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American Chinese teaware

T Ching - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 12:03

The art of gong fu cha, the Chinese tea service, is generally practiced using a specialized tea set.  Collectively called cha ju (or equipage by people who insist on using French), the instruments of gong fu cha encompass a whole spectrum of diminutive, elegant, precisely-crafted little bits and bobs.  Though they may seem arcane to the uninitiated, each serves a purpose and, by virtue of their very particular dimensions and functionality, have to be produced with that purpose in mind.  For example, it is difficult to construct a gong-fu teaset using Western teapots, because Western teapots are generally much larger than a gong-fu teapot.  If you do manage to find a teapot of the appropriate size, it will probably be for a child’s play teaset and not intended for actual use.  Furthermore, it will probably resemble a  cupcake.  Teapots are even among the more familiar of the cha ju; another essential vessel, the gaiwan, is not manufactured in any size outside of China and the Chinese diaspora, and it serves no other purpose than the preparation of loose-leaf tea.

Celadon gaiwan set and satin black cha pan by Mary Cotterman

I say manufactured - not produced – because, while the majority of contemporary Chinese teaware - especially that which makes it to the West - is created in enormous factories and workshops for mass distribution; there are a small but growing number of potters in the US who are hand-crafting teaware for the purpose of using for gong fu cha.  As both an avid tea lover and a pottery enthusiast – mostly as a spectator – I have made the acquaintance, over the years, of many talented ceramicists and tea lovers who have endeavored to replicate the small, even, fine-walled vessels and tools of gong fu cha.

In general, I find that American versions of Chinese gong fu teaware often resemble the genuine article visually, but do not feel – or function – the same.  American pieces tend to be heavier, with thicker walls, and there is no end of confusion about how to make a gaiwan lid fit properly (it should fit inside, not over, the mouth of the bowl).  That’s not to say that these wares can’t be fine pieces in their own right – the great kilns of Delft, in Holland, rose to prominence by mimicking Chinese porcelain wares right down to the ersatz Chinese script.  But they don’t feel, or pour, like genuine cha ju.

Shino-glaze “storm cloud” gaiwan set by Mary Cotterman

Within the past year I have had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of two Austin-based potters who have begun making beautiful, and more importantly serviceable, teaware.  Mary Cotterman, who is currently an artist-in-residence at the Bascom Center for Visual Arts in North Carolina, had been experimenting with gong fu style teapots and gaiwans when I met her in December.  One day while having tea with her, I showed her my Chinese teaware collection, and several weeks later she had produced no fewer than 4 complete teasets:  gaiwan, gong dao bei/pitcher, and matching cups.  She even produced several ceramic cha pan, or tea trays, both in the Chaozhou style (a round perforated plate over a basin), or an open one based on an original design by my friend Sylvia, a talented potter herself.  Since then, Mary has refined her designs and experimented with different glazes.

Matte Blue gaiwans by Chris Long

Chris Long’s distinctive and playful style can be found at his booth at the HOPE Farmer’s Market every Sunday.  He studied pottery in Taiwan and is no stranger to Chinese pottery.  He has so far produced two prototype gaiwans,  one large and one small, both with a beautiful matte blue glaze.

Both Mary and Chris are interested in producing more gong fu teaware, which I intend to sell – currently the only teaware I carry is cheap, functional, manufactured Chinese wares, because that’s all I can afford to bring over as inventory.  Teaware is heavy and expensive to ship, and some pieces will inevitably be broken during shipping.  It is my intention eventually to have the bulk of my teaware selection be locally produced – we may not be growing much tea in American (yet), but as the gong fu cha community here grows and more talented craftspeople are exposed to cha ju, there’s no reason our homegrown gong fu teaware can’t rival the great kilns of China and help breathe new life into Chinese tea culture.

 Images courtesy of the contributor.

The post American Chinese teaware appeared first on T Ching.

Cherry Cola Flavored Iced Black Tea from Southern Boy Teas

SororiTEA Sisters - Thu, 09/11/2014 - 03:59

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  52Teas

Learn more about Southern Boy Teas here.

Taster’s Review:

I don’t drink a lot of soda, but on the rare occasions that we go out to eat and the iced tea available at the restaurant is questionable, I usually ask for a cherry cola.

So I was excited to try this iced tea flavor from Southern Boy Teas, because it’s a flavor that I enjoy and would be able to identify and also because in the past, I’ve been impressed with the cola flavored teas that 52Teas has offered.  They really do have a bubbly, effervescent taste of soda pop, which is a little weird when I would drink the hot tea.  Weird, but in a wonderfully weird sort of way.

To brew:  The Southern Boy Teas are a “bagged” tea, sealed in a large tea pouch that makes it easy to cold-brew (put it in a pitcher with a half gallon of freshly filtered, cold water and then stash that into the refrigerator overnight.  In the morning, take out the sachet – and save it to resteep later! – and enjoy) or to hot brew.

I do have another pouch of this tea and I plan to cold steep it to see how that turns out.  I’ll have to come back and comment on this review to let you know how that turns out when I do that.

I usually hot brew all these iced teas for the first tasting, because I feel like I’m getting the true, intended flavor that way and since I want to write about the experience, I think that this is the best way to do that.

To hot brew this, I start with a quart of freshly filtered water and put it in my kettle and heat it to boiling.  Then I just toss the sachet into my kettle and let the tea steep for 2 minutes, strain the tea into my favorite iced tea pitcher, and then I repeat the process, pouring another quart of water into the kettle, heating it to boiling and then resteeping the pouch, this time for 3 minutes.  I let this come to a room temperature cool before I put the hot glass pitcher into the cold refrigerator.  Then I let it chill for several hours (or overnight).

This is a tasty glass of cold refreshment.  I can taste the notes of cherry and cola.  And I can taste the black tea flavor too.  It’s a bit like someone poured some flat cherry cola into my iced tea.

Yes, I’m still getting some of that aforementioned bubbly taste from this, but, it’s not as bubbly or effervescent as you’d get if you were drinking a straight soda pop.  Nor should it be.  This is tea, not a carbonated beverage.  However, you can make it a tea soda.

I can taste that bubbly sort of flavor that I’ve experienced in the past with 52Teas soda flavors, although for some reason (I’m not sure of the reason) and this is something that I’ve noticed with the other cola flavored iced teas from SBT, the “soda” or “cola” flavor doesn’t shine through quite as copiously as it seems to when I sip on a cup of hot soda flavored tea from 52Teas.  As I said, I’m not quite sure why this is.

That said, this is still really tasty.  It quenches the thirst and it tastes great while it’s quenching the thirst, and that’s what I look for in an iced tea.

Product Review: Lime Zero Unsweetened Guayusa from Runa

SororiTEA Sisters - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 16:00

Product Information:

Step into the limelight – experience bright and refreshing flavor with zero calories.

Learn more about this product here.

Taster’s Review:

I don’t often buy RTD teas/tisanes.  But usually when I’m in the supermarket, I do look over the varieties of teas and tisanes that are available in the ready to drink section.

My biggest issue with RTD teas/tisanes is that they’re usually so loaded with some type of sweetener and often more than one type of sweetener that I can’t taste the tea.  Then it begs the question for me – what’s the difference between this and a soda?  Nothing really, except that the soda has bubbles.  So really, the sweetener has changed the tea into a soda that is more expensive than the typical commercial soda … an expensive soda without bubbles.

So, last week when I was in Chuck’s Produce, this ready to drink Guayusa caught my attention.

The first thing that caught my attention was the price.  It was a featured item that was priced competitively ($ .99 for a bottle, not bad.)  The second thing that caught my attention was the word unsweetened on the top of the label.  This isn’t zero calories because it’s made with stevia or an artificial sweetener that will make me feel queasy.  This has zero calories because there is NO SWEETENER in it at all.

In fact, here is the ingredient list:

INGREDIENTS:

Brewed organic guayusa (purified water and organic guayusa leaves**), organic lime juice concentrate, organic lime extract, natural flavors, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid).

Now that’s my kind of ingredient list.  OK, I’d like a little more details on what the “natural flavors” are, but, I like that this is has no sugar, no cane syrup, no corn syrup, no stevia, no aspartame, no saccharine, no nothing to make this taste like some sticky, sickeningly sweet, syrupy soda without bubbles.

And what I’m tasting is lime and Guayusa.  The Guayusa has that smooth, slightly earthy and coffee-esque taste that I’ve come to recognize as Guayusa.  The lime is strong in this, but it tastes like real lime juice.  It’s bright and refreshing.  The drink is cool and energizing and it feels clean on the palate, not heavy or inundated with too much sweetener.

I’m really happy that there are some companies out there who are willing to celebrate the flavor of the leaf – even if the leaf in this instance happens to be the leaf of Guayusa and not Camellia Sinensis – my point is that this is the way RTD teas/tisanes should be.  They should be about the leaf and not the sugar!

The Tea Spot Mile High Chai

Tea For Me Please - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 16:00
Country of Origin: India
Leaf Appearance: small, dark with lots of spices
Ingredients: black tea, ginger root, cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, peppercorns, cloves, natural chai flavoring
Steep time: 5 minutes
Water Temperature: 212 degrees
Preparation Method: ceramic teacup and mesh infuser
Liquor: dark brown

Somehow the word chai became synonymous with spiced tea here in the U.S. even though the word is actually Hindi for tea. Therefore when you are in line at Starbucks and order a chai tea, you're really asking for tea tea. The correct term would really be masala chai, which indicates the typical spices used in this type of blend. This rendition from The Tea Spot was a fairly typical, plenty of kick and a bold black tea base. This style of tea is the one case where I think CTC style leaves taste better, especially if it's an Assam. That is exactly what they used here. Ginger and cinnamon were the dominant spices but I was able to taste the other ingredients as well. I drank it straight but it would work well with milk and sugar if desired. I can't quite pin it down but there just seemed to be something missing. Perhaps it was the chai flavoring that threw me off? The full impact that I expect from this type of tea just wasn't there. This is something that really comes to down to a matter of personal preference. For some chai drinkers, this blend is exactly what they are looking for.

Mile High Chai sample provided by The Tea Spot.
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Global Tea Hut: Have tea will travel

T Ching - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 12:01

Those familiar melancholy notes which always accompany the close of a Northern Hemisphere summer are now in full symphony: shorter days, suddenly; soft, warm air with chilly, foreboding undercurrents; bright sunshine above but the first yellowing, fallen leaves below. This minor chord season is always a good time to reflect on the period which just ended. What did Summer bring us? What did we learn, how did we grow during it? Hopefully there was mega fun, direct doses of Vitamin D, skinny dips and hot kisses. And hopefully we shifted some- what in a forward motion.

The end of Summer for me has always been a bit like New Year’s Eve is supposed to be—a period of reflection, assessing lessons learned or recalling loves lived and lost. The approaching Autumn has a dreamy, otherworldly feel that allows one to wallow a tad in memories. This year I have especially much to ponder and recall. Summer offered up a blend of emotional highs and lows I had not experienced in many years (I listened too closely to the Sirens’ song and jumped overboard) along with the concomitant opportunities for inner exploration and growth. During such delectable feasts one tends to gorge—and purge.

It was a summer of digging deep, not always liking what was found or felt but ultimately feeling lighter for having several unneeded layers lifted and chiseled away. My only true and constant companion throughout was tea. And my deepest tea sessions, indeed among the most fantastic of my life, all took place outdoors.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to get it all together and enjoy preparing tea outside, other than lack of imagination and fear of grass stains, but now that I have, there’s no turning back. I want to encourage all our readers to get out there and enjoy whatever last warm days there are in the company of a faithful friend who loves unconditionally and brings a depth of comfort and clarity which few two-legged pals can muster.

Here in Estonia one is never far from a forested patch to sit down in, plant one’s muladhara squarely down onto living, pulsating earth and plunge into an experience which finds oneself in a dance among the five elements. Preparing and drinking tea in such an environment reconnects with an ancient tradition in which people – tea masters and simple folk alike—collected water, made a fire and brewed one of Nature’s gifts in the same environment in which it had grown.

Tea helped make the connection between Earth and Heaven through the physical self immediate and transcendent.

For many centuries, human interaction with the tea plant, whether in tending to its leaves or drinking its nectar, likely happened in the company of a gentle breeze, shaded from the sun by treetops, and among snapping twigs and buzzing bugs. If not forced to take shelter from inclement weather, people naturally gravitated towards drinking tea in the environment in which it had been born.

The How & Why

What do you need for a proper tea picnic? A gas burner (the butane-powered, inexpensive kind available at almost any hardware or camping shop); a kettle (glass which can handle direct flame, clay or stainless steel); a teapot; as many cups as friends with you, and into which you can fully pour out the pot’s contents; a few tea towels; tea; fresh water (ideally spring); and sharpened senses.

Almost any spot will do, even a public park, if that’s all that’s available. Better still a forest, wooded area, beachfront, cliff, bog, tundra . . .  the more Nature—the more open space – the better. When wandering around looking for an appropriate space, try to let the spot pick you; try to sense which space wishes to host your tea session. Let your inner voice guide you to a place which feels right.

Tea has a way of relaxing inner tensions such that one’s true voice speaks out in security and comfort. Most of us have experienced such beautiful unfoldings of the soul during tea sessions, where suddenly the veils of mind noise seem to part, masks fall off, the heart opens up and things are said (or comfortably left unspoken) which would otherwise not be expressed. Often, a connection between the people present becomes palpable, firm, comfortable. The most beautiful gift we can offer others is a space in which they can truly be themselves, and drinking tea is one of the most powerful ways to offer such a space.

When tea is shared outdoors, its soul-opening aspects appear to be magnified; that which tea naturally encourages in people seems to be enhanced and deep- ened just by being in natural, unthreatening surroundings. If tea generally relaxes the spirit to allow thoughts and feelings to surface, then this effect is magnified by the natural elements.

This is true even when by oneself, and especially true when sharing tea with another. Sometimes, what transpires during tea sessions is unexpected, pure magic, like gaining a privileged view into the deeper aspects of others, and certainly also of yourself. There are times when it seems as if pure emotions, kept under lock and key in remote, distant areas, suddenly come bubbling up to the surface.

Amazing too, when making tea on a forest floor, the tea and teaware seamlessly blend into their surroundings. Tea leaves placed into a bowl or pot look as if they could have been picked up from the ground: the Japanese tea scoop I used once got lost among the pieces of darkened birch bark lying near it. It’s easy to believe that you are drinking up the very surroundings.

Have Tea Will Travel was written by Steve Kokker and originally published by Global Tea Hut in September, 2012. Global Tea Hut has generously granted permission to T Ching to publish past articles from their publication each week.  These will appear on Wednesdays.

 MAIN image from T Ching archives     IMAGE 1:        IMAGE 2:        IMAGE 3:

The post Global Tea Hut: Have tea will travel appeared first on T Ching.

A Small Brass Band, Surely?

The Devotea - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 11:56
When we head off to try a new tea room in a place we are visiting, the chances are we might never visit that place again. So, I wonder, should we warn them of our impending visit? On one hand, it’s a more authentic experience if we don’t. But really, is that fair? In Thaxted, […]

Just Peachy Black Tea from Pluck Tea

SororiTEA Sisters - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 03:59

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Black

Where to Buy:  Pluck Tea

Tea Description:

This high grown luxury loose leaf black tea is blended with dried ripe peaches and apricots grown in Niagara, Ontario.

Soft and fruity… chill for an enchanting iced tea.

Learn more about August’s Postal Teas shipment here.

Learn more about subscribing to Postal Teas here.

Taster’s Review:

My “August” box from Postal Teas arrived a few days ago, and I was eager to dive right in and try “this month’s” teas.  This service is set up to ship at the end of the month, so these teas that I received in September are actually August’s teas, so it will be a little confusing for me to be calling this August’s box when it arrived in September.  But it’s really not that important … at least the teas arrived, right?  And I’m quite happy with this month’s selection.

And I’m even happier with the note that I received in the box.  As I mentioned in my first review of the teas that I received with my first shipment, they include a handwritten note.  I dig that, it communicates to me that they took a few moments out of their day to write something to me.  While I love the convenience of shopping online and it’s how I do most of my shopping (at least for tea!), with the handling process of the many orders of so many companies out there it seems that the personal touch is lost.  That “thank you for shopping with us” and the smile from the clerk is lost (and let’s face it, it’s lost when you shop at most of the big chain stores too) and that’s something that I – as a consumer – appreciate.  So when I get a handwritten note with an order, even if it’s just something as simple as a hand-written “thank you” on the receipt, it tells me that a person was on the other side of this order.  I like that.

And what I like even more is that this note … was written with ME in mind.  They wrote this to me.  They didn’t have some formed response that they wrote on everyone’s note of every package that they sent out this month.  Let me show you what I mean.  The note says:

Anne,

We love having your feedback!

We hope these are a little more exciting for you!  

Be sure to let us know what you think!

OK.  So not only are they addressing the fact that I sit here and write tea reviews, but they’re acknowledging that they read my reviews and they’ve taken my feelings into account while writing this note because I did express some discontent with the previous box because the teas – while they were classics and quite good! – were just a little … well, it was like, OK, I signed up for this new service and they’re sending me teas from a new-to-me company but they were teas that I could pretty much find anywhere.  I could go to my local coffee shop and find those teas.  So, I was like, “Um … boring!”

Hey, what can I say.  After writing reviews for over five years, I guess you could say that I’m needy and what I need is something different.  Something that I don’t already have in my pantry.  (And my tea pantry is extensive.)  So, yeah, my apologies to Postal Teas and Tease for sounding less than excited about trying something that I’ve already tried.

BUT … I’m not here today to talk about last month’s box.  I want to talk about this month’s box!  This is the first tea that I’ve tasted from this month’s box from Postal Teas.  This month’s supplier for Postal Teas is a company called Pluck and it’s a company that I’ve not yet tried.  And THAT’S why I like to subscribe to services like this.  I like to explore teas that I’ve not tried before from companies that I’ve not yet heard of.  This month, Postal Teas delivered that right to my mailbox.

The dry leaf is deliciously fragrant!  It smells a lot like my kitchen did about a month and a half ago when I brought home a big box full of freshly picked peaches.  Yum!

I brewed this tea in my Breville One Touch.  I put two bamboo scoops of tea into the basket of the tea maker and added 500ml of freshly filtered water into the jug, and then set the controls for 212°F and 2 1/2 minutes (my go-to settings for most black teas).

The tea has a peachy aroma, and I smell more “black tea” notes now than I did with the dry leaf.  The dry leaf is all about the peach, but now that the tea is brewed, I’m experiencing a lighter peach note and a little bit of black tea in the fragrance.  It smells delightful!

Das Pfirsichglas (The Jar of Peaches) by Monet. Photo from Wikipedia, click on the pick to go there.

Nice!  The peach is a little elusive while the tea is piping hot so I would suggest letting this tea cool slightly before taking a sip.  As the tea cools, the flavors develop.  (And it’s AMAZING iced!)

The black tea is strongest flavor of this cup, and that’s the way it should be.  When I taste a flavored tea, I like it when I can taste the flavors the tea promises, but I still want to taste the tea part too.  Otherwise, I might as well just consume a glass of fruit juice.  I want tea!

But that’s not to say that I don’t taste the peach in this tea, because I do.  The peach is there, but it doesn’t overpower the tea notes.  It’s a flavor that starts out subtle and develops slowly.

And what I like best about the peach notes here is that it tastes very true to the fruit.  It doesn’t have an artificial peach taste.  It tastes like peaches that have been picked off the tree and then liquefied and added to a cup of Ceylon tea.  The aftertaste is delightfully peachy!

As I was brewing this tea, I thought about additions.  I didn’t add anything to the cup, but a little bit of sugar might encourage the peach notes to emerge a little bit more and it might temper the slight astringent bite at the tail of the sip.  But, it wasn’t too astringent and I could taste the peach notes without the sweetener so it’s not something that must be added.  I was thinking that maybe a splash of milk or cream would give this a ‘peaches and cream’ sort of flavor but now that I’m drinking it, I think that the dairy addition would overwhelm the delicate notes of peach and you don’t want that!

It’s a very enjoyable cuppa, and it captures what this time of year is about to me – the sweet harvests as the summer comes to an end and we welcome autumn.

Jasmine Green Tea from Green Terrace Teas

SororiTEA Sisters - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 16:00

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Green

Where to Buy:  Green Terrace Teas

Tea Description:

This tea gets its sweet, jasmine aroma through a scenting process in which freshly picked jasmine blossoms are repeatedly mixed with green tea.  Known to have even greater health benefits than traditional green tea, this artisan tea is very fresh and soothing in character with a light and sweet floral aftertaste.  Due to the intense flavor of the leaves, we recommend using fewer leaves and steeping with multiple short infusions of only 30 to 40 seconds.  This tea makes an invigorating after-meal beverage.

Learn more about this tea here.

Taster’s Review:

I’ve had quite a few Chinese jasmine teas, but I don’t recall having a Taiwanese jasmine tea until now.  I might have had one or two, but none come to mind at the moment.  And I think that if I had tried a Taiwanese Jasmine Green Tea like this one from Green Terrace Teas, I would have remembered!  This is absolutely lovely!

I brewed this the way I would normally steep a jasmine green, but also taking into consideration the recommendations in the description above.  I used a little less leaf than I normally would place in my gaiwan (normally I use a bamboo scoop, this time, I measured that out, and then I poured a little off the scoop), and I started with a rinse of 15 seconds and then started steeping for 45 seconds, and added 15 seconds onto each subsequent infusion.  I combined the first six infusions into my Yi Xing mug, and that’s what I’m sipping now.

And as I said … it’s LOVELY!  The jasmine is strong but not overpowering.  I am getting a beautiful floral note that is sweet and exotic tasting but it doesn’t taste soapy or perfume-ish.

It’s very similar to a Chinese jasmine, except that the green tea here is distinctly different.  This tastes less grassy and more sweet.  It has a slightly creamy texture to it that I don’t often experience with Jasmine green teas, and I’m enjoying how this creaminess melds with the sweet flowery notes.

This is incredibly smooth and creamy and delightful!  Another amazing tea from Green Terrace Teas!

Chambre De Sucre Kyushu

Tea For Me Please - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 16:00
Country of Origin: Japan
Leaf Appearance: deep green with bright petals
Ingredients: organic green tea, organic safflower, organic coconut, organic banana pieces, organic flavor
Steep time: 3 minutes
Water Temperature: 175 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain teacup and mesh infuser
Liquor: yellowish green

Sencha and banana sounds like a really odd flavor combo. That of course made this blend instantly appeal to me. The only teas that I could ever recall having banana in them were rooibos based. The taste was vegetal, fruity and sweet. The unusual pairing worked well and I was so glad that it didn't taste artificial at all. They have an excellent line of teas but Chambre de Sucre is probably best known for their artisan sugars. I added one of their adorable mini hearts to my cup and the touch of sweetness really made the flavors pop. This tea was even better as an iced tea. The umami of the sencha became much more prominent. Each of Chambre De Sucre's teas are named and numbered after Lisa's family members. This one is named after the place in Japan where her father is from and it is numbered 6 for his birthday. It adds a uniquely personal touch that I really enjoy.

Kyushu sample provided by Chambre De Sucre.
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Golden Tips Tea, Mankota Exotic Assam 2014: "Oh, that's good. Shut up."

39 Steeps - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 15:22
{ "Celtic Gold," by Gea Austen, via DeviantArt }  

"Oh, that's good. Shut up."

When I steeped the Golden Tips "Mankota Exotic Assam," which is from the Mankota tea estate in Assam, India, I was not expecting terribly much. That is to say, I don't typically get excited by Assam teas, because I'm more of a light-and-bright Darjeeling drinker.

The aroma came to me in my office, wafted by my desk fan. Meaty, like beef soup, deep and dark to match the color of the transparent brown liquor. Float a sauteed onion and some carrots in there, and you could serve it for dinner.

Until you hit the taste. Bright yet rich, and as I said, beefy, a touch of a nutty quality, with a pleasing sharpness you wouldn't ordinarily expect with that flavor palette. Fairly simple in its overall manner, yet entirely pleasant.

I followed the packaging directions, 1 tsp, boiling water, 3.5 minutes. Typically I'd try a gongfu presentation, but when I haven't met the tea before, I prefer to follow the instructions of those who know something about it. And if it ain't Baroque, don't fix it. I increased the time to 4.5 minutes for the second steeping, allowing it more time to develop. As always, I try to allow the tea to sit a couple moments before drinking so it can "bloom," to borrow a term from the coffee types. Those first few moments make a big difference to me, causing more complexity to develop in the cup before a tasting.

For my taste, even though I am inclined to ignore Assam teas as a general rule because of the heaviness in the taste coloration, this Mankota by Golden Tips has a light brightness that offsets it and makes it more of a self-drinker. It's not asking for any additional milk or sugar, which is a bit unusual for these heavier-styled teas. It's enjoyable and well worth the time for a couple steepings.

GOLDEN TIPS, a company I've just discovered, has quite an impressive array of India teas from Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiri, Sikkim, Kangra, and Nepal, each fastidiously marked to establish flush, exact date of picking, and so on. Really nice to see such a variety of high-end teas available for anyone to buy, curated by a company in business since the early parts of the last century. Thank you, GT, for your gift of tea!


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Tea & Food Pairings

Walker Tea Review - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 14:30
Ambivalence is the pull of multiple forces tugging you in different directions. Good tea deserves to be appreciated for its own sake. On the other hand, is there a meal that could not be enhanced with a fine tea? In the spirit of Louis Jordan reconciling beans and cornbread, I guess tea and good food can […]

Tea of the Pacific Northwest

T Ching - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 12:01

I embarked on my first journey into the Pacific Northwest with my Tealet family Mike and Rie. We drove from our home in Las Vegas with the hopes of learning about the history of tea growing in Oregon and Washington and to connect with tea lovers all along the way. Our travels took us through every major city along the way including San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle as well as quaint towns hidden in the forest. What we learned is that tea culture is rich in the area and it is a heavenly destination for tea lovers of all types from around the world.

We visited two tea farms on the trip, one near Salem, Oregon, and one about an hour north of Seattle, Washington (we also visited a garden in California, but I’ll save that story for another post). Minto Island Growers and Sakuma Brothers planted their tea trees around the same time and from the same plant stock. Both gardens are beautiful and proudly show their love for the environment of the Pacific Northwest, but tea production is handled differently by the farms. Minto Island Growers has allowed local tea enthusiasts (including Eugene’s J-Tea’s Josh Chamberlain) to pluck and process the leaves from their garden while Richard Sakuma of Sakuma Brothers, prefers to do his own processing. We were extremely excited to see the progress of tea quality from both gardens and see that with a little more research and experimentation tea lovers will soon enjoy fine tea from this area on a regular basis. You can sample Josh’s batch at his shop in Eugene and purchase teas directly from the gardens at their respective farm stands.

In between our visit with the tea gardens, we were excited to connect with a network of tea lovers we have built through social media. In both Portland and Seattle, we co-hosted tea meet-ups with friends Marilyn Flaming Miller of Portland and Nik Nikolayev  from Seattle, where we connected with many types of tea lovers and had conversations about things such as growing tea on the Moon. We connected with another network of tea lovers at the arts and music festival Beloved in Tidewater, Oregon where we sponsored and poured tea from the Jasmine Dragon Tea Truck with our friends Omar Riverstone, Olde Po, (Paul Rosenberg), and RonJon Terlane. Hundreds of people sat down to enjoy a spiritual connection with tea, showing us a side to tea that we seldom get to see. For many tea lovers in the Pacific Northwest, tea is a spiritual and healing experience wherein the quality of tea is determined from its Chi.

Finally, I would like to give a shout out to all the tea shops and tea educators in the Pacific Northwest who have inspired this rich tea culture. Overall, we encountered the most educated tea market with discerning taste and it is because of your hard work and dedication. We visited over 20 tea retailers, all of whom have something very special to offer. From Taiwanese Oolongs to Aged Puerhs to US grown tea, the Pacific Northwest is definitely a tea lover’s paradise.

MAIN:    Image 1: courtesy of Contributor                           Image 2:

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Tuesday tea TV: 'My Proper Tea'

Tea Squared - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 11:00

This is the best thing I've seen in a while. The performance-sync is spot-on, the rap is righteous, and I totally agree: nothing fires me to hip-hop-angry levels quite like improper tea prep. Enjoy Brit comic Doc Brown rhyming about, yegods, milk-first madness ...

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Hello, David

The Devotea - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 05:32
Whoever the hell David is, David’s Tea, or DAVIDs TEA, to use the clearly incorrect and rather silly mix of upper and lower case they seem to prefer*, has been on my radar for years. My friend Nicole Martin works for them now, or is about to, or there was something about a fire or […]

Short Circuit

The Devotea - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 04:39
Before I surprise all of my readers, let me just say I am quite surprised myself. Barely three months ago, Lady Devotea & I announced an exciting new adventure: moving our headquarters to the UK and in that time, Lady D has been at the helm of a new tea shop that has presented our […]

Relax Ayurvedic Rooibos Tisane from TeaVeda

SororiTEA Sisters - Tue, 09/09/2014 - 03:59

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Rooibos

Where to Buy:  The Veda Company

Tea Description:

Sweet, romantic and warming flavors of vanilla, cinnamon, rooibos and spices entice and entitle you to “Relax.” 

Learn more about the teas from TeaVeda here.

Taster’s Review:

I know I’ve said it more than once here on this blog, but I’m a sucker for packaging.  I’m also really into presentation.  And I have to say that I really like the presentation – and the packaging! – from this new-to-me company, The Veda Company, and their line of teas called TeaVeda.

The Veda Company sells not just an intriguing line of teas, but also candles, body care and home décor.  And I love the presentation of their TeaVeda line.  The tins are GORGEOUS and isn’t the teapot and teacup (in the photo above) absolutely beautiful?  The teacup is also called “Relax” and each of the teacups in the TeaVeda line has an inspiring message printed on the inside of the cup.  For the Relax cup, the message is:

“A happy family is but an earlier heaven.”  ~George Bernard Shaw

I love it all:  the teapot, the teacup, and the gorgeous tins that the teas are packaged in.  Beautifully ornate with a very tight fitting, double lid system to help keep your tea protected from the elements.

But wait, there’s more!  There’s TEA!

Tonight, I’m in need of a soothing, relaxing cup of tea so I’m sipping on “Relax” from TeaVeda, which is a chai-like blend of spices, vanilla and rooibos.  This chai has the “usual” chai ingredients:  ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.  Plus it also has some black pepper to spice it up even more and some vanilla to sweeten it.

This blend is a lovely spicy-sweet blend that teases my taste buds!  At first I think that the cloves are the most prominent flavor of the cup, but then the pepper and ginger come through strongly.  Then the cinnamon and cardamom come shining through.

The vanilla is a subtle flavor to this cup, adding a creamy flavor to the drink without softening the spices.  There is a warm, nutty flavor from the rooibos that complements the spices well.  And, even though the spices are vibrant, the beverage has a calming overall effect.

A nice, soothing cup of “Relax”!

When I first encountered The Veda Company, I found that their website is not an e-commerce/shopping cart type of site.  Instead, to place your order, you need to utilize their inquiry page and place the order via this system.  Not quite as convenient as the shopping cart, I realize, and they realize it too, so until they do get the shopping cart up and running, they are offering a 20% discount on retail orders made through the inquiry page!  I love saving money!

Buenos Aires: Yerba mate from the source

Tea Squared - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 18:48

Academic pursuits recently afforded me the opportunity to cross the equator for the first time. Five days scheduled in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I was excited about (a) seeing water drain the other way around, (b) steak, steak, and more steak, and (c) drinking mate at the source.

You'd think the latter would be easy to find — particularly given stats claiming that "every man, woman, and child" consumes 11 pounds of mate annually — but you'd be wrong. While mate is consumed widely by Argentines, I found that to be largely a private endeavour. Try to find mate served in a restaurant or shop, and you do a lot of walking with nothing to show for it.

Mate is not something I've written much about on this blog. That's largely because the first time I tried a quality dose of it, I wound up with the worst headache I've ever had. Was it the mate? I steered clear, just in case. Since then, I've dabbled amid the trend without getting too excited about it.

Yerba mate has been celebrated as having all the kick of coffee with all the health benefits of tea. (Like most infusion-related health claims, these have yet to be seriously studied.) It's made from the leaves of a holly tree from the South American rainforest. The dried leaves are steeped, like tea, in hot (not boiling) water.

In Argentina, the custom is to steep the mate in a cured gourd and sip the infusion from a bombilla, a metal straw with a filtered submerged end. It looks like a bowl of grassy soup, and the flavor is very vegetative, like a strong white tea blended with sage and geranium.

After some serious hunting throughout Buenos Aires, at the 11th hour I found a restaurant that served mate — but only in the afternoons, after opening at 1 p.m. (or close to it, such is the Buenos Aires easy-go), and only in winter (which it was in August). Cumana, at Rodriguez Pena 1149 (east of one seriously interesting and beautiful bookstore, where I bought a book about mate, even though it's in Spanish, which I don't read), is a good traveler's find: affordable menu, good food, casual atmosphere, and snacky portions. Cumana serves a thermos of mate, with sides of bread or biscuits. The above description stands, and the caffeinated stimulation is significant. I enjoyed a gourdful prior to my departing flight, a 10-hour trek on which I expected no sleep, so mas mate!

A final photo: The family of Juan Carlos Pallarols has been turning out the finest silver ware in Buenos Aires for generations — which is saying something in a country that's name is taken from the Latin word for silver. They made the silver death mask for Evita Peron, and each president of Argentina receives a ceremonial staff made here. I walked to see his shop one morning (closed, alas), and the window display featured these sterling mate gourds. The next time I try mate, I'd like it to be out of this ...


Green Pekoe Tea from Simple Loose Leaf

SororiTEA Sisters - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 16:00

Tea Information:

Leaf Type:  Green

Learn more about Simple Loose Leaf here.

Tea Description:

Green tea from the Fujian province of China. Green Pekoe is famed as an everyday tea, and is among the most popular teas consumed in China. Its thin, wavy leaves appear almost black when dry. Once infused, however, our ‘Green Pekoe Blues’ reveals its true color. And produces a light cup with a smooth, mellow taste and a gentle, soothing aroma.

Learn more about this tea here.

Learn more about Simple Loose Leaf’s Selection Club subscription program here.

Receive 25% savings on the Selection Club from Simple Loose Leaf.  Just type in SISTERSELECTION25 in the coupon field and save 25%!  This discount is applicable only to the monthly Selection Club subscription and not the retail selection of teas.

Taster’s Review:

Oh wow!  This is just what I needed today.  As I write this (which is a few days before it will actually publish), I am feeling kind of drained.  Everyone in the household is getting sick!  Ugh!  I don’t feel it yet … except for that weak, sort of drained kind of feeling that I feel.  Lackluster … no energy.  You know what I’m talking about, right?

Today, my box from Simple Loose Leaf arrived, and it came just when I needed something to pick me up and bring a smile to my face.  (Receiving these boxes from Simple Loose Leaf every month always DO bring a smile to my face!)  And this Green Pekoe is the first tea that I’m trying out of this month’s box.

The dry leaf smells very vegetal and a little earthy – like something between freshly cut grass, kelp and the leafy green section of the produce market.  It’s a green tea, so I brewed it at my “go to” temperature for green tea, 180°F.   I measured two heaping bamboo scoops of tea into the basket of my Breville One-Touch.

Well, I sort of “guessed” that it was about two heaping scoops.  These leaves are long and curly like a bunch of tangled up wire!  So, it’s difficult to actually get a heaping scoop out of the package.  You either get more than a heaping scoop … or you get less, as in much less.  Like a few leaves.  This is usually the case.  These leaves are very *independent* and don’t want to hang with the crowd on the bamboo scoop – they want to do their own thing!

So I measured out enough leaves to where it looked like two heaping scoops in the basket.  Then I poured 500ml of freshly filtered water into the jug (fortunately the water is not as independent as the tea leaves and just goes with the flow), finished assembling the jug and set the timer for 2 minutes at 180°F.

And we have green tea deliciousness!

The flavor is sweet and mild.  It’s not an overbearing “green tea” taste – it doesn’t taste too much like vegetables of any sort, nor does it taste bitter or grassy.  It’s smooth and feels soft on the palate.  It has a very satisfying, soothing kind of taste – just the pick-me-up that I needed on this afternoon that was starting to feel kind of down-and-out!  This tea got me out of that funk.

I like the light flavor here, it’s sweet with delicate notes of flower and fruit.  The finish is slightly dry but not overly astringent.  The aftertaste is pleasantly sweet.  This would make an excellent everyday sort of green tea because it has a very enjoyable flavor and it is very relaxing to sip.

This tea helped turn my whole day around!  Thank you, Simple Loose Leaf!

Tea Journeyman Thea Kuan Imm Thai Oolong Tea

Tea For Me Please - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 16:00
Country of Origin: Thailand
Leaf Appearance: deep green, tightly rolled
Ingredients: oolong tea
Steep time: 30 seconds
Water Temperature: 195 degrees
Preparation Method: porcelain gaiwan
Liquor: amber

I've had a handful of Thai teas with some mixed results. Their tea industry seems to still be in a transition period but there are some really exciting things happening. This Tie Guan Yin has a higher level of oxidation of around 70%. Although technically a darker oolong, I was reminded more of honey and brown sugar than roastiness like I might expect from a Chinese version of this tea. The taste was surprisingly sweet and fruity. There was also a floral aftertaste but it wasn't a dominant part of the flavor profile. Overall it was a tasty cup of tea and a fairly affordable one to boot. One of my favorite things about +Tea Journeyman Shop is that the wizard behind the curtain, +Kevin Craig, started out as a blogger like myself. Because of this perspective he includes all of the nitty gritty details that the nerdy sort crave. A full set a pictures and tasting notes gives the tea buyer a really clear idea of what tea they are purchasing.

Thea Kuan Imm Thai Oolong Tea sample provided by Tea Journeyman.
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Do you love something chocolate-tea?

T Ching - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 12:00

Fresh off of presenting pairing sessions at the Los Angeles International Tea Festival, which were enthusiastically received, I got to thinking that not only can one pair tea with chocolate, and tea with cheese (yes!); placing tea and chocolate in closer proximity  - in a tea cup – makes for an inviting early fall beverage, particularly for those who like dairy in their cuppa. Tasting a range of single-estate teas from the Assam region in preparation for my pairing sessions, I came upon some which had an almost chocolaty essence which set my creative impulses afire. With a bit of a fall nip in the air, I’m inspired to propose the following.

First: Source some good, single-estate Assams, such as those from Doomni, Langharjan or Nahorhabi with hints of malt and cocoa, buying enough of the tea to use to brew and to infuse the heavy cream required to make the Tea Truffles recipe given below.

Next: Scour the chocolate bar aisles in your local specialty food store. Look for names such as Guittard, Valrhona -  both larger scale producers – and then, look further for smaller bean-to-bar producers such as, Mast Brothers, Dandelion, Theo and Tcho. Check the labels for the percentage of total cocoa solids and cocoa butter content. I like to use chocolates which tend to be a bit more bitter  - 60-70 percent range.

Finally: Buy some good heavy cream.  Now make the Tea Truffles as follows.

Yield:  8 generous sized truffles

1 c. plus 4 T. heavy cream

2 T. good quality Assam (or other favorite) tea leaves

8 ounces high quality chocolate, cut into small pieces (roughly ½ inch)

Place the chocolate into a stainless steel or other heatproof bowl.

Bring the cup of cream to a boil (reserving the 4 T. of the cream).  Add the tea leaves, stir and reduce the heat to simmer, cooking for another 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Allow the mixture to stand for about 10 minutes. Now pour through a fine meshed sieve into a small bowl. Add the remaining 4 T. of heavy cream which approximately replaces what is absorbed by the tea leaves. Stir the mixture immediately to melt the chocolate completely – if it does not fully melt, place the bowl of a pot of hot water and stir until it does. Allow the mixture to cool and then scrape or pour out into a flat shallow bowl or pan. Refrigerate, covered, until firm, about an hour. Once the mixture is firm, spoon out tablespoonfuls of it onto a parchment- or foil-lined sheet pan. Chill again, covered. Now remove from the refrigerator and round the rough tablespoonfuls using the palms of your hands.   Store the completed truffles in the refrigerator in a container with a tight fitting lid until ready to use.

Brew your favorite Assam (or choose from those listed above), using 3 grams per 6 ounces of good quality water, brought just to the boil. Infuse for about 3 minutes (taste as you go to arrive at the degree of extraction that you like). Place a truffle at the bottom of a nice china cup, set onto a saucer. Decant the brewed tea into the cup, stir gently, inhale deeply and enjoy!

image courtesy of Lauren Wemischner.

 

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