My Education in Tea

Text by Betty Terry • Photography by Jim Bathie

When I interview tea people—tearoom owners, tea blenders, international tea experts—for stories I’m writing for TeaTime, I often ask them about their personal tea moment—that moment they realized tea was going to be very important in their lives. Often, it’s life changing.

Former TeaTime Assistant Editor Betty Terry with one of her discoveries during her tenure at the magazine, the Brown Betty teapot.

My own tea journey began not quite so dramatically. When I joined the TeaTime staff as associate editor four years ago, I admit I didn’t know much about tea. In fact, that’s what I told Editor Lorna Reeves when she offered me the job. “That’s OK,” she replied. “You know how to write, and you know how to edit recipes. I can teach you about tea.” Then she offered me a cup of her beloved Dragonwell green tea in a tiny porcelain cup with no handles. I sipped it cautiously and then blanched, saying, “It tastes like hot water with grass clippings in it.” Not an auspicious start to my tenure at TeaTime.

But Lorna and I had been friends for more than nine years, so she knew how to get to me—through my
love of history. She began lending me books about the history of tea, and one of these, Tea: The Drink That Changed the World, struck a chord with me. Who knew that tea had played such an important role on the world stage?

My personal tea moment came one Sunday morning in December 2014 when I woke up with laryngitis. No matter how hard I tried, no sound would come out of my throat. Only the application of copious amounts
of Harney & Sons’ English Breakfast Tea, heavily sweetened with sugar, seemed to help. (I owe a debt of gratitude to the Harney family.)

Four years later, my head is full of tea facts: In all the world there is only one tea plant, Camellia sinensis; all the rest is just processing. . . . The correct temperature for brewing black tea is 212° (the boiling point), but white tea and green tea should be brewed at lower temperatures. . . . A canapé is a tea sandwich, but a tea sandwich is not necessarily a canapé. . . . The British Opium Wars of the 19th century were fought over tea.

Thanks to Lorna, I have sampled a number of different teas in a variety of ways. Some I have liked more than others.

I’ve learned so much about tea, but now it is time to say good-bye to TeaTime. In September of last year, I was offered a new position at Hoffman Media, as managing editor for two of TeaTime’s sister publications, Taste of the South and Southern Cast Iron. Southern food was my first love in a culinary sense, and this is a great opportunity for me. But I will miss my friends at TeaTime more than I can say. I will no longer be part of their bimonthly tea tastings. I won’t get to sample Janet Lambert’s dainty tea sandwiches or bombard Lucy Herndon with e-mails about my favorite china patterns. Choosing a teapot for #TeapotTuesday on social media will no longer be part of my job.

But most of all, I will miss working with my friend of 13 years now, Lorna Reeves, who is rarely seen without a cup of tea in her hand. In the end, she accomplished what she set out to do—she taught me about tea. And I will be forever grateful.

From TeaTime, January/February 2017

Jan/Feb 2017 cover

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