I wake up at 4 a.m. to the sound of an imam chanting the Muslim call to prayer from the loudspeaker of a nearby mosque in Srinagar, India. At this early hour, darkness still envelops the city, the largest in India’s northernmost state of Jammu and Kashmir.
Normally, I am not an early riser, but today I hurry to dress in my salwar kameez and meet my driver, Mohd Shafi, who brings me to the shore of Dal Lake. With its traditional houseboats and floating gardens, Dal plays an integral role in the city’s commerce and culture.
At this early hour, my plan is to visit the town’s floating market, held each day before dawn breaks. A lone boatsman meets us at the lake’s docks and rows his red-carpet-draped shikara, a traditional wooden boat, onto the cool and misty lake. There is no one nearby as far as I can see, but then, with not a single light around us, I can’t really see anything.
Suddenly, from the foggy gray mist, another boatsman emerges with vegetables stacked on his long narrow boat, then another with fresh flowers, and yet another selling tea. It’s as if an entire city has awakened from the peripheries of the calm waters. Slowly, the fog lifts. Beyond the lake, the towering Himalaya mountains appear, and around me, lotus flowers bloom in the wetlands. It is a magical sight.
It’s here that I meet the kahwa shikara, or the floating tea vendor. He enthusiastically rattles in his broken English, “I am selling Kashmiri saffron kahwa — 16 varieties mix!” trying to attract the attention of those who may need a pick-me-up.
While balancing barefoot on his delicate, low-slung boat, he inserts hot coals into a brass kettle, or samovar, and serves small cups of tea to other vendors, mainly fruit, flower and vegetable sellers.
Wholesalers come to this part of the lake long before sunrise mainly to sell the produce they’ve grown along the banks of the lake. Retailers buy their goods, taking them back to be sold at shops and markets once the rest of the world awakens.
Without much delay, Shafi orders two cups of kahwa for us. The tea vendor flawlessly transacts the piping-hot paper cups and rupees across boats without anyone needing to move from their seats.
Wayne Ashford is raising a cup to conversations about health education over tea. Ashford is a tea sommelier, entrepreneur and motivational speaker. At 61 years of age, he is in the best shape of his life. He does yoga, meditation, strength training, running, and owns/operates a tea shop in downtown Savannah, Georgia, called The Ashford Tea Company. He attributes his good health and positive mindset to drinking tea.
The First Cup
Born in Mississippi, Ashford grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, watching his mother brew old-school sun tea. “I was intrigued by how she filled a huge mason jar with 100 or so tea bags and let them sit in the hot sun. Then she added 4-5 pounds of sugar to it. As a kid, that was the best thing!” says Wayne about his first recollection of drinking southern-style sweet ice tea.
Over time, Ashford realized there was more to the sweet drink and discovered a variety of loose teas, where they originate from, how they are grown, their health benefits, and different ways to brew.
A Tea Enterprise
“I was passionate about tea but never imagined it would be something I would live off of,” explains Ashford. After completing high school, he served in the U.S. Army, traveled abroad, attended college and worked in the corporate sector. As VP of Operations at several startup dot com businesses, Ashford learned about entrepreneurship and saved enough money to launch an online tea store. He offered samples at health food stores and city markets and opened Tea’s Me Café in Indianapolis, Indiana.
After 20+ years of running a successful business, Ashford decided to move from the Midwest to the South for a change in scenery and better quality of life. He opened The Ashford Tea Company, a boutique tea shop in the popular coastal vacation destination – Savannah. Here he offers in-store tastings, free consultations, talks on the origins and health benefits of this amazing elixir, and how to live a healthy lifestyle. “My mission is to help people find peace and happiness no matter what the state of the world is,” adds Ashford.
Ashford realized early on in life that his African American family history was prone to health issues due to poor self-care habits. He read and self-taught how to have a healthy mind, body and spirit. Now, Ashford educates others on living well, sprinkling anecdotes from his own life, along with inspirational messages into his tea tasting tours.
He says that aging is a disease, but we can defy aging by seasoning ourselves for it. This means raising our immunity to viruses, allowing our bodies to produce vitamins naturally, and living more purposeful lives – all of which can be done by exercising regularly, eating healthy and drinking tea consistently.
What You Need to Know About Tea
“Most Americans think herbal teas like peppermint, lemongrass, chamomilla, etc., are teas, but those are just herbs; they don’t have any tea in them,” says Ashford. There are four main types of teas that come from a tea tree plant – white, green, oolong and black. White teas are generally lower in caffeine and higher in antioxidants than green tea, as they don’t go through fermentation and oxidation.
Green tea has caffeine, but it is not as stimulating as coffee. Caffeine in tea releases slowly into your body over a longer time (as much as six hours), so you don’t get an immediate high, which distorts your circadian rhythm.
According to research, flavonoids and polyphenols found in green tea also help boost heart health, prevent cancers and reduce inflammation. Ashford claims his mother relieved herself of breast cancer without chemotherapy and radiation, partially by drinking green tea. Ongoing research also suggests that green tea can help in lowering high blood pressure and cholesterol, help treat gum disease and slow the progression of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Findings say that you only need to drink 16 oz (or two cups) of tea daily to optimizes health benefits. “It is one of the simplest things you can incorporate in your lifestyle, to eat cleaner and live healthier. I believe tea adds to the quality of life.”
The company sources fair trade organic teas from China, Japan, Kenya, South Africa, India and Taiwan. They are paired with delectable treats by local bakers and chefs who highlight the notes and bouquet of the fragrant teas.
The Ashford Tea Company is located at 406 E. Oglethorpe Ave, Savannah, Georgia. To find out about Ashford’s virtual events, schedule a store tasting or purchase tea, visit https://ashfordtea.co. You can also follow along on Facebook,Twitter, and Instagram.