The snowy weather at Snowshoe Mountain Resort did not stop resort guests and employees from keeping warm with a cup of hot tea at Denise Taylor-Spiker’s tea party Sunday afternoon.
Mimicking a traditional light tea in everything but lighting, guests donned period-piece hats and strings of pearls and seated themselves at tables adorned with doily-inspired tablecloths.
A selection of dainty teacups sat next to an array of teas – such as Black BOP, Panfired Green Tea, Rooibus Tea and more – with a small buffet of blueberry-basil and lavender-walnut scones, peach and lavender petal fairy cakes and an assortment of finger sandwiches was situated to the right.
In addition, Taylor-Spiker elaborated on the history of tea, as well as how to properly harvest, dry, store and brew tea and herbs.
Thea sinensis – more commonly known as tea – has been around for thousands of years, and it is believed to have been discovered in China around 2700 B.C. There are several legends surrounding how tea was discovered, and one of the most popular credits Chinese Emperor Shen Nung with its discovery.
According to Taylor-Spiker, drinking a cup of hot water – with the occasional herb thrown in – was a common practice to help soothe a person before bed. As Emperor Shen Nung was traveling the countryside, he and his caravan would stop for the night. It was as the emperor was waiting for his water to boil that a leaf from a nearby brush – a tea bush – fell into it. The emperor was so pleased with the taste that he began to seek out the plant and cultivate it.
Before the emperor’s discovery of the tea bush, “teas” were made using herbs from various bushes and plants and were primarily used for medicinal purposes. It was only after the discovery of the tea leaf that the beverage became known as tea.
“We’re not even using the term properly,” Taylor-Spiker added. “The only thing that is technically a tea is something that contains the actual tea leaf. Herbal teas are technically just infusions.”
While the Asians may have discovered tea, it was a bored housewife who gave us the tea party.
During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, women spent the majority of their time in their homes unless they were invited out or had an escort to accompany them. At the same time, new teas – teas that came from different areas or were processed differently – were arriving in Great Britain and “teas” were considered to be a major event in British households.
A duchess – who had moved from her homeland to Britain – decided she would invite ladies from court to try the new teas. Her invitation gave the women an excuse to leave their homes and spend an afternoon gossiping, talking and discussing the new teas.
“The whole concept of a party or gathering to celebrate tea came about because of a bored housewife,” Taylor-Spiker said. “I thought that was fascinating when I found that out. I truly believed it had come from the Asians, but they associate spiritual connotations with tea. It’s about the living plant, the spirit of the plant and the spirit of the people. There’s more of a ritual as opposed to an event.”
When Taylor-Spiker finished expounding on the origins of tea and the tea party, she turned her attention to the treatment of the tea plant.
Despite the misleading variation in tea – black, green and white – they all come from the same plant. What makes them different depends on where the plant was grown, the climate it was grown in, when and how it was harvested and processed, and finally, how the leaves were dried.
The importance of how tea leaves are harvested and dried correlates with the essential oil stored in each plant.
It is the oil in the plant – whether it is in the root, the leaf or the flower – that provides the desired medicinal and taste properties, and when dried, some of that oil is lost. However, if the plant is dried properly, people are able to save some of the oil.
“Try to leave your plants as whole as possible for as long as possible,” Taylor-Spiker urged. “Every time you break a plant down, you use a little oil. When drying, you want to dry them in a warm, dark place.”
Taylor-Spiker warned against storing dried herbs in plastic, as well. Instead, she suggested storing dried herbs in cool, dark places as glass containers with a tight-fitting lid such as mason jars.
At the end of her party, Taylor-Spiker invited her guests to peruse the selection of florals and herbs and create their own tea blend.
When she is not at Snowshoe, Taylor-Spiker and her husband reside on a 600-acre farm in Adamsville, Ohio, where she grows and wildcrafts herbs for her business, Spiker Springs. Through Spiker Springs, Taylor-Spiker sells culinary seasonings and teas, as well as a line of homeopathic products.
Taylor-Spiker can be contacted on Facebook at Spiker Springs Herbs and Antiques, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 740-796-3521.