Teas the Season: Gary Johnson’s Tea Story
Quiet and introspective, Gary Johnson, Community Relations Developer at Valley Natural Foods, is always interested in infusing his life with more culture and learning, especially as it relates to utilizing the environment’s resources in sustainable ways to grow food and to craft useful structures. Sometimes throughout this journey he is surprised with inspiration, often discovered in the most unusual places. Thus, Johnson’s trail into the world of daily tea drinking was a stumble upon of sorts, not as lineal as most.
Flipping through the channels a few years ago, Johnson came across a series of documentaries on Twin Cities Public television (PBS) about St. John’s Pottery in Collegeville, Minnesota, which is part of St. John University’s campus. Fascinated and engrossed with the intricate pottery creations of artist-in-residence, Richard Bresnahan, Johnson immediately wanted to not only visit the studio, but he wanted to meet him too.
While visiting St. John’s Pottery, he noticed that the potters took a break at 3:00 p.m. for their afternoon tea. The aroma was invigorating and when he finally met with Bresnahan, the conversation quickly moved from pottery to tea drinking. Johnson learned that the afternoon tea that Bresnahan enjoyed most was a simple, ordinary green, sencha tea. “Sencha” means “simmered tea” referring to how the tea is made without grinding the leaves. Sencha is a fresh, bright quintessential Japanese green tea that can be enjoyed all day long.
Inspired by Bresnahan’s tea drinking ways, Johnson went back to the co-op on a quest to discover his signature teas. He fell in love with Frontier’s sencha and gunpowder green teas and sechung special oo-long black tea found in Valley Natural Foods’ bulk department.
This inspiration and journey hasn’t created a casual tea consumption for Johnson, but rather a lifestyle change. Now Johnson drinks tea five to six days a week, often consuming five cups daily. He relays that tea offers him longer lasting energy throughout the day than coffee, helping stabilize his blood sugar. In addition, Johnson says that black and green teas have less caffeine than coffee, providing him with a warm beverage that he can drink all day long, even before he goes to bed at night.
When it comes to brewing tea, he jokes that tea connoisseurs may find his methods a bit unconventional. Traditionally, exact practices exist around the quantity of tea used and how hot the water should be. However, the matter of time taken and the amount of tea used is not as important to Johnson as is the color when he is finished. To achieve a concentrated tea hue, Johnson’s daily ritual follows these non-precise but necessary steps to make his five cups of green tea daily:
- Measure out two heaping tablespoons of dried loose leaf tea and set aside.
- Fill a five-cup glass container with water.
- Place container in the microwave for 12 -14 minutes or until it boils.
- Boil the water until a very small, bubble of steam, called a fish eye, emerges; then you know it reached the right temperature.
- Place the tea in the water, let sit for a non-exact time period until the color of the tea is deep and concentrated. Place a saucer on top of the container to keep it warm.
- Dump the tea-infused water through a strainer to a smaller measuring cup.
- Warm-up several thermos to receive the brewed tea.
As he sits by the fireplace at Valley Natural Foods, relaxing with a cup of tea, Johnson reminds people how this drink is an inexpensive luxury. He indicates that there are many colorful and flavorful black, white and green teas to try and each can help you enjoy your day a little more, helping organize your thoughts and simply relax. He says that you can experiment with many teas, these little inexpensive bits of luxuries, collecting and learning more as you go. Perhaps you will get stuck on several as Johnson has, and in his words you can “knock yourself out and have fun with it.”