Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Tea Cart - For Serving English Tea

This is a Gibbard-built "1642 Tea Wagon". Gibbard was an amazing quality furniture company located in Napanee, Ontario, Canada that started in 1835 and produced much of the fine furniture in the southern Ontario region. They prided themselves in having well-developed designs and on hand polished furniture. Sadly, the business folded in 2008.

 This tea wagon is made of mahogany veneer and measures 18"W x 27"D x 30"H.

There is a drop handle and a drawer. There are two wings that lock extending the surface to a full 39". There are 2 large cartwheels and 2 smaller stabilizing wheels. The larger wheels have a band of rubber to dampen the bumps along the way. Its value today is in the range of $200-$400. These carts were very popular for the serving tea when entertainment in one's home was popular. The carts were made in different woods and styles. If you have one, it is best if left in the original condition. There are some replacement parts still available, such as the wheels.

Lets have a chat about some of the uses of the wagon for tea. Certainly it is a convenience to have a table with wheels for any home. I doubt that in 1624 there would have been such a table made. Tea was just coming to Europe and was not at a stage where afternoon teas were served in the style as they were later a century later. It wasn't until the mid to late 19th century that tea was a popular beverage and served among the gentry with fancy sandwiches and dainties (pastries and other sweets).

This tea cart has two shelves below the table top. There is one tiny drawer for silver teaspoons and sugar tongs. There is a detachable handle used to push or pull the cart to and from the kitchen,  and as needed to guests across a broad room. The most wonderful thing about this piece is the two elegant drop leafs that are able to lock in place. They serve as table extensions.

Typically the cart would be wheeled into the kitchen and loaded up with items for a fancy tea. The maid or hostess would wheel the cart out, with tea cups clinking lightly. The sandwiches and sweets and plates would be tucked on the shelves underneath.  The tea service (tea pot, cream and sugar   containers) would sit on top of the wagon. The hostess would prepare and pour the tea for her guests either from the top of the wagon or transferred to a table top. "Low tea" would be served from a low table, at coffee-table height while the hostess would sit on the edge of a sofa.

The glass tray is an elegant addition. However, only light items could be set on the glass. Tea would be poured by the hostess and the maid or a responsible girl from the family would go around the sitting room and offer the tea cup with milk and sugar from the tray to seated guests.

So, if you have a tea wagon, take care of it. Get out your good china and silverware and fancy napkins and make tea a party! If you need some guidance on tea party-ing, consult The Tea Party Guide.

Update - July 2014:
I found a few photos of a vintage tea cart on display at the Rutherford House in Edmonton, Canada, the home of Alberta's first premier, A.C Rutherford. The home is restored to circa 1911 and is open for public viewing and tours.  In the living room, there is a lovely silver tea pot on a tea cart. Fine homes would have enjoyed serving guests tea by a maid servant wheeling the tea cart across to guests around a large room.

Rutherford House, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Rutherford House Tea Cart - Profile

Rutherford House Tea Cart

The ornate silver tea pot pictured above and below is suspended in a cradle or stand from a pin at each side of the vessel. This permits the hostess to pour from her chair elegantly by tipping the heavy tea pot over each cup. The cup would be passed to either the guest or a maid would take the cup to a seated guest on a tray. This style of tea pot may also be used for guests to serve themselves. It is stationary so there is more control, less chances of spillage and easy access for refills.

Magpie at the Rutherford House
Tilting Silver Tea Pot on Stand

Update: May 19, 2015. Added additional views of the tea cart

A Canadian Japanese Tea Ceremony

I am teaching myself Japanese Tea Ceremony.

There are very few people to teach Japanese Tea Ceremony here in Canada. It is a very formal cultural practise among the Japanese as an aesthetic. It is very exclusive. So what's the problem?  I have the teacher - videos, You Tube and lots of books for reference. I have authentic tea ware. I am practising a Canadian form of Japanese Tea Ceremony. There is a mystery around this Japanese Tea Ceremony and there shouldn't be.

The Japanese tea ceremony is very ancient. According to reading material, the tea ceremony was developed at a time of strict rules of behavior during a time of military rule. The Shoguns were the warrior class. Its hard to relate to different social classes here in Canada as we are homogeneous, except for the very wealthy and the very impoverished. Perhaps we do have a Warrior class - our Military Service people, our boxers and fighters, sport competitors such as soccer, baseball, football and any activity that takes place in an arena and where there are active participants who take a position and observers (an audience). Sorry, the Anthropology background leads sometimes. Zen monks used the ceremony to provide discipline and order to everyday life. They were the original growers of tea in Japan and brought the plants over from China. Tea provided health benefits and alertness for the mind during long meditations. Soon it became a popular drink among all classes. Tea continues to have formal ceremony behind it for special occasions. When something is special, we want to take a moment to appreciate it.

We need tea ceremony more and more to counter a stressful life and to teach rules of behavior and proper conduct. Ritual provides teaching in Mindfulness. Mindfulness is a concept of watching your mind and returning to a natural state. It is taught in hospitals to help manage pain, depression and mental burnout. When you become aware of  thoughts, sensations and emotions and recognize them as phenomena of the mind, techniques can be applied to move past these challenges and behaviors. A tea ceremony helps to silence the mind through focus on what is happening in the here and now. The tea ceremony becomes a container for the mind. Drinking tea helps to wake up the mind and to provide alertness. Put the ritual and the tea together in one ceremony and you can have an enlightening experience, being both relaxed and alert. Just like a meditation.  So, when you sit and take tea, remember to reach for the noisy mental parts of yourself and offer them up for the tea to heal, to quieten the mind and to dissolve your thoughts into nothingness

In an age where there is attention deficit disorders among adults, a tea ceremony is something you work with your mind to focus on. You relax, you empty your mind of distractions. You don't know what's going to happen next. But if you do, you relax into that moment, moment by moment. Allow the nothingness to be there. Allow yourself to be aware of the nothingness and remain in that state while the tea ceremony activity continues. More of this later.

Tea Expo East - Philadelphia - Sept 8-9, 2011

Finally there is an opportunity to post a few items about the Tea Expo that a few fellow Canadian Tea Sommelliers and I attended last year, in 2011. It was an interesting experience as it was my first tea expo outside of Canada. This was also the first Tea East conference. The smaller fair provided ample opportunity to talk to some headliners such as James Norwood Pratt,  Jane Pettigrew, and Kim Roberston among others.
Yes, Here we are with Norwood James Pratt with the Canadian ladies,  Raelene Gagnon ot the left , Ingrid Folkers, and myself on the right.
A highlight was meeting the owners of various tea suppliers. I was most impressed with  represtation from African tea suppliers. I loved learning more about packaging options.

 I attended several conference sessions that were of interest to me from an educational and experiential perspective. I came away with better information and solidified some ideas for future use. Learning more about pu-erh teas flipped my perceptions. Now I am an advocate of taking pu-erh.

We also took in some local sites, such as the Philedelphia Reading Terminal Market and that street where they shoot part of the movie, "National Treasure" with Nicholas Cage running around with that worried look that never changes.  Hollywood actors seem to get their teeth realigned and veneered and sadly they all lisp or chew on their words. I digress.

I'm still sampling bits and peices I picked up during the conference, whether it is the content-rich printed material or the generous tea samples. I feel here in Canada we are still missing out on the tea market. The is more out there than the David's candy-tea and the Teopia's/Teavana one-size fits all.  I don't know what the formula is for providing new and interesting ways to promote tea as a beverage and as a health supplement. I think a lot more people would like to drink tea if they knew the health benefits. If there were more instant and ready to drink tea beverages, perhaps people would switch from those carbonated sugar beverages to something naturally sweet and healthy.