A Unique Tea Gift

Those who read my Facebook have read my latest post regarding my friend Jon, who received a sea horse figurine when buying Red Rose Tea.   Though he was admittedly confused by the gift, he took it with gratitude and made sure to forward me a picture of this cute little surprise:

Jon's Sea Horse, Regally Sitting On His Desk

Jon’s Sea Horse, Regally Sitting On His Desk

While, of course, most people don’t like looking a gifted horse in the mouth, I don’t mind looking a gifted sea horse in the mouth.   Why did my good friend receive such an unusual, yet delightful gift?

Well, in order to do that, we have to look at the history of the Red Rose Tea brand.   Red Rose started in Canada in 1890, when founder Theodore Harding Estabrooks decided that the public deserved a cup of tea that was consistent cup-to-cup.   According to the Red Rose Web site, “Before that, tea was sold loose from tea chests by local merchants and quality varied a great deal.   Mr. Estabrooks’ innovation meant that tea lovers could count on the quality of tea in every Red Rose package — a tradition that continues to this day.”

Initially, his tea was sold in Canada but in the 1920s, his business expanded into the US and, in 1929, he made the monumental contribution to the tea world – tea bags.

Estabrooks sold his tea company in 1932 to Brooke Bond & Company of England.   Red Rose continued to grow at an astounding rate under the company’s guidance.   According to Red Rose, “In 1985, Unilever NV acquired Brooke Bond Foods, Inc. Shortly thereafter, Unilever sold the rights to the Red Rose brand in the United States to Redco Foods, Inc. retaining the rights in Canada and other parts of the world.”   In 1967, as part of a promotion, Red Rose started giving away Wade figurines, figurines that fit into the palm of your hand.   At first, they were only distributed in Quebec, Canada and were only meant to be a short-term promotion.

Little did Red Rose know that the promotion would be a huge success, eventually spreading across all of Canada.   In 1983, the figurines were offered in the United States as well.   Now, it is estimated that over 300 million figurines have been given out to date!

These figurines are given out in series and, at the end of each one, consumers can purchase the entire set via the Red Rose Web site.   Currently, they are in their nautical promotion series.

Per the Red Rose Web site, “Today, Red Rose is blended with the same care that Theodore Harding Estabrooks established more than a century ago. Red Rose contains high-grown black teas from Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Kenya, India and Indonesia. The result is a blend that produces a full-flavored cup of tea for the tea lover. We think Mr. Estabrooks would be proud.”

Personally, I know I would love to open up my tea box full of fresh, delicious tea and find a tiny sea horse looking back up at me 🙂   Start a collection – buy tea!

Tea Ceremony: Destination Japan

History of the Japanese Tea Ceremony:

The Japanese tea ceremony is highly ritualistic.   The first records mentioning a tea ceremony was in the eighth century, though it probably did not look like the modern-day tea ceremony.   Buddhist monks came out with a book called Cha Ching in order to teach how to properly prepare the tea and use the tea vessels correctly.   Today, it is thought that this book helped shape the tea ceremony we now know.

Tea was not readily available to all, being mainly a medicinal drink that later evolved into a drink for the noblemen.   Because of the rarity of the beverage, rules and regulations were set on how to drink the tea.   In 1187 Myoan Eisai, a Japanese priest, traveled to China to study philosophy and religion.   When he came back, he founded Zen Buddhism and built the first temple of the Rinzai sect.    Some think that he was the first to start cultivating tea for religious reasons rather than medicinal.   He suggested grinding the tea leaves before adding them into the boiling water, known as matcha tea.

Japanese Woman in a Kimono Making Tea

Japanese Woman in a Kimono Making Tea

The monk met with hostility with the new religion he was introducing, putting him and the tea ceremony at risk.   However, he was able to gain protection from the newly converted Kamakura shogunate and was able to keep writing about the tea ceremony.   He wrote a book called Kissa Yojoki (“Tea Drinking Is Good for Health”), in which he cites various health reasons to drink tea, including curing loss of appetite, paralysis, boils and sickness from tainted water.    Tea popularity grew as more people heard about its amazing properties.   The samurai class specifically loved the tea ceremony and spread the popularity further.

When the Kamakura shogunate in 1333, a new class of people came about called the Gekokujou.   These noblemen were also enraptured by the idea of tea ceremonies and decided to turn it into a type of game with their friends.   The game Toucha challenges drinkers to distinguish between genuine teas and other lower quality teas.   People would place bets and the winners would get expensive prices, adding to the excitement of the tea party.

At first, each person was provided a tea-cup.   Soon, the tea ceremony parties grew from twenty to thirty to even one hundred people at a time.   It would be impossible to provide each person a tea-cup, so attendees would either drink from the same tea-cup and pass it to their neighbor, or they would pass a tea bowl.   This also helps to reaffirm the close ties that attendees have with one another.

Tea ceremonies were scaled down again to be for smaller, more lavish groups in a more simplified setting.   Zen priest Murata Shukou dedicated his life to the Zen-like tea ceremony and offered instruction to those who wished to learn more.   He wanted to serve the tea to his guests, rather than have another, creating an intimate bond with his guests.   Simplicity, sober-looking colors, intimacy and types of utensils were all important to Shukou.   He became the first chanoyusha, a professional teacher of the tea ceremony.

A wabi-suki is also a teacher of the tea ceremony but he also focuses on faith in the performance of the tea, an ability to act with decorum and excellent practical skills.   A meijin has the qualities of a wabi-suki but is also a collector of fine Chinese tea utensils.

The tea ceremony is kept Zen-like and low-key as it was originally designed.   Highly ritualistic, the tea ceremony is both complicated, yet simple.

Conducting a Japanese Tea Ceremony:

In order to conduct a Japanese tea ceremony, one needs to concentrate on steps that are simple in their ideas, yet complicated in their execution.   You will need:

A tea kettle

Tea cups (if serving the tea in cups, rather than a tea bowl)

A tea bowl (if serving the tea in a communal bowl)

A tea bowl containing the unprepared matcha tea

A tea scoop to scoop the matcha tea

Bamboo ladle for the water

Bamboo whisk to mix the tea

Bamboo rest for the tea kettle lid

Cleaning basin for guests

A wooden stand

Tatami mats (straw mats)

A fine silk cloth the cleanse the tea bowl

A tea cloth to clean the items

Decorations for the room (flowers, candles, paintings, etc)

Sweets to munch on

–          Be sure to aspire to a proper tea ceremony.   If you do decide to conduct one, make sure that you are dedicated to doing so.   You will need to prepare everything ahead of time, display any flowers in a way that they compliments nature, evoke warmth during the winter or coolness during the summer, prepare for any rain if you have it outdoors, make an inviting bowl of tea for your guests and attend to them.   Your guests are highly important and should feel as such.

–          There are four principles of a tea ceremony that you should try to meet.   The wa (harmony), kei (respect), sei (cleanliness of soul and body), and jaku (tranquility) should be on your mind the entire time.

–          It is recommended to cure the tea pots and the tea cup that you will be using.   Place loose tea into the tea-pot with boiling water and let it sit for the day.   To cure the tea cups, put boiling tea into a large bowl and put the tea cups into it for a day.   This allows the tea oils to fill the tea cups and tea-pot.   However, a typical tea ceremony is with a tea bowl instead.   We will be discussing how to conduct a ceremony using a tea bowl, rather than individual cups.

–          Find a nice, quiet room to have your tea party.   If you can, have it outside in a garden.   The Zen nature of the garden will compliment the ceremony.

–          While tea ceremony rooms are typically decorated in a certain way, the main idea is to create a warm, welcoming environment for your tea ceremony.   Candles and flowers can add a touch of peace to the room.   Just be sure to keep everything simple.   Your guests will be kneeling, so a tatami mat is encouraged.

–          Prepare the tea room before your guests come in.   You should bring in your tea set, tea pot, a stone basin for guests to cleanse themselves, a wooden stand to hold everything, your sweets you plan to serve, a bowl to hold the matcha, a portable hearth to keep the tea pot warm and a silk cover for the bowl holding the tea.

–          Invite your guests to the tea room by ringing a gong during the day, or a bell during the night.

–          Have your guests wash their hands and mouth using the fresh water in the basin.   Guide them to the mat after they are cleaned.

–          Bring in the tea bowl with the matcha.   You should have the tea scoop resting across the bowl.   Also bring in the tea whisk and tea cloth.   Offer your guests some sweets to munch on while they talk.

–          Bring in the waste water bowl, the bamboo ladle and the bamboo rest for the kettle lid.   Offer your guests more sweets.

–          Use the silk cloth to cleanse the tea container and the tea scoop.

–          Ladle some hot water into the tea pot and clean the whisk.   When you are finished with the process, empty the tea bowl and wipe it with the tea cloth.

–          Place three scoops of tea per guest into the tea bowl using the scoop.   Be sure to lift both the scoop and tea container while doing this.

–          Ladle hot water from the kettle into the tea bowl.   There should be enough water to create a thick liquid with the whisk.

–          Return unused water to the kettle using the ladle.

–          Pass the bowl to your first guest.   The guest should bow when receiving the tea.   Rotating the bowl is a sign that the guests are admiring the bowl.   Finally, the guest should drink from the bowl, clean the rim and pass it to the next guest.

–          After all guests have had some tea, take the bowl and rinse the tea scoop and whisk.   Finally, clean the tea container and offer it to the guests to admire.

Photo Credit:

Let’s Learn Japanese.   17 July 2011.   japanese_tea2[1].jpeg, 3 Jan 2012.   JPEG.

Source Credit:

eHow.   “How to Conduct a Japanese Tea Ceremony.”   eHow.com, 2012.   Web.   3 Jan 2012.

The Japanese Tea Ceremony: Find Anything You Need to Know About Preparing Matcha the Japanese Way.   “History of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.”   Japanese-tea-ceremony.net, 2011.   Web.   3 Jan 2012.

Williams, Sarah.   “A Chinese Tea Ceremony: The Art of Drinking and Serving Tea.”   FoodEditorials.com, 2012.   Web.   3 Jan 2012.

A (Somewhat) Brief History Of Tea

According to the Chinese Historical and Cultural Project, “Tea is among the world’s oldest and most revered beverages.   It is today’s most popular beverage in the world, next to water.”

Chinese legend states that the Chinese Emperor Shen Nong stumbled upon what we know now as tea in 2737 BCE.   The Emperor was a scholar, herbalist, creative scientist and patron of the arts.   Amongst his many beliefs was that drinking boiled water contributed to good health.   Subjects and servants alike had to boil their water before drinking it as a form of hygienic precaution, which probably served them well in that age, anyway.

One day, Emperor Nong was traveling abroad and decided to take a rest.   The servants obediently began to boil water for all to drink.   As the water simmered over the hot flames, dried leaves from a nearby camellia bush

The Famous Tea Plant

The popular tea company Teavana offers to fill some holes in tea’s exciting past.   “The history of tea is fascinating and offers great insight into the history of our world,” they state.   “Since tea was first discovered in China, it has traveled the world conquering the thirsts of virtually every country on the planet.”   By the time of the Western Zhou Dynasty, tea started being used in religious offerings.   During the Han Dynasty in 202 BCE to about 220 CE, the plants sadly became limited and became a drink of royalty.

During the Tang Dynasty, which was 618 to 907 CE, more plants were discovered and tea drinking became once again for both the wealthy and the poor.   The Chinese government even went as far to build tea shops so that people could enjoy this illustrious drink!

Japanese priests studying in China during the Tang Dynasty soon found this elixir and decided to bring it back home, thus helping tea to spread to other countries.   At first, the Japanese also kept tea strictly for the rich and for medicinal usage.   It was tied to Zen Buddhism as the monks would drink it to stay awake and meditate.   They even developed a whole tea ceremony to accompany this!

Because the Japanese emperor enjoyed the tea so much, he decided to get the tea seeds from China and plant tea of his own in Japan, making it readily available to the populace.

Finally, tea made it over to our favorite country of royals, England, during the 17th century when King Charles II married Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza.   I would like to argue that their greatest accomplishment was making tea the drink of royalty for England and making it a popular import of the famous East India Company, though I am sure that historians would beg to differ with me.   Afternoon tea and tea parties became popular for aristocratic societies.

And what is a beverage without a bit of a tainted history?   Taxes were high on tea, though it was regularly imported into England.   In response, smugglers would obtain and sell tea illegally to those who normally could not afford it!   The East India Company did not want to lose their profits and thus began exporting to America at a heavy tax.   Citizens rebelled with the famous Boston Tea Party.

Now, tea is enjoyed by both “royalty” and “laymen” alike, celebrated with the rich and the poor.   With its illustrious and (albeit) long history, tea is sure to celebrate a rich life and continue to flourish as a popular beverage.

Photo Credit:

Camellias-R-Us.com.   Camellias-R-Us: Sinensis.JPEG, 23 Nov 2011.   JPEG.


“Tea’s Wonderful History.”   Chinese Historical and Cultural Project.   Chinese Historical and Cultural Project, 11 June 2011.   Web.   20 Oct 2011.

“The History of Tea.”   Teavana.   Teavana, n.d.   Web.   20 Oct 2011.