In late July, I received an email from the marketing director of UCLA’s Fowler Museum, with an invitation to a press preview of an upcoming exhibit called, “Steeped in History: The Art of Tea”.
Which of course is the reason I HAD to visit the exhibit (with hubby in tow!)… because I know nothing about tea.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I do remember sitting through long and (back then) boring tea ceremonies when I was a child in Japan. And my Okinawan grandmother had a lovely Tatami room (Japanese room with straw mats) that she used for overnight guests as well as for serving tea.
When I visit my father in Scotland, every afternoon we have tea at his house, and on Sundays we get dressed up for classic “high tea” service which includes various pots of teas, pastries, sandwiches and scones.
But my adult “tea life” in Los Angeles never progressed further then (gulp!) Lipton bags, flavored Stash bags, or Chinese “dieting tea”. So okay, I admit it… I’m sort of TEA IGNORANT, or rather I WAS.
“Steeped in History: The Art of Tea” exhibition is currently running at the Fowler Museum at UCLA, ending November 29th. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the world history of not only tea, but of the dangerous opium trade as well. I had no idea these two products were so connected.
At the August 14th press preview I attended (with many other food writers, journalists and tea enthusiasts), we were lucky enough to have the guest curator walk us through the amazing exhibit.
Beatrice Hohenegger is author of the book I’m currently reading called “Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea from East to West”. In the preface she writes: What drew me to tea initially was opium. I researched the dark chapter of British colonial trade affairs that forged a sinister link between the two commodities. This led me to look into tea’s existence and significance during the time before the British arrived on the scene, which opened up a fascinating door into the wisdom and the refined sensibilities of Chinese and Japanese thought. From those ancient cultures I learned how tea was used as a medicinal brew in the hills and jungles of Southeast Asia, how it played a central role in the development of Taoist and Zen spirituality, how it stimulated the literary and visual arts, to this day admired and imitated throughout the world.
As you can see, the lady knows her stuff. After the museum tour, I went directly to the gift shop and bought a copy of “Liquid Jade”. Who knew tea was so sexy and dangerous? Beatrice Hohenegger did, that’s who!
What did I personally learn from my visit to the Fowler Museum?
Well, I learned that tea is beautiful (from the exquisite pots, to the artwork and even the actual leaves). Tea is mysterious, dangerous and of course is such a huge part of my personal history.
Most of all I learned that I really have SO MUCH more to learn about tea!
My education continues, as I recently tossed out the stale tea bags in my kitchen, and of course I’ll be searching out authentic, traditional tea houses here in L.A. If you have a favorite, I’d very much appreciate if you’d post the details in the comment section below.
Photos from my visit:
Steeped in History: The Art of Tea ends on November 29, 2009
The Fowler Museum at UCLA
Special thanks to Stacey Abarbanel
Follow the Fowler Museum on Twitter
Beatrice Hohenegger, author of Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea from East to West and editor of the upcoming multi-authored Fowler volume Steeped in History: The Art of Tea.
More about Netsuke (miniature Japanese sculptures)
Since I’m not familiar with L.A. Tea Rooms, I asked my Twitter pals about their favorites:
Rose Garden Tea Room at the Huntington
(I’ve actually been here a few times, wonderful!)