Posts Tagged ‘tea growers’

Tea-tinted Memories

August 29, 2016

Filling time between a dermatology appointment (Neosporin aggravates rather than helps to heal wounds!) and a dharma talk at Upaya, the Zen center in Santa Fe, I took a walk up Canyon Road, famous for art galleries, a history of being the path to the source of water and wood for city residents, and site also of the Santa Fe Friend’s Meeting with which I have a long and pleasant history. Most of the galleries I knew from years past have gone; so too a few favorite restaurants.

Living 80 miles away for the past 25 years, I’ve obviously not kept up with the street’s evolution. I did walk past the house where longtime friends lived when I first visited Santa Fe, in the early spring of 1972. And the gallery where, during that visit, I purchased a small bear fetish made from serpentine is, amazingly, still in business. The Glory Hole is gone. I miss its lively presence, the roar of the furnace and the crowd of onlookers enjoying the vivid, skilled and energetic process of creating blown glass objects.

In that space there are now several galleries – and a tea shop. Very ready for some cool refreshment, I went into the store to order a freshly brewed glass of Assam, and looked around at the walls of tins of different types of tea for sale. Many familiar labels stood among the black, green, white and herbal teas offered. Old friends from Ceylon, Darjeeling, Kenya, and Russian, English, and Scottish blends. Smoky Lapsang Souchong, various Greys (all with the bergamot that I have an allergic reaction to and therefore do not ever consume) and also a variety of jasmine blends. Last in a row on the top shelf, with a plain white label, one canister caught my eye. Vietnam OP.

In a flash, I was thirteen, touring a tea plantation with my father, in the Vietnamese highlands. Seeing how the leaves were graded according to which plants they had been picked from, told that those plants higher on the sunny slope produced a better quality of tea. We walked through the drying sheds, saw the different ways leaves were handled, to make green versus black versus smoked final products. My father’s role was to verify that the packaged tea was totally produced in the “free” south of Vietnam, not in the Communist controlled north. His certification made it possible for the tea to be marketed in the United States (this was in 1957, when the U.S. was determinedly not dealing with any countries with socialistic or communist-style governments.) My presence was the result of my father arranging a treat for me, compensation for a missed birthday party that had to be cancelled due to a government imposed ban on gatherings of all sorts, after a series of bombings had occurred in Saigon. (No terrorism, bombing of innocent civilians is NOT new).

We had journeyed up the coast and first visited a salt producer – beds of ocean water walled off and allowed to evaporate, with the resultant salt raked up, rinsed, dried once more, and bagged for market. Then we traveled up into the hills to the tea plantation. Both business operations were being managed jointly by a French and a Vietnamese proprietor. Both had been solely French until 1954 and the ouster of France from Indochina. Many of the French living in Vietnam had gone “home” to France initially, but many had then returned to take up their former occupations, more at ease in the tropics than their native land in which they had not lived for as much as 20 years. These returnees negotiated with the Vietnamese government, trading their expertise for acceptance back into their former occupations and lifestyles, now with Vietnamese “partners” to participate in the production and profits of salt, tea, cinnamon, rice and other agricultural products.

After the tour of the tea plantation was complete, we were treated to a “tasting”. Tiny cups – one sip worth – of each of the teas produced on the plantation were offered for sampling, freshly brewed with bites of plain local rice taken between sips, so that the palate would be clear and ready to appreciate the new and different tea sample.

Much has been written, and incorporated into literature, about the rituals associated with wine tasting. I learned then that there is as elaborate a process in savoring tea, though it is much less well known in the West. I did know even then, from my father, how to make a “proper” cup of tea. He followed the Russian process of brewing a very strong essence, then serving a small portion of it into a cup and adding freshly boiled water to bring it to the proper strength for drinking. Although I admit to using tea bags (or make my own with bulk tea), I still follow my father’s process for special occasions.

I’ve made a series of such special occasions this past week, each time I brew myself a cup of the Vietnam OP which I purchased in Santa Fe.

Half a world and most of a lifetime separate my two experiences of tea from Vietnam.

Probably not coincidentally, the message in the sermon my husband heard in church this morning was about the importance of making memories – and of sharing them.

So won’t you join me for a rich, energizing yet soothing cup of tea?

Tea for Two

Tea for Two

 


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