making tea a ceremony with Anna Morton
Inspired by her passion for botanicals and the healing power of plants, Anna Morton founded Leaves and Flowers with Emily Erb in 2014 to offer a unique selection of handcrafted herbal infusions and premium small-batch teas.
Apart from using locally grown botanicals, they keep the leaves and flowers as whole and as intact as possible, as a way to show their reverence to the tea and their commitment to deliver a multi-sensorial experience that is vibrant in color, form, aroma and flavor.
Excited to carry their teas in store, we caught up with Anna to learn more about her everyday tea ritual and how to transform the sole act of drinking tea into a meaningful ceremony.
What sparked your interest in tea and botanical experiences?
I wasn’t so familiar with tea as a child, nor did my parents teach me about plants. But as a teenager, my friend’s mother (an herbalist) became my first plant teacher.
She was very gentle with her guidance. I started noticing her relationship to plants – how she tended her wild garden and used herbs abundantly in cooking. With her I made my first healing salve: a balm of calendula, comfrey, and plantain. She had a wonderfully earthy scent about her from the oils and essences she used on her skin. She was a Hari Krishna and had lived in India for a time. She made the most delicious stove top chai.
I have many memories of her making me a cup of tea. She really was the one who introduced me to both tea and botanical medicine.
That must have been such a lovely experience. How did your relationship with tea and botanicals change after that encounter?
The shift was gradual but because of her influence I grew more curious about plants. At first my interest opened to Ayurvedic medicine. Alongside my university studies, I began reading books about Yoga and Ayurveda. I even lived at an ashram in Northern California for a short time working in their herb and vegetable garden, practicing yoga every day, and studying with the resident Ayurvedic doctor.
I can’t say I had a conscious relationship to tea until much later when I did a year of botanical study at the California School of Herbal Studies in Forestville, California. During that year, I discovered that the way I most enjoyed ingesting plants was as tea.
I loved steeping fresh herbs from the school garden or collecting herbs for tea on my forest walks. I learned the most about the plants when I consumed them this way. I could taste them and smell them and feel their energetic effect.
What made you decide to work with tea?
I think the simplicity of tea drew me towards it. The relationship one can develop rather quickly with the tea plant, or any plant, through infusing it in water is striking. I became fascinated with this relationship and how simple and elemental it was. And I wanted to offer this experience to others.
How do you go about creating your infusions and finding the right local partners and botanicals to work with?
The whole process has evolved a lot over the years, but it remains quite natural and intuitive. At first, we worked with farms in our neighboring county, which is mostly an agricultural area. We crafted our blends from botanicals that were already being grown on these local farms. Herbs like mint, lemon verbena, sage, thyme, rosemary.
As our business developed, our needs increased, and we started sourcing herbs from outside of California. We now work with small scale herb farms in California, Oregon, Vermont, North Carolina and Maine that are devoted to cultivating medicinal plants.
With each infusion that we create, we begin with some initial inspiration – a single herb, a season, a mood, a time of day. From there, we imagine what botanicals would pair well with that flavor or feeling. We build our infusions deliberately and slowly, adding one ingredient at a time and taste it alongside the other ingredients at variable ratios. It’s surprising how quickly the flavor can shift with a little more or less of this or that. We always strive to achieve that perfect balance in which each ingredient is distinct but also married with the others.
It’s so interesting that your infusions sometimes stem from a mood or a feeling. We’re curious: when are you most in the mood for tea?
I’m most in the mood for tea when I don’t have much going on. When I have a moment to be quiet and present.
What does your everyday tea ritual look like?
It seems to change with my mood and the weather, but usually I prepare tea (black or puerh) first thing in the morning before I meditate, then continue to enjoy tea throughout the day. I typically end my day with a botanical infusion, something soothing and tasteful like our Sleep tea or Digestive Seed tea, or a fresh tisane of mint or thyme.
Does your tea preference or drinking habits change over the seasons?
I’m one of those people that loves hot beverages all times of year. You’ll almost never see me with an iced drink. But I do have seasonal tea preferences. In the spring and summer I drink more green tea. The lighter body and fresh flavor of green tea feels renewing and hopeful. While in the fall and winter I drink more grounding teas, teas with a splash of cream, or spice like ginger. I also like to make chai in the colder months.
How do you select which tea to enjoy for the moment?
I usually go with what I’m craving or choose a tea based on how I’m feeling. If I’m having tea during or after a meal, I choose a tea that pairs well with those flavors, but if I’m having tea on its own the options are more open. In that case, I somewhat unconsciously consider factors like the time of day, the light, how much time I have, if I’m tired, or energized, or if I’m making tea for myself or for another person. Some teas are more giving and best to share with others.
What makes for a good tea?
Awareness and intention take you far. And being tuned into the elements of tea preparation—weight, water, temperature, time—are most important.
But really, like most things, it’s about the quality of the tea. Where and how it was grown, when it was harvested, how it was processed. The age of a tea is also important, and how it’s been stored. Some teas expire quickly, while other teas get better with age.
It’s definitely worth spending money on good quality tea. Once you experience what tea can offer in its energy, aroma and flavor, your relationship to tea will only deepen.
When you’re not busy with tea, how do you enjoy your downtime?
I walk a lot in nature, read, swim in the sea when it’s warm, and cook for my friends. My partner and I are also renovating an old cabin in Topanga Canyon at the moment, so recently lots of my time has been committed to that.
And how about music? What’s your relationship with music?
Music has played a major role in my life ever since I was a girl. My father listened to a lot of folk music in our home, so I grew up with Peter Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen. I’ve also dated a few musicians over the years and my understanding and appreciation for music has certainly been shaped by being close to them and their music making process.
In regard to tea and Leaves and Flowers, music brings us so much joy and inspiration. We often listen to music while working. Luckily, Emily and I have similar taste in music. We’re big fans of NTS and have discovered an array of artists and genres through their djs and live stream radio.
Are there any particular albums or artists that have really resonated with you recently?
I am really enjoying Pink Floyd’s ‘Meddle / More’ and Ana Roxanne’s latest album ‘Because of a Flower’. I also really enjoy the music by Fishmans, a band from Tokyo that was active in the 90s.
Lastly: Any tips you can share to make tea drinking a more meaningful and pleasurable ritual?
Invest in beautiful and functional tea ware. Light a stick of incense. Pay attention to the quality of the water you’re using. Make it a ceremony.