By LAUREN HOUGH / Journal Staff Writer
Judy Larkin, ¡®The Tea Lady,¡¯ displays a tea set and other gifts she received on a trip to China with the Specialty Tea Institute. (Journal photo by Martin B. Cherry)
MARTINSBURG ¡ª As a student of tea and a connoisseur of the storied beverage, Judy Larkin fulfilled one of her life¡¯s dreams by recently traveling to China and studying the country¡¯s tea growing and production methods.
Larkin, known as ¡°The Tea Lady,¡± was one of 18 members of the Specialty Tea Institute, a division of the Tea Association of the U.S.A., who were welcomed into the country on the trade delegation tour. The group spent 10 days in the country, attending banquets put on for them by various tea companies and visiting cities with members of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
¡°It was everything I expected, and more,¡± Larkin said.
A Manchester, England, native who only recently moved to Martinsburg from Virginia, Larkin said her idea of China was developed mostly from Pearl S. Buck¡¯s books and the stories told by her aunt, who worked as a nurse in the country. From age 3 on, Larkin always wanted to travel and see the sights for herself.
Though she works as a speaker giving presentations on the many facets of traditional tea services, Larkin was interested in more than just learning how the Chinese made a cup of tea ¡ª she wanted to learn about their culture, their way of dress, how they eat and more.
¡°The people there are so friendly. They have such vibrant, happy faces,¡± she said.
In her journeys between Shanghai, Changsha ¡ª where the 2007 Tea Convention was held ¡ª Huangshan and Beijing, Larkin got to see the country¡¯s unbelieveable fashions, ¡°on par with Europe¡¯s,¡± beautiful architecture and landscaping.
The delegation also enjoyed ¡°incredible¡± food, usually served in 21 courses.
¡°It was a really adventurous group,¡± said Larkin, who is also a food historian. ¡°Everybody tried everything.¡±
To further facilitate the building of relationships and networks between the two countries, Larkin packed gifts to present to government officials and other hosts to the delegation. Posters of downtown Martinsburg were rolled into a map of the state of West Virginia and packaged in a bag with a Golden Delicious apple, a piece of coal and other pictures and information on the state.
¡°They were absolutely delighted with them,¡± Larkin said. ¡°They will now know where we are.¡±
The Chinese tea companies are interested in breaking into the growing American market for tea, she said ¡ª and are also concerned with their image after tainted foods were recently exported from their country, and a rumor about the ways in which their tea leaves are dried was untruly spread.
Larkin noted that Chinese tea meets all European Union and other world standards, which are much higher than those in the United States.
¡°Their factories are so clean,¡± she said. ¡°They are so modern.¡±
In addition to learning about Chinese culture as a whole, Larkin was able to make several connections and contacts with others on the trip. Next weekend, she and her husband will attend the American Tea Expo in Atlanta, Ga., where she hopes to meet up with some of her new friends.
Next year, because of the Olympics, Larkin believes that interest in China will rise. Though she has focused her educational programs on tea from the Victorian era, she hopes to begin hosting Asian tea programs, introducing people to Chinese etiquette and the ceremony that surrounds their tea.
¡°I want to study Chinese tea culture,¡± she said. ¡°I want to go back and learn some of the Chinese tea ceremony.¡±
Larkin emphasized the enrichment that can be gained from seeing the world.
¡°You learn things about life and yourself and cultures that weren¡¯t on your agenda,¡± she said. ¡°We can all learn so much from each other.¡±
¡ª Staff writer Lauren Hough can be reached at (304) 263-8931, ext. 163, or at email@example.com