The Sensual Summertime Drink: Tea ~ Palais des Thés

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My obsession with tea began in childhood. Coffee was never appealing, too strong for my blood. A cup of tea soothed and comforted when I needed it, and it kept me company in a hot mug in between the palms of my hands. Coffee is harsh and jolting, masculine and too yang for me. In the heat of summer, iced tea quenches my thirst most. Freshly squeezed lemons with black tea, or green tea stirred into ice. I can't get enough. Coffee smells wonderful, though drinking it jars my nerves.

Tea, even in its strongest form, affects my senses in a gentle manner. It gives my palate delight to taste its fragrance, and some teas, smoky and mysterious, call my soul back to an ancestral cellular memory of brewed leaves over a fire. Tea is liquid consciousness.

I feel awake, alive, and aware with a cup of tea.

Tea brings me back to my childhood daydreams, lazy afternoons in my grandmother’s garden, nothing else to think about but to observe the way light shifts through the leaves of trees, to notice the many colors of things--- the tree bark and shapes of stones, and tea swirling inside a ceramic cup. Tea glittering with light, chilled in a glass of ice.

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I open one package of Palais des Thés iced tea blend. The kettle whistles. I pour the boiling water into a large Pyrex pitcher. The oversized muslin teabag sinks then settles into the hot water. The fragrance captivates my senses, and soon the color deepens into a pale green gold. "What kind is this?" I ask the box it came in. Thé du Hammam, the tea tag reads. It's a Turkish blend of green tea, rose petals, green dates, berries and orange flower water. The aroma is intoxicating, beautiful. I lean my face into the steam for another waft of its romantic scent. Marvelous. It has fruit and berry notes, a hint of rose, just enough to make you want, but not too much to overpower the senses. Seductive. Once it cools, I pour it over a glassful of ice cubes.

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Reverie. I taste the iced brew of Thé du Hammam tea, and contemplate.

Memory of sunlight sparkling upon the surface of the pond, the orange koi swimming drowsily through the water. Bamboo stalks and maple trees filter the warm light of day. In this memory, I'm with a man I loved deeply. It's our first date. He ordered a pot of Darjeeling tea served with ginger scones, jam, lemon curd, cream and strawberries. The side of my head rested on his shoulder. I felt so peaceful, so completely present in the moment, just quietly sitting with him, drinking tea.

The tea was light and infused joy within us.

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The tranquil atmosphere of the garden enchanted, tucked away from the bustle of the city, just the two of us at our little table underneath a shady umbrella. The menu listed white teas such as Chinese Yin Zhen Silver Needle, White Peony, and white tea pearls, Indian whites, the Sri Lankan white teas— and while all the teas appealed, we wanted Darjeeling tea.

Loose-leaf teas, blooming teas, tisanes, herbals, green teas of many kinds, from Sri Lanka, India, China and Japan. Japanese Sencha, Houjicha, Mattcha, Bancha, Genmaicha. Moroccan teas, exotic blends.

Being quiet, sitting next to each other, taking in the afternoon breeze, holding hands. Darjeeling tea in a flowered teapot. I’ll remember the glimmer in his eyes, studying the detail of his eyelashes, the curve of his eyelids, the color of his irises, golden amber, the color of steeped Darjeeling. Our first date, an afternoon tea.

His reflection in the glass window of the teahouse, his hand touching mine upon the white tablecloth, then underneath, a gentle caress of my thigh. His warm hand awakened me as the sun sank into my skin, shifting from high noon in the brilliant sky to two thirty something. Time passed, floated like a breeze.

The tea cup held light and shimmered.

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My thoughts drift into tranquility. Like discovering a treasure of old letters in a forgotten box, leafing through memories, recalling what it’s like to just be, without doing.

Tea calms the mind and asks us to take pleasure in the moment.

 
Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the sighing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.
— Okakura Kakuzo, Book of Tea (1906)

Tea leaves floating in water. I'm brewing another iced tea. This time, Thé des Alizés. I open the lid of the teapot, the fragrance brings me to my grandmother’s garden. The beech tree swaying its leaves toward the wild strawberries in the damp soil, the marble patio cool underneath my bare feet, I am young, a little girl, wearing a sundress. In this memory I recall the whooshing slide and click of the glass door as I go into the house, and the tea waiting there for me on the table. The cup of tea served with the sugar pot and spoon, the ceramic cat pitcher of cream, its paw up to pour.

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Another day. It’s Sunday and I’m in my kitchen. It’s summer, there's jazz playing brightly through the house in a Brazilian rhythm. I pour a cool glass of Thé des Sources, Chinese green tea, bergamot, mint. The honey sticks to the rim as I drizzle some over the ice cubes. It’s cool and light, refreshing. I’m sipping it through a straw while turning on the hose for my daughter in the backyard. She runs giggling through the arc of water that I make with my thumb against the water pressure from the hose, my glass icy in my other hand. We are laughing in the strong beating sunlight.

I inhale the fragrant tea, my face close to the glass, bergamot and mint notes rising like a happy song.

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My grandmother, lovingly called "Nana," always offered me a cup of black tea. She'd prepare it with cream and sugar, the British way. "Would you like more ha-ah-lf and ha-ah-lf?" she’d enunciate clearly in her British accent, steeping the black leafed brew, the whistle of the kettle first thing in the morning, helping myself to spoonfuls of brown sugar swirled into the steaming teacup. Gazing into the tea, a reflection of childhood memory emerges; radiating its happiness throughout that day, sunlight showering its halo of beauty everywhere.

 
There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.
— Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

Recalling the moments of tea and childhood, sipping tea, remembering a day blowsy and dappled with brushstrokes of light, painted in Impressionist style by my wandering and wondering eyes, fascinated with every color shimmering in the China cups and saucers, elongated chiaroscuro of shadows melting into sunlight like sugar in hot tea.

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My Nana came from England when she was eighteen. She cried all the way across the ocean--- so my great-grandmother told me--- and made enough tears to float the big Norwegian freighter ship they traveled across the Atlantic upon. Nana didn’t want to come to America, but as soon as they arrived in California via the Panama Canal and all the way around to San Pedro, the first thing she asked for was a cup of tea. It cheered her right up, right as rain. Sunny California was her new home. Oranges, palm trees, iced tea.

My grandparents lived in a large, two-story home, a Spanish-style built in the 30s, way up in the winding hills of Los Feliz. The kitchen was equipped with a large kettle, the whistle a call for rich, sturdy black tea as strong as you could handle, served with cream and sugar. I’d be upstairs in the bathtub and hear the piercing screech of the water ready for tea.

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Oolong tea, iced. I pour some boiling water into a glass pitcher, add lemon slices, and put it outside in the sunlight. This is what my Nana used to do. Oolong, Wu Long 7 Agrumes, or Seven Citrus Oolong tea, a blend flavored with lemon, lime, sweet orange, bitter orange, grapefruit, bergamot and mandarin. Woodsy oolong with citrus notes.

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 The backyard was wide with an expanse of thick green grass that asked for bare feet and running through sprinklers. Summer came with warm abundant breezes as my Nana placed a big glass jar full of several teabags, lemon slices and water out in the direct sunlight to make sun tea. The jar sat out in the middle of the grassy yard, turning golden, then amber-brown, then burnt sienna glinting brightly as the sun shone through the glass.

Iced tea, a ritual, brewed in the backyard, steeped in sunlight.

I'm taking pleasure in exploring new types of tea, so I opened a box of summery iced teas by French tea brand Palais des Thés. All natural XL Iced Tea Bags in four signature blends (flavored with fruits, flowers and spices) appealed to me not only because I'm a tea lover, but also because of their aphrodisiac nature. Just the scent of these teas will inspire your senses. 

I have a few different brews of these teas in my fridge, some with fruit in the infusions like blueberries and edible flowers, slices of lemon and lime. It's refreshing and uplifting. There are chilled glass mason jars stored in my freezer so when I pour a glass, it's iced and deliciously thirst quenching. 

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I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.
— Fyodor Dostoyevsky

A few thoughts on health benefits and aphrodisiac qualities of tea

Tea is an ancient drink and has a great amount of history and lore. There are lovers of tea and rituals surrounding its preparation, such as "tea ceremony" in Japanese culture.

Oolong tea has antioxidants as well as metabolism boosting benefits. Oolong tea contains polyphenols, like most other teas, such as green tea.

Green tea is high in antioxidants and polyphenols. It is anti-inflammatory and has a plentitude of healthy reasons to drink it, such as lowering blood pressure, improving skin with anti-aging properties, plus many other beauty and mood boosting benefits.

The downside? If you are avoiding caffeine or keeping the intake low, the recommended 2-5 cups a day may contain more caffeine than you want. How else can you enjoy teas? Look for the herbal blends. There are so many varieties of tea you are bound to find something that appeals to your taste and senses.

Beautiful scents and flavors are natural aphrodisiacs in tea blends. There are some tried and true "aphrodisiac" teas such as ginseng, ginger root and damiana, however, I found the act of pouring hot water over Thé du Hammam and inhaling the essences of rose petals, green dates, berries and orange flower water mingled with green tea to be quite an aphrodisiac to all of my senses.

Sensual and delightful, tea is my panacea and daily ritual.