Out of the bag: a new tea experience

The Chinese tea ceremony (Nancy Linenkugel)

Sister Nancy recently traveled to several cities in China. Today's blog relates part of her experiences.

"What kind of tea do you drink?" The question, posed by a young lady presiding over a tea ceremony, was innocent enough. The event featured a tasting of five different Chinese teas. If you liked any, you could purchase a package of the tea leaves.

While I like tea, I don't drink it often. At the question, my mind raced to recall what tea I do drink.

"I have some tea bags at home," I said pathetically.

The tea mistress turned up her nose, looked at me and said, "Oh, no, you mean that's the only tea you get, the kind in a tea bag?" I nodded. She shook her head as if to say, "That's just terrible."

She proceeded to prepare the different teas for tasting. The first was oolong, so she placed small tea pellets directly into hot water. The pellets were actually rolled-up tea leaves that expanded slowly and gently in the water.

I watched this in shock and said, "Don't you have to use a diffuser?" I recalled my grandma making "real tea," but she put the leaves in a small holed metal basket on a chain that kept the tea leaves separate from the water.

The tea mistress, recognizing a teachable moment, said, "No, there's no need for a diffuser. We just put the leaves directly into the water, and they'll go to the bottom. See?"

I liked the oolong tea best, followed by the black tea. My least favorite was the fruit tea made from cherries and other dried fruits. In the end, I purchased some oolong — that pellet variety — and figured I could retire my tea bags in the near future.

[Nancy Linenkugel is a Sylvania Franciscan sister and chair of the department of Health Services Administration at Xavier University, Cincinnati.]

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