Ellen Tobben enjoys the art of slowing down and tuning out; taking time to watch dry tea leaves unfurl as they steep, and helping people connect with yoga and breath. That’s exactly what her business, IntentionaliTea, is also designed to do.
“The whole mission behind IntentionaliTea is the merging of tea culture and mindfulness culture,” she says. “My vision is to host American-style tea ceremonies, which are very informal and conversation driven, and bring mindfulness practices such as meditation, yoga, journaling … and interact as a group with those practices.”
After practicing yoga for 18 years and developing a passion for tea through her travels, in 2015 Tobben became a certified tea sommelier through the International Tea Masters Association (ITMA), and in 2017 through Truckee’s Namaste studio she became a Registered Yoga Teacher specializing in trauma.
She’d set out to visit a tea guru in Taiwan she’d been told about in her travels. Finding that it was cost prohibitive, she attended ITMA’s San Francisco program instead. Later, while traveling in Australia, she was given the opportunity to visit Taiwan and become even more immersed in the culture of tea. It’s a kind of magic that exists in the world around us that Tobben feels exists in tea, too.
“Tea is a magical plant,” she explains. “The plants that we receive these tea leaves from have lived centuries. And let’s recognize the process that goes into this receiving that we always take for granted, when as westerners we have everything at our fingertips.”
Rich in health benefits, tea is lightly caffeinated, uplifting to the mood, heart healthy, and full of antioxidants, particularly l-theanine, Tobben says. All loose-leaf green tea comes from the same plant: Cammelia sinensis or commonly, simply the tea plant. Results are influenced by the way the leaves are processed and the conditions in which they grow.
“White tea, oolong, green … [they’re] just the different varietals [depending on] where it’s grown, how it’s grown, and how it’s processed,” Tobben says. “Tea is very seasonal as well … you can have a white tea which is very light and flavorful and the next year, maybe it was rainy and it’ll come through as a totally different flavor. It invites an ever-changing nature to my process with the tea, and that reflects the nature of our lives.”
Tobben uses organic loose-leaf tea in her ceremonies and packages it for sale as well. She also serves unique blends she creates with dried flowers and spices. Her ingredients are organic and treated as carefully as possible. For instance, she hand muddles the chai spices so as not to dull the flavors.
She tailors ceremonies to the needs of specific groups, including elements like offering a tea-tasting flight, yoga practice options, time for journaling, and most importantly, time to check out of daily life. She says that having a tea ceremony is really about presence. Allowing people to watch the tea leaves opening creates an opportunity to witness something that is happening now and will not be happening again.
“We do live in this world where we’re so connected all the time, and it’s really important for our nervous systems to check out [of that] and to check in with ourselves,” she says. “I encourage as much presence as possible in that way. Any opportunity we have to slow down and sit with ourselves and the people we value is such a gift.”