I started teasphere in 2006 as a way to bring my love of tea to the Internet. I’ve been passionately exploring tea for almost 11 years now, and have enjoyed every moment of the journey. That little leaf has brought me joy, pain, laughter, self-discovery, and most of all some great friends.
I’d love to say it all started from some great revelation or amazing story… but instead it starts with The Karate Kid. Yes, the 1984 movie starring Ralph Macchio, honestly. I’ve always had a connection to Asian things (Snakeyes the ninja G.I. Joe, nun-chucks, throwing stars, chopsticks, video games, Yan Can Cook, etc.) from the very beginning, and Karate Kid was the first time I had the chance to see and experience the real thing – to some degree. Then as the Karate Kid series expanded I was exposed to two things that I did not even understand at the time but quickly came back later in life to have a profound effect: Bonsai (Part III) and Japanese Tea Ceremony (Part II). A tiny spark.
While I was a young teenager an aunt bought me my first bonsai (a tiny juniper). It died. My dreams of a lush beautifully sculpted tree to match the one from the movie were not as easy to kill though, and I bought a book and studied up on things. I bought another a few years later. It died. So I decided to gather a nice specimen from the forest. It promptly died. I then decided to grow some from seeds. Yep, they died too. I then was getting older and decided to accelerate the situation and buy “The Karate Kid Tree” from an online bonsai dealer. It lived… for about a year. Then died. I put the hobby on the shelf at that point.
However, in the midst of my massacre I was learning a lot about Japanese culture, and bonsai, and almost accidentally, tea. My father had been stationed on the DMZ in Korea, and while I was not even born yet, I did hear tales as I grew up. On a trip to an arts festival on a hot July day he decided to stop into a small mom-and-pop Korean grocery that we came across and they were selling Jasmine Iced Tea. He bought us each one. This started the small old owner into a flurry of activity the likes I had never seen. He had loose tea, bottles of dissolved sugar cane, teapots, strainers, cups, and all kinds of other things… just to make a $1.50 cup of iced tea. Not just a lever that, when pulled, produced sweet brown water over a cup of ice. I liked the flowery taste of the tea and the un-sugarlike sweetness. The spark began to burn.
In trying to figure out what kind of tea it had been and what all that commotion had been about, weeks later, I came across a description of the Japanese Tea Ceremony. The spark became a flicker of flame. It was almost a word for word description for the scenes I had seen years back in the Karate Kid. The little bamboo spoon, the whisk, the powdered tea, the turning of the cup, all of it. Aha!
Now I was hooked, and even though the loose jasmine green tea in the little yellow/gold tin was, in my mind, the height of tea quality, I began to figure out when it was bitter and what it took to make it drinkable. It was all very basic, a mug of water in the microwave for 2 minutes and a teaball of the jasmine tea plunked into it for random amounts of time to keep it from being bitter. Then I slowly started branching out to teabags of “Chinese Restaurant Tea” which I later learned were Oolong tea. Also, random inexpensive teas in canisters, and bags, and pouches, and whatever I could find at the local Asian markets.
Fast-forward quite some years and I had spent countless hours reading and researching teas of all kinds. My parents had bought me a cool purple/brown clay teapot for Christmas which had a strainer so I could brew my jasmine green tea easier. This lead to more research and the discovery of Yixing teapots, and a costly addiction to them :) I also had the great pleasure to find a small Pan-Asian grocery store near my dorm in my first semester of college, hundreds of miles away from home, which was my calm from the storm that was an area about as safe as Beirut. The owner was a small middle-aged Thai woman who was intrigued by my knowledge of almost everything in her store (being a fairly big white Italian guy, this was quite different for her) and we quickly became great friends. I spent much of my time hanging around her shop and talking about all kinds of topics and I think we learned an equal amount from each other, which was nice. I had become interested in the philosophical teachings and writings of Taoism about a year before we had met and while she was Buddhist she was able to talk about much of it and turn me onto a lot of great books. Unfortunately one semester in the vicinity of constant shootings, stabbings, and drug deals was enough and it was time to transfer to a school closer to home… and much safer.
I had come quite a long way and now understood the finer points and much more than I could have ever dreamed about all things Asian. I also dusted off the bonsai hobby and was finally successful with a small sickly pot of jade on clearance from a grocery store that has since multiplied and become an entire roomful of bonsai still living some 8 years later. As well as a tea tree, a long leafed ficus, and a few others.
I also have been able to use the Internet to find and buy some great tea that otherwise I would have no chance of ever enjoying. And most recently a great newsgroup rec.food.drink.tea filled with a great cast of characters and untold knowledge. It has further fueled my love for that tiny leaf that has now caused me to create this webpage and type this whole story and for you to have read it. If you’ve stuck with it this whole way through, congratulations! And Welcome to teasphere!