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A Landscaped Tea Garden In El Paso

A Landscaped Tea Garden In El Paso

I recently traveled to El Paso in Texas where my cousin runs a landscaping business. He does things like lawn care, tree care, installing sprinkler systems, etc. He even installs pools, patios and various other outdoor landscaping type of features, including rock gardens, desert gardens and so on.

landscape in el paso texas
The Landscape in El Paso provides good light for growing

While I was in El Paso, I had a lot of time to kill, so I joined my cousin on a couple of his landscaping gigs. It was quite interesting, especially one of them. It was a giant house with a huge backyard, and in that yard, they had actually installed a landscaped tea garden.

Obviously this was hugely interesting to me as a tea enthusiast. You can probably guess what surprised me the most. How does tea grow in El Paso? Tea needs a humid climate with a lot of rain. El Paso does not have that. It is much too dry for tea, isn’t it?

It is. But these people had installed a great irrigation system that watered the tea plants constantly and kept them wet. El Paso isn’t as humid as a lot of places were tea grows naturally, but it seems to work just fine. The plants all looked quite healthy. Along with the irrigation system that brings the correct amount of water, the other important nutrient for any plant is the right natural light. And you get a ton of sunlight in El Paso.

Actually, tea usually grows well in places that don’t get all that much sunlight. These are places with a lot of cloud cover, like the high mountains in China or Taiwan or Darjeeling, India. It was very interesting to me to see tea do so well in southern Texas.

I’ve written previously about growing indoors under grow lights. That also got me to research a bit whether grow lights could help tea that is growing outdoors. I thought maybe if tea got more light, it would grow better.

Like I said, it grows in areas with less natural sunlight, because those areas have a ton of cloud cover or they get a ton of rain. But what if you could provide more light by supplementing the sunlight with outdoor grow lights? Would that have an effect on the tea? Would it make the tea grow faster?

In a way I got my answer in El Paso. No, they weren’t supplementing the natural sunlight with any type of grow light, but the tea here was getting much more natural sunlight. And it seemed to grow very well. It looked healthy and the bushes were quite large.

That said, it was hard to tell, because they had been landscaped so severely. They had been shaped into interesting shapes and such. They looked really cool and I guess it was functional. I mean if you’ve ever seen a tea garden from Japan, they are also landscaped so that they resemble long mounds, kind of like rivets. It looks really cool. And this garden looked really cool too.

landscaped tea plants growing under light
Tea plants growing in natural sunlight

My cousin said he actually suggested using tea plants in their backyard instead of the standard rock garden features that you see in El Paso. He thought it would make a cool landscaping feature, since the owners are huge tea enthusiasts.

They loved the idea and are apparently very happy with it. He still gets a lot of work for them, as he cares for their lawn and their backyard regularly. In a way he, and they, have me to thank for that. It was my love for tea that got him to think about planting tea plants in these people’s backyard.

I think it’s pretty cool that I, in my small way, contributed to the spread of tea to an area where it has never been grown before. So my landscaping El Paso cousin is the guy actually responsible for it. I’m the one who put the idea in his head, so I’m obviously going to take all the credit. You’re welcome, world!

Trying Some Mint Green Tea in Morocco

Trying Some Mint Green Tea in Morocco

I love traveling the world. I love seeing new places, meeting new people and eating delicious new foods. I love experiencing new things. Maybe most of all, I love trying tea from around the world. Of course, the more tea I try from different countries, the more I realize that I don’t actually like the way most countries have their tea. Mainly this is because of the sugar. I’ve learned that most countries put a lot of sugar in their tea and I simply don’t like that.

Moroccan mint tea
Mint tea being poured in Tangier, Morocco

In fact, the only countries I’ve been to where they don’t put sugar in their tea are Japan and China. Everywhere else, no matter how much they claim they like tea, they always mask the flavor of the tea with sugar. I guess what they really like is sugar.

Even countries like Turkey and India, which are famous for tea, don’t actually drink real tea. They drink sugar with a tea flavor. In many cases, like India, they also put a lot of milk in the tea. That all said, I suppose I do understand that, in a case like India. The tea leaves they use for their tea are of such a low-quality that it makes sense to mask the flavor much is possible.

Anyway, let’s get to the point. A few years ago I had the chance to travel to Morocco. I spent a few hours in Tangiers and then several days in Marrakesh. I didn’t have more time to explore the rest of the country. That was a shame. I really like what I saw and would have loved to see more.

The food in Morocco is amazing and I loved every meal I had. Unfortunately, I can’t really say the same for the tea. That’s not to say it was bad. I ordered a number of mint teas and they tasted quite good. I love the flavor of mint and it was mixed with green tea which I love too. The problem, as is so often the case, was that they put a ton of sugar in it. To me, this ruins the flavor. It leaves your mouth with a sticky aftertaste and it doesn’t quench your thirst.

Moroccan man pouring mint tea
A man pouring Moroccan mint tea at a local tea ceremony

This is a shame, because the whole ritual that goes along with their tea is actually quite interesting. You may have seen the way they pour the tea—how they raise the kettle so high above the glass as they are pouring and then lower it again. This really infuses the tea with a lot of air. If only they could leave out the sugar, I think they would really be onto something.

Of course, there would still be one more problem and that is the quality of their tea leaves. Perhaps you can get good leaves in Morocco, I don’t know. The ones we were drinking were pretty cheap, though. Since they were masked with mint and sugar, you couldn’t really notice, so it was okay.

It only became a problem when I decided to buy a bag of loose tea in the market. I could immediately see that the leaves were very low-quality and nowhere near the quality of a good Japanese tea or a good Chinese tea. Actually they weren’t even near the quality of the worst teas you get in those countries. To put it bluntly, the leaves were absolute crap quality.

When I brewed this tea at home it tasted horrible. If I had masked it with sugar like the Moroccans do, I suppose it would have tasted better. Well, not better, since the sugar isn’t really a great flavor with the tea, but it would have hidden how bad the tea was. You know what I mean.

During my time in Morocco I also tried their ginger tea. This was much more enjoyable, since they didn’t put any sugar in it. Of course, ginger tea is not real tea. It is simply hot water with ginger in it. It is quite strong, but it is very enjoyable, especially on a cold evening. I liked this tea a lot, but obviously, it is not really tea.

If you ever make it to Morocco, don’t let anything I wrote here dissuade you from trying their tea. It might not come anywhere near Japanese tea or Chinese tea, but a Moroccan mint tea is still enjoyable on some level. If you actually like sweet drinks, then you will probably love this tea. Because really, the main problem with it is the sugar. Of course, if you remove the sugar then the main problem becomes the low quality tea leaves, so I guess you need to add sugar. Anyway, the point is, give it a try if you get a chance. Let me know what you think about it.

How to do a Japanese Tea Ceremony

How to do a Japanese Tea Ceremony

In Japanese culture, being invited to a tea ceremony is a mark of respect and a great honour. Although tea ceremonies have been around in the East for hundreds of years, the Japanese take this ritual very seriously. Want to know how it’s done? Read on…

There are strict rules to a Japanese tea ceremony and they include just about all of the main art forms from calligraphy to flower arranging, it’s that special. The main type of ceremony is called Chanoyu and the rituals begin once you arrive at the teahouse (called a Chashitsu).

Firstly, you’ll be asked to spend some tine in the garden, observing the plants. These gardens can be very different to a traditional Japanese garden, often featuring no flowering plants, just greenery, rock gardens and usually some form of water feature. The path leading from the entrance will wind its way through the garden so that by the time you arrive at the teahouse, you already feel a little more relaxed
and mentally present.

It is only then will you be invited inside by the tea master. The entrance to the teahouse is usually lowered, so regardless of your social status, it’s necessary to bow your head as you enter. You’ll be given a drink of water and invited to wash your hands.

Guests sit – or often kneel – at low tables of around four people. The host will prepare the tea using green tea leaves or powdered tea and traditional equipment such as bamboo whisks. It is common for the guest of honour to ask where the tea came from, who made the utensils. This isn’t considered rude, in fact it shows great respect for the tea and your host. The host will wash and prepare all the utensils in front of theguests, artfully arranging them according to the fengshui of the room.

Before you drink your tea, you may be offered sweets. Not in the common, western candy style, but usually from thin layers of rice paper, bean curd and other natural ingredients. The guest of honour will signal when it is acceptable to take a sweet and you should do so only after they have. This time is used by the host to warm both the tea pot and the tea. In some, more formal settings, the tea ceremony may include a seven course meal, sake and resting breaks – this can take up to four hours.

Japanese tea ceremony room

The tea for all guests is all made in the one bowl. Initially it is given, with a bow, to the guest of honour who takes a sips, rotates the bowl around as he passes it to another guest. Guests should take the tea with their left hand and carefully take notice of the positioning of hands, utensils and the other guests. The bowl is placed next to you and turned so you never drink from the side that was facing you. It’s picked up and drunk with the right hand. Once all the guests have drank from the bowl, they are invited to look and inspect the equipment used to make the tea. An additional bowl of tea is then made in the same way.

Sometimes guests have their own individual bowls, in this case it’s important to drink all of the contents. Again, you should place the bowl to the left of you and turn it 180 degrees. This shows great respect to your host – the side they presented to you was the best, but you are inferior and not worthy and so you drink from the opposite side.