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Much can be conveyed through a cup of tea. Sharing tea helps me greet visitors and welcome them into my space. The kind of tea I serve them might depend on their openness to trying something different, their sensitivity to caffeine, or their own notions about tea. Every person drinks from their cup with a different understanding of what tea is; there is a baseline individuality of such a small, sensory experience. I guess the same is true of life.

What I find beautiful about introducing something as complex and nourishing as tea lies in the range of preferences, connections, and histories with tea. But that means there is a vulnerability of not knowing if something I love will be equally loved by others. In a similar way, I also cannot predict when someone else’s enthusiasm will bring attention to things I might have overlooked on my own.

If not for my grandmother, I never would have known this tea. Chrysanthemum tea, more familiar to me as juhua 菊花, is made from the flowers of autumn native to China. It blooms late in the year, taking its time after summer warmth has faded and bringing with it the first clips of winter.

Maybe I’ll be drinking it more this month and thinking of my grandmother while I do. Born in October, her given name, 菊芬 jufen, follows this flower, 菊花 juhua. Because of her namesake, a mug of these white flowers remains a constant presence around my grandparent’s apartment. There is simply no other tea she likes better.

I happened across the packages of juhua my grandma had gifted us this year and the year before. In truth, I never much enjoyed the tea growing up. The taste was so different from the green teas I was used to. I was overwhelmed by the newness of herbal tones, flowers tickled my lips whenever I tried to drink my te,a and I didn’t enjoy the flavor even mixed in with other teas. But as with many things as we age, there is something like a renewed curiosity or a wider understanding that brings us back to that which before, had only existed in memory.

My first time drinking juhua came after asking my grandmother to try some for myself. The mug in front of me was covered in yellow buds, flowers littering the entire surface of the water. I couldn’t avoid the petals climbing into my mouth, had no way of easing myself into the soft flavor of white flowers. For a lifetime drinker of juhua, this was the finest enjoyment. An abundance of gold shining onto the white ceramic of the cup, a deep sustained flavor emboldened throughout the water. But for a beginner like me, it was a bit of a lot. Making for myself this time around, I only use five or six buds. For me, that’s enough for a few brews. Since I save caffeinated green and red teas for mornings, the yellowy juhua gently carries me into my afternoons.

When my grandmother first shared her most cherished tea with me, my response was a bit lukewarm and unimaginative perhaps. We cannot help the honesty of our likes and dislikes. But I am glad I found it again, almost as though her persistent enjoyment of the tea permeated our house through the gifts of dried flowers left in our cupboard.

There are many health benefits, uses for mental clarity and focus, and aids in recalibration offered by chrysanthemum tea. Since the flowers are caffeine free, it can both increase focus and also calm nerves for sleep. Understood in Traditional Chinese Medicine as having cooling properties, it can help remedy symptoms of an overly hot body - reduce inflammation, fevers, high blood pressure, indigestion, and such. Even with its immense healing potential, our health always needs to be considered holistically, giving consideration to all aspects of lifestyle and environment. Still, those are quite good reasons to drink juhua. Though for me, I simply enjoy seeing the colors of autumn in the water’s hue and feeling warmed by the familiarity of a bit of my family’s history.

Though I am no expert, I think tea drinking really comes down to a matter of preference. The best way to enjoy tea is by trusting your tastes and listening to them. I encourage you to visit our home (at Coffee Lab <3) and try it for yourself, understand something more about your own tastes when it comes to tea. I have no idea what it will convey to you, but I hope you feel welcomed by it, nonetheless.

- Emily


About the Author

Emily Guo

Alumnus at Northwestern University 

Writer at Ignitus Digital Evanston

hobbies: drinking tea, wiggling to music, naming plants after food

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