Category: Tea & Travel

Tea & Travel Chapter 2: Oregon Chai and Two Books on Montserrat

Welcome Back to Tea & Travel (in Books!)

Tea & Travel (in Books!) is Nightborn Travel’s series on chai tea and historic/cultural books pertaining to the locations where we’ve traveled.

This time around I will be looking at some homebrewed chai tea due to the Covid-19 social distancing, and Yvonne Weekes’ Volcano and David Gea’s Through My Lens. These cover what life on Montserrat was like when the volcano there started to erupt.

Introducing Chai Tea At Home… Oregon Chai

TL;DR

Atti the lovebird diligently makes notes on the tea as I taste it.

Oregon Chai (Original) probably has one of the most accessible chai flavors for Americans. Since you are making it yourself, you can determine how sweet you want your drink to be. I like to go for a more milky drink with a nice, subtle flavor.

The Location

Home. I write this to all of you during the Coronavirus quarantine. So, if you need something to try from your couch, this might be it.

The Chai Tea

Oregon Chai has several different options to try out. This time, I am reviewing their powder mix in the original flavor. I like to make mine by frothing some milk with a whisk in a pot. Usually it gets to be the perfect froth right around the time it wants to start boiling. Then I mix that with maybe a tablespoon, or a tablespoon and a half of the Oregon chai powder.

I would rate this chai latte pretty highly, but primarily because I can adjust it to my tastes easily (3.5/5). Again, I like the flavor of sugary, Americanized chai; this would likely not be enjoyed by someone looking for a spicy flavor.

Oregon Chai is primarily a sweet chai. And one which I think you can make a bit too powerful if you add a lot of the powder into your milk. To gauge how much flavor you want, you might consider starting with less and adding more bit by bit until you get the flavor intensity that you like. I prefer to keep this one pretty subtle so that I get a nice balance between the sweetness and the milky goodness.

Through My Lens and Volcano Book Reviews

A Window into History and Human Experience

I’m one of many people who have been fascinated by what happened in Montserrat. While I was there, I picked up David Gea’s Through My Lens, a memoir by the man who owns and runs Hilltop Coffee. (I am even lucky enough to say that I have a signed copy from him.) But as I was reading through this account of the volcano on Montserrat, I found myself wanting to get more than one perspective on the experience. So I also picked up Yvonne Weekes’ Volcano. Reading these two accounts of life on Montserrat pre- and post-volcano has been a wonderful lesson in the history of the island, but also the ways in which people experience momentous events in different ways. If you are interested in this (or any other historical event), I would definitely suggest trying to find more than one memoir to learn from.

Volcano by Yvonne Weekes

TL:DR

Yvonne’s book is a very poetic, and emotional retelling of her experience with the ongoing volcanic eruption of Montserrrat. It’s less of a story about the volcano, and more of a peek into the experience of loss, betrayal, and the search for self in the wake of an immense natural disaster that few can understand. Yvonne is an amazing author. Her short memoir is worth the read even if you aren’t interested in Montserrat particularly.

Quick Summary

Volcano is a deeply personal account of the author. So, to be honest, I am struggling to summarize it in a way that gives it justice. Consider this my best attempt, but not the most eloquent recap of the story. In the first section of the book, Yvonne brings the reader along as she returns to Montserrat as a young girl with her family, and recounts the racism that she experienced during her time in England. This puts the warm world of Montserrat in stark contrast to the harsh world of the UK. It is clear why Yvonne loves Montserrat so much. Why the island means the world to her.

All of this helps the reader to understand what it means when the volcano awakens. And why Yvonne and so many others tried to stay on the island for so long. She recounts the heavy ashfalls, the constant fear, and toll that all the destruction took on the people of Montserrat as more and more were relocated from their homes to shelters in tents, schools, and churches. The volcano makes life difficult and dangerous, but the lack of care from Britain also makes people suffer as well.

Eventually, Yvonne finds that she must leave Montserrat for the safety of herself and her son. She moves to Barbados, and from the reading, her heart and soul ache for home… for Montserrat. But the volcano makes going home impossible. She struggles with poverty as she restarts her life, as well as heartbreak (which she beautifully communicates through her poetry in the text). Eventually she finds that the memories of Montserrat give her the strength to face whatever the future has to offer.

Brief Review

Like I said above, while Yvonne’s book is not long, it is impossible to properly summarize it. She weaves her story so artfully, moving between memories so fluidly that it’s easy to follow, but hard to explain. Yvonne is a real artist, and the poems towards the end of the book communicate some of the most intense emotions that I have experienced reading a book in recent memory.

In terms of history, she doesn’t cover the timeline of the volcano in a thorough manner. But she does explain the loss better than I could imagine that almost anyone else could. Seeing the volcano now as a visitor, you can only guess at the pain felt by the people who used to live in beautiful Plymouth. But Yvonne will get you close to understanding, and you will feel something when you read her writing.

She also goes beyond the tragedy of the volcanic eruptions… by explaining the experience of the complicated relationship that Montserrat has with Britain.

In short, this is the perfect book to learn more about the volcanic eruptions on Montserrat because it is beautiful, emotional, and shares the human story of a tragedy. I’d highly suggest this book to anyone.

Through My Lens by David Gea

TL:DR

David’s story is a fascinating one. His passion for recent Montserratian history is lovingly apparent in the little details that he includes in his telling. His writing style is casual, and while charming, lacks some of the finesse that you would expect in a novel. If you don’t mind the self-published feel, you won’t be disappointed in the story.

Quick Summary

David Gea is an American who moved to Montserrat for his ministry, and due to the kind and welcoming character of the island. Him and his wife started their family there, and they were able to raise their children amidst the friendly hustle and bustle of Plymouth. They have fond memories of the many beautiful places that have since been rewritten by the volcano. He also takes some time to remember some of the people that touched their lives in special ways during that time. These memories, while unfamiliar to most readers, paint a picture of the community that called Montserrat home at the time.

While David remains a dedicated minister to this day, and throughout his story, the volcano gives him a second purpose when it awakens- capturing its activities and all of the changes that it brings on film. From the initial activity on the slopes of the mountain in 1995 until the area was deemed to dangerous for exploration, David could be found driving, and hiking the mountain with his camera on hand. He helped documentary and scientific crews from around the world. And his films have provided some of the only footage of rare and previously unknown volcanic events.

This book is a retelling of his time on Montserrat and the adventure that he embarked on through film as life on the island changed forever.

Brief Review

David Gea shares the historic jewels of Hilltop Coffee.

This book is a passion project… or that’s what it felt like to me when I was reading it. And there is something really special about getting to share in something built from so much love and excitement; it’s almost contagious. Now, I’m not saying that David speaks of the tragic events surrounding the volcanic destruction on Montserrat lightly. He has experienced the impact that it had on people’s lives and the island first hand. David has lost friends during the course of the many years that the island has been reshaped by its volcano.

But with his faith in hand, he presents an inspirational look at how disaster can bring new flavors to our lives. He takes up film-making, and he learns as much as he can about volcanos. He becomes a part of a small community of people who study and photograph these powerful forces of nature. It changes his life. There’s something really special and heartening about silver linings like these, and I really felt like his passion for all things Montserratian and all things volcanic comes through in the book.

The primary weak point is that this has a decidedly “self-published” feel, from the formatting to the narrative itself. At times, the love for history devolves into descriptions of people and places that most readers have no context for. And sometimes the timeline becomes unclear due to the way that the story is told. Important elements of the story aren’t always clear, while seemingly superfluous elements are told with loving care.

Final Thoughts

All that being said, if a less polished style of writing doesn’t bother you, I think that David’s writing comes across as charmingly genuine and it feels like a story that a friend might tell you. In that way, I think that this book is a really personal look into someone’s experience of life on Montserrat. The details that don’t make sense to an outsider, might bring back fond memories for someone who knew the people that David recalls. Furthermore, I think that this book does an amazing job painting a picture of what life on Montserrat before the volcano was like. I found myself really mourning the loss of Plymouth and the community there, as well as the seemingly endless beauty of the southern part of the island.

In short, I think that this book is well worth your money if you are looking for a unique and personal account of life during the Montserrat volcanic eruptions.

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Tea & Travel Chapter 1: Cha Cha’s Tea Lounge and The Kansa Indians

Welcome to Tea and Travel (in Books!)

I’m about to dive into building Nightborn’s visitor guide to Kansas. As a preface to that temporary shift in gear here, I’d like to introduce a new series that I’ve been thinking about for a while now called the Tea and Travel Series.

Basically, I am going to do a short review of a book and a spot for chai tea in a single post. The books that I will be reviewing will be focused on culture and history. Both as they relate to places that we have or will be traveling to. The chai, on the other hand, will be from various places in the Metro-Phoenix area. Thus, the series will serve as a solid bridge between our Arizona posts and our short guides.

Introducing Cha Cha’s Tea Lounge

TL;DR

If you love tea, you really must check this place out! It will be immediately apparent to you that the people who own, and run this little shop really take tea seriously. The quality is high and the flavors are unique and genuine.

The Location

Cha Cha’s Tea Lounge is in downtown Phoenix, in a very cool part of Grand that has become home to some amazing food and artists in recent years.

I absolutely love the atmosphere of this cute little tea shop. There is a lot of warm wood. They have a corner of the shop with a couple comfy armchairs to relax in, and with a few themed books on hand to peruse. While relaxing with your drink, you will have the time to observe all of the little details about this place. There are little crystals in the window, things hanging from the rafters, and a very interesting clock on the wall. Cha Cha’s also has some adorable stuff on sale throughout the shop- mostly tea themed. As a major tea fan, I loved all elements of this little shop!

They also happen to be located right next to a fairly large parking area. So while parking elsewhere on Grand can be a bit difficult, that is no problem here. And if you want to walk around with your drink, they are also near some very bohemia shops and some beautiful street art.

The Chai Tea

The chai tea at Cha Cha’s is a home brew, which I love! I will 100% continue to review shops with mass produced chai tea, but it’s always way more fun to find places with their own chai.

I would also rate Cha Cha’s spiced chai latte highly (4/5). Please note that I lean towards enjoying sweet chais over more traditional flavors.

Cha Cha’s chai has a hearty, spicy flavor with very strong ginger undertones. While primarily spicy, this chai had just enough sweetness to it that I didn’t feel the need to add any sugar. Cha Cha’s will also make you some mean milk foam. Mine survived my whole drink, and I really enjoy milk foam, so I found this delightful.

Book Review: The Kansa Indians: The History of the Wind People

Looking for Books on the Indigenous History of Kansas

The book that I will be reviewing today is William E. Unrau’s 1971 The Kansa Indians: The History of the Wind People, 1673-1873. I wanted to learn more about the indigenous people of Kansas. Truth be told, I was unable to find many options that covered a little bit of culture and history in one. To top that all off, there isn’t a lot out there about the Kansa- the people for whom the state was eventually named. This book was the only one I found that fit the bill. So, is it worth reading?

TL:DR

This is a very dry book, but it tells an extremely tragic story that deserves to be told… and known. If you enjoy learning more about history and culture, and you can deal with academic writing, I think this is a fascinating read. It is very sober, however.

Quick Summary

The first part of this book focuses on the culture of the Kansa people, or shares as much about their traditions as we currently know. I always love reading about how other people did or do see the world and their ways of surviving in it. That being said, most of the book is devoted to a very in-depth look at what is essentially decline of the Kansa people post-contact with Europeans.

This was a relatively small group of people that were essentially subject to waves of epidemics. And they struggled to hold their place in a world that was in flux. The historic tellings that we have now made the final generations of Kansa peoples seem like they were in a constant state of war with other tribes living in Kansas. They also struggled with poverty. This was caused by the fact that the Kansa lifestyle was heavily focused on big game hunts, rather than agricultural production. As their reservation was continually downgraded, the Western life style was eventually forced on them.

There is a constant march of new Europeans throughout the book. They include the Spanish explorers and traders, and French fur traders. Finally, the Americans who eventually caused problems via squatting on Kansa lands arrived. Interestingly, however, there are a few key Kansa historical figures (such as White Plume) who can be followed through much of the story. This really illustrates the pure chaos that the Kansa had to deal with as their lands and way of life was slowly stripped from them.

From beginning to end, you will be walked through all of the small and large disasters. These eventually led to the extinction of a culture that once called Kansas home. It is an extremely heartbreaking historical account.

Brief Review

I honestly think that this book will be far too dry for most readers. It is really an academic text (complete with references throughout), and it reads like one. That being said, I don’t think that this is a story that’s often told. So, if you enjoy learning about new cultures, are interested in learning more about the history of Kansas, and/or want to educate yourself about what indigenous Americans had to survive as the US was being colonized, this book is really fascinating.

I enjoyed reading it, in so far as I thought that learning more about the Kansa experience was important.

That being said, besides being dry, this book is written from the European perspective beginning to end. I think that the author did their best at the time to take the Kansa perspective. There is no real Kansa input on this text, however, due to the loss of this culture. Anyone who reads The Kansa Indians should take this into account. And take things presented as fact (particularly in regards to their culture and perspective) with a grain of salt.

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