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A childhood discovery

Those born and bred in the Southern part of the United States grow up with iced tea, a delight in warm weather but welcome all the year round. Hot tea is less common. Even those adults who like it - my mother, for example - rarely offer it to children. The Christmas I was seven, however, I developed a raging case of measles the day school holidays began. In the worst possible mood - I mean, measles for Christmas, really? - I was probably the crankiest patient ever, whining constantly, tossing covers off me and the bed, even refusing to eat or drink anything. After a couple of days of this, my pretty, fastidious mother, almost certainly as fed up with the whining as she was concerned about the illness, appeared with a tray bearing a pot of hot tea, two cups, and buttered toast, her favorite snack. From then on, until I recovered, similar treats appeared periodically, and by the time my convalescence was over, hot tea had become my preferred drink for life. Like most Southerners, I still drank iced tea with family lunches and dinners (I think it may have been illegal to wash down corn muffins with anything else), but ever after, when choosing a beverage for pure pleasure, it was hot tea every time.

Then, I knew nothing about tea, of course, other than that some people preferred the nationally ubiquitous Lipton while others demanded locally more popular Royal Cup, both blends of black teas. (This was before artisan, herbal, and spice-based teas were widely available, not to mention green, white, pu-erh, yellow, oolong, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Assam, and the like.)

Nor did I know that tea is, after water, the most popular beverage in the world. Or that genuine tea must be made with the leaf of the tea plant - camellia sinensis - but that specialty teas can be made with just about anything.

Nor was I familiar with the loose tea vs. tea bags dispute that at times grows to the level of philosophical debate.

Nor did I realize that the tea plant can be grown on either large commercial plantations or small family farms. Or that the plant can be grown only in certain places and that the top tea-producing nations, in order, are China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, Iran, and Argentina - with China and India being by far the largest producers.

Nor did I know the romance and history associated with tea. All I knew for years was that tea, hot or cold, was delicious, and it formed part of the fabric of my life, whether iced and refreshing on hot summer days or hot and invigorating in the midst of the coldest winters.

It was only later that my relationship with tea began to deepen and my fascination to increase. Ultimately, my fascination grew to the point that I began to write about tea.

Tea: The Muse's Nectar summzrizes the evolution of tea as the world's most popular drink after water, acknowledging its uniqueness in today's world of sameness and interchangeability. It is available in ebook format from Amazon.com (ASIN: B001QOGJ0Y).

English Teatime: Historical Survey covers the arrival of tea in England, a rare and costly beverage available only in coffee houses and in the homes of extremely wealthy individuals, and the evolution of the social practice of afternoon tea. It describes typical English teas, the settings in which tea is served, and tea's role as social event. It also mentions historic houses where particularly notable afternoon teas are served. It is available in ebook format from Amazon.com (ASIN: B001Q9EHVW).

The Japanese Tea Ceremony and the Shoguns is a study of how tea came to Japan, its political uses by successive shoguns, and its ongoing role in sustaining tradition in modern Japan. It is available from various retailers, including Amazon.com, in the following formats: As an ebook (ASIN: B001Q3L4UK); as a trade paperback (ISBN-13: 978-0988271289); and as an audiobook narrated by Ken Cohen.

Afternoon Tea: A Contemporary Guide updates the entertainment as one that can be enjoyed anywhere using any sort of teawares from the most formal and expensive to the most casual and inexpensive or even free. Examples are provided for serving styles and settings. Recipes are given for favorite tea goodies. It is available in ebook format from Amazon.com (ASIN: B001RTSTJW).

In these publications I explore several aspects of tea that particularly intrigue me - geographical, historical, cultural, political, social. Below are links to other publications and sites on the Internet that may interest those wanting to explore the world of tea.

Cha No Yu

The Japanese Tea Ceremony, often albeit somewhat inaccurately known as Cha No Yu or chanoyu, involves the ceremonial preparation and presentation of the powdered green tea known as matcha, sometimes served with delicate tea edibles. Traditionally, it is set in a room or tea house specially designed to meet its demand for the appropriate mood and perfection of dimension, a space set aside for this purpose and no other. Often, the host and guests traverse a garden reflecting the aesthetic of the ceremony so that they enter the special space in the right frame of mind.

The ceremony is an interesting practice, more philosophical exercise than entertainment. It can be an aid to meditation in which the required attention to detail promotes mindfulness and focus. Contrarily, it can be a way to honor guests and to respect their perspective, an aid to the meeting of minds that may otherwise disagree but that in the tea house recognize the strength and importance of shared cultural references that transcend the immediate moment.

The ceremony can also - let's be honest here - be a way to show off the host's collection of tea utensils as well as his or her sophistication and refinement in the presentation that the host designs.

A ceremony can be held for almost any reason. Some ceremonies, for example, focus on a particularly beautiful season in nature or a holiday. Other ceremonies recognize some shared interest of the host and guests. All ceremonies use utensils collected, sometimes over decades or longer, for the ceremonial serving of tea. Many ceremonies incorporate contemplation of a particular aspect of the moment, the thoughts sometimes expressed in the form of Haiku or other poetry. The host directs the conversation. Some hosts offer tobacco or burn incense, while others maintain a delicate atmosphere in which only the scent of seasonal flowers lightly perfumes the space. Typically, the host handles all of the presentation, with guests waiting until he or she indicates what is to happen next.

In all ceremonies, the preparation and presentation of the tea and the behavior of host and guests usually reflects what is right and proper according to the mores of the time. That changes of course. Over the centuries of its evolution, the ceremony has undergone many transformations, depending on the style of the tea master in vogue at the moment. Whether simple or ostentatious, however, and whatever the purpose of a given event, the ceremony carries with it the whiff of customs vital enough to have endured from long ago and likely to endure past our day.

Cha No Yu Websites

Here's a sampling of websites or groups whose interests, wholly or partly, relate to the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

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Cha No Yu on Pinterest

Here's a sampling of boards relating to the Japanese Tea Ceremony on Pinterest.

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Cha No Yu on YouTube

Here's a sampling of YouTube videos whose subject matter, wholly or partly, relates to the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

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Cha No Yu Publications

Here's a sampling of publications whose subject matter, wholly or partly, relates to the Japanese Tea Ceremony. Each is linked to its Amazon product page.

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Teatime

Japanese is not the only culture that positions tea at the center of a ritual. In several European cultures, the custom of afternoon tea offers the beverage in a presentation that, in a way, is stylized as to both what is served and how. The English in particular have over the past two centuries considered afternoon tea a highlight between lunch and dinner.

By afternoon tea I mean the mini-repast that includes tea, milk, lemon, sugar, crust-trimmed mini-sandwiches, cakes, crumpets, and/or scones. High tea is the term English laborers traditionally used to describe what we'd call an early dinner, with meats, vegetables, salads, and the like.

The more-formal afternoon teas involve a teapot, hot-water pot, sugar bowl, milk pitcher, and waste bowl in an attractive material and pattern. A small plate of lemon slices accompanies the array, as does a tea strainer to keep loose tea leaves out of cups. Assorted complementary platters, plates, and multi-tiered stands are used to serve the sandwiches, cakes, crumpets, or scones. A host or hostess will pour the tea and often add lemon, sugar, or milk, but guests help themselves to the edibles.

As with the Japanese Tea Ceremony, the host usually has on hand the utensils used to prepare and serve the tea. Unlike the format of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, the serving of afternoon tea focuses on presentation and not preparation, much of which will have been done in advance. Also, guests are free to move around, their behavior and conversation subject to no direction other than the basic tenets of good manners. The conversation can range over any kind of topic, and several different topics can be considered at once as the guests intermingle and speak in different combinations.

Save for the most-formal teas, such as those given for major public events or weddings, the atmosphere is relatively lighthearted. The aim is to create a warm and friendly atmosphere in which both host and guests can enjoy the assembled company even as they take pleasure in the tea and food. The host wants his or her guests to partake of a time of pure escapism away from the cares of the day.

Teatime Websites

Here's a sampling of websites whose subject matter, wholly or partly, relates to the afternoon tea.

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Teatime on Pinterest

Here's a sampling of boards relating to afternoon tea on Pinterest.

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Teatime on YouTube

Here's a sampling of YouTube videos whose subject matter, wholly or partly, relates to afternoon tea.

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Teatime Publications

Here's a sampling of publications whose subject matter, wholly or partly, relates to afternoon tea. Each is linked to its Amazon product page.

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Ken Cohen's Tea Podcast

Philadelphia expert tea aficionado Ken Cohen - narrator of the audiobook of The Japanese Tea Ceremony and the Shoguns - has a terrific podcast, Talking Tea: Podcasts exploring tea and tea culture. Ken is a perceptive host whose guests bring a specific perspective to an aspect of tea. As might be assumed from the title, Ken's focus is the topic of tea in general.

In the course of his podcasts, Ken talks with growers, wholesalers, retailers, restauranteurs, educators, and historians to explore cultural, commercial, philosophical, and other parts of the world of tea. The conversations that ensue will be of interest to all lovers of tea. Here are links to individual episodes.

  • Beyond The Tea Leaf: A Conversation with Tea Author Linda Hewitt - Guest, Linda Hewitt, whose nonfiction work often features cultural and economic history (Tue, 30 September 2014)
  • Drunk on Tea, Part 1 - Guest, Shunan Teng, founder and owner of Tea Drunk, a New York City teahouse serving traditional Chinese tea (Tue, 21 October, 2014)
  • Artful Tea - Guest, Morgan Beard of Urasenke Philadelphia, an organization dedicated to practicing and teaching the Japanese way of tea, recorded inside the Japanese galleries at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Tue, 25 November 2014)
  • Crafting Tea and the Good Life - Guest, Andy Hayes, founder and tea maker at Plum Deluxe, a tea blender based in Portland, Oregon, who focuses on the practice of tea as contributing to the enjoyment of life (Wed, 17 December 2014)
  • Talkin' Matcha, Part 1 - Guest, Tyas Huybrechts, founder and blogger at Tea Talk, a blog devoted entirely to Japanese green teas (Thu, 29 January 2015)
  • Talkin' Matcha, Part 2: How To Make It - Guest, Tyas Huybrechts, founder and blogger at Tea Talk, a blog devoted entirely to Japanese green teas (Thu, 19 February 2015)
  • The Qi of Tea: Tea's Healing and Spiritual Qualities - Guest, Ken Cohen (same name, no relation to host), renowned qigong master and author who writes and lectures extensively about the health benefitrs of tea (Thu, 12 March, 2015)
  • Beauty in Imperfection: A Visit to the Shofuso Tea House - Guests, Derek Finn and Morgan Beard. Derek is site and program manager for Shofuso Tea House, located in Philadelphia's Fairmount Park. Morgan represents Urasenke Philadelphia, an organization dedicated to practicing and teaching the Japanese way of tea. (Tue, 28 April 2015)
  • Tea & Relational Culture: What's Tea Got To Do With It? - Guests, Benjamin Olshin and Alex Schein. Ben - writer, teacher, consultant - teaches philosophy and other subjects at the University of the Arts, and has co-owned a Taiwanese-inspired teahouse in Philadelphia. Alex - media producer, singer, songwriter - has run two teahouses in the U.S. and produced and directed Dobra Tea: The Good Tearoom. Ben and Alex became friends over tea, and they discuss with Ken why tea is "not just a beverage but an experience, a practice, a way of being, a way of relating with each other and with the universe." (Mon, 15 June 2015)
  • From The Czech Republic With Oxalis Tea - Guests, Petr Zelik and Julian Overall. Petr, owner and founder of Oxalis, chats with Ken about tea culture in the Czech Republic. Julian, coordinator of Oxalis's English-language social media participation, shares his views on the roles of social media and online information sharing for the tea community. (Thu, 30 July 2015)
  • Kevin Gascoyne on Darjeelings, Fair Trade and the Future of Tea - Guest - Kevin Gascoyne, prominent tea taster, educator and author and co-owner of Montreal's famed Camellia Sinensis Tea House (Fri, 28 August 2015)
  • The World of Taiwanese Oolongs - Guest, Shiuwen Tai of Seattle's Floating Leaves Tea, who talks about the history of tea in Taiwan and how Taiwan's tea production has been influenced by its relationships with both China and Japan, as well as about some of the factors that go into forming the unique flavor profiles of oolong teas from Taiwan (Mon, 21 September 2015)
  • Baozhong: Born in China, Rooted in Taiwan - Guest Shiuwen Tai of Seattle's Floating Leaves Tea, who chats about Baozhong, a favorite oolong (Wed, 28 October 2015)
  • How To Spot A Quality Tea - Part 1: Gua Pian - Guest, Shunan Teng, founder and owner of Tea Drunk, New York City teahouse serving Chinese green tea, who shares tips and tricks for identifying quality teas, using Gua Pian, a historically famous green tea from China, as the basis for his dissection of what to look for (Tue, 24 November 2015)
  • How To Spot A Quality Tea - Part 2: Silver Needles - Guest, Shunan Teng, founder and owner of Tea Drunk, New York City teahouse serving Chinese green tea, who continues to share tips and tricks for identifying quality teas, this month using Bai Hao Yin Zhen, the white tea also known as Silver Needles as the basis of his suggestions as to what to look for (Wed, 23 December 2015)
  • Tea, Zen, Awareness - Guest, Ven. Hyeonmin Prajna, a Zen teacher in the Five Mountain Zen Order based in New York City and a student and practitioner of Japanese tea ceremony in the Dai Nihon Chado Gakkai school of tea, discusses tea as a contemplative practice (Tue, 26 January 2016)
  • Tea Culture/Youth Culture - Guest, Connor Adlam, intern social media editor at Tching.com, well-known tea blog and online forum for tea information, chats about hiswhat makes tea and tea culture attractive to younger drinkers. (Thu, 25 February 2016)
  • Tea Goes to College - Guests are scientists Zongjun "Sam" Li, John Miraszek, Jason Cohen, and Ryan Ahn. The venue is Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania, location of the Tea Institute at Penn State. Sam is Executive Director, John is Director of Research, Jason is founder, and Ryan is past Executive Director of the Institute. The topic is the evolution of the Institute, with a consideration of the integration of science and art in tea and the impact of aesthetics and environment on taste perception and appreciation. (Wed, 30 March 2016)
  • New Visions in Japanese Tea - Guest, Tyas Huybrechts, blogger and tea ceremony instructor based in Osaka and Kyoto, Japan, chats about his new venture, The Tea Crane, a company focused on chemical-free Japanese tea (Sun, 1 May 2016)
  • Tea, Heart to Heart - Guests, Drew Hanson and Courtney Singley of the Tea Institute at Penn State University. Drew is founding instructor of the Urasenke program at the Institute, and Courtney is current student director of the Japanese tea ceremony track at the Institute. Drew discusses his journey from art to tea, and Courtney shares her perspectives on openness and intimacy in the spatial elements of the tea ceremony. (Fri, 3 June 2016)
  • Creating Forest-Grown Tea in Hawaii - Guests Eliah Halpeny and Cam Muir of Big Island Tea, a pioneering tea farm and producer. Eliah and Cam discuss how they came to tea production, their model of sustainable tea farming, and how that model impacts the flavor, aroma, and quality of their teas. (Thu, 30 June 2016)
  • The Sencha Episode - Guest Zach Mangan of Kettl, a Japanese tea seller based in Fukuoka, Japan, and Brooklyn, New York, reviews his personal tea journey and what inspired him to launch Kettl, purveyor of tea to leading New York restaurants. (Thu, 4 August 2016)
  • Montreal's Tea School - Guest, Kevin Gascoyne, British tea taster and tea writer at Montreal's Camellia Sinensis. Kevin talks about the tea seminars offered at Camellia Sinensis for consumers and tea-industry professionals. He offers insights on what a would-be student of tea should look for in an educational program. Four participants in the Camellia Sinensis Summer School workshop share their perspectives on tea education: Tea researcher/educator/author Selena Ahmed and chef Noah tem Broek discuss increasing awareness of the nuances of taste and sensory experience; and tea sellers Zhen Lu and Phil Rushworth of Zhen Tea address the issue of misinformation within the tea industry and the importance of educating tea vendors as well as consumers. (Fri, 16 September 2016)
  • Focusing on Taste - Guest, Billy Dietz, tea-development specialist based in Montreal. Billy shares his tea journey and discusses two methods of preparing a tea he selected for this episode, a Muzha Tie Kwan Yin oolong from Taiwan provided by Naivetea. (Sun, 6 November 2016)
  • Lapsang Souchong - Beyond the Smoke - Guests, Zhen Lu and Phil Rushworth, both of Zhen Tea, an online tea company specializing in Chinese tea. Zhen and Phil discuss the origins of Lapsang Souchong, as well as its characteristics. The conversation includes a video component. (Sun, 18 December 2016)
  • Arriving At The Source - Guest, Shiho Kanamaru of Montreal's Cha Do Raku. Shiho shares an insider's look at sourcing tea in Japan and Taiwan, with a consideration of education via sourcing trips, as well as the difference between sourcing and networking. (Thu, 2 February 2017)
  • Learning Tea With Babelcarp - Guest, Lew Perin, creator of a free website app called Babelcarp, a Chinese tea lexicon. Lew discusses his background, what led him to create this dictionary, and how it can be used for many tea-related purposes, including the buying of tea online. (Mar 8, 2017)
  • Two Tea Podcasters Walk Into a Bar - Guest T.J. Williamson of the World Tea Podcast. T.J. describes his tea experiences, including work on a Japanese tea farm. Ken and T.J. respond to audience questions as to why they do not feature herbal tea infusions on their podcasts. You can check out what they said about tea podcasting on T.J.'s site. (Mar 31, 2017)
  • An Intro to Cultivar and Origin - Guest Austin Hodge of Seven Cups Fine Chinese Teas, the founder and director of the International Specialty Tea Association, a non-profit focused on developing quality standards for tea, and a tea blogger. Ken and Austin discuss the importance of tea standards, including those relating to a tea's cultivar and its origin. Various issues are covered, including biodiversity, tea production, value and pricing, growing characteristics, and historical and cultural elements. (May 25, 2017)
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Tea Blogs

There are many blogs about tea, some cute and cozy and some stringently businesslike. Here is a sampling of blogs generally not listed elsewhere on this site. Some relate to the business of tea, its growing, harvesting, processing, and marketing. Some review tea. Some offer brewing tips. Some share the blogger's tea-related experiences. Some are updated regularly, some sporadically, some very sporadically. All contain something of interest to those who enjoy reading about tea.

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About Linda

Once I was introduced to hot tea at the age of seven, the relationship never faltered. In cold weather and hot, through elementary school, high school, college, grad school, and jobs ranging from copy girl for a newspaper to running my own public-relations firm, hot tea has been my beverage of choice when I am ill, feel great, need cheering up, or am on top of the world. Give me a book in which I am interested (almost any book) and a cup of tea - preferably Darjeeling or Formosa Oolong, no sugar, no cream, no frills of any kind - and I am as happy as any mortal can hope to be unless sex or a winning lottery ticket is involved.

Along the way, of course, there have been, shall we say, refinements. I acquired a husband who's also a tea aficionado, accumulated rather a lot of tea paraphernalia, discovered the guilty pleasures of afternoon tea, and experimented with the subtleties of the Japanese Tea Ceremony.

I enjoy my personal tea experiences, and I hope you will find them entertaining and that they will trigger memories of your own.

Childhood Tea Rooms

Not being the kind of little girl who held tea parties for dolls, growing up in an era when charming freestanding tea rooms were out of style, and with a mother who liked tea but not the frou-frou formality that often accompanied tea as occasion, my early experiences with the ceremonial serving of tea were limited to those times one female relative or another took me to a department-store tea room. In Birmingham, where I grew up, this usually meant going to the art-deco building that housed Loveman's and riding the escalator to the mezzanine. There, in the stylishly "moderne" tea room, even a rather sloppy girl could see the point of the black-patent shoes and white gloves she'd been urged to don. Whether we were there for a midday meal or afternoon tea, the place always struck me as rather grand, and the dainty salads and "a la king" everything at lunch were just different enough from home cooking to make me feel I'd had something worth the trip. Loveman's version of afternoon tea, it must be admitted, was nothing special, but it was still fun to have hot tea carefully poured from a spout by a suitably grave server offering sweets that seemed to be recycled from lunch.

When I was a little older, there were occasional shopping trips to Rich's and Davison's in Atlanta, which usually involved a visit to the Frances Virginia Tea Room, occupant of the entire third floor of the Collier Building at the intersection of Peachtree and Ellis, across from Davison's. It was a real treat to be allowed to make my own choices from the menu - I recall salmon croquettes as a particular lunch favorite. What I ate my way toward, of course, was the almond toffee ice cream with lashings of chocolate fudge sauce, the latter's richness making it well worth the extra dime it cost an indulgent relative. As at Loveman's, the ladies who lunched here dressed for the occasion, with hats, gloves, and even a generous sprinkling of fur stoles. At times it seemed to me that a forest of small, preternaturally still creatures watched every bite I took with their glassy, always-open eyes.

There were other Atlanta tea rooms in years to come - Magnolia at Rich's was probably the best known, with its lush flowery decoration on most surfaces and desserts sweet enough to warrant tooth-health warnings. The Atlanta tea room that stands out for me, however, was in Franklin Simon's Department Store built in 1946 at the intersection of Peachtree and Ponce de Leon. When I moved to Atlanta as a bride, I worked the first year as an actuarial clerk for Georgia International Insurance, located across the street. This was my favorite lunch place. I was going to college, and I'd take my books and do reading assignments while I ate - I can still taste Franklin Simon's frozen-fruit salad, which was different from those of other tea rooms in that it was cream- rather than cream-cheese-based. I'd have it with a pot of hot tea, even in the middle of Atlanta heat waves. Whenever there was a new server, I'd have to repeat the order several times because they'd evidently never before had anybody order hot tea with a frozen salad. Even now, I associate the salad with the 1830s establishment in Georgia of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, because that was the topic on which I was working at the time.

The tea rooms of my youth shared a certain atmosphere - dainty food served daintily in attractive, usually simple surroundings to patrons who dressed for lunch and tea. They were quiet places in which to relax, whether in solitary splendor with a book at a table for one or in a corner booth with several friends giggling over what teachers or "the boss" had done that day.

Life inevitably became busier, as it does for most people, and I hardly noticed when this type of eating venue - and the shopping experience of which it was a part - began to go away. Loveman's, for example, closed in 1980, victim of its corporate owner's bankruptcy, and its impressive downtown-Birmingham building now houses the McWane Science Center. The Frances Virginia closed in 1962, but its sign hung on the Collier Building, dominating that stretch of Peachtree, until it was demolished to make way for the Peachtree Street MARTA station. Franklin Simon's Peachtree-Ponce building lasted barely three decades before its demise, victim of the same corporate bankruptcy that had taken down Loveman's. Incredible as it seems, Rich's is gone, bought by arch-rival Davison's (by then known by the name of its parent corporation, Macy's). As for the Atlanta Macy's, the handsome downtown store on Peachtree closed in 2003. The Zodiak in Neiman-Marcus at Lenox, rebranded the NM Cafe, continues to serve its signature popovers to well-heeled shoppers, but its sedate tidiness has always reminded me more of the dining hall at a middling girls' school than traditional department-store tea rooms.

My last personal experience with the type of tea room I associate with childhood was both unexpected and more than a little time-warpish. It was in the spring of 1991, and I was on the road with an abbreviated video crew and a client's employee acting as facilitator, shooting material for an officer presentation of telco giant BellSouth Network activities and facilities across the Southeast. I was along for research and general observation and two employees of my firm were doing the videography. I'd done this sort of thing before with other clients, and it had been fine. This, however, had turned into the trip from hell because of the inexperience and paranoia of the corporate facilitator. It was as if he had a list of behaviors guaranteed to explode our carefully structured schedule, meaning lost shooting opportunities and puzzled / angry hosts who saw arrangements made on our behalf become pointless. Perhaps the most-irritating thing the facilitator did was blowing off reservations in the best lodgings available in an area because he "didn't like the look" of a place. He'd insist we keep driving "to find something better". It was never better, of course, just less visible because it was usually dark by the time we got there. Once, in southwestern Louisiana, it was eight pm when we ended up in Leesville near Fort Polk in a sprawling motel that was normally rented by the hour - the spattered mirror-lined walls were a total giveaway. The sheets on the bed in my room were sticky and the bathroom appliances so rusty that their dirtiness was made apparent only by their smell, which reminded me of an outhouse encountered on a backcountry camping trip. Worst of all, the door would not lock. Everyone else's rooms were equally bad in one way or another, but these were the last accommodations available in the area and we decided we didn't have the energy to go another mile. I shoved a chair under the door knob and slept that night in my clothes, on top of my raincoat and covered by a long cape. Morning hygiene involved paper towels dampened under a trickle of opaque water from a sputtering faucet. My only consolation was that the facilitator had a worse night. He was rather a large man, and his bed had collapsed around 2 am, tumbling him onto a shag carpet that he swore was crawling with fleas - and no one was on desk duty and the phone in my room would not accept incoming calls. Anyway, you get the picture. It had been that kind of trip. By the time we rolled into Vicksburg, Mississippi, my heart's desire was to get as far away as possible from my traveling companions and to find something to eat that didn't involve a drive-by window.

One of the local managers mentioned the names of several restaurants he recommended we try on Saturday (we were staying in town an extra day to rest up from two weeks of nonstop shooting). The guys wanted to go to a well-known barbecue joint. I didn't. They rented a car and headed in search of hot ribs while I took the van into downtown Vicksburg (this was before the coming of the casinos when there was still an old-fashioned downtown) and looked for the Hotel Vicksburg where - according to our informant - I would find the Old Southern Tea Room.

What our informant hadn't mentioned was that the handsome, 1920s hotel was closed. I didn't realize this until the entrance doors were opened by a uniformed security guard who asked me, somewhat apologetically, if I were there for lunch. When I said I was, he told me I should have used the tea room's entrance around the side but that he'd take me in this way. Then he led me across a dimly lit lobby, past a dark reception desk, toward the only bright spot in view. Somewhat amazingly, when I stepped into the light, I was taken back to the kind of tea room I'd heard my grandmother and aunts describe - an oasis of dainty chairs, fresh linens, neatly aproned servers, and well-dressed ladies who lunch, several with little girls in tow. I took a deep breath. There was a scent in the air of freshly baked bread, good perfume, and furniture polish. The mental and physical grime of the week began to melt away. By the time a pretty, smiling hostess with a soft drawl seated me at a carefully set table, I could feel my tenseness evaporating.

Presenting the menu, the hostess said they took great pride in their food, especially the items for which they were known and which Duncan Hines had recommended highly. I saw what she meant. Several traditional tea-room favorites were there, as well as some old-fashioned-sounding local specialties. There would be no culinary experimentation here - just simple foods prepared in a way that would have been familiar to the current crowd's aunts and great aunts.

There were things on that menu I hadn't seen in years, some of them never - I seem to recall something called stuffed ham that was completely new to me. In the end, I ordered the Creole Shrimp, which came with a side salad, and a vegetable or two, all of it good. There were corn sticks and little biscuits. Dessert, as I recall, was something lemony, maybe cake with ice cream. And with all of it, there was tea, iced with the entree and hot with the dessert. With every bite, every sip, I became less the grown-up professional responsible for an expensive, possibly doomed undertaking and more the little girl in black-patent shoes and white gloves on her best behavior, in the care of a female relative whom she wished to impress so she'd be brought back to such a temple of pleasant calm.

I'm convinced that lunch saved me, not to mention the project. I'd been mentally and physically starving, about ready to abandon the whole thing as hopeless, when I walked into the Old Southern Tea Room that day. I left well-nourished in all ways, reinforced not only by the friendly surroundings but by warm memories.

The Old Southern Tea Room seems to be gone, and with it the Duncan Hines' recommendations and the special recipes. I suspect servers would object to the aprons these days and the ladies who lunch dress more casually, even in Vicksburg. And would most of today's children consider such an experience a treat? It's hard to say. Still, the passing of such places is regrettable, a piece of civility lost to changing times.

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A Rainy Tea in Chipping Campden

I'd been to "official" afternoon teas in the States - the wedding teas of a couple of sorority sisters, for example, and a "thank you" tea thrown by a political supporter for campaign volunteers. I'd also had tea in the afternoon at department-store "tea rooms". But it wasn't until our first trip to England that I had what I would consider a "real" afternoon tea.

Being able to go abroad at this early point in our marriage was a total surprise - I mean, there were times we scrounged the pockets of jackets for change to buy a Sunday paper. The fantastic opportunity to travel was courtesy of my husband Robert's generous parents June and Buster, who one New Year's Day out of the blue gave us a trip anywhere we wanted to go, the only stipulation being that we go somewhere we hadn't been and that it be something we'd really enjoy.

We contemplated various possibilities. Riding the transcontinental train across Canada. Climbing the foothills of one of the less-challenging Swiss mountains. Retracing Hemingway's footsteps in Paris. Checking into the most-expensive suite at the Plaza and living off room service interspersed with the occasional chauffeured drive to see the NYC lights at night. There are many neat things to do when you've done very little, and we must have considered pretty much all of them that didn't involve foolhardy amounts of courage or strength.

In the end, from the stacks of photo books and tourist guides piled around us on the floor, we found ourselves gravitating to one called AA's Treasures of Britain. Alphabetized and chock-full of photographs, the Automobile Association's massive tome led seductively from great cathedrals to little-known art museums to historic houses and everything in between. Also, England had the advantage of, more or less, speaking English. Also, the trip by air was relatively short. On a less practical note, I'd fallen in love with English romantic poetry in a college course and had ever since harbored a longing to see the "host of golden daffodils" for myself. If we went to England at the start of April, I was assured, and saved the Lake Country until toward the end of the trip, we'd be almost guaranteed a sight of Wordsworth's inspiration.

I called the travel service of the C&S Bank to see about booking a three-week trip. Given our age and inexperience with travel abroad, the agent tried to sell us on a group tour - it would be easier, safer, cheaper. We, however, retained vivid memories of a film called If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, starring Suzanne Pleshette and Ian MacShane when, one of the cutest guys in movies (or anywhere else), he was decades away from the dissipated reflection of himself in Deadwood. We'd walked out of that movie vowing "No group tours, ever" and we saw no reason to change our mind. The agent finally agreed to book whatever trip we wanted.

For two weeks, we studied maps and materials, and came up with an itinerary that covered 1400 miles in two weeks on the road, with a final week in London. Accustomed to U.S. expressways, we had no doubts about our ability to cover that kind of mileage. All in all, we felt, we'd listed lots of things we would find especially interesting and avoided everything that smacked of cliché. It was going to be an unforgettable trip.

By no means all-inclusive, our route incorporated a bit and a piece of just about everything we found most appealing in the Treasures book. On arrival that Friday in early April we picked up a Ford Zodiak at Heathrow Airport, then drove the short distance to Hurley-on-Thames, where we were booked into Ye Olde Bell for one night. We'd arranged for early check-in to give us a lot of time to rest up before departure for our first full day on the road. As it turned out, that was unrealistic, for Hurley proved difficult to find since we'd thought of everything but a decent road map. We roamed around Maidenhead and Marlow for hours until we finally hit upon the correct road. Then we managed to roam around Hurley for quite some time (no mean feat, given its size) until a man in front of a green grocer's informed us that the inn was "up the road, at the bottom of the wood, where the big oak used to be, and then left on the track that leads directly to the river." Ironically, these directions took us where we wanted to go. As soon as we were checked into the Bell, which was as atmospheric as it sounds, we ate a very late lunch and then went back to town for a book of road maps.

In the two days that followed, we barely caught a breath. Saturday was Winchester and Salisbury and their cathedrals, Stonehenge, Wilton House, and Longleat. Sunday was Bath. By the time we hit the bed in Lower Limpley Stoke on Sunday night, we were already aware of two things - it took much longer to go five miles on our route than it did in the States and this was the coldest April in years, meaning that the spring-like clothes we'd brought were almost worthless and we wore more or less the same wintry outfits for the rest of the trip.

One thing we hadn't done our first three days in England was afternoon tea. We'd seen a couple of signs, but we hadn't paid attention. I suppose we assumed it was the British version of a coffee break, complete with stale sweet rolls and lukewarm tea instead of insipid coffee. We had no way of knowing it, but that misconception was to be corrected the next day.

When we awoke on Monday morning, we knew we were heading for Broadway and the Lygon Arms. We'd planned to drift along, seeing only one great house on the way - Dyrham House. If something else interesting turned up, we'd do it. The day was miserable, cold, foggy, damp at best, rainy much of the time. We headed for Broadway, ready to get out of the car and sit in front of a fire. We reached the inn so early that our room wasn't ready, and we ended up in nearby Chipping Campden, considered by many to be one of the most-picturesque villages in England. Our intent was to walk about, exploring the market hall and the attractive main street, but it began to rain in earnest and the day's coolness turned into near-frigidity. It was so cold that we could hear locals complaining that they'd never known it like that in April.

Just as we were about to retreat into the rental car, we noticed the sign for the King's Arms. It was a comfortable-looking place, with a discreet notice in its front window that tea was being served. We went into the austere entrance hall where a pleasant woman told us to go through to the lounge, where a fire was laid and tea was set out. "Just help yourself to whatever you want and pay on the way out."

This lounge was a big room with white walls, a large fireplace, horse brasses hung on straps in strategic places, and a long table with several kinds of cake, sandwiches, cookies, and scones. We were the only people in the room, but a cheerful server showed up immediately to ask preferences in tea and repeated the desk-clerk's invitation to help ourselves to whatever we wanted.

We hadn't had much of a lunch, and we were hungry. The result was a display of piggery that caused the server's eyes to widen when she returned with the teapot. We didn't care. The tea - black and not too strong - was appropriately hot. The scones - which we'd never had before - were terrific. The sandwiches were nicely savory and the cakes and cookies just sweet enough. This was very different from the little sandwiches cut in the shape of wedding bells or diamonds and the highly decorated cakes of the formal tea parties I'd attended in the States. And by "different" I mean better. This was comfort food in the best sense of the term, the perfect accompaniment to the excellent tea.

We ate and ate and ate, even as we talked about all the things we'd done in the last three days. Accidentally discovering Jane Austen's memorial at Winchester by tripping over it. Gaping at the Double Cube Room at Wilton House with its huge Van Dykes on the walls and the heavy, ornate William Kent furniture. Lolling on the Palladian Bridge at Wilton. Watching the lions at Longleat scratch their chins on the park's ancient oaks. Walking through shafts of sunlight streaming through the arched windows of the side passages at Wells Cathedral and petting the big black cat that waited outside a nearby inn with us for a traditional English lunch of beef and Yorkshire pudding. Roaming around Bath, wondering what it would be like to soak in the waters of the Roman baths. Impressed by the enfilade at Dyrham House. Realizing that not only did it take longer to get around this country but that it would take much longer than we'd suspected for two history buffs to explore it properly. Happy to realize that we had two-and-a-half weeks before us in which to do as much as possible.

Through the panes of the front windows we could see rain smothering the gray streetscape. The fire hissed and crackled on the hearth. Horse brasses glowed warm with the reflection. The server brought in a fresh pot of tea. Somehow, we found ourselves lingering, drinking tea and occasionally having another bite of something, the only people on hand to enjoy the comfortable scene.

It was the first afternoon tea of the English variety we'd ever had, and even then we realized we'd discovered something that we'd never forget. For the rest of the trip, we sought afternoon tea every day. We didn't always find it, but when we did it added significantly to both pleasure and recuperative possibilities, a punctuation mark for a terrific experience.

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