In spite of near world domination by Starbucks and the encroachment of strong coffee -- served fast -- on just about every street corner locally, a revolution is underway.
"I think tea is becoming popular again because everyone is so busy. There are latte stands everywhere, and they fill a need. They're a fast-paced way to get your fix, " says Dawn Kiki, co-owner of Brambleberry Cottage, a tea room in the Spokane Valley. "Tea is a completely different thing. I mean, there are certainly ways to make tea the way you'd have a latte, if you want to drink it fast. But if you're really going to celebrate tea, you have to sit down and relax. "
Kiki's words echo the mantra of tea manufacturer the Republic of Tea: "Sip by sip rather than gulp by gulp " and remind one of the description on Portland tea company Tazo's "Om " teabags: "Organic teas from Darjeeling imbued with the spirit and taste of the high Himalayas. " Presented as a state of mind, if not an actual geographic locale, the Republic of Tea, available at Huckleberry's, Four Seasons and the Copper Colander, comes in metal cylinders, emblazoned with messages from such dignitaries as the Minister of Leaves, the Minister of Travel and the Minister of Immigration. Here, it seems, is tea with a healthy infusion of child's play. Tazo teas are similarly packaged with an Asian sensibility and origami-colored tea papers.
Clever marketing or not, the quasi-spiritual packaging would be nothing if not for the superiority of the product. "A lot of it has to do with the quality of the tea, " says Jennifer Henry of Four Seasons, which has an excellent selection of both bulk and packaged teas. "And certainly the packaging has a lot to do with it. The Republic of Tea blends are really popular, and they make a great gift with one or two tied together with a tea ball. But mostly it's the quality of the tea and the blends they come up with. "
Henry says that the best-selling Republic of Tea flavors are Ginseng Peppermint and Ginger Peach, and that the company also comes out with periodic limited edition releases, such as Harvest Moon, which sold out within weeks of its release last month, and Millenial Tea, which sold out on the East Coast and never even made it to Spokane.
The tea plant, or camellia sinensis, as it's known in botanical circles, was first cultivated in China around 3000 B.C. and was widely used by the monastic spiritual communities dotting the hillsides of ancient China to enhance mindfulness and maintain health. Embraced by Emperor Chen Lung in 2737 B.C., tea made its way into the homes of the aristocracy and farmer alike and spread throughout Asia. In Japan, a powdered form of tea gained popularity and became part of an orderly and beautiful ritual that is still in use today.
The Japanese Cultural Center at Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute offers tea ceremony demonstrations the third Thursday of every month, reservation-only appointments as well as periodic presentations for the community throughout the year. The next scheduled demonstration is Thursday, Oct. 19, at noon, and there will also be a public demonstration on Thursday, Nov. 2, downtown at the Bank of America building as part of Mukogawa's Bunka no Hi Culture Celebration.
Michiko Takaoka, director of the center, explains that the ceremony is an important part of Japanese culture. "It is closely related to the family, whether it is performed in the family or for a group of businessmen, " says Takaoka. "In both cases, it is for entertaining the guests. " Takaoka says that it's not uncommon for businessmen traveling to Japan to take a crash course in the tea ceremony, and that in Japan, it's part of every high school's curriculum as well as being a course offering at most universities. One group it's not necessarily for, however, is children.
"The taste is not for children, which is why we don't accept children for the ceremony, " she says. "Many of them taste it and go, 'Oooh, it tastes like spinach.' "
Children might find themselves more at home at the Brambleberry Cottage, which caters to groups of all ages, from tea parties for little girls to anniversary celebrations to groups of people in their nineties and older. "We once had one woman visit who was 101, " says Kiki, who owns the store and tea room with her mother, Melanie Lenhart. Part of the tea room's appeal is that Brambleberry Cottage offers more than the usual Earl Grey.
"We have hats and gloves and feather boas for people to dress up in if they like, " says Kiki. "We have no dress code; we get people here in khaki shorts all the time, but if people want to dress up, we have what they need. "
In addition to an impressive selection of Ceylon and green teas, Brambleberry Cottage also has tisanes, or herbal teas, and genmaicha, which is a pan-fired rice tea. For the perfect "pause that refreshes, " however, Brambleberry Cottage offers everything from several "spot of tea " specials featuring a pot of tea and a dessert, to "high tea, " which comes with a dizzying array of sandwiches, crumpets, scones, clotted cream, fruit and desserts.
The tea room requires reservations, but with your reservation comes the knowledge that you're taking time out from your crazy, hectic life to do something self-nurturing. "Making a date for tea is like making an appointment, " says Kiki. "It's like getting a massage. You're taking time out to do something relaxing and wonderful. "
& & & lt;i & The Tea Ceremony Demonstration is Thursday, Oct. 19, at noon at the Japanese Cultural Center at Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute, 4000 W. Randolph Road, and also on Thursday, Nov. 2, at 4:15 pm at the Bank of America downtown. To schedule tea at Brambleberry Cottage, 122 N. Argonne Road, call 926-3293. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &