There’s this guy at work named Byron, who’s always serving tea during his breaks. Because I’m a tea princess, we became instant friends. I don’t think many people can say they live below a tea studio, but he does along with his partner in crime/other half/soul mate/best friend, Katerina. They own it actually. It’s called Lotus Teas. It’s a small authentic tea shop tucked away in Sydney’s inner west, Sydenham. So I got an invite by Byron (totes feel special) to visit this tea studio and spend an afternoon relishing and learning about the tea world. As soon as I walked into the Lotus Teas Studio Room, I felt transported to a zen-inspired oasis with relaxing music to accompany the background. Because I had been busy that morning (actually I’m busy all day, every day), I felt a change in energy. It was as if all of a sudden I was aware of my own energy. It was like a time conscious, stressed out I need a pick-me-up caffeine buzz, but I know coffee is bad for me, so don’t worry I’ve got my shit together vibe. But as they say, acceptance, is the first step to moving forward. It was a great afternoon full of listening to the stories, philosophical ideas and aspirations of those on the creative side in love with tea.
A house with an art studio and a tea house, overlooking a lake. That is Katerina’s dream home. Now, this girl is more than just a dreamer, for she puts her ideas into action. Her love for tea has allowed her to use her creative edge to make a business out of it. One of her tea blends has such an awesome name, I told her that she should trade mark the name and T2 would probably buy it. It’s called Liquid Sunshine (how cool, right?). It is an uplifting tea, the one you come home to when you just had a long day and need a little burst of joy and radiance. It is made with mandarin peels, resulting in citrus top notes; layered under peppermint and chamomile base notes, which creates a soothing and relaxing effect. For Katerina, “Tea culture is about bringing in the principles of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility into your everyday life. You become more aware of how you can better yourself through those principles”. Living in Sydney for 22 years, I know that tea culture has never been a big thing here, compared to other countries such as Japan, China and India . However, its popularity through commercialisation is gradually creating a change in our culture. The power and pleasure of drinking tea is becoming more appreciated within the community.
If you don’t already know, Memoirs of a Geisha (1997) by Arthur Golden is my 2nd favourite book, coming 2nd to One Day (2009) by David Nicholls, which is sitting on my bookshelf all tattered, dog-eared and unlaminated (to retain its history of spilt coffee marks and chocolate-licked fingers). I don’t know why, but I just never get sick of the book. I guess I have a connection to it? Sometimes I read particular chapters depending on my mood and whatever 20-something dilemma I’m going through at the time. Twenty years. Two people…there’s just something entrancing about the whole thing and how witty and beautifully written it is. Escapism. Anyway, getting side-tracked here. So my point was meant to be what’s funny is that Katerina was first exposed to tea culture through Memoirs of a Geisha. I particularly love the part when Chiyo first meets Mr. Tanaka Ichiro one afternoon and she recalls, “He seemed so fascinating to me, even the fish smell on his hands was a kind of perfume. If I had never known him, I’m sure I would not have become a geisha.”
I think like Chiyo, as we age, different things gain new symbolic insights and meanings to us. For Chiyo the smell of fish reminds her of her childhood days, living in a poverty-stricken Japanese fishing village and her fisherman father who sold her to a geisha house in Kyoto’s famous Gion district at the age of 9 (I clearly know too much about this book). On the other hand, tea reminds Katerina of her spiritual being (a.k.a. inner Goddess). For her, a little morning tea ritual quietens the mind. Instead of dreading how much you wish you were still in bed, but your 9 to 5 job allows you to get by and pay the bills, imagine completely changing your ‘default-setting’ perspective and thoughts. Picture yourself walking over to the tea pot, choosing to listen to the bubbling of the water,carefully selecting your leaves, appreciating where they came from, and imagining the tea farmer away in a foreign country plucking your tea leaves. Tea has a way of connecting us as humans to the Earth. It gives us a basic sense of self. It was a realisation I had that day because I like drinking tea, but I had never thought of tea in that sense. Earl Grey, English Breakfast or Chamomile…In Second Year, I used to think of tea as nothing but a rip-off. Hot water and a tea bag for $4 at the cafes at uni, “Are you serious? Oww hell no!” [insert finger snap ghetto style].
One day Katerina was walking down New South Head Rd in Double Bay, when she walked into the Taka Tea Garden. “The minute I was in that tea house, it was like I had come home or something. I felt so drawn to that space of meditation, of calm and tranquility. I was so fascinated by the spirit of tea, by the concepts behind it, the philosophy.” From there, she was given the contact details of a tea teacher named Rosalyn in Epping. I’ve never spoken on the phone for an hour to a complete stranger, unless it’s about my internet not working (no internet = life is miserable) or my bad reception on my phone, to a customer service rep. But Katerina spoke on the phone to Rosalyn for over an hour, despite having never met her before. They must have made a strong connection, for they soon became friends, and later on Rosalyn would become Katerina’s tea mentor. Even the dress Katerina was wearing the day I visited was something Rosalyn once owned and passed onto Katerina.
I also tried proper/legit matcha (you know the way its meant to be made, not the processed chalky light green fluff you find in a packet in the aisle of a dodgy Asian grocery store. Apparently, the Matcha Green Tea Frappuccino that I regularly order at Starbucks or the heavenly, frothy, sweet green tea latte that I had in Melbourne this winter does not count as ‘real’ matcha. The origins of Japanese matcha is noted to have emerged in history when it was first introduced to ancient Chinese society and adopted by Chan Buddhists in 960AD. Blends of matcha are given poetic names called chamei (meaning “tea names”) either by the producing plantation, shop or creator of the blend, or by the grand tea master of a particular tea tradition. When a blend is named by the grand master of some tea ceremony lineage, it becomes known as the master’s konomi, or favoured blend. Matcha is made from shade-grown green tea. Protecting the tea leaves from direct sunlight allows the leaves to become rich in chorophyll and amino acids. Only the finest tea buds are hand-picked during harvesting. After harvesting, the tea leaves are then dried and ground into fine bright green matcha powder. Matcha is prepared as a powder and whisked into hot water, a method which releases the caffeine into the body gradually over 6-8 hours. Swapping coffee for matcha will result in sustained energy and increased alertness and focus, aided with a cleaning effect on your body, without giving you the jitters, shakes or a caffeine crash later in the day from drinking coffee. Real matcha is actually quite strong (tip #1: don’t ask to add sugar. You will be death-stared). Once you’ve got used to drinking it, the health benefits you gain fair outweigh the benefits of drinking coffee (umm…who wants stained teeth and bad acidic breath?)
So if you want to find an escape from the busyness of your day-to-day life, find solace as you step into a meditative space of cultural appreciation where you can try a whole new world of full leaf teas at Lotus Teas in Sydenham. It’s by appointment only, but you can go online and purchase their teas also.
Yours truly, from a 22-year-old who says, “de-stress, drink tea & live a little. Life’s too short.”