Teas to Soothe the Savage Soul

Where there is tea, there is hope.
I found that out on one of those dark night of the soul days, years ago. To lift my mood, a friend suggested that I brew myself a blend of Japanese sencha, mellow chamomile, and lemongrass.
I gave the whole leaf blend five minutes to steep, poured the tea into a dainty teacup and slowly took a sip.
Suddenly—or not so suddenly—there was no jarring notion of suddenness about it—my shoulders lowered a degree. And lowered still. I felt an unraveling. An unclenching.
It was magical.

A cup of tea can help to change your mood. And we have loads of them—moods, that is. Trillions, according to one distinguished scientist who is developing a mathematical model to measure the multitudes of states the brain can be in.
Whatever floats your boat, I say. I’d rather float some tea.
Since the first tea leaf accidentally flew into a vessel of hot water 5,000 years ago, we humans have known that tea is magical and paradoxical. It is yin and yang, up and down, win and lose.

Many of my picks hail from Harney & Sons, a family-owned business based in Millerton, NY. Harney supplies the tea at London’s Dorchester Hotel, along with other top-drawer eateries, so they know what they’re doing. Their tea also won’t break the bank. All my choices are whole leaf teas; you can buy many of them in little silk sachets to make individual cups. If you’re going to buy regular tea bags, consider the U.K.’s number one black tea choice: P & G. You’ll probably find it in your local supermarket. Steer clear of tea bags filled with what insiders call “dust,” the residue that falls off the leaves. Quick fact: Herbal teas aren’t technically “teas,” since they don’t hail from the Camellia sinensis plant, like black, green and white teas do, but why quibble?)

Looking for Contemplation?
Sip Harney’s Paris Tea, a black tea with hints of vanilla, caramel, and lemony Bergamot. Or unwind with a cup of Versailles Lavender.

Looking for some Zzz’s?
Try Tay Tea’s Kaapstad, a caffeine-free loose blend of South African red rooibos with vanilla, almonds, marigold petals, and ginger.
Another great caffeine-free choice is Egyptian Chamomile.

Want to revive yourself after horrible at work?
Reach for a cup of Bohemian Raspberry Tea, a Japanese sencha-style green tea with natural raspberry flavoring from the English Tea Store (www.englishteastore.com). After a happy, rhapsodic cup, you’ll want to sing like Freddy Mercury: Nothing really matters, anyone can see . . . nothing really matters to me.

Need a little TLC?
Brew a comforting, mellow cup of Harney’s Ceylon and India, a classic black tea blend of Indian Assam and smooth Ceylon. Even though black tea has caffeine, the percentage pales in comparison to coffee. Green tea has even less caffeine than black, while white tea has less caffeine than green.

Feeling Down?
Give yourself a boost with Bubble Tea, a giggling medley of tea, hot milk, sugar, and Tapioca curls. Another good choice is Harney’s Chocolate Mint, a black tea blend with chocolate and peppermint leaves. Think Girl Scout cookie in a cup. For a decaf take on the theme, opt for Tay Tea’s Better Than Sex, a rooibos-based brew with bits of Belgian dark chocolate and mint.

Yearning for Enlightenment?
Sip Harney’s Japanese Sencha, a pure green tea that will help clear away the cobwebs. For another take on wisdom, don’t miss a whole leaf cup of Taiwan Tung Ting Mountain Oolong tea. The light, golden oolong infusion will bring to mind jasmine and gardenia blossoms.

Need a Morning Lift?
Relish a full-bodied cup of Harney’s East Frisian Tea, a black tea blend of Assam, Darjeeling, and Ceylon. Or, splurge on a tin of Lamill’s Gas Pedal Tea, a black tea tonic of Indian Assam and the ancient tea tree leaves of Vietnamese Lahn. If you happen to be in LA, order a cup at Aroma, where they call the blend English Breakfast, or order the tea directly from Lamill at www.lamill.com. (It’s not cheap, but it will be worth it. Call it an affordable luxury.)

Feeling Chilly?
Pounce on a pot of Harney’s Hot Cinnamon Spice, a strong blend of black teas, three types of cinnamon, orange peel, and cloves. Add a dash of sugar, honey, or agave nectar and feel the fire. Another great choice is Tay Tea’s Day in Provence, a rooibos-based blend of lavender, rose petals, red and black currants, and rose hips. It’s like a stroll on a sun-dappled lane. You’ll feel the warmth in your soul.

6 Top Tea Tips:
• Most superior tea brands offer instructions about how much tea to use and how long to steep it, so follow the recipe. As a general rule, use one teaspoon per six ounce cup, but let your own taste buds be your guide. I use about a teaspoon and a half.
• Generally, whole leaf black teas steep for about three to five minutes; green teas steep for about two or three, and white teas, one to two minutes. Don’t just go by the color of the brew; taste it to know when it’s done.
• For black tea, make sure that the water comes to a rolling boil; green and white teas do best with water that’s hot but not boiling.
• The vessel matters: Champagne tastes better in a flute than a water glass, while black tea tastes best in a cup, not a mug. That said, if you just love that chipped coffee mug, go for it.
• Skip the half and half with your black tea; it will obliterate the flavor. Opt for milk.
• Avoid round metal infusers; good tea needs room to expand and release its flavor. Try an unbleached paper bag specifically made for tea, like the biodegradable, mess-free t-sacs, or try a brewing basket.

NEWS FLASH for Restaurants:
NEVER heat the water for tea in the same machine that you use for coffee. If you do, your customers will complain. Tea drinkers really don’t like to complain, but if, say, your own cup of coffee ended up tasting like tea grounds, you’d mention it to the wait staff, wouldn’t you?)
- The tea water must be fresh and boiling—not lukewarm and stale.
- If you serve first-rate, whole bean coffee, serve first-rate, whole leaf tea!

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I’m Thrilled!

Yesterday, my husband flagged down the UPS guys at the top of our country road in upstate New York. He wanted to see if the big brown truck was carrying the hot-off-the press college textbook Legacies: Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Nonfiction, 5th ed.

I realize that not many people chase down delivery trucks for textbooks, even popular ones like Legacies, the choice of many college literature professors across the country, but my husband had his reasons.

When he returned home, I said, “The book didn’t come today.”

“Oh, that’s too bad,” he said.

“Maybe it will come tomorrow.” I was disappointed, but tried not to show it.

My husband smiled and took from his sachel the long-awaited tome.

I believe I screamed.

We opened to the table of contents and there, in the same chapter as works by Chekhov, Hemingway, and James Joyce, was my name–Eileen Curtis–and my short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a modern take on the classic Charlotte Perkins Gilman story, which also appears in the book.

We flipped to page 672 and there it was: my story. What thrilled me were the questions that followed, particularly the one that suggested students write an essay about the end of love and the acceptance of loss in the works of Hemingway, Joyce, Baingana, and, gulp, Curtis.

That would be me. Wowser.

Now it’s back to editing my new novel. I hope it will be published, but who knows what editors will say? It’s tough out there these days. Publishing as we know it–or as knew it–is in flux.

It is the age of Great Transformations, as monumental a shift as the move from Illuminated Manuscripts to the Printing Press.

Am I writing an illuminated manuscript? I hope not. Plus, it’s not the medium, but the message that counts. Nevertheless, rejection is my familiar foe. Rejection is as much a part of my writing life as success is. Actually, Rejection plays a far bigger, juicier role. I cast Rejection, a shadowy figure in a black cape, as the villain of the story.

But without Rejection, there is no conflict, and without conflict, there is no story. Yes, it is Rejection that makes the arrival of Success–that shining Knight of long-fought battle–so gratifying in the end.

I am grateful. I am lucky. It is sunny today in upstate New York.

Textbooks aren’t cheap these days, but if you’d like to order Legacies: Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Nonfiction, 5th ed., published by Wadsworth, check it out on Amazon. Be sure to order the 5th ed.!

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Welcome . . .

Hi, I’m a published novelist and have written short stories, along with magazine and newspaper articles, for major consumer and literary publications.  I have copy-edited the work of such noted American writers as Joyce Carol Oates, along with scripts for TV. I also teach writing at two SUNY community colleges.

My first novel, Sisters and Strangers, was published by HarperCollins back in the late ‘90s.

But then I lost the plot. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t stay awake. I couldn’t walk to the mailbox. This went on for several years. Then a great doctor figured it out: I had type one diabetes, formerly known as juvenile diabetes. I was 44 when I got the news.

What kept me going? Words. I wrote three new novels and then rewrote them, a little here, a little there.  And now they’re ripe for the reading.

Oh, and I drank tea. I sipped it from a dainty Royal Albert teacup upon which pink roses bloomed. Okay, I guzzled it from a chipped ceramic teacup with ring around the rim.

My sister Mary once sent me a little plaque that said, Where there is tea, there is hope. She’s right. She always is.

PUBLISHING NEWS: My short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper,” will appear next year in a widely-adopted college literature textbook titled LEGACIES: FICTION, DRAMA, POETRY, NON-FICTION, published by Wadsworth.

Click on a link above to read more of my work.

Don’t miss my new tea blog, Tea Talk. My first entry is titled Tea-d Off.

(photo credit: Barbara Gref)
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