Thursday, July 9, 2009

Adventures Inside the Tea Cart

Artist Michele Brody chats with a visitor outside 108 Orchard over tea served in cups passed down by her grandmother

Pick a nationality, and you're bound to find its variety of tea somewhere in the New York metro area: South African rooibos, British Earl Grey, green tea, or masala chai, a delicious blend of black tea, milk, spices, and sugar that my friend Kavita's mom, who grew up in a South Asian community in Kenya, would serve when I'd come to visit back in high school. (I've tried, and failed, to replicate the drink at home using a box of masala mixture Kavita gave me, and the sugary, mild Starbucks variety just can't compare.)

The universal quality of the steaming hot drink - it draws friends together in cafes and living rooms around the world, and is something immigrants bring with them when they settle, say, in the Lower East Side - is what artist Michele Brody had in mind when she set up a tea cart, designed to evoke the pushcarts that once crowded the neighborhood, in front of the museum shop earlier this summer, and invited passersby to drop inside.

While chatting in the handmade copper cart two weeks ago on the exhibit's opening night, Brody and I sipped, in keeping with an ancient Argentinian tradition, a ceramic bowl of Yerba Maté from a single straw. On display were two intricate Moroccan glasses, mugs of all shapes and sizes, and a pair of floral china cups passed down from Brody's grandmother, a descendant of Eastern European immigrants who took classes at the Henry Street Settlement here on the Lower East Side. (Brody herself grew up in Brooklyn and New Jersey).

Local cafes donated the tea leaves, and visitors (including a European tourist and a New York native who moved to Vietnam over a decade ago to run a business) supplied the stories that Brody will eventually transcribe onto tea-soaked paper bags and hang in the windows of 97 Orchard.

Come share your stories with Brody tonight from 4-7 pm outside 108 Orchard Street.

L. to r: Green tea, rooibos, and masala chai, a spicy South Asian tea

-posted by Liana Grey

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