Tea Loves: Katrina Munichiello

Sorry for the prolonged radio silence! I was pretty much out of action the past few weeks with this strange bug. But I’m almost back on track now and ready to take on more tea.

After reading A Tea Reader: Living Life One Cup at a Time (reviewed in an earlier post; a must-read for any tea lover), I knew that I wanted to get in touch with the person behind this lovely collection of tea-related essays. I dropped a note to the author, Katrina, who was more than happy to share a bit of her tea story here – yay!

When did you first fall in love with tea?
I fell in love with tea when I first graduated from college. I walked into a local tea shop that had more than 80 teas on the menu. Before that, I had only known grocery store teabags! I began working my way through the menu and it didn’t take long for me to become a full-fledged tea enthusiast.

What are your tea habits like?
I drink tea daily, whenever I can fit it in. I have three children under the age of seven, so my moments with tea are often stolen moments in the midst of chaos. I recently purchased a tea traveller (a jar with an infuser lid) which has made it easier for me to have more steady access to tea during the day.

What are your favorite teas?
I can’t say I have a favorite. My tea selection changes with my mood, the time of day, the season, and who I’m drinking it with. I often turn to oolongs because I love how they change from steep to steep. If I know I’ll only have time for a single cup though I’ll likely stick with a black tea because it pains me to throw away oolong leaves that have not been fully used. I love a good Yunnan, First Flush Darjeelings, and lately I’ve really been enjoying some Kenyan black teas.

Tell us a bit about why you set up your Tea Pages blog in 2007.
I set up the blog because I really didn’t have a local network of friends who were tea enthusiasts (although that has definitely changed for me). I was learning so much about tea and I wanted a place to capture and share the information. I had people express to me that they wanted to learn more about tea but found it intimidating. To me, that’s the opposite of what tea should be. I wanted to help make tea feel completely accessible. The online tea community has been amazingly warm and generous with their time, talents, and knowledge.

How did the idea of Tea Reader book come about?
I had been blogging for a few years when I received an email from a tea company owner who asked if I’d review his teas. He said he had had his New Orleans shop wiped out by the hurricane and he hoped I’d be nicer to him than the last Katrina had been. I told him I’d be happy to review them but I also wanted to hear what had happened to him. He told me this wonderful story about starting the shop with his wife and the sad destruction of his shop. It made me realize how many such stories must be out there. It was then that I started asking people to send me their stories inspired by tea. After two years of work, the book was finally released by Tuttle Publishing in October. It has been wonderful to see it in bookstores and tea shops.

What do you think is the most common misconception people have about tea?
I think some people get very caught up in thinking that there is a single correct way to enjoy tea. Each tea has its own character and qualities and different teaware and brewing styles can bring out different flavors and experiences. I think people should feel free to experiment. The best way to brew tea is the way that you like it.

Tea goes best with…

Tea is…
…a wonderful way to slow yourself down. You can’t make the water heat faster. The tea will take the time to steep that it takes. Don’t rush it. Enjoy the forced moment of patience and calm.

 Katrina Ávila Munichiello is a freelance writer and blogger, and the author of A Tea Reader: Living Life One Cup at a Time. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and three children.


Review: A Tea Reader

In a nutshell: “Essays by tea shop owners, published authors, academics, and ordinary tea lovers are joined by those written by historic notables like Rudyard Kipling, Louisa May Alcott, and Thomas Lipton as the book explores moments of reflection, travel, traditions, careers, and relationships.” (taken from the book’s promotional website)

Now this is the kind of book I’d have loved to put together but I’m just as happy reading this lovingly-curated collection of tea-related writings by Katrina Munichiello. It’s multicultural, spanning across a few hundred years and possesses plenty of heart and soul as these tea lovers share their intimate tea thoughts and memories.

Just some little bits of lines I’ve picked up along the way:

“Bi Luo Chun…referred to by its fragrance: Xia Zha Ren Xiang (Scary Fragrance). Like Halloween? I asked. Like awesome, the tea man answered.” – Babette Donaldson

“Tea flowers twice: once on the bush and once in our hearts.” – Frank Hadley Murphy

“In this day and age, loud and cluttered, a drop or two of quiet emptiness is forceful enough to make the average person weep. Nothing is needed more.” – Aaron Fisher

“…tea has also taught me that all of our moments, no matter how small, carry the potential for our own transformation. Within each cup I drink…I remember that my own life, once rolled tight, suddenly unfurled, bloomed, and became full of possibilities.” – Dheepa Maturi

It’s the perfect book to drink in with a cuppa tea.

A Made in Singapore Tea Manual

Remember “Daniel” whom I met at Momo & Moomoo? He very generously passed me a copy of The Tea Bone Zen Mind Manual of Tea that he helped put together with another tea lover (“Joshua”).

While the tea scene in Singapore is not terribly vibrant (yet), I feel pretty stoked that such a gorgeous (see above), nifty book on tea can come out of this small island thanks to a few passionate tea souls. Both Daniel and Joshua painstakingly went through ancient Chinese tea texts and distilled their findings, thoughts and experiences in a well-organised, accessible manner.

The book is just over 120 pages long, but has some really interesting information on:

– Tea appreciation: Their sensible philosophy for enjoying tea (e.g. being alive to your senses, being real) can be applied to life in general.  I especially like this line they cited from philosopher, Li Ao. “The brewing of tea is an expression of one’s nature and only needs to follow one’s subjective self.”

– Teas to try: The writers are objective in their recommendations – BOH Premium Gold Tea Bag is on the list 😉

– The best water for tea: Ideally, spring water from Huishan, Suzhou. Realistically, SPA Reine and Volvic for us city dwellers. The writers actually did a taste test using different mineral water brands to brew tea with!

– Chinese tea history: Did you know that the Chinese bartered tea for Tibetan war horses? Yee hah.

The writing in this manual is balanced and down-to-earth, and there’s none of that hokey-pokey orientalism that sometimes seeps in with similar books that focus on Chinese teas. For tea lovers, it’s definitely a resource worth investing in.

The Tea Bone Zen Mind Manual of Tea is sold at Tea Bone Zen Mind (20 Hoot Kiam Road, Tel: 6334-4212) for S$50.