Angela Strach-Gotthardt has parlayed her personal passion for tea, and the customs and traditions behind it, into the Secret Tea Society. Much more than a place to sit and sip, Angela aims to share the culture of tea and encourage thoughtful conversation among those gathered in the tradition of Parisian tea salons.
She has built a loyal following for her contemporary tea salon experiences, which she holds primarily at her home, a 1928 Greek Revival in the center of historic downtown Hudson. After a warm welcome and informal introductions, Secret Tea Society guests gather in the library, where Angela conducts a short lesson on the teas that will be served, including details of their origins and how they will be consumed. She then shares a topic or question that will guide the day’s conversation. From asking guests to share a grassroots movement they might like to start, to what anthropological clues they would leave to be discovered by a future generation, the gathering is as much about creating an opportunity for creative, enlightening conversation among women as it is about discussing the nuances of tea.
“There’s a beauty in taking the time to brew a pot of tea,” Angela explains. “It’s a calming, but alerting, ritual.”
Angela’s affection for tea began during her childhood. She remembers visiting her Oma in Tübingen, Germany, and enjoying tea and cake in a little café overlooking the Neckar River.
“I have been a tea drinker as long as I can remember,” she explains. “As the daughter of German immigrant parents, I recall we always had tea in our home. What I remember most about the experience is Abendbrot, a wonderful time at 5pm every Sunday when we’d enjoy tea as a family with wholegrain breads, cheeses, cold cuts, patés, pickles, and radishes.”
A career in fashion took her to New York and Europe where she expanded her interest in the cultural aspects of tea, and five years ago she became a certified tea specialist by the Specialty Tea Institute. She now travels the world to discover teas and traditions for her salons, and even presented her modern tea salon concept at the World Tea Expo.
As Angela further refined her extensive knowledge, she also began to collect tea services and implements from all over the world. While we, in America, reach for a hefty ceramic mug, in other cultures teas might be served in ornate, petite glassware, like Moroccan tea glasses or Turkish teacups. She is careful to select the correct drinking vessel or teapots for the tea that is being served.
“An iron tetsubin pot is perfect for serving Japanese sencha, and a gaiwan is wonderful for brewing and serving Chinese green teas, or oolongs from Taiwan. I have a tiny unglazed yixing pot from Yunnan Province in which I’ll brew a dark tea called pu’erh,” Angela says. Or guests might enjoy a cup of something more familiar like an English breakfast blend poured from one of her 25 vintage Ohio-made Hall teapots. (The Hall China Company was founded in 1903 in East Liverpool, Ohio).
Many tea traditions and customs vary depending on the country of origin, from the way in which the tea is served, the brewing time, the accompaniments, or the vessel. In China, tea is often handed to someone with open hands—a gesture that symbolizes an open and giving heart. Teas can be brewed in a teapot and poured into a cup or, as is the case with matcha, an intensely flavored Asian green tea, mixed right in the drinking cup and served immediately.
Angela takes great care to deliver a personal experience to her guests, right down to her the selection of accessories and small plates that will accompany her tea service. Meticulously prepared, but not fussy, her real focus is on hospitality. Angela always serves her teas with something savory, like paté or cheese, or sweet, like a delicate custard, layered torte, or fruit. Sometimes, it’s something more exotic, like oolong-steeped quail eggs.
While the experience Angela creates at the Secret Tea Society has some degree of propriety to it, the atmosphere and the experience at her tea salons is welcoming, congenial, and supportive.
“Indeed there are moments when something more formal might be called for, but feeling the need to set a perfect tea just adds self-imposed stress. Our belief at the Secret Tea Society is that it is a privilege, a gift, to pour someone a cup of tea and to invite them into a conversation,” Angela says.
Newcomers feel right at home, as do regular attendees. Laura Stropki, a published author and busy mom of two young children, is a regular attendee. “I love the idea that you can turn off your phone for a couple hours, take a step back and actually have a conversation. Angela is committed to pushing strong, independent women to band together and I think this is very important,” Laura says.
The Secret Tea Society reminds us that sharing a pot of tea over some elevated conversation is not reserved for the Downton Abbey crowd. You know that beautiful tea set you inherited from your grandmother—the one packed away for someday? Angela uses hers, daily.
“It is perfectly lovely to set a simple table with several teas, maybe an herbal, a green, and a black tea, with something sweet or savory as an accompaniment.,” Angela explains, then adds with a smile, “May I suggest something simple for your friend, a parent, or a new neighbor? Share the gift of time. Share the simple gift of tea and conversation.”
Learn more about the Secret Tea Society, upcoming salons, and Angela’s Tea and Culture Tours at SecretTeaSociety.com