Tea Culture In the United States
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About American Tea Culture
Get to Know Chenying
Teaâ€™s Healt h Benefits Boost its Popularity
About American Each time tea is introduced to a new land, it evolves and mutates into a new â€œtea cultureâ€? that profoundly influences that society. The Camellia sinensis plant, from which all tea derives, is one of the few, if only, known plants in history to spur dramatic change in the societies to which it is introduced, providing impetus for poetry, meditation, civil disobedience, economic shifts, social and spiritual rituals, and all-out war. Tea has also been greatly valued as a medicine and in some cultures used as currency or as food. As it did in Asia and Europe hundreds of years ago, tea has enhanced the American economy as well as the social and physical health of our society. The internationalism and multiculturalism of the United States is mirrored beautifully in our emerging tea culture, and extends to all 4
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who participate, a warmth and hospitality that have been long forgotten in the rush to produce more, acquire more, and know more.
A native American healer with whom I once studied taught me that plants needed for our own healing will often show up in our gardens. Perhaps in the same way, tea has re-emerged in a sig-
n Tea Culture Written by Bon Teavant
“Each time tea is introduced to a new land, it evolves and mutates into a new “tea culture” that profoundly inf luences that society.”
nificant way in our country when we most need the benefits for which it is heralded: slowing down, contemplation, serenity, illumination, intimacy, and community. It is the antidote to the alienation and rush brought on by technology and our national addiction to productivity.
One will find many expressions of tea here -- whether Japanese, Chinese, British, or Fusion -- but the universal threads of tea culture are woven through each and every expression of tea. These threads are Community, Sanctuary, Intimacy, Art, and Ritual. Like our country, which is rich in diversity and therefore in opportunity and understanding, American tea culture culls its richness from its multi-culturalism, and while each manifestation of tea culture might look or feel different, it is made of the same stuff and is a piece in a greater whole.
the history of tea culture, find it in The Way to Tea: Your Adventure Guide to San Francisco Tea Culture). You could say that American tea culture first emerged at the end of the 17th century, when it was brought to New Amsterdam (now New York) by Dutch settlers who arrived as avid tea drinkers. Early in our history, one could find “tea gardens” (situated handily by natural springs equipped with pumps) in New York City.
“Tea culture” is a term that comes from Asia, where tea originates. Because tea was first embraced by Buddhists as an adjunct to meditation, by healers as a miracle plant, and by artists and scholars as a mystery-rites and rituals around tea preparation and service began to develop, and tea was used to both heal and entertain the elite class who had time for poetry, social gathering, and philosophy. Over time, tea culture became widely enjoyed by all classes of people in China, and later in Japan and other neighboring countries. (For more information on 6
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As tea was heavily taxed by England, a black market tea enterprise developed among colonists who snubbed the East India Company’s very expensive imports, sparking the historical Boston Tea Party. “Take your tea and shove off,” was the message from those who dressed in costume as Indians and with tomahawks broke open and threw overboard three shiploads of tea chests in defiance of the Crown
and her duty-laden tea. So, as it turned out, tea was pivotal in provoking the American Revolution. The rest was not only history but also became our present and future. Fast forward a couple of hundred years to contemporary America, and you will find a tea culture newly in the making. Had we not told the British they weren’t our cup of tea, we might still be sipping only English Breakfast and Early Grey. Instead, our belated fascination with tea is inspired as much by the later-migrating Asian traditions and influences as it is by those of the Occident. Stimulated by the many cultures in the country which merge, blend, and mingle so artfully, we are building a marvelous alchemical tea culture that is unmatched and unrepeatable anywhere else in the world. Here you will find Chinese tea rooms like The Tao of Tea in Portland, which resides in the lovely Chinese tea gardens in the center of the city as well as the traditionally European style venues in NYC like Tea And Sympathy which thrives alongside contemporary tea cafes like Teany. In the San Francisco Bay Area--my hometown and what I consider to be “the epicenter of the new American tea culture”--we are spoiled by the
more heavily Asian influenced tea salons like Teance and Red Blossom Tea, which focus on tea connoisseurship and education, as well as hip, multicultural tea lounges like Samovar Tea Lounge. Some venues like the Urasenke Foundation, which teaches Japanese tea ceremony, can be found in several cities in the United States. In Boulder, Colorado, if you are lucky you’ll come across the amazing Dushanbe Tea House, which was built as a gift by their sister city in Tajikistan and which is the setting of the annual Rocky Mt. Tea Festival. Seattle’s tea scene flourishes as evidenced by the new Northwest Tea Festival, which takes place in that city each October. In Washington D.C.’s Georgetown district, you might be pleasantly surprised to find an oasis of light and peace at Ching Ching Cha or down the road, to find Teaism. Not only is tea culture thriving in America’s larger cities, but it is finding appreciation outside of urban capitals. Buffalo, Boise, Scottsdale, Savannah, and Madison all have engaging tea rooms where tea lovers can meet and share a brew; and for each actual tea room or tea shop in the area, there might 8
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be another few people selling tea from their homes, putting on afternoon tea salons, or creating tea clubs. In truth, there are so many fabulous tea lounges, tea rooms, tea houses, tea gardens, and tea nightclubs opening that it is hard to keep up. No worries, it’s Tea: it’s not about keeping up, but about slowing down, relaxing, imbibing, sharing, and enjoying the moment.
Get to Know Chenying, Hangzhou’s Tea Enthusiast
Q: When did you first become interested in tea? Actually, when I was young, my grandmother and grandfather both drank tea. Since I grew up with them, I lived with them, every morning when we woke up, my grandfather- the first thing he would do was steep a huge cup of tea and drink it throughout the day. So that was my first impression of tea. Then, in the summer, we would play outdoors in the heat and come home very thirsty. My grandmother had clay teapots steeping tea and I would come in and get a cup of tea. I remember at the time feeling like, as soon I would drink that tea, I wasn’t thirsty anymore. So I’ve always been drinking tea and had some interest in it.
Q: Did your grandparents also grow tea? No, they would buy it and drink it everyday. This was before I went to elementary school, when I was living with my paternal grandparents. Now, my father also drinks tea everyday. When I started elementary school, I went to live with my parents and sometimes I would take my father’s tea and make it myself. So, since I’ve grown up around tea-drinkers, I’ve always been interested in tea.
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Q: Did they drink green tea? Yes, they all drank green tea. Then, later I went to college, and since my major in college was tea, I finally learned about all the different types of tea. Until then, I only knew about and drank green tea.
Q: Why did you decide to major in tea in college? At the time, well, on the day of the college entrance exam*, I was sick and didn’t test well. So, I was limited in which schools I could go to. So, one school I choose on the application was Zhejiang Agricultural University (now part of Zhejiang University) and for a major, I chose three majors, one was environmental protection, one was landscaping, and one was tea. As it turned out, I was accepted by the tea department. Since I had an idea of what tea is all about since I was small, I filled in those choices.
Q: Since American universities don’t have tea as a major, could you talk about what a tea major entails? Sure. When you study tea as a major, it’s very systematic study of everything related to tea, from growing and processing tea to tea tasting and the tea trade. There’s even an English class especially for tea majors and tea plant pathology classes, how to care for the plants, etc. You could say that most of my theoretical knowledge about tea was learned in college, but since then, after working in tea for all these years and meeting people who also work in the tea business, people who like tea, and people who study tea, I think I have learned more about tea from this time than from college. For example, how to steep a good cup of tea.
Q: You have been in the tea business for more than 20 years, right? Just about. I graduated in ‘93, so almost 20 years.
Tea’s Health Benefits Boost its Popularity • • • • • • • • • • • • • • In the latte-obsessed United States, tea is gaining ground as scientists and the public learn more about its benefits. A growing body of research suggests that the world’s second-most-consumed beverage — only water is more popular — helps prevent cardiovascular disease, burn calories and ward off some types of cancer. “We don’t clearly understand why tea is so beneficial, but we know it is,” said Thomas G. Sherman, an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology at Georgetown University Medical Center. “There are lots of epidemiological studies, and so of course people see these studies and want to drink tea and gain these benefits.” Nationally, tea purchases have risen for 20 consecutive years, annual supermarket sales have surpassed $2.2 billion, and away-from-home consumption of tea has grown by at least 10 percent a year for a decade, according to the Tea Association of the USA, a New York12
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based industry group. On any given day, the association says, 160 million Americans drink tea. Although coffee is still king in the United States, change is brewing. Department of Agriculture statistics show tea drinking has increased as coffee drinking has declined: Per-person tea consumption was nine gallons in 2009, up from 7.3 gallons in 1980; per-person coffee consumption was 23.3 gallons in 2009, down from 26.7 gallons in 1980, about half what it was in the mid-1940s. And while studies also show that coffee is associated with many health benefits, including helping protect against diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, a typical cup has much more jitter-producing caffeine than tea does.
Tea and cholesterol
Tea comes from the leaves of the warm-weather evergreen Camellia sinensis, and it is classified into five types: black, white, green, oolong and puerh. Experts say all are healthful. Many scientists link health benefits to tea’s polyphenol antioxidants, which protect against oxidative stress, but others say they don’t know exactly which chemicals or combinations of chemicals in tea produce the benefits. Sherman, for example, said there’s no evidence connecting tea’s antioxidants to beneficial effects, and he pointed to a study showing that black tea reduces LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol without affecting antioxidant levels, suggesting something else in tea is causing this. Numerous epidemiological studies — which establish correlation, not cause and effect — focus on tea’s role in reducing cardiovascular disease, the nation’s biggest killer.
A 2004 paper in the Archives of Internal Medicine, for instance, looked at hypertension rates among people who drank tea for at least a year. The study, conducted in Taiwan, found that those who drank about four ounces to 20 ounces of tea a day had a 46 percent lower risk of developing high blood pressure than people who didn’t drink tea regularly. Another paper, published in 2002 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, culled through the results of a large study concerning chronic disease and found that people drinking the greatest amount of tea — more than 12 ounces a day — had barely half the risk of heart attack as people who did not drink tea. More recent cardiovascular research was presented in September at a symposium at the Department of Agriculture in Washington. One study found that black tea reduced blood pressure in all participants and counteracted the detrimental effects of high-fat meals in people with high blood pressure. “The more tea you drink, the better,” Sherman said. “It’s astounding, really.”
“The more tea you drink, the better,” Sherman said. “It’s astounding, really.” 14
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