“There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea”. ~Bernard-Paul Heroux
Interview with Suzi van Middelkoop
Suzi has a keen interest in Oriental Health including Feng Shui, and is drawn to ways to harmonise the body, mind and environment. She has a background in marketing and event management, has a diploma in interior design, has taught Wu Tao classes (a dance therapy based on Chinese medicine) and loves writing. Given her passion for all things “tea”, she established and ran her own teahouse for five years.
She was one of the first Tea Masters trained in Australia and creates bespoke loose-leaf teas blends customised to suit the individual, special occasion or event. She also specialises in ‘taking tea’ to the corporate market – a special way to take time out and build relationships through the appreciation of tea and high tea etiquette. Suzi also reads tea leaves so brings a truly unique offer to the table.
“Each cup of tea represents an imaginary voyage.”
“If you are cold, tea will warm you. If you are too heated, it will cool you. If you are depressed, it will cheer you. If you are excited, it will calm you.”
Q. The quote “There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea”. ~Bernard-Paul Heroux. Would you agree with this and, if so, what is so soothing about a good cuppa?
A. As humble as we might think the cup of tea is, it has such powerful qualities. So many in fact, that I have written a whole article about them! It is a great healer – at many levels. How many occasions have you heard in times of distress, heartache, anxiety – even pain – that a friend, your mum or loved one has said “Sit yourself down and we’ll make a nice cup of tea”. Just the thought of it makes you breathe a big sigh of relief!
Q. You have a passion for tea and used to run a tea café. Why is tea so special for you?
A. I’ve always loved tea. I used to drink it as a young girl after school with my mum. It was our ritual, a time to chat about the day. A great prelude to doing homework, studying or practising a musical instrument! There is a certain strength that comes from a place of calm.
Q. What are your own personal favourite teas… one for special occasions and one for everyday drinking?
A. I have so many favourites! If I had to shortlist, I am a bit partial to a first flush green Darjeeling (afterall, they don’t call it the champagne of teas for nothing!). I also enjoy a lovely Earl Grey in the afternoon when a pep-up is required, or equally, when a quiet moment is called for. I have the best tea mentor and teacher – Lindel Barker-Revell from Tea-Wise, we enjoy many exquisite teas together – often you can taste the pristine mountains, delicate flowers or an earthy quality in them! The imagination can run wild with just one sip…
Q. Tea is the second most consumed beverage behind water. There must be something special about this brewed beverage. What do you believe gives tea this popularity ranking?
A. I believe it’s the universal quality it brings to our lives – you could share a cup of tea with anyone really. It’s very social, and brings perspective to any situation. It crosses all boundaries and generations. If you think of it in that way, it really is quite special and unique. It brings a sense of calm to one’s day.
Q. Coffee is obviously the arch enemy of tea;-) How would you try to convert a coffee drinker to the delights of tea? Are there times when only a coffee or tea will do?
A. Many coffee drinkers can’t function in the morning without having their first espresso shot. However, it is that caffeine hit with the added sugar that makes us a slave to it. I saw a sign somewhere describing it as a “sweet buzz”. That’s very true as it provides an instant hit. Tea also has caffeine in it depending on the one you choose, but it somehow it has a lasting and warming effect. It tends to seep into the places it needs to go, while coffee is quite heady and almost bounces off you. If you would like to try getting “”into” tea, get someone to make you a pot of tea in the afternoon. You’ll soon find the ritual of taking tea something you look forward to.
Q. There seems to be a tea for every situation which makes it a very versatile drink. Can you suggest some teas for situations that people may not be aware that tea can make a difference? i.e. decision making , being creative and providing inspiration as examples.
A. Apart from all the fabulous physical benefits, tea can also treat emotional health. This is where herbal tea comes into its own. Tea made from chrysanthemum flower heads can be used to promote emotional balance from the extremes of anger and jealousy (and also good for tension headaches and sore or reddened eyes caused by overwork, reading or computer strain). Chamomile, jasmine and lavender work best in the evening given their calming and grounding qualities. Chamomile particularly helps calm nervous tension and helps to relax and great for sore tummies. Whereas Chai (a mix of black tea and warming spices like cinnamon and cloves), invigorates and stimulates, so particularly good in the morning or for a mid afternoon pick-me-up. Green tea is said to be good for enhancing memory, while Darjeeling’s aroma is said to relax the mind. Ginsing tea is said to elevate mood and cognitive alertness. Tulsi (holy basil) tea is said to help reduce the negative physical and psychological effects of stress. There are so many options but I think it’s a matter of experimenting what works best for you.
Q. How long can we keep tea and where should we keep it in order to keep it freshest for longest?
A. Tea does have a shelf life in terms of best drinking, however it doesn’t really go off, it just loses its vitality. It should preferably be stored in a dark airtight canister. Tea is generally good for up to two years (dependent on quality of tea, storage etc) to maintain its optimal freshness. A tip is to smell the tea, and then taste it. You will taste whether it has life in it.
Q. There are many health benefits to drinking tea but can you clarify for the average person in the street which tea this refers to. i.e. is stocking up on tea bags from the local supermarket going to give the desired result or is there a required tea type or purity?
A. Teabags generally don’t offer you the quality you are after when looking for health benefits. CTC means crushed, torn and cut – you only need to imagine what the leaves have gone through to end up in that form. The larger the actual tea leaves, the better the quality generally. It is also dependent on how the leaves have been processed, the chemicals used to treat them and where they have originated from and for what purpose. Good quality loose leaf tea purchased from specialty stores is your best bet in terms of getting the maximum health benefits from your tea.
Q. Tea isn’t just a drink and can be used for other purposes. Do you have any beauty tips or great cooking recipes using tea as the star ingredient?
A. As I ran a teahouse, anything made with tea was always popular. I have a good recipe for shortbread using crushed earl grey leaves. I’ve also heard of a savoury recipes using tea! Also green tea is supposed to be great for the skin given it is full of anti-oxidants and anti-bacterial qualities. It can be used cool as a tonic for the face (especially good for troubled skin) and great for improving hair loss and shine.
Q. Your passion for tea has drawn you to tea leaf reading….what or who led your tea passion in this direction?
A. There were so many little steps to this journey that I was not aware of at the time but for me tea offers so much. My love for tea has definitely guided me to learn its own special language and finding a wonderful teacher and mentor has enriched my life personally and professionally. I have also been privileged to have run my own teashop and feel that it provided a platform from which to take my discovery of tea to the next level.
Q. How can images in tea leaves be translated to day to day life and give messages to the tea drinker? Can anyone learn to interpret these messages?
A. As tea has such universal appeal, it offers something to everyone. Sometimes the symbols are so clear they almost jump out at you, others are more cryptic and require you to think things through as to how they relate to your life at this moment. Whatever message needs to be heard will make itself known through the images in the cup. It never ceases to amaze me what chooses to appear – “as individual as a snowflake” as my mentor says.
Q. Should tea be made to taste or are there set ‘best result’ brewing timings that need to be adhered to. Can you give some examples?
A. Yes generally all teas have different brewing times and differing water temperatures for optimal results. These can range between 2 and 5 minutes. It’s important to make white and green tea with water just before the boil or at a soft rolling boil (ie between 70-85 degrees) so as to avoid scorching the delicate leaves. Water which has been over-boiled actually loses its oxygen. It should also never be made from warm water from the tap, always boil from cold. Generally mixes of green and black tea like oolong and pu’erh, black tea, along with herbal brews can handle water at a more rapid boil of 90-100 degrees and take slightly longer to steep.
Q. How important is the tea making equipment in producing a quality drink? Is a bone china cup the only option for best results and what tea pot should people be looking for?
A. All fine teas need a fine cup to drink from! It gives me such pleasure to choose a wonderful fine china teacup from my own selection, one from my mum’s fancy cupboard or one from my mentor’s collection where each cup has a story or a little bit of history attached to it. A teapot also plays a large role in getting the best results. Glass and miniature teapots are chosen for more delicate fine needle teas. Using glass allows you to enjoy watching the leaves or blossoms unfurl, or see them dangle down into the pot like tiny downy bud branches. The tiny teapots are refilled numerous times (pouring off the first one) to provide a fresh, clean brew, and avoiding any bitterness that can occur if tea is brewed too long. This also removes some of the caffeine. Clay teapots are said to “breathe” and do not interfere with the delicate aromas of tea and are said to better maintain the leaves’ vibrancy. However, there are so many beautiful porcelain ones today too which make a fine addition to a special afternoon tea. I guess that’s all part of the fun of creating your own tea tradition.
For more information visit: www.teabythesea.com.au