KENILWORTH, NJ — In honor of Black History Month, Kenilworth Historical Society invited certified tea educator Darlene Meyers-Perry to perform an African tea ceremony known as ataya. An ataya is an informal ceremony consisting of three rounds of tea, the first one bitter, the second one minty and the third is sweet.
“Every year we have an event for Black History Month,” Kenilworth Historical Society President Shirley Maxwell told LocalSource over the phone on Feb. 17. “This year we had a speaker with an extensive background. She’s traveled the world to learn how to prepare tea and describe its significance.”
Meyers-Perry talked about her childhood and how she learned to prepare tea with her mother. This inspired a love of tea which she eventually turned into a career.
“I dreamed of having my own tea company,” she said during the ceremony.
“I’m a certified tea educator and I traveled the world to learn about tea. I’d never heard of the African tea ceremony until Maxwell told me what she’d read about it. An ataya is an informal ritual that can be performed by anyone. People are known to be rowdy and tell stories during this tea ritual. They also give their honest opinion about the taste of the teas.
The ritual consists of three rounds, and everyone has their own interpretation as to what the rounds represent. Some say it represents a growing friendship and others say it represents the stages of life. The tea used in the ceremony isn’t from Africa. The idea was probably taken from the Moroccan tea ceremony due to the use of mint in the tea.”
The first round consisted of a gunmetal green tea from China. The bitter round’s “Temple of Heaven” green tea was prepared as drinkers were anxious to give it a taste.
“Never steep green tea in boiling water,” Meyers-Perry said. “It isn’t like black tea that needs to steep five minutes in boiling water.”
The tea drinkers seemed to agree that the first round was as bitter as they anticipated.
“It had a mild taste,” Helen Kuriawa of Kenilworth told LocalSource in an interview at the event. “It tasted much better than I expected. I thought it was supposed to be bitter.”
Mostly everyone agreed that the second round tasted the best. In addition to the tea, fruit, nuts, plantain chips and a chocolate coconut brownie were served. These were the foods that are traditionally served during tea ceremonies.
“The nuts can be tossed onto the ground to help fertilize the soil,” Meyers-Perry said. “The fruit helps wash down the tea. A kongo bar, or chocolate and coconut bar, is also traditionally served. Tea helps build relationships. I give a cup to my son’s crossing guard in the morning. Drinking tea together with friends is really a wonderful thing.”
Meyers-Perry recalled fondly upon her trip to Taiwan where she felt welcomed and enjoyed oolong tea, a mix between green and black tea with a floral aroma. She also described how tea leaves can be used in cooking.
“The second round was smooth tasting and relaxing,” Sue Sulenski of Kenilworth told LocalSource in an interview at the event.
The third round was supposed to be sweet, but it didn’t taste as sweet as everyone expected either.
“The third round had a smokey taste,” Shirley Edwards of Union told LocalSource in an interview at the event. “It was mild and not sweet at all. I don’t like sugar so if I tasted it, I wouldn’t like it.”
A cup of tea is a small gesture that can go along way. It took Meyers-Perry around the world, and it can connect people of different cultures which is important during turbulent times.
“In the world we live in nowadays we could use something that brings us all together,” Meyers-Perry said.