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Nyack Sketch Log: Preston Powell: The Bruce Lee of Loose Tea

NSL_Powell Teagevity_featured Imageby 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.

On Thursday, April 22 at 7p, I will moderate a discussion on Zoom with Preston, hosted by the Nyack Library. Preston will explore how martial arts and music inform his Teagevity brand, the benefits of tea drinking, how to make a perfect cup of tea, and his plans to preserve the legacy of his grandfather, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Click here to register.

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 20 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.

Family photo courtesy Preston Powell © 2014, all rights reserved.

Family photo courtesy Preston Powell © 2014, all rights reserved.

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?

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NSL_Preston Powell_Miri Ben-Ari

Powell Managed Jazz Violinist Miri Ben-Ari

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?

NSL_Preston Powell_To-te Ueshiro Karate Club

Students under Sensei Powell’s watchful gaze

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?

Teagevity_C

Teagevity’s booth at the Nyack Indoor Farmers’ Market

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.

Meet the Bruce Lee of Loose Tea

On Thursday, April 22 at 7pm, join a Zoom-based conversation, hosted by Nyack Library with Preston Powell, the Bruce Lee of Loose Tea.

photo by Mike Hays

Preston will explore how martial arts and music inform his Teagevity brand, the benefits of tea drinking, how to make a perfect cup of tea, and his plans to preserve the legacy of his grandfather.

You will learn how places like Harlem, Sag Harbor, and Martha’s Vineyard  have shaped one of Nyack Farmer’s Market’s most beloved merchants.

Click here to register for the discussion and slide show that will feature some never before photos of his grandfather, civic rights icon Adam Clayton Powell and music heavy weights like Madonna, Billy Joel and Richie Havens.

You can peruse Teagevity’s selection of loose tea and tea gear online at teagevity.com or every Thursday from 8a-2p at the Nyack Farmer’s Market at the Nyack Center, Depew Avenue and South Broadway.

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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 two years ago.

How many varieties of tea 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.

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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 5 minutes. At 6 minutes, it gets bitter. However, people may like the taste.
  • Green tea get bitter after 3 minutes.
  • White tea is the rarest of teas, picked before the bud comes at the beginning of spring. It should be steeped for one or 2 minutes.

You can peruse Teagevity’s selection of loose tea and tea gear online at teagevity.com or every Thursday from 8a-2p at the Nyack Farmer’s 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 85 South Broadway, Nyack, NY

Read also: Nyack People & Places: Preston Powell II, Tea Merchant & Sensei

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Preston Powell’s Teagevity” © 2021 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more. Weld-Sponsor-Graphic_Final

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Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.


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