The World in Your Teacup

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Anytime is tea time for Lisa Boalt Richardson. The author of the award-winning Tea with a Twist was one of the first 15 people in the world to graduate from the Specialty Tea Institute in 2008 as a certified tea specialist. Her new book, The World in Your Teacup, focuses on cultural traditions inspired by the beverage.

Richardson travels the country speaking at conferences and special events using her culinary arts and specialty tea expertise, and will be giving a tea and chocolate pairing presentation next week at the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas. She also shares observations, recipes, and more tea-focused musings on her blog, Lisa Knows Tea.

I asked her to share some of her insight on the joy of tea and how it can enhance a travel experience.

As a certified tea specialist, you obviously love tea. What first sparked your interest in it?

My love of tea in the beginning started because I loved the taste. Later it became about the moment of slowing down and enjoying conversations with others or a quiet moment to myself. When I really began to study tea as a career, my interest in tea grew to discovering and loving tea traditions and culture from around the world. Learning where tea is grown, who grows it, and how it is experienced all over the globe became fascinating to me. A fabulous cup of tea is an affordable luxury that I can treat myself to everyday!

In your new book, The World in Your Teacup, you write about tea traditions in eight different countries. Can you relate an experience you’ve had in one of those countries in which tea gave you a unique insight into their culture?

Though I have traveled extensively across North America, my travel plans to tea countries last year had to be rescheduled due to conflicts in India and deadlines for my book. My plans are to go in the near future. However, what is really great about the United States is that we are a melting pot of so many different cultures. One of my favorite experiences while researching the book was being entertained in an Iranian home.

My hostess made a full Persian meal with tea while I interviewed her. Persian meals are some of my favorites; they’re full of wonderful spices that are so unique to my American palate.

How has participating in “tea time” in some other cultures helped you connect with the people?

People love when you know a little about their culture. Since tea is the second most popular beverage in the world–second only to water–there is a good chance that you can connect with many people by just “talking tea.” I love to ask people of other regions of the world their experiences with tea. Many times they reveal that tea is deeply connected to their lives. I usually find out about their family, favorite recipes and meals, spirituality, and customs. From my experience, tea is a wonderful way of bonding with others. It is a common link that many people share; you might find out that you have a lot more in common than just tea!

In your book Tea with a Twist you draw on different cultural teatime traditions for some fresh new ideas for tea parties. Can you give one or two examples?

Try a Bubble Tea Party. Take the trendy drink Taiwan “Bubble Tea” and go with that theme. Makie all the food round in the shape of bubbles with a simple Asian-inspired menu, tape bubble wrap on the floor as your entry rug so as your guest come jump on it and pop the bubbles, use bubble wrap as placemats or a table runner, and have your tableware round to keep with the theme. Then bring out your inner child and actually blow bubbles at the tea party!

Take the popular Chai tea to the next level with an Indian Chai High Tea (high tea is a dinner meal served in the evening). Chai tea is actually called masala chai because of the spices used in the tea mixture (chai means tea). You can use the masala chai tea with an Indian-inspired menu in recipes such as masala chai scones and tandoori roasted chicken thighs. 

What suggestions would you give to help travelers experience tea traditions in another country?

Embrace learning about tea by watching what the locals are doing. In The World in Your Teacup, I wanted to have recipes that were “comfort foods”

from each region, not those you might find in fancy restaurants and hotels. I focused on the food you may be served if you were invited into someone’s home for a family meal. Tea is really a way of life in many countries and is far more than just a beverage. 

We’d love to hear some of your tea recommendations. What would you suggest for someone who usually sticks with the old standby, English breakfast tea?

There is really a world of tea out there waiting to be discovered. English breakfast is usually a blend of black teas from Sri Lanka known as Ceylon and from the low growing tea region of India called Assam. It is a strong cuppa that goes well with milk and sugar.

So if English breakfast is your thing, you might consider expanding into other hearty black teas. You could also just try drinking the tea by itself from each region. Try Ceylon tea by itself or Assam tea by itself. Then expand out a little more with teas such as a Chinese tea called Keemun or some Kenyan teas. Once you get going on trying new teas, it is hard to stop. Before long, you might have new favorites–they might even be green, white, or oolong, not just black.

What would you recommend for someone who is a little more adventurous?

If someone is really looking to branch out and try some different teas, they might want to try some oolongs from China or Taiwan. Oolong tea is in between green tea and black tea and is partially oxidized. These teas are delicious, and some can be steeped several times. If you are really adventurous, you might want to try Pureh tea from China. It is the only tea that is aged and fermented on purpose. The flavor is unique, and studies show it has wonderful health benefits. 

And what is your favorite tea?

I have many favorites depending the day, the season, and the time of day. Some of my favorite standbys are: Darjeeling first flush, keemun, golden monkey, oolongs of all kinds, jasmine pearl green tea, and dragon well to name a few!

Read More: Want to stay in a tea estate? Jeannette Kimmel offers a selection here, and you can find more tea estates in India’s Himalaya region in the March issue of Traveler.

Photo: Moroccan tea with ghoriba semolina cookies by Lauren Rubinstein