#Movember has been an incredible month as I have had the pleasure of talking with so many of our manly tea drinkers. In preparation, I must admit that my heart skipped a beat when Mr. James Norwood Pratt (referred to as JNP from here on out!) agreed to be interviewed for a month such as this! I mean, he's James Norwood Pratt. Ruler of the tea minions, author of tea lore and knowledge, tea drinking god among men.
I first met JNP at World Tea Expo 2010 when I had a total tea geek moment and waited for 20 minutes to have my picture taken with him. It was magical and well worth the wait. To be honest though, our relationship started way back in 2005 when I read the New Tea Lover's Treasury and began delving into the world of loose leaf tea. It's an incredible resource if you have never read it and I highly recommend it! That said, I so appreciated JNP's generosity with his time and allowing me to delve into that tea mind of his to talk Yunnan's, wine, the art of manly tea drinking and his newest book!
For the record, I did ask if he would be willing to grow a moustache for the month. While he wholeheartedly supports the cause, his vanity triumphed. He did, however, mention the documentary The Meaning of Tea and apparently he's sporting a full beard in that. I'm waiting for my copy to arrive!
Joy's Teaspoon: How did you get involved in tea?
JNP: The first book I ever wrote was on wine at a time when CA wine was first available around the country. No one knew about it and there was this kid in San Francisco that could tell them about it. Wine turned out to be the perfect preparation for writing about tea. Both are agricultural products that at best can be turned into a work of art. I owed my Publisher another book and by the time she was ready to collect I was being forced to drink tons of wine every week. I turned to tea in self defense. I needed a few hours of sobriety in a week. The first book I did about tea was for it's first couple of years a complete flop. No one in America in 1982 gave tea a thought, or a try. However, the few people that did buy the book were influential. and by 1992 people were seeking me out, telling me their favorite teas and asking me where to get this or that. We had begun developing a tea network. There has been a tremendous growth in the last 20 years right before our eyes. We certainly never imagined we would be able to pronounce some of those names.
Joy's Teaspoon: Have you ever taken any heat for drinking tea?
JNP: I believe that the idea that real men don't drink tea is a relic of some time of dinosaurs. It may have been true in other parts of the world, but let me tell you, if you come from the south as I do, iced tea is an important food group. There is no man there that doesn't look forward to iced tea all day long in that hot weather and it would never occur to anyone that it was reserved for females. The other thing that has happened is that Americans have joined the rest of the world as tea drinkers. We are not a tea consuming society, but we are getting there. As we become one, we grow more and more like the Chinese. A Chinese man would be totally non-plussed of you told him there was something feminine about drinking tea. It would never cross their mind.
Joy's Teaspoon: If your job was to encourage men to drink tea, what would be your message?
JNP: I don't think my message would be any different to men or women. I would say the same thing to you that I would say to my son who is almost 25. When he was in college, I kept him supplied with the same teas I was drinking. This boy, who grew up thinking it was very strange that none of his other friends parents drank tea, discovers that it is tea that makes him the most popular kid in St. John's College. At all hours, people would come by his room and he says "Have some, That one is a Drangonwell, That one comes from Ceylon." There wasn't any lack of interest with male or female students. Of course, a large part of his popularity was due to the personality he inherited from his father. But I cannot deny that the tea his father supplied played a large role.
Joy's Teaspoon: What's coming up in the world of tea that has you excited?
JNP: Very much like the wine world, the people that you meet in the tea world are really interested in the quality of that tea that they are producing, importing and drinking. There is something very honest about that. A man who produced Pinot Noir from Mendocino would be very proud of his Mendocino Pinot Noir. If you said "I've never had wine like this from Napa", he would say "This is from Mendocino". Of course, Napa is much more vaulable and prestigious. But no, he's proud of what he does there in Mendocino. There is a basic honesty to people in this community and it has to do with what's in the cup. There's no fooling you. There's no desire to fool you. He wants you to know that his is a glass of wine from Mendocino where he grew this, produced this. Same goes for tea. Then too, I like the community aspect. We in the tea world are members of one single world wide community. It starts with the tea producers on the hillside plucking that leaf and moves to the packagers, importers, distributors right down to us; the pople that love it and talk about it and drink all we can. There's a lovely feeling that goes across all national boundaries and languages. You can pour a cup of tea for someone who's language you don't understand, but you will smile at each other and understand something together. It's the international drink.
Joy's Teaspoon: Do you have any special tea projects?
JNP: I've just received my first shipment of my new book, The Ultimate Tea Lover's Treasury. It's the fruit of 30 years of tea. I am very proud of it. It's the book that I keep re-writing and it's never the same because you always know more than you did 10 years ago.
Joy's Teaspoon: What's your favorite stand-by?
JNP: My favorite morning tea at present is Yunnan black. Tea lovers just cannot swear allegiance to one type of tea though. It's a mood drink. I only feel like jasmine tea on days when the sun is out. These things come and go and after enjoying Yunnan every morning for a few months I will switch to a Keemun or who know's what. I don't know why either! We tea drinkers are a profound bunch. Again, a huge thank you to Mr. James Norwood Pratt for allowing me a few moments of his time and his graciousness in helping to support Movember and it's efforts to change the face of men's health. Visit our Movember.com Team Mo Tea page for more information on how you can join our team, make a donation or to find information regarding men's health issues.