Ms. Cymantia Tomlinson recently taught a course called "A Tea Experience, Jamaican Style". Students who took this course learned about the healing properties of various bush teas and created their own signature blends using exotic spices and organic ingredients. They were also able to sample delectable Jamaican desserts as part of the experience.
I was not able to attend, but Ms. Tomlinson was kind enough to let me interview her and share her passion for tea with all of you. Enjoy our conversation!
Q. You recently conducted a course called "A Tea Experience, Jamaican Style". What made you want to teach this course?
The idea came to me after I hosted a get together at my home. I shared with my family and friends a chai tea recipe that I created and they loved it. I then thought I should share my love for tea with others. Drinking tea was a regular part of my life and never thought anyone would care, until the dinner party. While planning the workshop, I discovered that there were tea businesses popping-up all across the country, so it reaffirmed that there was a market for it. The course was offered through the Mt. Airy Learning Tree, which is a local non-profit in Philadelphia.
Q. How did you learn about the healing properties of tea?
The healing property of tea or herbs has been with me since my youth. I remember my mother always having a tea for something. If I had an allergic reaction, my mother made tea. If I had a stomach ache, she made tea. If I was sick in any way, she had a tea or “bush” she could boil to cure me or alleviate my symptoms until nature did its thing. Jamaica is a wonderful culture that is steeping with ancestral knowledge. The use of herbs for healing is all throughout the culture, thanks to the influence of the Spanish, English, East Indian, African, and the Arawak Indian inhabitants of the land. My knowledge evolves constantly and I love sharing my discoveries.
Q. What did your attendees learn from you that they've never heard before?
Attendees of the workshop were like-minded tea lovers, so they already had some knowledge of some of the things I shared. One of the highlights of the course was the response to Jamaican chocolate tea. Jamaican chocolate tea is a rich delicious tea that is made from cacao seeds. The manufacturing process is quite arduous, but the result is delicious goodness. It’s nothing like the hot chocolate that most of us are use to. They were very surprised to find out the heart health benefits from drinking it. They were also surprised to discover that the ingredients in one of my chai tea recipes could help with things from gastrointestinal discomfort to increasing the libido.
Q. Were most of your attendees of Jamaican descent or was there a multicultural audience?
None of the attendees was of Jamaican decent, which made the workshop so fulfilling. When you spend your life immersed in a particular culture, the things of that culture don’t strike you as special. All you know if that you enjoy it. I didn't think my knowledge of tea was unique until others made a big fuss. The excitement was very encouraging.
Q. Where did you get your teaching materials (like the tea leaves and spices)?
I purchased some of my ingredients from Penzeys Spices, Whole Foods, and my local West Indian market.
Q. Did your students get to taste each other's blends? Which one was the favorite?
Three teas were prepared. One was a chai, which is a spiced milk based tea. I’m vegan friendly so I opted to make my chai with a non-milk based product, such as almond milk. The other tea was the Jamaican chocolate tea, and the third was an iced tea made from orange zest. Participants had an opportunity to bring home spices to try out their own creativity. Some of the spices offered were cardamom, star anise, nutmeg, and cinnamon. There was also lemon grass and peppermint.
Q. Tell me more about these wonderful desserts! Do certain desserts go better with certain teas?
In my opinion, drinking tea should be an experience. In our hectic lives, we often don’t have time to just slow down and enjoy a moment, so eating a dessert provided an opportunity to heighten the experience. I offered traditional Jamaican treats; Excelsior crackers with guava jelly and Shirley biscuits. There are no rules, so it’s whatever you feel will give you a piece of heaven in that moment of tea bliss.
Q. Do you see yourself offering a course like this in the future?
I foresee offering a course like this again in the future. Honestly, I would love the opportunity to make this into a business, but who knows what the future holds. I have many ideas.