Posts Tagged ‘tea’


Photo: Library of Congress
This powerful image symbolizes the awakening of the nation’s women to the desire for suffrage. The torch bearer is striding across the western states, where women already had the right to vote, toward the east where women are reaching out.

This month I’ve been enjoying a different tea every day after my daughter-in-law had the kind thought of giving me a teabag-a-day Advent calendar. I do like trying new teas. Today I’m thinking about the role tea has played in American history. No, not just when men threw tea into Boston Harbor to protest “taxation without representation,” but when women urged people to buy Equality Tea.

Janelle Peters writes at the Atlantic, “Access to daily necessities has long been a priority for social-reform movements. … When it came time for women to get the vote, tea played a role, too. Women such as the wealthy Alva Vanderbilt-Belmont held ‘suffrage teas,’ where support for the cause was proclaimed. The tea parties also served as fund-raisers, a practice that extended to the teas themselves.

“In California, suffragist women showed how both tea and the national movement of women’s suffrage could be democratized at the state level. Two suffrage teas generated revenue for political organizing in the run-up to the 1911 election. … Equality Tea sprang up in Northern California and spread throughout the state. In Southern California, Nancy Tuttle Craig used her position as one of the only female grocers in the state to package a ‘Votes for Women’ tea. …

“By the late 19th century, the suffragette cause had stalled in the Golden State. … It took a decade and a half for California women to prove that they had a broad base of support to gain the right to vote in state elections. The 1911 vote was hard-fought. Suffrage leagues and reform-minded women organized feverishly, but women’s suffrage still did not pass in San Francisco. This time, the rest of the state made up the difference. Tea smoothed over the gap between San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego in supporting women’s suffrage.

“Equality Tea was based in Northern California. Distributed by the Woman’s Suffrage Party, it spread through the state. San Francisco storerooms served the tea in tearooms decorated with a Chinese theme. Suffrage-minded consumers could purchase Equality Tea in half-pound, whole-pound, and five-pound boxes. Varieties included Ceylon, English breakfast, young hyson, gunpowder, and oolong. Some suffrage organizations, like the Club Women’s Franchise League, served Equality Tea at their headquarters in the St. Francis Hotel on Saturday afternoons.

“[Equality Tea] was also sold at regional fairs and by mail order. Ads appeared in venues ranging from local newspapers to medical journals. Some grocers carried the tea, and

there were women who refused to pay their grocery bills if their grocer did not carry Equality Tea.

“The ability to order by mail assured that the tea’s purveyors did not discriminate against rural or lower-class residents, groups of the population with stronger support for women’s suffrage.

“Tea became a central feature of the political strategy of San Francisco suffragists. On August 22, 1911, The San Francisco Call reported that the Votes for Women club had prepared a ‘suffrage special’ train that would carry feminist speakers to the state fair in order to be heard by people from all parts of the state. … By emphasizing tea on the suffrage train, the Votes for Women club focused on how accessible the basic civic right could be.”

Read more at the Atlantic, here, while I head off for tea at Pamela’s home.

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Tea and Hygge

Photo: Valentyn Volkov /Alamy
Hygge is the word Danes use to express “coziness and comfortable conviviality.” Think good friend, fireside, warm socks, cup of tea.

Upton Tea Imports in Massachusetts leads off its quarterly newsletters with little stories about the joy of tea in different time periods and parts of the world. The latest story offers background on the art of getting cozy, which the Danes call hygge, and which often involves a nice, hot cup of tea.

Upton Tea writes, “Half of the world’s happiest countries are Nordic, all of which have a penchant for hygge. [As of this writing, Denmark is] at the top of the happiness list and, perhaps coincidentally, seems to have the greatest affinity for hygge.

“Michael Booth (The Almost Nearly Perfect People) goes so far as to  claim, ‘Danes prize it more than ambergris and stardust.’ Is hygge the secret sauce to happiness, or is it just something that appeals to countries with few daylight hours during long winter months? …

“Hygge can be described as the appreciation of simple pleasures, enjoyed in a comfortable and esthetic environment in the company of close friends.”

In an article on hygge published in the New Yorker magazine, adds Upton Tea, “Anna Altman states … ‘Danish doctors recommend “tea and hygge” as a cure for the common cold.’

“It’s possible to hygge alone, wrapped in a flannel blanket with a cup of tea, but the true expression of hygge is joining with loved ones in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere.”

Nice. Tea and hygge. We knew this would get around to tea eventually. For more about hygge, check out the New Yorker article, here, and The Year of Living Danishly. And for the rest of the Upton Tea article — plus the impressive catalog — click here.

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At WBUR’s The Artery, Andrea Shea has a story about a composer with a penchant for unusual texts: the package blurbs practically everyone reads at breakfast when the newspaper hasn’t arrived.

“Musicians are always searching for inspiration,” writes Shea, “and sometimes they find it in some unlikely places.

“Take Brian Friedland, a prolific Boston composer and jazz pianist who’s discovered a creative goldmine in his cupboards. He takes words on packaging for products such as granola, mouthwash and tea, then sets them to some pretty sophisticated music. Friedland calls the funny-but-serious project ‘Household Items’ and he has a new CD. …

“Friedland is not a singer, but he sees amusing, absurdist potential in labels featuring characters, quests or ‘extreme’ wording. He started foraging for inspiration about eight years ago and had an epiphany when he read a can of carpet cleaner after his cat missed the litter box.

“It read, ‘Do not. Do not puncture. Do not freeze. Do not incinerate. Do not expose to heat above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Do not inhale.’ He made them into a percussive, vocally complex work where the singer repeats, ‘Do not! Do not! Do not puncture,’ with urgency.”

Percussionist and singer Laura Grill “performed a few songs, including one about a fragrant skin moisturizer.

“ ‘There’s one benefit of having these sort of accessible lyrics,’Grill said, ‘because people are like, “Oh right — Avon Peach Hand Lotion — I can connect with that.” ’

“Grill, also an [New England Conservatory] alum, says Friedland has found a unique solution to an age-old problem.

“ ‘As someone who enjoys composing and arranging, one of the hardest things is trying to write lyrics,’ she said, ‘so Brian finds them on his coffee packages and appliances.’ ”

Listen to Friedland’s SleepyTime tea music with lyrics taken straight from the box at WBUR, here.

Photo: Andrea Shea/WBUR
Brian Friedland, a composer who puts text from product packaging to music.

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Alice Feiring has an interesting story in Newsweek.

She writes that Kazi Anis Ahmed of Bangladesh, the 41-year-old cofounder and president of a company called Teatulia, was getting his doctorate in comparative literature when his father suggested expanding the family media and construction business into tea farming. The location he had in mind was the barren northwest of the country, not far from India’s tea-growing region.

Kazi Anis Ahmed liked the idea but felt strongly that any farm of his should be organic. Additionally, says Feiring, the family’s “mission was to provide jobs to the region. …

“The lack of agricultural tradition proved a blessing because the land was virginal, not ravaged by the government-supported, synthetic-fertilizer-dominated ‘Green Revolution.’ After reading the poetic One Straw Revolution by the master Japanese farmer, Masanobu Fukuoka, Ahmed went one step beyond organic and tried to do low-intervention farming.

“The tea garden functions on minimal irrigation. They installed a plethora of plants next to the tea plants to feed and aerate the soil. What now exists is a breathtaking vision. The barren area has been transformed into an Eden with a resurgence of wildlife never seen before — recently, a pair of monkeys was spotted. The animals had not been seen in the area for decades.”

Read more at the Daily Beast. (Thanks for alerting me to this lovely story, Asakiyume.)

Photograph: Habibul Haque, Teatulia

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My grandmother Mabel (called Garkie by my family as the result of a gross parental misinterpretation of my infantile diction) sometimes gave tea parties. In one tea-party story, my toddler self ate all the lemons, and Garkie had to keep going to the kitchen to get more for the ladies — my mother apologizing, and Garkie saying, “No, no. I have plenty more.”

A love of citrus is an inherited trait in my family. And since it runs in my daughter-in-law’s family, too, my grandson is doubly blessed, you might say. (I’m eating the lemons in my tea as I write.)

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I care about the original meanings of words. Poet John Ciardi cared even more than I do. A random thing I recall from his book How Does a Poem Mean? is that a person alert to word derivations would never say that a ship “arrived” at an oil platform in the North Sea because “arrived” is from the Latin words “to shore” and a North Sea platform is not the shore.

My office window overlooks the location of the Boston Tea Party. So lately, I have watched the museum rising from the ashes of a fire that destroyed it years ago, and I have been thinking about original tea parties.

When I was little, I loved to use the visit of a friend as an occasion for a tea party in our large attic closet. My mother or a babysitter would make a pot of tea and very buttery cinnamon and sugar toast, and my friend and I would cart it all upstairs with the cups, saucers, spoons, sugar, napkins, and milk, and have a tea party by the glow of flashlights.

Then there is my feeling for the tea party in Alice in Wonderland. That is perhaps the most important tea party to me because, at age 10, I understudied Alice in a local production of the play, which had been adapted from the book by New York television director Binny Rabinowitz.

I think part of the reason I loved that experience so much was because Alice is a sensible little girl who tries hard to follow all the rules laid down for her, but she is surrounded by completely inconsistent, stubborn, unreliable, and unreasonable adults. In spite of the enormity of the task, she keeps trying to help these grownups make sense. I loved the tea party scene, in which my best friend, Carole, was the dormouse (“Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle … zzzz”). Today I’m thinking about the fact that, other than Alice herself, all the tea party participants were quite mad.

Quite, quite mad.

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