by Bill Batson
During his journey from Harlem to Martha’s Vineyard to Nyack, Preston Powell has melded a teacup, Karate and a tradition of the African American church from his childhood into his holistic and locally based business, Teagevity.
Tell me about this teacup?
When I was about 19 or 20, I walked into a martial arts dojo on Lexington Ave in New York City and saw a man, who turned out to be the Sensei, holding a cup of tea. The way he held that teacup struck me. It reminded me of my childhood, when women would sit for tea after services at Abyssinian Baptist Church. When I started my martial arts training everything was about holding a cup of tea; your posture, your movement, you had to defend a teacup. Eventually, I was given this teacup. For over twenty years, I have protected this cup. It has been my introduction to Asian and other tea drinking cultures. It is a connection to the fellowship of drinking tea after church.
What is your connection to Abyssinian Baptist Church?
My grandfather was Adam Clayton Powell Jr. He was pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem and in 1945, he was the first African American from New York State elected to Congress. My grandmother, Isabel Washington Powell, was a dancer at the Cotton Club when she met and married Adam Clayton Powell. I am in the process of donating some items from my family to The Smithsonian Institute in Washington for their new African American wing. One of the exhibits is going to be about early black residents on Martha’s Vineyard. My grandparents summered and owned a cottage there.
How did you come to Nyack?
As a child, I spent my summers by the water in Martha’s Vineyard. I also spent a lot of time In Sag Harbor. When I came across the Tappan Zee Bridge one day around 1999, and I saw the Village of Nyack and the Hudson River, I instantly knew this would be a home for my family. It helped that it was only 20 minutes from New York City, where I had a music business. My company, Jazzateria, managed jazz and reggae artists including Reuben Wilson, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Jimmy McGriff, Miri Ben-Ari and Midnite, a reggae band from St. Croix.
When did you open your dojo?
To-te Ueshiro Karate Club opened in 2006. It is organized as a club more than a business. We don’t advertise, we don’t have a neon sign. The focus is on training for personal growth, not for competition or trophies. In our Shorin-Ryu tradition, skills are handed down through the family. We try to prepare the father to train the daughter and the grandfather to train with the grandson. It’s an activity for the whole family. Our style of Karate was brought to Okinawa, Japan by men who were taught by Shaolin monks in China. They were in Okinawa as traders and taught their trading partners martial arts to protect themselves from the mainland Japanese. My teacup came from Japan.
When did you launch Teagevity?
I was frustrated with the business of music, and I wanted to create something new and local that my family could be a part of. Tea had been on my mind. I loved the substance of it and the rituals around it. In the dojo, students would ask what to do when they didn’t feel well. I had become an elder dispensing wisdom about medicinal properties of different teas and herbs.
What’s the best way to make a cup of tea?
Water The water you use is very important. The number one beverage in the world is water. The number two is tea. Since a good tea is rich in anti-oxidants and minerals, the water should be pure as well. If you had a free flowing spring, that would be best. If not, use bottled or filtered water. Try not to use water from the tap. Temperature The temperature depends on the tea; for a green tea, pre-boiling or about 170-175; for black tea, herbal and botanicals bring your water to a 210 – 212 degree full boil. Steep time
- Black teas should steep no longer than five minutes. At six minutes, it gets bitter, however, people may like the taste.
- Green tea, after three minutes, it will get bitter.
- White tea is the rarest of teas, picked before the bud comes at the beginning of spring. It should be steeped for one or two minutes.
Then one day, when I was driving with my wife and saying how much I loved life, she said the word longevity, and then added the word tea. When I heard “Teagevity,” that was it. I got the domain name that day. That was a year ago.
How many varieties of teas do you offer?
I have 54 teas that I carry at any time. With blends it can be 75 or more.
What is your most popular item?
Our most popular item is Organic Assam, which is also known as Irish Breakfast. And a South African tea called Rooibos, with blue mallow flowers is also very popular.
Is there one tea in particular that people should know more about?
That would be Pu-erh, from the Yunnan province, China. It has beneficial properties that many in the world have known about forever. Dr Oz talks about it and all the fashion models in Europe drink it. The tea breaks down cholesterol. It’s good for your blood pressure too. It works as a detoxifier, helping with the liver, because it helps you flush water. And if you are looking to cut weight, this is your tea. We have a series of workshops at the Nyack Library called Talkin’ Tea that will continue this spring on May 7 at 7p. But the lessons from these sessions are drawn from everyone’s experience. There is a fellowship between the participants in these talks; a fellowship that I first saw at the teas after service at my grandfather’s church and that I found in martial arts training with my teacup and that is preserved in Teagevity.
You can peruse Teagevity’s selection of loose tea and tea gear online at teagevity.com or every Thursday from 8a-2p at the Indoor Farmers’ Market at the Nyack Center, Depew Avenue and South Broadway.
Visit to-te.com for information about martial arts classes. To-te Ueshiro Karate Club is located at 82 South Franklin Street, Nyack, NY
An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Preston Powell’s Teagevity” © 2014 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.