What’s the Tea?

Exploring tea and coffee customs opens a world of new ideas

Photography by Elly Hazelrig

Memphis is the perfect landscape to experience new things in a rich tapestry of cultures. And it’s just right for my daughter, Grace, and me as we enjoy bonding through our love for exploring. Grace’s new interest in bubble tea encouraged a curiosity for learning about different cultures through the time-honored traditions of tea customs. From the elegant English high tea, to the vibrant Ethiopian tea-and-coffee experience, to, of course, bubble tea, this article unravels the charming differences and heartwarming moments shared along the way.

English high tea

Our sojourn through a taste of Memphis tea started with a playdate, naturally. When eight-year-olds Grace and Reagan reconnected at Enchanted Tea Lounge, topics ranged from math charts and pretty nails to fancy hats and classmates eating erasers. They became friends through Secure, a youth mentoring program for girls, and a tea house was the perfect place to catch up on the “tea” happening in their blissful lives.

After admiring their lace tea gloves and matching fascinators, the young ladies gracefully sat in a refined tearoom, immersing themselves in the art of indulging in delicate finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones, and dainty pastries with connoisseur and proprietor Barbara Conley Wall. “This tastes like heaven,” expressed Grace upon her first sip of freshly pressed herbal tea. 

Barbara eloquently described different aspects of enjoying tea, from steeping the herbal mix to the order of tasty treats to pair throughout the experience. Who knew gently gliding one’s spoon from 12 to 6 o’clock was the proper high tea technique? Barbara knows the T.E.A.—Teaching an Enriching Atmosphere.

As I sat across the room observing Barbarba’s lessons—yes, across the room to give space for my daughter’s girl talk.

I witnessed the young ladies take pride in acquiring newfound skills that not only enriched their tea-drinking experience but also allowed them to embrace the charming customs associated with high tea.

Something as simple as pouring honey into the beautifully decorated tea cups required attention to detail as the little ladies learned to gently tap the honey pot on the edge of the tea cup to stop the drip with poise.

Barbara loves to see friends and mother-daughter duos enjoying quality time and conversation sparked by an afternoon tea. She is hopeful that sharing tea traditions will help bring back face-to-face communication and the return of “soft, feminine ladies who were always dressed to entertain guests,” as reflected in her 1950s-style powder blue dress.

Ethiopian coffee ceremony

As Grace and I continued exploring through a love of tea, we encountered cultures and customs that made us slow down to appreciate the art of conversation. A colorful conversation can be a catalyst for change, letting us see beyond the horizon to embrace different traditions while also acknowledging intertwining similarities.

Communication and conversation are the common thread woven into fabrics across the world, which we found to be true on our visit to Abyssinia, an Ethiopian restaurant. “It’s like our Facebook,” says Abyssinia’s Meseret Andederhan, describing tea- and coffee-making customs in her hometown, Keffa, Ethiopia. Proud to be from the home of coffee, Meseret said neighbors in her community gather to share the latest gossip, wisdom, and life celebrations over the unique Ethiopian coffee-preparing custom. 

With a bright smile, Meseret shared details of the roasting process while showing Grace the pre-and post-roasted beans and the ground coffee. As Grace observed the color of beans turn from pale green to dark brown, she was wowed by the smell. After our lesson was complete, Meseret brought a hand-carved carafe nestled atop a handwoven coaster with the freshly brewed beverage—traditional coffee for me and decaf tea for my daughter. 

My daughter adored the traditionally Ethiopian cups that accompanied the tea, but her favorite part of her experience at Abyssinia was eating with her hands, a new custom for her.

Grace had a new appreciation for a different culture and also made a new friend in Meseret. Through laughter and shared experiences, we learn that, for Ethiopians, communal dining knits communities together, fostering a sense of togetherness that is truly remarkable.

Boba/bubble tea

Friends are wonderful to explore cultures and flavors with, so the mommy-and-me tea sojourn continued with Grace’s friend Landon. Dancing their way into a new world, Poke World, to be exact, Grace and Landon were ready to check out a new menu of boba/bubble tea. 

Poke World was a great place for my daughter to share some of her research, including the Taiwanese origins of the tea-based drink and the main ingredient of those little pearls nestled at the bottom—tapioca!

As the two friends said “cheers” with the pop of the mega-big straw through the plastic top, they discussed the layers of tastes while appreciating each other’s company.

Landon, who is often not too keen on new things, was amazed at the delicious brown sugar, milk, and tea drink. He also got the chance to demonstrate his newly found chopstick skills on ramen.

Multifaceted Memphis

With each sip along our tasting journey, Grace and I discovered that tea and coffee are indeed a universal language that connects people across borders, reminding us of the beauty that lies in our differences. When I think about the cornucopia of creativity I have experienced across the country and abroad, an Alexandra Stoddard quote that I once heard local radio personality Michael Adrian Davis say comes to mind: “What we do today, right now, will have an accumulated effect on all our tomorrows.”

After living in Memphis and other metropolitan areas, it is imperative for me to share culturally enriching experiences with my daughter. Just like tea and the great pyramid on the river, Memphis is multifaceted, emanating uniquely robust layers of flavor, complex, yet with many similarities. Through our exploration of tea and coffee customs, we transcended boundaries and fostered a deeper understanding of diverse cultures. 

I truly enjoy curating opportunities to appreciate new experiences for Grace because I learn something new, share heartwarming moments, and get to see through her point of view.  Perspective changes everything, and where focus goes, energy flows. Tea anyone?

Enchanted Tea Lounge
433 North Cleveland Street
enchantedtealounge.com

Abyssinia
2600 Poplar Avenue, Suite 115
abyssiniamemphis.com

Poke World
2105 Union Avenue
575 Erin Drive
1605 North Germantown Parkway, Suite 111
35 Goodman Road West, Suite I, Southaven, Mississippi
5142 Goodman Road, Olive Branch, Mississippi
pokeworlds.com

India Brown Love was born and raised in North Memphis. She received her bachelor of arts from Dillard University and master of arts in media studies from The Pennsylvania State University. India has merged her enjoyment of exploring cultural anthropology and community engagement with her work and motherhood. @gallerygirls901

Elly Hazelrig, of Haze Photography & Media, is a Memphis-based photographer from Chicago. She aspires to inspire. @haze.photog