza visit. The venue was scenic, the china and linens immaculate. The tea itself was perfect. The overall atmosphere was as sterile as the savories, scones, and sweets were sublime. Tea is more than details. Tea must also include the main ingredient -- the guests.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Relating and Relaxing - The Pembroke Room

Every relationship begins and ends with a conversation. From a baby's first words, to a person's deathbed confession, and including all the exchanges in between the two, we navigate our various relationships based upon the quantity and quality of our conversations. What does all this have to do with tea? Tea creates an atmosphere conducive for having conversations.

Consider the Time
One of the greatest compliments we pay each other is when we decide to spend time together. Time is our most precious commodity; the one that is irreplacable. Like most riches, we tend not to notice how much time we've wasted until it's gone. Then the time remaining takes on an added significance. We determine what and who really matters by the time we allocate. For this reason, it is inconsiderate to waste someone else's time. It is tragic to spend time on things that really don't matter and no time with the people who do.

Extend an Invitation
Recently one of my relatives approached me about our carving out a monthly tea appointment. It isn't that she is a tea connoisseur yet, but this gives us at least 120 minutes every month to check in, to catch up, and to relax over tea. My cousin knows that our having tea together means that she has my undivided attention for at least two hours and that her tea knowledge will increase. How could I refuse an invitation from such a willing pupil? I must say publicly that I am honored and very proud to be her personal tea ambassador. Our tea encounters are seldom dull, sometimes shocking, and always enjoyed. The fact that she took the initiative makes them even more special.

Orchids and Atmosphere - The Pembroke Room at The Lowell
Emerging from the elevator on the second floor, we followed the narrow corridor leading to The Pembroke Room (pictured above). First impressions count: I first saw the profusion of exquisite white orchids welcoming us into the room. As orchids are my favorite, I felt officially welcomed before our host Vernon ushered us to our table. The Lowell Hotel black tea, Ceylon and Darjeeling loose teas blended with jasmine, so pleased my cousin that she both tried and enjoyed it without sugar. When she view the dainty savories, she initially thought that we would leave hungry and prepared to order another plate of tea sandwiches. However, after the full three-course classic tea of sandwiches, scones and sweets, we took a lengthy stroll along Madison Avenue to counterbalance our earlier scone, Devonshire cream and lemon curd intake. That is tea: we savor life one cup at a time. Then we walk -- together.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Of Palate & Paris - Talking Kusmi Tea

Speaking ill of French customs and culture appears to be a growing American trend. My voice refuses to assent; rather I object. Close acquaintances probably expect nothing less based on my French fries alliance, i.e. les pommes frites. It is true that I frequently entertain butter, cream and sugar as honored culinary guests within my home. They are also among my strongest motivators for regular daily exercise. Pilates anyone?

Details Create Experiences

So even though the premise above has some merit, I find that there is something utterly fascinating in how serious the French generally are about details. It is an art. This close attention-to-detail elevates an event from an ordinary task to an experience. All five senses -- sight, sound, scent, touch, and taste -- receive careful consideration whether it involves designing a garment, cooking a meal, or preparing a tea.

Follow the Nose

I firmly hold this view about tea selection: if the tea does not speak to the nose, then it will not speak to the palate. A tea's aroma either invites or repels further interaction. As a result, I do not purchase tea from places where inspecting the tea, e.g. seeing and smelling it, is discouraged. Let's open the tea tin and allow the senses to participate.

Cerebral Connections

From studying neuroscience we understand the nose's olfactory nerves are located closest to the deep limbic system, the brain's memory and emotional center. Since the palate physically separates the space between the nasal and oral cavities, the associated nerves work closely together to send the brain signals. Otolaryngologists, also known as ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctors, specialize in this medical area. In other words, tea combines art and science.

Parisian Tea Passion - Kusmi Tea

Thanks to a fellow tea aficionado, I received an opportunity to discuss my tea selection theory with Kusmi Tea CEO Sylvain Orebi (@SylvainOrebi, @KusmiTeaUS). Not only did he agree that the nose is crucial for tea discernment, but he also generously shared a bit of Kusmi Tea's tea blending approach. "It all starts in the mind," Orebi said. Curiosity piqued, I asked what thoughts inspired the Kusmi Sweet Love blend. His answer? Instead of sharing our conversation verbatim, I'll let the tea speak for itself.

Kusmi Tea opens its first US store today in Manhattan (1037 Third Avenue at 61st Street). We Americans are now able to enjoy tea like Rose Green Tea (pictured above) firsthand. Welcome Kusmi Tea!

(For those who wonder, no tea company employs me nor pays me for postings. The opinions expressed here are solely mine and not medical advice. May inquiring minds drink their tea in peace.)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cups Up, Brims Down - Tea and Hats

After what had seemed like forever, the day was finally here. A ladies' tea was an occasion for which suit, stole, pumps, earrings, brooch, handbag, gloves, handkerchief, and hat were de rigueur. For this occasion, I would be privileged to "help" my beloved grandmother pull out her hatboxes and select just the right hat. Even though she would never admit it, there were quite a few attendees waiting to see in what stylish ensemble she would appear. It was always worth the wait.

After Gram finished, she then would share her abundant hat collection with my mother, aunts, and other close family friends attending the event. As I watched them, I looked forward to the day that I too would join them in this feminine rite of passage. In the meantime, this studious pupil took notes. Something happened to these ladies the moment they put on hat and heels. The confidence they exuded was more tangible than the perfume that wafted softly behind them. I learned that both scent and hats were intoxicating. So began my hat affinity.

It Just Takes One

Hats do more than cover our heads, say mercifully hiding a hair experiment gone awry. When a person puts on a hat, that same person makes a statement. From a low-brimmed Yankee fitted lid to a church-worthy chapeau, the hat is the accessory that expresses our individual style. Hats are the silent supplements that announce what's going on underneath. Even though I agree with the saying, "the price of your hat isn't the measure of your brain," a hat does convey a mental attitude. In turn this attitude, like volume, is unique and can be set as high or low as the wearer chooses. Therefore, there is a hat for every head.

Heady Notions

There are fewer things more handsome than a man and his fedora, e.g. Fred Astaire. However, men generally remove their hats upon entering a building. We women, on the other hand, have much latitude to when and how we wear our hats. Whenever another woman approaches me, shares a hat compliment with me, but then says that she herself doesn't look good in hats, that troubles me. These ladies also tend to be uncomfortable in receiving compliments or favorable attention. When encountered, I share what my feminine role models taught me:

1. Others mirror the value that we place on ourselves.
2. Try the hat on before dismissing it.
3. Remember you are wearing the hat.
4. When you find the hat that makes you smile, that's the one.

We wear our hats because we can. Whether simple or ornate, our creative millinery expressions are bound only by our imaginations. As long as our confidence is able to carry the hat without it carrying us, we'll do just fine. Speaking of fine, please take another look in the mirror. Make sure that you like what you see and then go have a cup of tea.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cup of Tea & Courtesy

Facing reality often precedes our taking necessary action. As difficult as it was for me to admit this privately, I do so now publicly: Common courtesy is not common. Based on the daily personal interactions both witnessed and shared, I wonder if we as a society have collectively decided that courtesy is now optional.

Courtesy Defined

By its definition, courtesy is "a respectful or considerate act or expression" (please see Courtesy then has very little to do with whether one agrees with or even likes another individual. It represents a conscious decision to treat someone else as most of us seek to be treated. Namely, we most seek to be:

> Respected
> Valued
> Loved

Earlier this week I attended a lecture where the speaker said that he's noticing how the Internet, with its accompanying veil of anonymity, emboldens us to become more insulting and rude. Contemplating this, I grow chilled at the thought of perhaps becoming a tech-savvy interpersonal barbarian. Firm, decisive action is vital.

With Sincere Apologies

As humans, we all make mistakes. An apology is the way we express our remorse, we take responsibility for our "off speech", and we counteract the insults and/or injuries we've caused others. Even though the apology does not erase the event itself, an apology acknowledges that the event occurred.

In my opinion, someone offering no apology is better than one tossing out an insincere one. Regardless of the recipient's acceptance or rejection, people can easily distinguish the difference between the two. A sincere apology starts the healing process. In contrast, an insincere apology delivers another blow to an already open wound.

Tea & Courtesy

Growing up, I along with other children received etiquette instruction via attending tea parties. The adults and relatives who chaperoned us were very strict about us children quickly making amends over any given offense, i.e. "say you're sorry".

Indeed, I confess to having had an adult sometimes make me say that I was sorry. As a child, I reasoned that a) it was wrong to lie and b) two wrongs don't make a right. The response to this precocious display of rationale? Apologize and learn how to treat everyone courteously.

Children are excusable because they are immature. Adults set the example for them to follow. So, may every cup of tea strengthen our collective resolve to be courteous only under these conditions:

> At all times
> To all people
> Under all circumstances

Here's a tea toast: To the future!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Kettle Wisdom

It's amazing the life lessons we can learn while preparing tea. Yes, I say PREPARING tea, not to be confused with 1) popping a top, 2) twisting a lid, or 3) emptying a packet of faux crystals. Realizing how quickly all of us tend to speed through our lives' individual moments, we may view taking time to do anything as a luxury rather than a necessity.


Before our current high-tech, electric, temperature-controlled, porcelain enameled versions, teakettles worked very simply:

> Insert water
> Apply heat
> Await signal
> Remove heat
> Pour water

What's so profound? Again, I'm glad you ask, i.e. a very good indicator that you are still reading. Please consider the teakettle itself. The amount of water inserted inside is based on the kettle's volume capacity, so each teakettle has its own limits. Depending on the job size, however, multiple kettles can be put on the stove and readied simultaneously.


Regardless of capacity, there is only one way to produce hot water from cold: apply heat. Heat, i.e. friction, opposition, adversity, etc., results in expansion, growth and progress. Heat also causes internal pressure and that pressure strains, or presses, against the teakettle's very capacity limits. Sometimes we can observe the kettle trembling slightly over the heat source. This is an outward clue of what's occurring inwardly. Something is about to happen.

Then, it happens. A sound. A whistle, sometimes shrill but always loud and unmistakable. This sound calls for attention, indicating the kettle's contents are ready for the next step. In other words, remove the heat.

A teakettle's whistle reminds me that despite how pressured I personally may feel at any given time, I must remain exposed to the heat long enough to become purposefully productive. When that time comes, then release the sound of one who's endured and, therefore, has a right to sing loud and strong.


There's more to a teakettle than its whistle. After the whistle, expect to be poured out. Timing is indeed everything. For example, removing the kettle prior to its siren song may result in lukewarm water, especially unproductive for black tea. Conversely, leaving a teakettle singing indefinitely may cause its contents to evaporate. So,

> Know when to wait
> Know when to sing
> Sing loud enough to release internal pressure
> Expect to be poured out

Go ahead, someone's waiting -- and you have exactly what's needed. Pour it out.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Monday, January 11, 2010

An Oolong State of Mind

Solitude is a healing balm and my personal antidote for the bites everyday life inflicts. I firmly believe that in order to give our best to others that we must first take the time to cultivate the best within ourselves. As a result, time alone creates a platform to examine one's thoughts, emotions and actions in order to maintain a proper perspective. Solitude encourages introspection, meditation and relaxation.

Most people simply do not know how to relax. Relaxation is a learned skill; however, it is important not to confuse rest with laziness. As Americans, we daily tend to rush to and fro, hurry from task to task, juggle appointments and then brag about how busy we manage to keep ourselves. For fear of being branded a "slacker", we are often tempted to find more ways to "do more", i.e. to overextend, and to devote less time to "menial" chores like sleep. Thinly disguised insecurities tend to create illusions of indispensablility. However, no one is indispensable.

Picture now adding these ingredients to our daily personal roux -- noise, distractions, miscommunication, information overload -- and the result is a life gumbo chockful of frazzled nerves. Have you ever been so fatigued that you lost mental track of the time of day? Or woke up more tired than when you went to bed? If continued, then this path leads to a physical and mental emotional roller coaster for which we just want to see an exit sign. Patience goes out the door. In fact, everything goes out the door. Wait! Please come away from window, put the chair down, and keep reading.

Inhale. Exhale. Relax.

While attending massage therapy school (and after completing my masters program), I studied the physiological effects of massage therapy. The relaxation derived from a one-hour massage, regardless of modality (e.g. Swedish, shiatsu, etc.) is equivalent to four hours' worth of sleep. Actor/comedian Bob Hope, who died a centenarian, was often cited as a strong advocate for daily massage sessions. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the daily relaxation opportunities during my school tenure, my graduation necessitated an increased frequency of these alternative relaxation methods: Pilates and tea.

Oolong tea is the tea type that reflects the relaxation process itself: it starts out very tightly rolled in knots. Apply the proper amount of heat and oolong tea begins to unwind, stretch out to its full leaf length, and releases its taste and aroma. The leaves unfurl more with every infusion, so the flavor profile changes as a result. In other words, we get to the real essence as the tea unwinds. Oolong tea reminds me of our lives: the more invested, the more returned. That sentiment encourages me to get away and enjoy another cup of oolong -- or book my next massage appointment. In either case, it makes an uncluttered mind that much more attainable.