Katrina Ávila Munichiello
After her first two children were born - there are now three - Munichiello left the public health field for the blogosphere, launching a site devoted to tea (www.teapages.net). Through her blog, she issued an open call for essays on memories made over a cup of tea, which the Westford-based writer compiled in “A Tea Reader: Living Life One Cup at a Time.’’ The book intersperses these reader essays with previously published works.
Q. This book is not so much about tea itself, but about tea playing a role in cherished memories. Why is tea often there for big moments?
A. I feel like food is such a trigger for people’s memories - the scents, the smells - you immediately think of where you ate that food, where you had that experience. And I feel like tea’s the same way. Making tea is a process. We generally do not grab a cup of tea to go. More and more, that’s an option, but it’s usually more of a process. It takes a little bit of time. And I think for that reason, it’s more memorable.
Q. What attracted you to blog about tea in the first place?
‘You can’t rush how long it takes to make water boil. You can’t rush the amount of time it takes to steep the tea. . . . It gives you such a moment for conversation . . .’
A. I started blogging as a way to find the tea community and to share information, my whole philosophy being that tea shouldn’t be intimidating, it shouldn’t be something that feels very elite. It should be something available to everyone. It’s an affordable luxury and it’s really easy to learn if you’re interested.
Q. How did you get the idea for the book?
A. One day I got an e-mail from a man who said, “I had a tea shop in New Orleans that was wiped out by the hurricane. We’re trying to get our company up and going, and we’d love to get you to review some tea. We hope you’re a lot nicer to us than the last Katrina.’’ I thought, there’s got to be a great story here. And so George [Constance] told me his whole elaborate story of how they started the shop, the devastation of the hurricane, and all they went through. And I realized that every shop owner and so many tea drinkers must have stories to tell.
Q. Which story that you received struck you the most deeply?
A. The one I always come back to is Dorothy Ziemann’s piece, “A Cup of Comfort.’’ Dorothy was a middle-of-the-road tea drinker, but her father had never been a tea drinker and was dying of cancer. The very last day they spent together, for the first time he said, “I’d really like a cup of tea.’’ So she ran out, grabbed mugs, grabbed tea bags from the grocery store, and sat with him over tea and had a conversation about all the things they wanted to say to each other. That story always resonates with me because that’s something that I always feel that tea provides. You can’t rush how long it takes to make water boil. You can’t rush the amount of time it takes to steep the tea. You have to slow down. It gives you such a moment for conversation or reflection.
Q. Beyond blog submissions, what other ways did you solicit stories?
A. I contacted tea shop owners and tea farmers, people within the industry, and said, “We have an opportunity here to share the stories of the people behind the tea.’’ I think especially here in the States, the tea culture really hasn’t taken hold yet to the extent that I think it’s going to. And I think we have an opportunity to reframe the stories of the people.
Q. Is the tea culture shifting?
A. I think it’s growing substantially. I think we’re seeing a lot more availability of loose leaf tea in this country. We’re seeing more availability of specialty tea. The fact that a store like Teavana can show up in malls all over the country and go public, 10 years ago I don’t think any of us would have thought that could happen.