Pour Favor: Tea Exhibit at the Fowler Museum
Most of us tend to think of tea as being calming, peaceful, quiet. Not Beatrice Hohenegger. For the past 10 years, the author of Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea from East to West (St. Martin's Press) has traveled the globe studying the rich, often troubling history of the stuff. She's been to the enormous tea plantations of Assam, India, and seen the dire conditions of the workers. She's studied how and why the tea trade triggered the vicious Opium Wars between England and China in the 19th century. "It's not all dainty Victorian ladies drinking tea," Hohenegger says. "There's a dark side to it."
For "Steeped in History: The Art of Tea," an exhibit she curated opening this Sunday at the Fowler Museum, Hohenegger hand-picked a staggering collection of furniture, scrolls, paintings and teapots (one of them 1,000 years old) to chart the progress of tea from ancient China to the West.
Legend has it that about 5,000 years ago, a few tea leaves accidentally fell into a pot of boiling water, and Chinese emporer Shen Nong (pictured) tasted some and liked it. From there, it made its way to Japan (see the gorgeous Japanese tea ceremony set on display), the Netherlands, the States and the U.K. (Yup, early colonial Americans started drinking tea before the Brits.) Today, it's the second-most consumed drink, after water, in the world.
LACMA Nambang Yeomje Lord of the Southern Quadrant, the Fiery Emperor, Shen Nong, Korean, 18th century
In case you want to brush up on the basics before delving into the art, stop at the handy look-and-sniff table with little bowls of different varieties, including the pancake-like Puer cake and powdery Matcha. Other highlights: depictions of lesser-known tea parties outside of Boston; some of the first manuscripts ever written about tea, coffee and chocolate, borrowed from the Library of Congress; and a handful of tiny, unglazed Yixing teapots, distinctive for their ability to take on the flavor of the tea after prolonged use.
Steeped in History: The Art of Tea," runs Aug. 16-Nov. 29 (curator lecture Sat., Sept. 12, 4-5 p.m.), Fowler Museum, 308 Charles E. Young Drive North, 310-825-4361.