GTPulse: Suttons Bay Woman Looking For Places to Perform Tea Ceremonies for Year-Long Challenge

Much of my workday is fueled by caffeine. Whether it’s coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon or and energy drink to push through a late night, my caffeine routine usually includes some kind of chaos or time-sensitive task. Michelle Racich wants people to slow down to enjoy a cup of tea. Way, way down.

You may be surprised to know that tea flavors like chamomile, chai, lemon ginger and others aren’t actually considered tea. At least not in traditional Asian culture.

“We just have tea here. Camellia sinensis is the plant, which is where all actual tea comes from. So think like grapes, there are grapes that make red wines and white wine. There are tea plants that lend themselves better to be processed as a green tea, some as Oolong, some as a black tea.”

Michelle is an expert on Asian tea and tea ceremony. She owns and runs Plum Blossom Tea in Suttons Bay and has trained under a mentor who lived in Japan. Her interest in traditional tea services rooted in her interest in Asian culture as a whole.

“I started training in the martial arts when I was in college. I trained in tae kwon do until we moved, well, until I got married. Stayed with tae kwon do through my first degree, in and out of having kids.”

She knows many different kinds of tea ceremonies, with one of the more complex being a traditional Japanese service with matcha. The service she performed when I was visiting with her was a simple Chinese gongfu ceremony. She chose an Oolong tea to use.

“Tea that’s green is tea that’s been harvested and then heated right away to stop the oxidation process. Tea that is in the category of Oolong is tea that is somewhere between very lightly oxidized to very heavily oxidized.”

The service was prepared on a wooden tray with shallow motes that collected and elegantly distributed any spilled hot water. Michelle had a pot of temperature set hot water that she used to fill up the cup with the Oolong tea in it. She poured the steeped batch of Oolong into a pot and then distributed that between both of our small, handleless teacups until that batch ran out to be started again. Each time she poured more hot water over the Oolong, the leaves became plumper as they started to retain more water. Michelle said we could steep that serving around 12 times. I was impressed with the regiment of the process, but Michelle said that the gongfu service is considered casual, especially in comparison to the Japanese service where there are many more steps involved and guests sit on the floor.

The service Michelle and I had was one of many she does at the shop. She is looking for local places she can go to perform traditional tea ceremonies for a year-long series where she is having at least one ceremony a week somewhere outside of the tea shop, a challenge she set for herself at the beginning of the year.

“I wanted to do a ceremony a week in a different place because we do them on Saturdays here, and I thought it would be really easy, but it’s surprising how many people I’ve had to ask that I already know.”

She has a bunch on the schedule for April and May at Suttons Bay Library, Traverse Area District Library and at Mundo’s in Traverse City, but she’s still looking for other places where she can share her love and knowledge of tea ceremonies.

“I’ve been enjoying taking it to different places.”

Michelle also is going to start a matcha bar where customers can quickly grab a fresh bowl of match to-go, this isn’t your typical cafe matcha and you won’t find any foam or milk to add to it.

“That is not ceremonial matcha,” she said.

Although I didn’t get to witness a Japanese tea ceremony, people interested in experiencing it can do so at Plum Blossom. Michelle said that a tea service is a lovely way to commemorate a life milestone or spend time with loved ones.

“Families, weddings, going back to college. Lots of lovely things. It’s a nice way to celebrate a special day.”

Categories: GTPulse