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  • Kate Malone Hesser

My Tea Story in Four Acts

Act I: When I didn’t really drink Tea

I don’t have a story that consists of me as a child with my grandmother sipping a strong Irish Breakfast blend (milky and sweet for me) out of fragile cups with tiny little shamrocks on them. In my family we were not tea drinkers. We always had one or two varieties of Celestial Seasonings in the house for when we ran out of hot chocolate, but when it came to tea from the camellia sinensis plant….the same yellow and red box was in the cupboard for twelve years. Tea was associated with sickness and my mom’s one friend who didn’t drink coffee. Tea was not part of a morning ritual or an evening wind down. It was not a daily or even weekly choice.

Act II: When I thought I was a tea drinker

I don’t remember who I was emulating, but when I started working I got the idea that drinking tea in the afternoons was more sophisticated than drinking coffee - even if you left the teabag in water of indeterminate temperature until you finished drinking. At one point, I bought a small blue teapot on a whim, which I still use. I became enamored of the idea of spooning beautiful leaves into the basket and pouring cheerfully for adoring guests. I made a big show of using it in my office kitchen, though I paid no attention to the amount of tea, time or temperature for steeping. I left the basket of wet leaves in the pot until I was finished, which sometimes worked just fine because I started pouring right away.

Act III: When my daughter started drinking tea

My daughter was drawn to the concept of tea parties from very early on. As a preschooler she struggled with her pudgy hands with her disappearing knuckles for several days until she could proudly lift the plastic teacup in her right hand off the saucer in her left hand, take a sip, and replace the cup. When she started school she asked if she could drink a cup of “real tea,” so we would brew an herbal infusion for her to sip while she read or colored. We taught her how to heat the water in the microwave (I know!) so she could make her tea independently and it wasn’t long before Santa brought her an electric kettle. She would pick out new options at the supermarket and we would visit tea shops whenever we happened upon them. She led me to explore new teas and herbal infusions.

Act IV: When tea became my passion

In 2017-2010 I was frequently traveling to London for work. It quickly dawned on me that the tea served by British Airways was much better than what I had been brewing in my little blue teapot. Knowing that I was headed to the right place, I used my spare time to seek out tea shops and expertise. It was fortunate that I could return to the same shops several times. I was pointed toward books and some “starter” oolongs and Pu’erh and started to understand the concept of terroir. Around that same time I developed some health issues requiring me to give up coffee, wine, and distance running. Suddenly, most of what could go on my “X is cheaper than therapy” dish towel was off limits so I poured all of my excess energy into becoming a student of tea. I read books, blogs and magazine articles, listened to podcasts and combed through instagram posts asking questions and making “tea friends” along the way. I ordered, sipped and took copious notes. In the spring of 2020, when we were first locked down due to COVID-19 I began considering remote tea academies to pursue a more formal study. Completing the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada’s Tea Sommelier program is one of my most fulfilling achievements. I took my final exams in November and am proud to be part of the THAC.

What I love about having an active tea practice is that it is like reading an amazing book that you never want to end - and it actually doesn’t! I’ll never know everything, which means there will always be more for me to learn. Tea is also something that can be enjoyed in moderation or as a passion and it is never too late to start.

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