Notes on Tea

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Favorite Tea Ware - Anna Mariani of The Tea Squirrel

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 18:40
As a tea drinker, and I am sure this is true for you, I adore teaware, from the chasen to the yixing teapot. Everyone has their favorites! I designed this series as an opportunity for tea drinkers to showcase the very special tea objects in their personal collections. Today's selections are brought to you by Anna Mariani of The Tea Squirrel. Anna takes a minimalist approach to her teaware collection. To accommodate her lifestyle, her collection is composed of a "few essential and versatile items that don't go out of fashion."


The very first time I used a gaiwan was at the Chinese garden in Portland, OR, one the most authentic Chinese gardens outside of China. At the beautiful teahouse overlooking the serene pond, sitting by the open patio doors, I tried my hand at gong fu cha. It was a beautifully sunny summer day and I couldn’t take my eyes off the reflection of the pavilions and bridges, trees and the sky in the pond. It was like being in a painting. It felt really special, we had tea and mooncakes. I guess that was my rite of passage as far as my tea journey is concerned.

I bought my gaiwan in San Francisco at Red Blossom Tea Co in Chinatown. It’s called the spring gaiwan, it’s made of very thin white porcelain, so thin that it is almost transparent when held against the light. I was shown it in comparison to a cheap gaiwan and the difference was incredible. My gaiwan is definitely the most used item in my collection. I love how interactive a gaiwan is and how much control it gives you over the resulting brew.

“The Italian Teacup” aka The Beginning of My Tea Journey

This teacup is not part of my tea collection, but it’s an essential part of my tea journey. It’s one of a six-piece tea set which belonged to my grandmother. I fell in love with tea as a child. I would spend my afternoons at my grandmother's house and tea time was a daily ritual. It was not officially called "tea time" (it was called "merenda", the Italian word for "afternoon snack" or “afternoon break”) but it was definitely a ritual which I remember looking forward to every day. She would serve black tea (I think it was an English Breakfast blend or Earl Grey) in these fine porcelain cups. There was always something sweet to eat. Sometimes it was a cake she had lovingly baked, sometimes a croissant from the nearby bakery. The very same cup served as a measuring cup for baking her signature cake, “the teacup cake” (“la torta della tazzina” in Italian), the most delicious sponge cake flavored with freshly grated lemon zest.

Tea Pet

My lucky charm and low-maintenance tea companion is a squirrel tea pet, as you might have guessed from my blog name. How did a squirrel become my spirit animal? That’s a great question! Years ago, when I was living and studying in Vienna, Austria, my German language skills definitely needed improvement. One day, I was talking to my boyfriend (now husband) and was telling him how surprised I was because I had seen a squirrel right in my backyard. Vienna is full of beautiful parks and it’s not rare to catch a glimpse of wildlife. But European squirrels are very different from their American cousins. They are shy and won’t approach humans hoping to get food. I was really surprised to see one. Unfortunately, my sentence didn’t come out right. I had confused two words in German, the word for squirrel and the word for unicorn. I basically told him I had seen a little unicorn in my backyard. That’s how the squirrel found me ;-) I suppose I could have been “the tea unicorn” too...but I like my tea squirrel better!

Glass Serving Pitcher

I think serving pitchers are the most underrated tea ware items. When brewing tea the gong fu way, they are essential. If you pour from the gaiwan directly into the tasting cups, someone is going to get a lighter brew, someone is going to get the last pour, which means a stronger brew. I believe in equal opportunities for all ;-) There’s a reason why the Chinese call it the “Fairness Cup”! I love this glass serving pitcher I bought at Asha Tea House in San Francisco. It’s the perfect size and I can see the colors of my tea. I can even use it as a brewing vessel if necessary, like when I used it to brew Tai Ping Hou Kui, those leaves are so long they would never fit in a gaiwan!

A white gaiwan is one of my essential favorites, too! Anna's squirrel is a unique tea pet in terms of the material (wood, not clay) and the animal (it's a squirrel, not a pig or other zodiac animal). I wonder what animal will find me for tea? Thank you for sharing your minimal approach to tea ware, Anna.

TeaVivre Organic Hangzhou Tian Mu Qing Ding

Fri, 07/14/2017 - 15:01

One of the first tasks of tasting Chinese teas, for me, is to decode the information contained in a tea's name. In this case, Tianmu is a mountain located in Hangzhou City. The city is part of Zhejiang, a province south of the Yang Jiang River, known for the production of Long Jing, Anji Bai Cha, and Huiming on its montane plantations, according to Gascoyne et al. (2014). Tian Mu Qing Ding is also known as Tian Mu Yun Wu. Qing ding translates to love and I must say I rather enjoyed this green tea. TeaVivre provided a sample of the organic version of this tea for my review.

I infused 3.12 grams in 6 ounces of 185F water for 3 mins with an additional minute for subsequent steeps up to 5 minutes. The dry leaves are very hairy (they are leaves not buds; the buds are revealed as the leaves unfurl). The first infusion was a remarkable clear, shiny, pale yellow green liquor. The tea smelled and tasted sweet. There was a crisp vegetal note, too, as well as a sweet nuttiness. The liquor was smooth, almost velvety, and immediately cooling. July 7th was a very humid day.

On the second infusion the leaves had opened fully so the pluck style was visible. This reported picking style for this tea is one bud with one leaf or one bud with two leaves. I also observed single leaves and one bud with three leaves. All the leaves were small. The liquor was a light golden yellow with a subdued sweetness. A dry, grassy character had emerged and the nutty note had strengthened. The vegetal flavor had not disappeared but it was more starchy than sweet. I detected toasted sesame seeds especially on the tail note.

The third and final infusion was the most savory. The nutty flavor had evolved into toasted sunflowers seeds. There was the last vestige of sweetness on the tail note. TeaVivre has consistently good teas, and this Tian Mu Qing Ding is no exception. I would drink it hot or cold. In fact, I am cold steeping a few grams as I type this review.

The Organic Hangzhou Tian Mu Qing Ding reviewed in this post was provided by TeaVivre.