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Perryville’s own Bruce Richardson in the news again.

The tea-he’s More men are savouring brew by the cup ¬†March 15, 2010


The 10 men bantered about their wives’ cooking, boxing greats and suits that fit too snugly.

This, however, was no sports bar meet-up or barbershop chat. Two hours earlier, Howard James, a co-proprietor of Tea Country in Philadelphia, had called the group to order by taking requests for a beverage steeped in centuries of elegant tradition.

“Can I have yerba mate?” asked regular Weller Thomas, 54, a travel magazine publisher who lives nearby.

James, 61, wearing a maroon apron stamped with his shop’s name, looked pleased.

“It has four times the antioxidants than green tea,” he told the men, the first of many tea tidbits he would pass along this afternoon. “It keeps you alert without the jitters.”

So began the third meeting of the budding Gentlemen’s Tea Club — one more indication of guys’ growing interest in the aromatic liquid.

Men, of course, have historically enjoyed the brew, including George Washington, but the rise of Victorian-era tea culture in the 19th century was a dealbreaker for many fellas. Now, America’s renewed interest in tea, particularly among men, has “gone into fifth gear,” said tea blender and author Bruce Richardson, owner of Elmwood Inn Fine Teas in Perryville, Ky. When he began tea talks two decades ago, he attracted mainly women. Now, men make up at least 20 per cent of the audience.

“A gentlemen’s tea club is right on for this time in our tea world,” said Pearl Dexter, editor and publisher of Tea A Magazine, who has noticed more male tea imbibers in her travels.

Even though the club makes sense, James himself seems an unlikely enthusiast of tea. “People are amazed I’m around,” he said.

He grew up in the rough James W. Johnson Homes in North Philadelphia, where gangs ran rampant. “I’ve been stabbed and stomped, all that kind of crazy stuff.” But he also was a Boy Scout, and mentors kept him at his studies, he said.

His interest in tea began as a requirement. As a master’s of business administration student, he had to create a new-venture business plan with two classmates. They chose a tea business.

When research showed tea was a growth industry, the trio invested in Tea Country as an online vendor in 2001 before opening the East Oak Lane shop in 2004.

“This is really a relaxation spot,” he said, noting that membership comes with no obligations beyond a $40 annual fee that includes the gatherings on the third Saturday of the month (and plenty of tea).

As the day’s guest speaker, Donald Schuler, Sr., talked about “taking charge of your body” and the pluses of fruits and vegetables, the men poured the rich brown liquid from mustard-coloured or white pots into patterned Chinese-style cups (no handles) and black mugs with a splash of colour. English teacups held with a raised pinky would be “too soft for the men,” James said with a chuckle.

Health was the topic of the day, prompting discussion of recipes for smoothies and how best to prepare greens. It’s the health benefits, and foodie allure, of tea that often attract the testosterone set.

“It’s a very easy way to alter your lifestyle,” said Joe Simrany, the tea association president.

As recently as January, tea was touted as a way for men to trim a belly after researchers found that men who drink more than two cups of tea a day have trimmer waistlines than men who drink coffee or nothing at all. (Alas, women didn’t see the same advantage.)

“You’re not going to see specialty tea advertised on the Super Bowl,” said Frank Viola, 60, of Rydal. But, he said, “men have a lot of issues. They want to take time to decompress. It doesn’t have to be alcohol or physical sports contact.”

For this group of men, at least, a hot cup of tea will do.

Philadelphia Inquirer

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