Post by Lucy Miller Robinson.
Drinking tea is a lost ritual, in the process of revival.
In the U.S., the specialty tea market quadrupled from 1993 to 2008. Tea shops are popping up all over cities like San Francisco and Seattle. New brands like Republic of Tea, Zhena’s Gypsy Teas and Yogi Teas have swooped in and expanded what conscious citizens of the world believe tea to be.
Tea is not a replacement for coffee. Tea is not boring. Tea is not for mornings or evenings alone. Tea is not for adults only. Tea can be sweet or savory, spicy or fruity. Tea has depth and flavor. Tea is for people of all ages, climates and nationalities. Tea is for caffeine junkies and the caffeine-free and vegans and carnivores and any one who likes to feel warm and fuzzy on the inside, which would be, dare I say, everyone.
Tea leaves can be brewed:
- in a disposable tea bag (pre-bagged, as in many grocery store varieties, or self-bagged, as in t-sacs)
- a reusable tea bag (made of muslin or another sturdy fabric)
- an infuser (tea balls, tea pots, tea nets, tea strainers).
Tea can be accompanied by bread, cookies, fruits, vegetables, nuts, or nothing at all. I prefer loose-leaf tea because the flavor, like the leaves, is whole. Measuring the tea, boiling the water, watching it steep, it’s a meditation, the perfect way to take a break from the chaos of the day and breathe deeply. In fact, the tea ceremony was once so revered in Japan that it became an important part of feudal negotiations, and was elevated as an art form.
Drinking tea with friends allows you to be social between meals, providing the proverbial cup to gather around without the after-effects of alcohol or coffee. Tea can be enjoyed at any time of day. You can drink yerba mate for an energy kick. You can drink an aphrodisiac, heart-opening tea before a romantic date. You can drink hangover tea the morning after a big night. You can drink a calming tea on a stressful day. You can drink a tea made with sedative herbs before nap time or bed time. You can drink a cleansing tea during a detox. You can drink a sweet berry tea for your sweet tooth or a spicy chai tea for your spicy tooth. Like the plants growing out of the earth, the variety of tea blends is perhaps infinite.
Hosting a tea party can be the most simple affair imaginable, requiring only two cups, two tea bags, boiling water, and a friend; or it can be detailed and fancy as in high tea at luxurious hotels and tea houses, boasting an extensive selection of the finest blends, gourmet treats in bite-sized portions, gold-rimmed china, pressed cloth napkins, velvet chairs, and of course, a server to fulfill your heart’s desires.
I like my tea parties to be somewhere in the middle. Comforting and welcoming, not so formal than an extra friend or three cannot be accommodated if they happen to show up on your doorstep in a serendipitous manner. I don’t send formal invitations, I send email invitations. I don’t worry about my tea cups matching, I only want to have enough for everyone. I don’t serve a feast, I provide something to nibble on.
The steps to hosting perfectly simple tea party:
1. Send an invitation via email, Evite, Facebook, Meet-Up or snail mail at least one week in advance.
2. Purchase three to six varieties of tea. Any more and you may overwhelm your guests with choices, any less and you may not have something for everyone. I prefer herbals and greens, but it’s good to offer at least one black tea as well.
3. Collect tea pots. You can borrow tea pots from a neighbor or from your mom. You can ask your guests to bring their favorite one along. You can purchase tea pots at Target or a kitchen store or a thrift store.
4. Create a menu of treats. I like to provide a fruit platter (or fruit salad), crudites with hummus, crackers with cheese, whole grain muffins or scones, and cookies. Sweets are generally more popular at tea parties, but it’s nice to have something savory for balance.
5. Choose your condiments, such as:
- soy milk
- agave nectar
6. Hand wash your mugs. Tea and coffee often leave a brown residue that the dish washer fails to clear, which means you may have to roll up your sleeves and grab a sponge and soap.
7. Buy or pick fresh flowers for the table. My favorite store for cut flowers at reasonable prices (and everything else but loose-leaf tea!) is Trader Joe’s.
8. Create a playlist or find an internet radio station. The music should be calming and soft so as to not impede conversation. I’ve found artists such as Feist and Regina Spektor create a warm, feminine atmosphere.
9. Choose your most colorful plates and napkins. Using cloth napkins makes your tea party eco-friendly and sophisticated.
10. Start brewing the first pot of tea no more than 15 minutes before the party begins. Hot tea is most enjoyable when it is fresh and steaming. If you’d like to serve iced tea, brew at least one hour before the party to allow time for cooling.
Most of all: relax and have fun with your friends.
Lucy Miller Robinson is a mother, stepmother, writer, and health entrepreneur. She founded Herbal Philosophy Teas upon the belief that Mother Nature is mankind’s greatest chemist. Lucy is currently writing her second novel and editing her first. She blogs about living for your highest self at Lucille in the Sky, and about herbal medicine at the Herbal Philosophy site. Follow her on Twitter and please introduce yourself. She likes making new friends.