What the British Know that We Need to Learn: A Visit to the Steeping Room

I’ve blogged before about the power of rituals and the deeply meaningful way they can calm us and help us re-center. Rituals are an especially important part of life for families to share together as a way of connecting, communicating, and making memories. Today’s blog interview focuses on an accessible, enjoyable, calming activity that I can’t recommend highly enough.

My wife and I were never blessed with a daughter, so I’ve never observed this precise phenomenon firsthand, but my wife assures me that it’s a real thing: little girls love having tea parties. She and her sister spent countless hours with their toy teapot and teacups, getting all dressed up in their best finery, sitting on the floor of their room and sipping tea from tiny cups, pinkies extended, having “pretend” grown-up conversations. It makes me smile to imagine the fun they must have had.

But tea’s charisma doesn’t stop in childhood. Our friends across the pond love their tea ritual so much that they carve out time from their busy schedule every single day for a fourth eating event—teatime. What do the Brits know that we need to learn? What is it about this elixir that makes it so special, that connects people?

Thankfully, a locally owned restaurant called The Steeping Room has begun what I hope will become for me a long and luxurious association with the fine art of selecting, steeping, and sipping tea with the people I love. Let me introduce you to one of the owners, Emily Morrison, and we’ll see what tea can bring to you and your loved ones.

Don: Many families have a box of tea bags in their cupboard and don’t think much past that possibility. But tea is a much broader subject than that. How would you define “tea” and what can it be brewed from?

Emily: From a technical point of view, tea is defined as a beverage made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. There are loads of delicious and healthful infused herbal infusions that we commonly call “tea,” but so that we can be really specific and narrow down the topic—true tea is generally defined as an infusion of Camellia sinensis leaves.

Don: What are your favorite aspects of the tea-making and tea-drinking ritual? What do those aspects add to the quality of your life?

Emily: Gosh, I genuinely love every single part of the tea-making and tea-drinking ritual. I even love the process of deciding which tea to drink—to give a moment’s reflection to “how do I feel now, what do I have to do in the next couple of hours, and how would I like to feel?” Different teas offer different somatic effects. Some teas require more focus to make and enjoy than other teas. So you have to ask yourself, “How much time do I have? How much tea have I had already and how much more would I like to drink today?”

I think my favorite part of the tea-making/drinking ritual though…if I have to pick one…is the evaluation and appreciation of the aromas. Don’t get me wrong…I love the way tea makes me feel and the way it tastes and all of the other parts, but I get pretty giddy enjoying the aromas the dry leaves have to offer when they’re first warmed up in the warm teapot before we hit them with hot water and I adore checking out the aromas that linger in the cup after I’ve finished that particular steeping.

Of course, I also deeply enjoy and even chase after the somatic sensations of really good tea. I love getting tea high! After years of drinking tea, I pretty much don’t drink tea that makes me feel weird, edgy or overly jittery. If it doesn’t feel good to me, I toss it out.

It’s easy enough to just drink tea and enjoy and learn about tea and dig in a little…but tea really started giving back to me when I committed to focusing on making the best tea I could in that moment. When I re-focus and pay attention to the tea that I’m making, then I’m honoring the tea, the tea maker, and the earth, as well as giving myself the space to just be with tea and not have to be “productive.” Like most people, I spend a lot of my day squishing out every last ounce of productivity I can muster, so to take the time to really focus on something I love gives back a lot to me.

Don: Running a restaurant is an ambitious and time-consuming vocation. What made you and your partner want to share your love of tea with the community through The Steeping Room?

Emily: Honestly, I wish I had a better origin story for this question. The main impetus for The Steeping Room originally came from Amy, my partner. I was in a place in my life where I felt like I had finally “graduated” from restaurant work and so the thought of opening a business that served beverages and/or food was not really at the top of my mind. Slowly but surely a vision came together that we could agree upon and a lot of the vision started by imagining a space where people could come and the environment itself would allow for relaxation and restoration. I think Amy and I probably both share a deep affection for old school hippie, communal, healing spaces and we had the energy of that sort of place in mind and wanted to offer top-notch teas in a place that had that easygoing, earthy, open-hearted environment. That was the plan, but that’s not exactly what happened as we ended up opening our first location in The Domain, which is not what I’d call a relaxing, low-key environment.

Don: Why do you think so many cultures have incorporated the brewing and sharing of tea into their rituals?

Emily: I genuinely believe that there is something very special about the tea plant itself. Chemically speaking it has this exquisite mixture of caffeine (which is of course stimulating) with l-theanine (which increases your alpha waves and creates a feeling of relaxation). But there is more to it than that. Tea has been revered and used medicinally for many millennia…long before it became just a “beverage.” I don’t really have the expertise to explain it, but from all of the surrounding evidence about how tea has been appreciated over time all over the globe…it’s an obvious conclusion that there is something very special about the tea plant.

Don: Your menu and website describe certain teas as having an “energy” to them. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Emily: Well…this is right on the topic of question number 4 above!! When we allow a tea plant to flourish as close to possible in its natural state and don’t try to push more and more leaves out of the plant to have a higher yield, the tea plant can be in a healthy, balanced state. Those are the kinds of teas that naturally have a beautiful qi or energy and once one drinks those teas, the tea becomes a part of you and so your body. The “energy” is often explained away as being an effect of the caffeine and/or the caffeine/l-theanine combination, but there is more to it than that. When you get the chance to taste a tea made from old trees grown from seed, there is an obvious difference in the somatic and energetic effect of that tea versus one that is made more industrially, with little regard to the longevity of the plant itself beyond its commercial usefulness.

I think the ability to sense the energy of tea requires some practice and of course an open mind, though I have had teas that completely knocked me on my buns almost immediately.

Don: Life seems to be moving at an ever more rapid pace, with expediency superseding a quality experience. How can parents help their kids disconnect electronically by enjoying some “slow food and beverages” together?

Emily: Gosh, this is a hard one for me. I don’t have children, but I see a lot of children at the restaurant enjoying tea and time with their parents or other relatives. I thoroughly enjoy watching kids have the opportunity to have quality time with their parents. A lot of parents seem to make a ritual out of going to The Steeping Room with their kids. No one has their phones or pads out. They’re just spending time together like they do every week at our restaurant and it’s freakin’ adorable.

Don: What classes would you recommend for readers interested in learning more?

Emily: Well, we offer a lot of tea classes most Monday evenings. I’m taking a short break while I develop some new content, but I definitely recommend Tea 101 and then Gong Fu Steeping after that. After those two or in lieu of those two, anyone can just dive into the classes that interest them. They’re generally focused on specific categories of tea like Black tea, White tea, Heicha, etc.

I also recommend my friend Suzette Hammond’s Being Tea program that she offers online. She has lots of classes specifically on Tea and Meditation that are amazing.

Tea can be so many things to so many people. It’s a huge tea world with so many directions to go. If you’re interested in tea, I highly recommend buying the best tea that you can afford in small amounts and take the time to really observe how it tastes and how it feels in your mouth, throat and your body. Try to turn off or turn down your linear brain and just be with the tea. Just drink the tea.

Don: Thank you so much, Emily, for making time to share your tea wisdom with our readers.

Families have never been so busy and had so many distractions. Perhaps you and your family will decide to take a step back from that frenetic pace, put down your devices, brew a pot of warm tea together, and enjoy a calm, loving family experience. You’ll be glad you did. And who knows? You may decide that teatime needs to be a regular part of family life. Just drink the tea.

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