By Cody Neff
OAK HILL —
Oolong, chamomile, Earl Grey, green, black and chai may all be blends of tea, but Dr. Hassan Amjad wants to educate people and make them see tea as more than just a beverage.
Amjad and a few of his friends and colleagues will host the sixth Oak Hill Tea Festival on Aug. 24 from noon to 6 p.m.
“The tea festival is a lollapalooza of alternate medicine,” Amjad said. “We talk about how to live long and how to have a healthy diet. We talk about something very common, like the herbs in your back yard and the herbs and the spices in your kitchen. Almost all of them have a medical use. One of the biggest problems with medicine is that it is obscenely expensive.”
Patrons of the festival won’t have to worry about shelling out big bucks on this festival, though.
“We teach people how to have a healthy life without spending a lot of money,” he said. “We show people how to make different types of tea. We also have a variety of workshops. This festival is noncommercial. We are not here to sell anything. There are some vendors coming, but we don’t charge anyone anything.”
Dr. Amjad says that this is the only tea festival in the United States and it has become a treasure of Oak Hill.
“People always wonder why a small town like this would be having a tea festival,” he said. “It’s because I live here. I love it here. San Francisco and New York don’t have this festival and they can eat their heart out.”
Dr. Amjad and his friends say that Oak Hill should be proud of the festival for being something unique and intellectual. Aside from lectures from knowledgeable guests, the Oak Hill Tea Festival also has a theatrical element with its tea ceremonies. In the past, performers “took tea” with Her Royal Highness Queen Victoria.
The show’s set and costume designer, Paul Contin says he has something bigger in mind for this year’s performance.
“We are going to use the personification of the Empress Dowager Cixi, ‘the Dragon Lady,’” Contin said. “I’m going to do the headdress and the garment. We really wanted to do something even more spectacular and I think we’ve got it.”
Contin says that the festival is still looking for two young men and two young women to help play the role of servants in the ceremony.
“There would be no speaking part, only serving tea,” Contin added. Paul Contin has over 50 years experience in costuming and set design and was trained by famed designer Charles Blackburn.
Spectacular shows won’t distract from the festival’s main focus, however.
“Tea is important,” Amjad said. “In eastern society, tea is a medicine. It’s a way of life. Tea will give you a healthy life. People who drink tea like to solve their problems over a cup of tea and the coffee drinker wants to win all the time.”
The Oak Hill Tea Festival is supposed to have something for both the seasoned tea-drinker and the curious.
“This is open to anyone,” he added. “They can enjoy the tea tasting and lectures. They can also meet specialists for a sort of curb-side consultation for problems that they have. Based on our experience, tea is the least popular beverage in the United States. Americans just don’t like tea. We want to change that.”
There’s even going to be a special blend of tea to help persuade those with a picky palate.
“We also blended a Jafary tea that is based on our experience of an average person who has never tasted or enjoyed tea,” Amjad said. “We blended a tea based on a thousand people’s samplings. This tea is based on what an average American wants in a tea. The tea should have a nice mahogany color, like wine. It should have a strong aroma and it should have a strong bite. The average tea doesn’t interest the average person.”
Herbal medicine may be losing favor among doctors in the western world, but that hasn’t stopped Dr. Amjad from giving this festival everything he has and then some.
“Dr. Amjad puts 200 percent into this festival,” Contin said. “He’s good at it and he explains the benefits of tea so well. He does a very good job.”
The Oak Hill Tea Festival will be at 125 Church St. in Oak Hill from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24. Contin can be reached at 304-469-7888 and Dr. Amjad can be reached at 304-673-5440.
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