Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Ties That Bind - Flowering Teas

Being an unapologetic tea aficionado means sometimes being considered the friendly neighborhood cupbearer. A cupbearer is the person who sacrificially risks tasting a beverage to guard others against potential poison. It is a distinct honor and great responsibility since everything that comes in a bag is not necessarily tea. Furthermore, loose and/or organic tea does not automatically mean better tea. The proof is in the cup.

Surprise Gift Boxes
Recently I received a premium tea gift box with a caveat that both the tea's quality and taste were unknown. Well, this sounded like music to a tea lover's ears. As a result, my  cupping sets went on high alert. I gratefully received the box and calming opened it. An assorted box of flowering teas, also known as display teas, teas greeted my eyes. This was a most pleasant surprise in spite of my non-zodiac personal guidance system. I put away the cupping sets, pulled out the glass teapot and prepared myself for the another tea discovery.

Becoming Blossoms
It's deceptive to dismiss anything or anyone based upon present circumstances. This is true whether it be a grain of sand, a cocoon, or, in this case, a tea pod. That is the beautiful reality: we are constantly crafting the outcomes we desire.

Flowering teas are created primarily with the end in mind, regardless of how they look. The tea pods are many individual tea leaves bundled and tied together. Flowering, or display, teas are so called because it takes time to them to open up, i.e. blossom, and show outwardly what was inside the whole time. Rather than the agony of the leaf, it's the opening of the leaves.

Tea in Motion
Encountering hot water and being turned totally upside down does not seem like a becoming start, does it? Yet, watch what happens over time...

We now see what the Montreal-based tea company My Cup of Tea Inc. originally designed. I bypassed the packaging and associated health claims to taste the tea itself. The outcome? Watching the tea blossom and reveal green tea, jasmine and globe amaranth was the highlight. However, there are eleven (11) more left in the box. So, there is more opportunity to drink tea. Until the next tea adventure, let's all keep our cups full of great tea. Cups up!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Steeped in Tradition - Tea and Family

A family is a tree with roots, branches, and if blessed, has enough sap to sustain it through adversity and to keep growing stronger, taller and deeper. Like trees, family legacies do not occur overnight. They have sapling small beginnings and the branches share and gain vital nutrients together. Every action towards its care secures benefits, e.g. shade, for others. This family pictured above, the Carters, planted firmly principles about family into my life. As a result, their collective influence still provides shelter. It's true: there's nothing like family.

Rooted and Grounded
To deny one's family makes as much sense as extracting iron from blood. We are inextricably linked with our relatives, whether we like it or not. We share history, regardless of whether we share opinions, and we write history whether or not we choose to do it together.

City born and bred, it baffled me how every year we made a non-negotiable trip to Monroeville, NJ, also known as "the country". There I'd be surrounded by a swarm of tall, handsome, fashionable and very outspoken adults who seemed intent upon inspecting me as to whether I knew what being a Carter meant. Carter?! My last name is Hamilton and my father is Vernon. My willingness to assert myself at a young age seemed to please them. I passed the invisible litmus test and they pronounced me a Carter indeed. Like my mother and maternal grandfather (pictured) before me, last name notwithstanding, I belong to the Carter Family.

Over tea I learned about how my great-grandfather Thomas Gray Carter placed his life's savings within a bank to buy a farm and lost every dime he had when the bank closed in the Crash of 1929 that preceded the Great Depression.  We Carters came together, supported each other, and, yes, that 13-acre farm was purchased and became the family headquarters.  That was the reason we visited Monroeville every year. The land served as a testimony to our family's faith in God as well as in each other.

Branch in the Big Apple 

People often ask me if living a big city like New York is lonely. Considering my family, I find that there is no place where they won't come to see about me and certainly I will seek out my relatives. Very soon our family will gather together in South Jersey to celebrate my 107-year old great-aunt Sarah Frances Carter Brown. Her recent passing means that the Carters pictured above are all deceased and laid in the ground. We Carters now decide whether to nurture or to neglect our family tree.

Yet, roots are planted so the branches can grow up. Through being a Carter, I learn daily that being a family is more than coming together for weddings, funerals, and reunions.  Our family legacy, indeed our strength, comes from a commitment to seeing about and caring for each other. This is what my grandfather said his father taught them: 'When one hurts, we all hurt.' By the same token, if one is determined to make it then we all can make it. Raise your cups in a toast and let's drink tea. We will make it -- together. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Tea Where Orchids Grow - My Cottage Garden

Tea serves as an international passport, even though government officials sometimes mistake it for another substance. When tea drinkers meet, there is an excitement similar to meeting a new cousin at a family reunion. Once we become acquainted, we then spend talking time talking about where we fit within our huge tea family. Yes, tea is a journey and it will take you places.

Walking Between Familiar and Unfamiliar
Isn't it odd how we can walk a familiar track and yet discover new ground? Occasionally we receive the opportunity to visit places that hold bittersweet memories. Before our departure, we may feel some trepidation about retracing our steps and/or perhaps even repeating our past mistakes. However, we choose to get on board with our baggage and go. Why? The desire to go forward outweighs anything that would try to keep us from wasting a customized ticket. Regardless of the outcome, some trips are non-transferable.

Upon our arrival, we realize that something's shifted. Maturity, as a paintbrush, added experience to those memories and covered them with a different patina. The place itself may not have changed, but the ticket holder holds a different perspective. This discovery makes the trip over familiar territory worth it. It also becomes an opportunity to appreciate the distance covered, to determine the next destination, and to start traveling in that direction. All aboard!

My Cottage Garden (Lakeland, FL)
The day I met shop owner Deborah Birdwell at My Cottage Garden and listened to her personal tea journey I became connected to another tea-appreciating human being. It was a true sipping celebration. Our sharing conversation over tea truly felt finding a long lost relative.

My Cottage Garden looks and feels like a comfortable Victorian living room. Although the actual tea service discontinued two years ago, Debbie graciously offers to make a pot of tea to any customer caring to sample the wide selection. There was a Ceylon there with my name on it.

Speaking of home comforts, this plate of sweets reminded me of how I grew up receiving company:

The tea store is located at 325 North Kentucky Avenue in historic downtown Lakeland. Surrounded by antique shops and other boutiques, this cozy spot offers its own treasure trove especially for fellow unapologetic tea aficionados.

Despite popular technology, the telephone remains the best contact method here and Debbie Birdwell herself gives directions at (863) 688-9686) to anyone trying to find My Cottage Garden. For those travelers seeking tea, I offer this helpful landmark:

Behind the orchids, there's tea. May all your travels end in tea. In other words, bon voyage (have a good trip)!