Generational Infusions – Tea and Influence


Influence is like multiple tea infusions: it takes time to discover how far, how rich and how deeply it goes. Here my grandparents hold the beautiful baby girl who one day would become my mother. Although the handsome young couple in this snapshot do not know me yet, after a score of years or more they will. They will meet me when the time is ripe.

This generation’s infusion served their children. There is enough left in the family leaf to infuse their grandchildren with their influence. Time develops influence which lasts beyond what we see presently.

“Keep living.” This is what adults would tell us children whenever we shared with them a situation we faced seemed unreasonable, insurmountable, and downright unfair. Those two words served as shorthand for the sentiment expressed in the Langston Hughes’ poem ‘Mother to Son’.

Even though my grandparents are no longer here, I recall how every February my grandmother would remind us that

‘if [we] could make it through February, [we] will March on through.’ – Lillian I. Carter

Do I still miss my Gram after all these years? Certainly. However, love is stronger than the grave. The memories turn sweeter than an oolong aroma cup as time passes. Seeing much of my Gram in my mother, I begin to comprehend how time spent with those we love and admire influences each of us tangibly.

Pu’erh: Tea Over Time

All tea originates from the Camellia Sinensis plant. Herbals, like lavender, peppermint, chamomile and rooibos, are not tea. Everything infused, i.e. steeped, is not tea no matter what the teabag says.

Now that we’re clear, shall we return to the tea discussion?

Pu’erh (pronounced ‘pu-ahr’ or  ‘Bo lay’ in Cantonese) is the intricately processed tea designed to gain both taste and value the older it becomes. Named for Pu-erh county located in Yunnan China, a pu’erh base may be green or black tea, raw or ripe, and made in loose leaf or cake form. Other areas produce aged tea, but as you can well imagine, Yunnan-based tea producers are diligently preserving their formulas.

Most well stored tea has an approximate two-year shelf life. A three-year pu’erh tea is considered extremely young. Similar to wine, the more decades a pu’erh has documented, the more investment required.

Exactly how pu’erh is made remains a closely guarded Chinese state secret and there are at least as many counterfeits sold as genuine pu’erh tea. There is one way to tell the difference between the real and the fake: taste it. It is what it is. When it comes down to it, what’s in the cup doesn’t lie.

Thankfully, we ‘re  beginning to see and to taste more authentic pu’erh tea within the United States.

Some are excited about its proven health benefit towards helping lower cholesterol levels. I find its earthy, rich flavor that mellows and deepens over multiple infusions intoxicating. It is a tea for which rushing is not an option. Considering how long it took, it seems disrespectful not to slow down and pause over the multiple infusions offered.

Pu’erh proves that greatness requires time, skill and patience. Like influence, it takes a process to cultivate and even more to maintain a flavor profile that endures. Whatever the process, it is worth it and grows more valuable over time.

Cups up good tea people!


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