Port Townsend High School juniors hear a brief history of tea from Pippa Mills on the patio of her shop, Pippa’s Real Tea. The students are writing a narrative non-fiction work as an assignment, with tea as the inspiration. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Port Townsend High School juniors hear a brief history of tea from Pippa Mills on the patio of her shop, Pippa’s Real Tea. The students are writing a narrative non-fiction work as an assignment, with tea as the inspiration. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Budding writing students in Port Townsend study tea in preparation for assignment

PORT TOWNSEND — Throughout the past two weeks, Tom Gambill’s 10th grade English classes from Port Townsend High School have taken walks into town to gather inspiration for their writing assignments.

“Every year I take my students into the community to visit a local business so they can learn about what they do. Then I ask them to write a piece of narrative non-fiction based on the visit,” said Gambill who has taught at Port Townsend High School for 17 years.

This spring, 85 students are experiencing tea: its history, growing regions, different varieties and the retail end of the business.

Pippa Mills, owner of her namesake shop, Pippa’s Real Tea, has been host to the students. They “ask great questions and are very engaged,” she said.

In past years, Gambill’s classes have visited Elevated Ice Cream, the Rose Theater, Hasse Sails and the Food Co-op.

This year’s assignment is to write a narrative non-fiction piece, six- to 10-pages long, double-spaced. The students have been reading “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser and “The Hot Zone” by Richard Preston to get them excited about the genre.

Mills gave a presentation to the students in her courtyard that featured a blooming camellia sinensis shrub which she planted six years ago when she opened the shop. Green, black and white teas are made from this plant. Inside the shop, she offered tasting samples.

“I carry 100 teas in the shop but there are over 3,000 different types. I can find a tea to match my mood or my ills,” said Mills, pointing to Ginger Turmeric, a blend touted to offer such healing qualities as tempering inflammation, soothing pain, aiding digestion and boosting immunity.

The students looked at the leaves and the colors of the brewed liquids. They smelled the blends’ unique aromas and tasted the flavors.

“Part of the preparation for writing is the sensory experience,” Gambill said. “I encourage them to be observers, to pick up the sensory details, notice the things aren’t obvious, to focus on the littlest details.”

The Port Townsend students have varying interests in tea.

Anika Avelino was mostly familiar with tea from a bag. She was interested in the reason Australian-born Mills wanted to open a shop (so she could share the art of drinking tea with Americans) and how drinking tea might bring the world closer together.

Lily O’Shea learned how different cultures use tea for different reasons. She is particularly interested in the ritual of making tea, and the medicinal use of different herbal tea blends.

Anouk Kaiser said she’s been doing research on the different preparations of tea. She was surprised to learn how so many different flavors can come from the same plant.

She’s a tea fan and plans to write something about historical characters taking tea from one country to another.

The assignment will be due in a few weeks, and the obvious interest in the subject leads Gambill to believe he will have many interesting stories to read.

“Good writers have to be inquisitive and outgoing. But they also have to be solitary and thoughtful in order to write a good story,” Gambill said.

“It’s nice to have them fall in love with writing all over again.”


Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or a jmcmacken@peninsuladailynews.com.

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