Thursday, March 26, 2020

Quick Tea in Art Break

It is hard to know how to continue with normalcy in blog posts during these somber times.  I have kept myself confined to the house for weeks now. But fortunately I have a large stash of art supplies to keep me busy. I have been working on a series of mosaics that I call "Tea Time."  Here is the second mosaic in this series. 

Stay tuned for more "Tea in Art" interviews and blog posts. In the meantime stay safe and be well.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Finlay's Garden Elderberry Tea with Joanne Zerdy

I will take a quick break from the "Tea in Art" series to talk about Elderberry Tea.

In these somber times, we can all benefit from a warm, comforting cup of tea.  At least that’s the way it works for me. Each day, in addition to my usual morning black tea, I have been drinking two cups of a hearty elderberry tisane blend. I purchased this tisane blend here in Asheville from Joanne Zerdy of Inviting Abundance. Read our conversation here.
Joanne Zerdy
I know that you have completed a 1,000 hour Herbal Immersion Program focused on herbal medicine.  Given this expertise, what can you tell us about the properties of this Elderberry Tea Blend that you have created?

My Elderberry Tea Blend consists of elderberries, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Elderberries contain healthful antioxidants and are known to boost the immune system for most people. As an antiviral, they are especially helpful at the onset of a cold or flu. Importantly, though, no research has been done about their usefulness in fighting the novel COVID-19 virus. Additionally, elderberries are antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and act as a cardiovascular tonic. Cinnamon and ginger are both stimulants with anti-inflammatory properties that benefit the digestive system. Also a digestive aid, clove is anti-microbial with a mild anesthetic property when used topically (especially for tooth pain). These herbal ingredients (long used by herbalists in different parts of the world) work together to strengthen one's digestive health and immunity.

**Please Note:
1. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition.
2. Those who are pregnant, nursing, or taking any medications may wish to consult with a qualified healthcare practitioner and/or clinical herbalist before using herbal products.
3. Elderberries should be dried or cooked in order to eliminate mild cyanide-related compounds.

Do you drink teas other than the herbal blends that you create?  If so, tell us a bit about your tea drinking habits.

Yes, I am a big tea drinker. I consume herbal teas every day for continued health and vitality, but I also have enjoy drinking black and green teas. Having lived in London and Edinburgh, I became accustomed to drinking cups of black tea (assam, ceylon, nilgiri, etc.) throughout the day. As I learned more about the antioxidant benefits of green teas, and matcha in particular, I have also included those in my diet. I especially enjoy making homemade iced matcha lattes with soy milk. I also enjoy sampling various oolong and puerh teas on my own or at tea shops in cities that I visit. I have had great experiences with tea in many beautiful places: enjoying high tea at a London hotel, experiencing a Gongfu tea preparation at The Tao of Tea teahouse in Portland, OR, attending a tasting hosted by Spirit Tea at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and visiting Dobrá Čajovna in Prague with my family. I even got engaged over tea at the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park! 

Tell us a bit about your project called Finlay's Garden.  Where can folks purchase your products online?

Finlay's Garden is a true labor of love. It is named for my first child -- my son Finlay -- who died inexplicably in childbirth in June 2014. My experience grieving his death led me to cultivating the small garden attached to the home we were renting at the time. I began making herbal concoctions (teas, infused honeys, skin products) that I shared with friends and family, identifying them as coming from "Finlay's Garden." After doing my own self-guided study of herbs and organic gardening, I enrolled in the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine's Herbal Studies program. As I formalized my study, I became drawn to the magic of making herb-infused honeys, which combines the power of plants with the delicious, antibacterial goodness of honey. This "classwork" led to the formation of my online Etsy shop - Finlay's Garden. I began selling 3 primary herb-infused honeys -- Calm, Warm, and Heart -- and then branched out into seasonal selections as well. I purchase many of the dried herbs that I use from Mountain Rose Herbs in Oregon but I also practice ethical foraging for some of my seasonal varieties, such as White Pine and Sassafras. At a friend's recommendation, I also began making herbal tea blends with some of these herbs and then I added a couple additional botanical aids -- Rose Glycerite and Grief Bitters -- to my inventory. I love connecting to people through this very heart-centered work. You can find out more about Finlay's Garden on our Inviting Abundance webpage, I accept orders through my Etsy shop,, as well as via Paypal, Venmo, and Google Pay. 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Tea in Art with Mari Omori

Mari Omori. Photograph by Chris Akin.
From the start I knew I would resonate with artist Mari Omori. “Tea is more than a beverage,” she says in the first line of her artist statement. And photographs of her artwork document the scores of sepia-stained tea bags that have passed through her hands.

Born and raised in Japan, Mari Omori is an artist, curator, and professor of art at Lone Star College-Kingwood near Houston, Texas. She has explored tea as an art medium since 1997. I was intrigued to learn about Ms. Omori’s relationship with tea and reason for using it in her art, so I have corresponded with her over these past several weeks.

Omori, Mari, Katachi: Shape, tea stain, teabag envelope archival paste on paper, 2014. Photograph by Chris Akin.

Omori, Mari, Tea with Our Mothers, 2009-2011.
Omori, Mari, Tea with Our Mothers, 2009-2011.

Tell me a bit about your journey with tea which began with your early years in Japan and has continued through these many years you have spent in the United States. 

I was raised in post War II Japan where drinking tea was a daily custom. Tea was served at least four to five times a day, in the morning, at 10am, lunchtime, at 3pm, and with dinner.  There were several kinds of teas produced and consumed in Japan; Matcha (powdered tea), Sencha (green tea), Hojicha (roasted), Bancha, Genmaicha, Kukicha etc.

One of my most interesting memories of my paternal grandmother was that she dropped a piece of Umeboshi (pickled plum) into her teacup every morning and consumed both the umeboshi and the tea! She lived until 93, thus there might have been a benefit in her longevity.

During high school time, I was urged to take tea ceremony lessons every week, though I was less than enthusiastic.  Learning to master traditional tea ceremony was almost required if you were a woman at that time. The lessons were extremely formal. If I missed one step, the tea could not be served properly. Sitting on the tatami mat with both legs folded was excruciatingly painful. Then I made a note of the tea masters’ skin one day. Their cheeks and hands were smooth and glowing like a baby’s. So, I tried not to miss each lesson.  Time passed. Much tea was served and consumed.

When I came to the US to learn English as a second language, I was introduced to sun made tea by my host, Mrs. White. Every morning, Mrs. White put two teabags in a large glass jar filled with water and placed it in the California sun. During my stay, the hot tea custom was forgotten, although briefly.

The following years were focused on raising a family and continuing my education. After earning an MFA from UCLA, I taught at universities until my family and I moved to Houston, TX in 1992!

As I settled into life in the southern part of the country, many explorations were made in my work as well.  I was looking back and thinking my upbringing, Japanese aesthetics, and my authentic self.  Perhaps I longed for the comfort of tea and familiar rhythms of life that tea drinking symbolized.

~Opening the bag I saw magical stain marks made by the essence of tea and the passage of time. A serious exploration of tea had begun.~

One day, a gallerist visited my studio. I am usually well prepared for serving fresh tea. However, not that day. With no fresh Sencha to serve, my only choice was to serve tea with a teabag. After the guest departed, I saved the teabag on a plate for a day. The following day I noticed the water mark patterns that appeared on the teabag.  Opening the bag I saw magical stain marks made by the essence of tea and the passage of time. A serious exploration of tea had begun. I started using all the components of a teabag; the tea container, string, paper tag, the tea stain, even the fragrance.

Material Witness. Photograph by Christina Omori.
The largest work I produced at that time was inspired by memories of my father. Over 3,000 family sized teabags were brewed, dried, opened, and pressed. Each tea stained paper was collaged on Arches paper. I typed the writings of my father over these. The resulting room-sized installation entitled Material Witness was exhibited at Texas State University San Marcos Art Gallery in 2006.

Imagine that we are in your home. The water is getting hot and you are preparing your favorite tea. What sort of “tea equipment” will you use and what tea are we about to drink?

Knowing your history with tea has been long, I would serve you Matcha, the powdered green tea. To make a less formal tea ceremony, I would prepare a tea bowl (Chawan), tea chest (Natsume), tea spoon (Chashaku), a napkin (kaishi) with a dry sweet, all on a tray.

Photograph provided by Mari Omori.
The design and shape of tea utensils depend on the season, time of day, and kind of tea being served. The tea bowl shape and surface decorations reflect seasons. The wall of tea bowls tends to be thick for cooler seasons.  In March, the glaze or surface design of of the tea bowl may have spring blossoms. The season can be also reflected on the dry sweets you take before drinking the tea. The essence of such tea sharing can be summed up this way, ‘Ichigo Ichie’, meaning one moment, one meeting, as if there will never be a moment like it in life.

What are your daily tea habits or rituals?

The most enjoyable tea is the first tea of the day. I am an early riser at 5 AM.  To start the day with a cup of Sencha green tea is a special treat! This refreshing tea and its residual effects seem to last for the rest of the day.

Between my classes, I occasionally enjoy ginger tea to stimulate my senses and soothe my throat.  I am known by my students as a constant speaker!

You are a woman of many talents. In addition to being an artist you are a professor of art. How does your love of tea intertwine with your art making and teaching?

Interesting question!  I never thought about how my love of tea intertwines with teaching. But, yes to intertwining with making art.  I admire the inventive minds behind those teabag designs. The humble teabag is an excellent example of “form follows function.”

I think that drinking tea may contribute to good health and help clear one’s mind. Drinking tea together can bring instructors and learners closer and encourage thinking of others, even as we share that moment together, a moment that is never to be repeated in life.

Tea and teaching have another thing in common. The word “teaching” has tea in it! Teaching begins with tea.

Omori, Mari, Tea House, 2004.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Tea in Art Blog Series

I am planning a series of blog posts on the topic of tea and art.  “What is tea and art,” you might ask.  In my mind “tea and art” could refer to any number of topics.  So this series will include a number of blog posts. Some topics I plan to touch on in this series will be: tea used as an art medium, tea paraphernalia used as art medium (such as in assemblage art), tea lovers who make art, and tea and its accoutrements used as a theme in works of art.

To begin this series of blog posts about tea and art I will start with a piece of art done myself. In fact, I completed this piece just this morning.  I love tea and I also enjoy making things. So my most recent piece is a mosaic mirror that I have titled “Tea Time.” You see it pictured here.

I have lined up interviews with a number of contemporary artists who use “tea in art.”  Some of the artists you will read about in future blog posts are Mari Omori, Jen Crickenberger, Jennifer Coyne-Qudeen, and Michele Brody.  I am looking forward to sharing the work of these talented artists with you, my tea loving readers.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

New Custom Tea Pendant: A Touch of Cheer!

Here's a touch of cheer on this somber day. My new custom-made pendant by artist Debra Mager is "so darn cute!"  It is the perfect embodiment of spring for this tea lover. Follow the link to see more of Debra's gorgeous work.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Interview: Tea in NC with Erin Coyle

I always enjoy meeting interesting people who are interested in tea.  Erin Coyle is one of these people. I discovered Erin through a Google search which included the keyword “tea” (and I don’t know what else).  Google sent me to a web page for the North Carolina Humanities Council where I learned that Erin gives talks about tea through the Road Scholars Program. I thought to myself: A tea lover and public speaker who also calls North Carolina home?  That’s someone I need to meet.  So, I sent Erin a note. We have not yet had the chance to meet in person.  But our email correspondence on the topic of tea has been great fun.

I was curious to know more about Erin’s journey with tea, so I have interviewed her for this blog.  Enjoy our conversation!
I understand that you were introduced to tea by your Irish grandmother who served it hot, sweet, and with plenty of milk.  Tell us a bit about your personal tea journey which led from these early years with your grandmother to your current public speaking engagements about tea.
Everyone drank tea when I was growing up. Tea was a panacea. No matter what was troubling you, tea was there for you. I have memories of my father making a cup of tea and pouring some of its milky sweetness into a saucer for me to drink. I remember that when I was sick, my mom would make me a cup of tea and a slice of toast with butter, cinnamon and sugar on it. At my Irish grandmother’s house, tea was the first thing she offered when you stepped over her threshold. She phrased it as a question, “Will you have a cup of tea?” But as I joke about in my talk for the North Carolina Humanities Council, to the Irish it’s never really a question – because you WILL have a cup of tea. And it was no different in her little house by the Jersey shore.

Being the youngest of seven children and the youngest of 42 first cousins, I was often on the periphery of conversations, listening to the adults talk about what adults talk about. The one thing that seemed to bring everyone together, the unifying agent, the glue in the family fabric, the soother of tension, was tea. Whatever the event, wedding or funeral, Christmas, Easter, heartbreak, or celebration there was always a cup of tea to set things right or at the very least to provide warm comfort.

My parents and I moved from New Jersey to North Carolina when I was 15. A terrible age to move! I experienced a total culture shock. I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying to me--the accents and phrasing of things was so different. When someone asked me if I could carry them to the store, I thought they were crazy. First, they were bigger than me and there was no way I could get them on my back. Eventually, I came to understand that “carry” in the South meant “to take”. This person just wanted a ride to the store! It’s amazing that cultures could be so different when they are only 500 miles apart. But it really was a completely different culture in the South as compared to what I was accustomed to in the North. The one thing that made me feel like I was still connected to my roots – the Irish ones and the northern ones – was tea (served hot). I became very interested in the world of tea when I was a teenager. Actually, tea was one of the catalysts that inspired my interest in plants, herbs, healing, cultural anthropology and history. The question that came to me one summer afternoon as I was drinking iced tea was that everywhere in the world people drink their tea hot, how did people in America end up drinking it iced and (in the south anyway) sweet? That was the question that propelled my research on the history of iced tea. I became a North Carolina Humanities Council Road Scholar five years ago and have been giving a talk on the subject ever since.

Imagine that we are in your home. The water is on and you are preparing your favorite tea.  What are you about to drink?
So many favorites! Well, I can tell you what I’m drinking right now. It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the time I find most appropriate for either a nap or a cup of the amber ambrosia known as Darjeeling. I’m drinking a Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe (FTGFOP) Second flush from India’s Balasun Estate. You might also find me drinking a lovely, bright Japanese green tea known as Tamaryokucha, which reminds me of the taste of spring. But with snow in the forecast a Darjeeling seemed most appropriate this afternoon.

Do you have daily tea habits or rituals?
I drink different teas throughout the day. I generally start the day with a stronger black tea. Though I know many tea connoisseurs consider CTC (crush, tear and curl) teas to be lower quality, I like them. They hold up well to the addition of little milk. This is my “mother tea,” the one I grew up with. It is the tea that provides the most visceral comfort for me. I have a wonderful, little tetsubin teapot that I’ve used for years to brew my black teas. I also travel with it. Because you can’t break a tetsubin teapot. If someone offers to carry my bags they may think they are packed with rocks! But it’s actually just a cast-iron teapot. I don’t usually tell them that though. I think the coffee drinkers of the world think we tea people are a little eccentric. Which is fine with me.

You are a woman of many talents. I know that in addition to being a tea lover, you are an herbalist, artist, musician, storyteller, and writer. How does tea intertwine with these other interests in your life? 
If I were to define “artist” as someone who sees the interconnectedness and beauty of the world and has a desire to share that with others through creative and expressive mediums, then I would define myself, first, as an artist. Among my mediums are plants, stories, music, culture, and teaching. I am a practicing wellness coach and consultant. My clientele are people looking to improve themselves through self-knowledge, building healthy habits, and dietary and lifestyle changes. Often times people come to me because they feel overwhelmed, tired, have challenging health issues, or are just looking for ways to relax, slow down and take better care of themselves.

There are those of us who thrive in the fast-paced “coffee culture” and there are those of us looking to slow down, appreciate the sensory world, and build a centered and grounded life. I see tea culture as more the latter. Tea is unique in that it contains both a stimulant (caffeine) and a relaxant (theanine). After all it is said that tea was discovered by the founder of Zen Buddhism, Bodhidharma, in 520 BC. He was trying to meditate, but he kept falling asleep-- a common problem for many of us new to meditation! He became so frustrated that he took his eyelids off and they turned into the first tea leaves. It is thought that tea assists in meditation because it keeps us alert and relaxed. If I were to describe my idea state of being it would be just that—alert and relaxed. Things like walking in the nature, playing music with friends, and sharing information through the medium of writing and storytelling are all things that keep me “whole”.

What tea-related projects can we look forward to seeing you take on in the future?
I am currently in the process of writing a book on the history of iced tea. Though the history is so fascinating it might take me a lifetime to write it! The history of this beloved beverage covers a lot of territory, from the oldest of glaciers, to ancient Egypt. It’s a story full of pirates and theft, drug wars, secret rituals, wealth, slavery, ecstasy, and vast plains and mountaintops. Not to mention a stop or two at Bojangles and barbecue joints across the south. It is a story both bitter and sweet. People have no idea about the history of the innocuous beverage they are drinking. And I think it’s a history more people should know about.

Thank you so much, Erin, for taking the time to tell us about your love of tea. 

To learn more about Erin and the work she does, visit her website at

To learn about the tea talk she gives through the North Carolina Humanities Council Road Scholars program, visit HERE.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Jane Austen Tea Series from Bingley's Teas

Photo provided by Bingley's Teas.

In my mind, Jane Austen and tea go hand in hand – something like pencil and paper or fish and chips. Julia Matson, founder of Minneapolis-based Bingley’s Teas, holds the same view.  About a decade ago, she created a Jane AustenTea Series for her company.  This series of tea blends, which debuted at the Portland AGM back around 2010, was the first to match Jane Austen characters with tea profiles.

In each tea of her fun Jane Austen Tea Series, Ms. Matson represents a Jane Austen character through a clever selection and blending of ingredients. For example, the heroine of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet, is represented by a tea blend called “Elizabeth Bennet’s Wit.” This blend includes black tea for Elizabeth’s “strength of character,” cranberries “to represent her quick wit and sharp mind,” and blue mallow flowers to bring to mind Elizabeth’s “sweetness felt for her sister and close friends.” You will find equally apt descriptions for each of the 21 different tea blends featured in this series.

Julia Matson
I asked Ms. Matson which came first, her love of tea or her love of Jane Austen.  This is the story she shared with me.

I’ve been an Anglophile since I was a little girl. Books and a healthy bit of Masterpiece Theater after school, where I’m sure there must have been an Austen version I wasn’t aware of. Like many people, a film version first caught my attention. Mine was the 1995 P&P and led me to read Austen and soon learned there was a society to gather with other people completely taken by the novels and other contemporaries or hers in the Regency period. 

I was fairly young when I joined and was still learning my culinary skills. I took a class on how to bake traditional English desserts. In the class, the instructor prepared loose leaf tea and served it with cream! I’d never had anything more than Lipton or herbal bag tea before and had thought I just wasn’t a tea person. This loose leaf from Ceylon, literally changed my world! My brain slightly exploded and I began trying every loose tea I could find. Some good, some amazing and some pretty disappointing! Tea at that time wasn’t as widely found and it was all over the map for quality. 

As I began to study tea, it captivated more and more. Eventually, I made it to tea growing country and then I was a true goner! Absolutely smitten, bitten by the tea bug. I was still very much about Jane Austen meetings and outings and the two soon merged. It was important to me to try and have it make sense, not gimmicky. In courses you learn to profile tea, UCB like wine sommeliers. In doing so, I found myself coming across and describing tea in a way that reminded me of Mr. Darcy. After that, I thought it would be fun to keep going, Jane has told us who these characters are, their story and personality. I don’t have a Jane Austen tea specifically because we cannot truly profile her. We can imagine, but with her characters, she laid it out there for us.

It can take some time to develop and I’ve enjoyed the process. It’s especially fun when fellow Janeites read a description of the tea and start to laugh out loud, commenting that describes that character a tea! We know we are in good company then and can talk about the characters as if they really lived and no one will look sideways at any of us. 

It’s been incredible to have an opportunity to share this tea and Austen love with others around the world, through the tea, through talks and more. 
“It is such happiness when good people get together.” 

Ms. Matson has donated three teas to a silent auction which raises funds for UNC Chapel Hill’s Jane Austen Summer Program(JASP) 2020.  JASP is an annual conference designed to appeal to anyone who appreciates Jane Austen and her work.  My daughter and I had the good fortune to attend last year’s conference where we heard contemporary novelists discuss Pride and Prejudice, we learned to sew reticule bags, and we devoured scones with tea.

I have created a silent auction gift package using the three Jane Austen character teas donated by Ms. Matson for JASP 2020.  In this silent auction package, you will find Emma’s Perfect Match (a green tea blend), A Dance for the Musgrove Sisters (an herbal tisane), and Mr. Knightley’s Reserve (a black tea blend).   This silent auction package is made possible through the generosity of Ms. Matson and Bingley’s Teas.  She tells me, “It’s been wonderful to have the support of fellow Janeites through the years as we are a simple, family business doing it for the love of tea and Jane.” 
© my tea diary
Maira Gall