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Tea for two

Lake Oswego's Pat Nida and her mother Marjorie Cooney share their love for teas and teapots
by: Vern Uyetake, Lake Oswego residents Pat Nida and her mother, Marjorie Cooney, share a love of teapots that dates back to Nida’s grandmother, who came to the United States from Ireland. To date, the women have drank countless cups of tea and collected more than 250 teapots, which they stash in their homes, garages and a warehouse. Dozens of pots from their personal collections are now on display at the Adult Community Center.

In Pakistan, camaraderie and commerce revolve around the tradition of black tea, often sweetened with yak butter.

And as the saying goes, 'You're a visitor at the first cup, a friend at the second cup and by the third cup, you're considered family.'

If it were the same way here in the espresso-obsessed United States, Pat Nida would be surely be living in her own slice of heaven on Earth.

A long-time teapot collector, her taste for teas is so cultivated after so many years of drinking, she can distinguish between varieties with one sip.

'Coffee is about 'me' and tea is about 'we,'' she says with a smile. 'The tea experience is about passing along your story.'

Nida, the former owner of downtown Lake Oswego store Patty Kay's Gardens, now runs Patty Kay's Tea Garden Teas out of her Lake Oswego home and through a Web site.

Her business specializes in catered tea parties, tea talks, gift tea baskets, fine tea sales and, of course, tea in general.

Nida offers 20 types of specialty loose-leaf tea from the Himalayan Tea Co. in Nepal and other labels imported to major buyers in Oregon. Her latest find is 'Shooting Star Tea,' hand-tied tea bunches that 'blossom' when submersed in hot water.

'I choose teas I think are special,' said Nida, who likens herself to a personal tea shopper who takes the guesswork out of tea. 'There are some terrible teas out there,' she added.

Nida will share her love of tea as the host of a traditional tearoom at the Lake Oswego Reads Pakistani Market, held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the West End Building.

On tap: Green tea, oolong tea, chai tea and black tea with cardamom, but no yak butter. Instead, Nida will use condensed evaporated milk as sweetener. Tastings will cost $4 to $8 each.

'We'll have walk-away cups and tea trays of three cups of tea, so people can try them all,' she said. 'People can actually sit and linger over the tea and enjoy each other's company. We hope they bring their friends.'

Nida will also sell the tea she is serving in bulk and bags.

Nida's love affair with tea started at birth, when she inherited a small yellow teapot from her mother, Marjorie Cooney. Cooney received the pot from her brother when she moved with her husband and kids from New Mexico to Portland after World War II.

'I've always had a teapot and I've always known that was my teapot,' Nida said.

Growing up in Portland, Nida would often visit her Irish grandmother, who would prepare tea and homemade toast with butter for the family's version of a 'tea ritual.' The Irish never served tea without food, Nida said.

In the same Irish tradition, the grandmother always got the first cup of tea, poured by her daughter (or the grandchildren's mother). The mother served herself last.

'It's an honor for the mother to pour to her mother and children,' Nida explained, adding, 'You're always honoring grandma.'

And grandmother's influence was strong. Once, John F. Kennedy Jr. visited her grandmother's tea party during a pre-presidential election visit to Portland. Naturally, the tea-drinking ladies adored him.

'When she told us how to drink tea or vote, we did it her way,' Nida said with a laugh.

Years later, Nida went on a quest to find the original kind of Lipton's tea that her grandmother lovingly served.

'I was trying to find that same taste and instead I really found out that there's a life beyond Lipton's and Red Rose,' Nida said.

By that time, Nida had already started collecting teapots in all varieties - a hobby she shares with Cooney.

'They're in both of our houses and garages and a warehouse,' she said. 'It's gotten sad … but we have way more cups.'

Together, they now own about 250 teapots ranging from a 1911 silver and glass creation to a rare Norwegian pot her now-husband bought her when they were dating.

The pot symbolized his commitment to the relationship, Nida said.

'It took him two more years to make it official,' she said.

Some of Nida's teapots are practical; others are just for looks. Some are made overseas; others are American creations.

'We're always looking for a special teapot,' said Cooney, who uses Pendleton fabric to make cozies for her pots.

Cooney once found an antique American-made Hall China Company teapot at a yard sale for a mere $6.

'As soon as I saw it, I knew exactly what it was,' she said.

Nida's palm-sized 'Brown Betty' teapot, made in England, presents the 'perfect brewing circumference' for the water to splash and swirl around inside.

'Tea needs to be brewed in the perfect vessel,' Nida said.

The women's many teapots are now on display at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center; they can also be seen at the Pakistani Market.

Nida also sells teapots and tea cups through her store, which happens to also be her house.

'Anyone who wants to come over to my house for tea, I would love to have them,' she said.

Nida, mother to three grown children, is also collecting 'tea stories' from the public and plans to create a book of family tea traditions.

'My goal is to encourage people to (drink tea) … to honor their children,' Nida said. '(Traditions) we take for granted come from family and community heritage … Sometimes we need to remember that it's OK that some people pour the milk in first.'

For more information about Patty Kay's Tea Garden Teas, visit www.teagardenteas.com or contact Pat Nida at 503-636-4946.

Lake Oswego Reads will also host a Himalayan Tea Tasting with a representative from Himalayan Tea Co. at 2 p.m. today at the Lake Oswego Public Library.