Wednesday, 31 March 2010
Sunday, 28 March 2010
Haven’t got much past the hmmm. I suppose sharing what I discover about tea is the biggest goal I have here. To do it virtually is an interesting proposition, because if I recommend a tea, such as Sencha Fudji, there’s no way I know if any of you actually went and tried that specific tea.
Because my tea dealer’s in Germany, I can’t imagine any of you in the US or Australia would bother ordering the exact same tea I’m talking about. If your tea guy has a similar green, you might order Sencha Fuji from him and that’s similar enough. More power to you.
So in some ways, meeting people analog (the old-fashioned way) and serving them tea is a much more immediate payoff. That’s what I did today, and I want to tell you about the experience. Had friends over for Kaffee und Kuchen, which is a very common thing to do on a Sunday afternoon in Germany. Very gemütlich. There was both coffee and cake. As always, I served tea as well. Most declined when I tried to pawn my loose-leaf tea off on them.
They came for coffee and cake and coffee and cake they wanted. But somehow I made the right choice of who to invite, because a few of them actually seemed excited at the prospect of a cuppa. Their eyes lit up when I said, ‘Would you like a cup of black or even green tea?’ ‘Yes, please,’ was the response and I served them my finest Japanese Sencha. Have written about it here recently. I get only compliments when I serve it. People ask me to write the tea’s name down, which I do gladly.
It’s exactly how it turned out today, too. It wasn’t even a recommendation. I offered them tea, they accepted and then got something far better than they normally would expect.
When I visit people and they offer tea, I get a tea bag. Some tea bags are better than others, but you know what I mean. The questionable quality of most people’s idea of tea is legendary. If you’re offered tea and ask, ‘What sort do you have?’, and the answer is black, peppermint and herbal, you know you’re in for a mediocre tea experience. If they can’t get more specific than “black”, then it’s probably not going to have a digestible taste. Maybe. You might luck out.
I know my visitors today went home fat and happy with cake and above-average tea in their bellies. My work is done here.
Friday, 26 March 2010
Watch the Digg.com charts next week. You'll see my tea exploits are an internet phenomenon.
Here are my top green teas from the first Hamburg shipment and the single dud:
China Lung Ching Grade 1 was delicious, as was the Japanese Sencha Fudji. I had a few white teas I won't mention here yet, but there was one green I didn't like and want to warn you from choosing. It's a Chinese green and is called simply Yunnan. The tea dealer said it was tasty, but it's simply not my definition of taste.
Let me be realy blunt here. Some people try green tea once, think all of it is exactly like the single one they've happened upon and shun all green tea for the rest of their days. I wasn't thrilled with it several years ago when I first tried it, but merely just hadn't tried the right one yet.
My point? With this sort of tea, you have to be patient. It doesn't conform to our Western tastes. At least not easily in my opinion.
I will say that Japanese Senchas seem to be more tasty to the newbies I've polled. My friend Sylvia was cooing about her Sencha that she had in her mug the other week. I was so pleased she'd found a green she liked. There's something wrong with me, eh? To get jazzed over a friend discovering a new tea is not something society seems to value much. Guess it's not hurting anyone.
Except bad tea purchases. That seems like a good trade off. More good tea choices and less China Yunnan. That's my motto.
Wednesday, 24 March 2010
Knowing that the best way for me to talk about specific teas with specific examples, I ordered a selection of different green and white teas, and went back to my daily grind. Didn't exactly forget about the shipment coming my way from Hamburg, but it certainly wasn't in the forefront of my mind.
It arrived and I tore into the parcel like a kid at Christmas. Or Chanukah or Kwansa or insert appropriate winter solstice holiday here. I was überglücklich.
There's an old Buddhist saying that, 'The taste of ch'an (Zen) and the taste of ch'a (tea) are the same.'
So if I plan to ignore China for the time being and go right to Japan, which I do, then I need to talk about tea ceremony and the history of tea's arrival in the Land of the Rising Sun. There's truly nothing I'd rather be doing right now. I'll try to keep it short for those I can already see yawning.
The way the Japanese prepare tea and present it is an aesthetic experience like nothing else I've ever seen. So exquisite is this experience that I wish all of you could just come with me to the tea shops I visited in Tokyo and Hammamatsu and other places. That was back before I had any idea that I was going to become such a tea whacko. I was there for the experience. Today I'd be there to grill the owner about the tea. You can imagine how tea shop owners cringe when they see me coming back to ask more questions.
But the main point I want to make here is that this tea preparation is a corollary to how the Japanese see life and the things that are important. They prepare the tea carefully and specifically, because that's how they view existence. It'd start sounding a bit esoteric if I went on much longer about this, but I needn't go any further. Here's what one of my favourite books said about this:
'...taking tea was said to be an earthly finger that "pointed to the moon" of enlightenment, the awakening to which all Buddhists aspired.'
from The World of Caffeine by Weinberg/Bealer
Sunday, 21 March 2010
The most important thing to remember is that while black tea needs to be prepared with boiling water, green tea is much more delicate and needs lower temperatures. The best thing to have if you’re going to drink green tea is a kettle that the temperature can be specified. The easiest thing to do if you don’t have such a contraption is to put a bit of cold water in the bottom of the teapot before the boiling water. Only after the water has cooled a bit, should you add the green tea. It’s not very scientific. And if you’re accustomed to really hot tea, you might not like the slightly less hot green alternative.
I want to go into more detail about green tea preparation in another post, but the last thing I’ll say is this: if you really want the full loose leaf experience, use a glass tea pot where you can watch the green leaves unfold and expand while coloring the water. If you’re sharing tea with another person, it can be as entertaining as watching the shades of a sunset or finding shapes in the clouds.
I’ll continue to include some history and trivia as I sample different teas from different regions of China and Japan. As always, please ask any questions that might come up. So far, the dialogue is what I’m enjoying the most.
Saturday, 20 March 2010
Two things happened today that I need to get off my chest. One was good and the other not so much so.
Someone I know asked me how he could get into tea. This is exactly what I want to do with this blog. Sure I want a dialogue and to entertain you, but if someone comes here to see what the hell I’m doing, and he has NO interest in tea whatever, and gets even fractionally passionate about it, then my work here is complete. Ok, as is often the case, I’m exaggerating. There’s an element of truth in the sentiment, though.
He said he drank coffee black and sweet and didn’t like the taste of milk in tea. I suggested based on this info that a dark Assam would fit him well. What do you think, gentle reader? Would you have offered the same suggestion? Please make a comment what you’d tell a guy who wants to get into tea but doesn’t know where to start.
The other thing is that I hooked this up to google analytics and found out how few people actually come here. It’s atrocious. There are more people on Mars than read this blog. Rows and rows of goose eggs where figures should be. People used to come look at what I was writing/doing, but the lean years are upon us. Sadly.
So here’s what I’d like. If you’re here reading this right now, and who else would it be, please let me know in the comments section what you’d like to see improved. How can I make lahikmajoedrinkstea better? Am all ears. Hope you say something. Anonymously or not. Say anything for heaven’s sake.
Tuesday, 16 March 2010
After its name on the package comes the acronym FTGFOP1. So I first had to find out what that meant. Finest, Tippy, Golden, Flowery, Orange Pekoe. Apparently this is the crème de la crème of Darjeelings. Or at least one of them. The tips of the leaves are flowery and really smell heavenly. I tried it next to a middle of the road Darjeeling blend called ‘Himalaya’ and the contrast was shocking. The blend was lighter in shade and was rather nondescript. The Singbulli tasted of flowers and was surprisingly strong.
The tea I tasted was a second flush which is picked in May/June and is said to be fuller in flavor. Haven’t tried the other flushes, but I can attest to the fact that this is a deep, fragrant taste. When it comes to other black teas like Ceylons, the higher the altitude, the better the tea. Have read in from a few sources that Darjeelings are grown in valleys and needn’t come from the highest of altitudes. This Darjeeling Singbulli is grown in the Mirik valley at a height of about 3,600 feet. Go procure some. You’ll be glad you did.
Monday, 15 March 2010
Since the 15th Century, Europeans wanted to find out how to make china. A charlatan/chemist’s assistant called Böttger met an alchemist in Berlin who gave him two ounces of a powder that could make the coveted material. He passed off as his own invention and immediately the powers that were attempted to corral him and obtain his alleged invention. By escaping them and going to Dresden, he thought he was safe. Little did he know that Augustus “the strong” only wanted him for his china as well. Once the small amount of powder was gone, he was imprisoned by the body-building monarch. Little Böttger convinced a jailer to let him use his jail cell as a laboratory.
Luckily for him, and for us Westerners, the Saxon countryside around Dresden is chock full of the two most important ingredients for making china ( china clay or kaolin & what’s called china stone). After experimenting with different amounts of these and other ingredients as well as firing time in the kiln, he was able to come upon a formula that recreated the thin, delicate, translucent variation that the West had not yet been able to produce. Eureka. And the rest was history? Not quite.
Although Saxon porcelain is known for it’s beauty, it’s not the only European sort. There’s no way the British would continue to drink out of German china if they could make their own. So they did. As did the French with their famous Sevre porcelain, as well as many others. But that’s for another post. How did this German discovery make its way across the channel. Without paying duties and tariffs? You’ll have to hold your horses to find that one out.
Thursday, 11 March 2010
Winter is giving us her last brutal anger here in Southern Germany, but soon it'll be worth all of the pain. Nearly every year, we have a long winter and then in late February/early March it gets unseasonably warm and everyone appears to believe that winter's gone and spring has arrived. This is never the case.
Like so many other years, we had a few days of springlike splendor and cafes/restaurants were setting up tables and chairs on their terraces. Smokers, who'd barely survived the 'no smoking in public places' law, were smiling their Cheshire grins as the weather allowed them to comfortably smoke each cigarette languidly. Alas, it wouldn't last.
This is a tea blog. Why on earth am I talking such nonsense?
There's method in my madness. I assure you there is.
Have recently read some posts about the health benefits of tea at leafboxtea.com and noticed that something I read is really true. I've mentioned before that I used to be an unrepentant coffee drinker. Likely still would be if drinking it didn't make my heart race.
My problem is that if I like the taste of something, I drink more and more. Was a great formula for whiskey drinking when I still imbibed. So, since whiskey and coffe are out for health reasons, what to drink? Enter tea. The perfect solution.
What I read at leafbox, is that drinking tea is good for stress. That there are naturally occuring chemicals in tea that calm you even when you drink it by the bucketful. I know the caffeine isn't particularly good for you, but I've already subtracted so many things I once liked from my diet for health reasons. I'm just not prepared to lose caffeine as well.
So here I am in the last days of winter, looking out my front window on a snowy scene. Mug of Ceylon Adawatte in hand wondering what the day will bring. Am sure that the tea is calming. IF it could only get more people to comment on this blog.
Monday, 8 March 2010
Maybe you don’t care about the question “What constitutes tea?” For you, peppermint tea is tea and that’s all you need. I have no problem with that. None. Personally, I really love what you’d probably call Rooibus tea. Made from a red bush. Grown in South Africa, I think. Especially when I have a cold, I drink it with lots of honey. Doesn’t make it tea.
Tea is any beverage that comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. Basta. Anything else is what I’d call an infusion. I’m not a jerk about this. When I order a Rooibus in a tea shop, I don’t stubbornly say ‘infusion’ rather than ‘tea’. But because I’ve been confronted with this several times lately, I wanted to talk about it.
So, I asked the people I was with yesterday, who insisted peppermint tea was tea, what six varieties of tea there are. This is when red bush tea and herbal tea and a variety of others were mentioned. ‘Not tea,’ I said. So I gave them a bit of a push and said. ‘One category is black.’
‘Oh, now we get it,’ you could see them saying to themselves. So they knew white and black and green tea, but got caught up on the Oolong (or sometimes WuLang). I didn’t even mention yellow or Pu-erh. One of them even knew the word oxidation when we were discussing the difference between the varieties.
Here’s the run down (the order of categories of tea according to the amount of processing): white, yellow, green, Oolong, and black. In that order. Pu-erh is in it’s own category. It’s fermented. In another post, if you’re interested, I’ll talk about the differences.
Hope this wasn’t boring. More ridiculous stories soon.
Sunday, 7 March 2010
Took a daytrip towards the mountains yesterday and stopped halfway there at the Ammer Lake in Upper Bavaria. Had packed map, dogs and tea into J’s car and we were off. Once we got there, it was unbearably cold by the water, so we sat in the car and did a comparison of the two Assams I’d brought along.
He asked me a few things on our drive. I’ll answer what I can right now, and find out the rest and post it here when I know it. He says he's heard to rinse the pot with boiling water before preparing the tea. Right?
Definitely. I used to think this was ridiculous and still don’t bother doing it with green or white tea. I’m convinced when it comes to black tea, though. It has to be steeped as HOT as possible. Some call it a rolling boil. So preheat your pot with boiling water, before you pour rolling, boiling water over the tea (Sounds like a Sousa March, eh? The March of the Rolling, Boiling Tea).
Next question: how long? This one is embarrassing for me because I was one of those people who told myself I like strong tea, so I’ll steep it a long, long time. Truth is that this doesn’t make the tea stronger. Instead, it only makes it bitter. Here, I have to plead ignorance and say that I was misled by a friend in Hertfordshire. Whenever I visit him, I watch him drop a bag of Tips in his large mug and let it stay in there for ten minutes (or more). I thought 10 plus minutes was normal for black tea. It’s not.
Four to Five minutes (closer to four) is best for most black teas. Anything more and you’re not getting stronger tea. Bitter tea isn’t stronger.
As for our taste test? We compared Assam Mangalam and Assam Khongea. To us, they were both perfect for the blustery weather, but indistinguishable. Guess I need to drink more tea to be able to make that comparison.
The photo is of the little tea shop near the station in Dießen am Ammersee. It was closed. It was Sunday, after all.
Friday, 5 March 2010
Eventually, I’m going to meander over to white, green and oolong teas. Eventually. There’s so much to talk about with black tea. Colonialism is one of the topics I’ve only scratched the surface of. Before I get to green tea and China (and Opium Wars), I’d rather delve deeper into black tea and India. I’m intrigued by both, but know a bit more about the latter. And have more knowledge of Assams, Ceylons and Darjeelings. To you green tea lovers, be patient. I’ll get to China eventually. Maybe. India is just too vibrant and intoxicating.
Today, I’m drinking Assam Hajua. Another tea that’s recommended to be drunk with milk. It’s a good tip. Without milk, the tea’s still tasty. But nicer with milk and maybe a lump or two. Water should be, as always with black teas, boiling hot (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and steeping time 4 minutes or so (less than I normally steep black tea).
Located a map of the Hajua region in the internet and it’s at the foot of the mountains on the border with Bhutan (north of both Meghalaya and Manipur). Excellent Assams can be grown at very low altitudes, but it looks like this Huajua region is a bit higher.
Wednesday, 3 March 2010
Found a bakery a year or so ago that I adore. It's not in a chic area of town, so most probably don't even know it exists. I love this. It's what the Germans call a Geheimtip. A location that only a few know about. This morning after one of my appointments, I meandered through the Westend, popped in, got a few pastries and hurried home to brew up.
So here I am. For these Brioche aux Pralines that I got, I chose Ceylon Adawatte. The pastry is a specialty of Lyon, or so I'm told. They're as delicious as they look. Have written about this tea on my blog before, so I won't bore you with a description. It's perfect. I've included a photo of my presentation. Hope you like the mug my friend Jan brought me from Finland. Wish you could join me for the Brioche and a cuppa.
Maybe next time.
Tuesday, 2 March 2010
You think I’m nuts, right? Letterman cited a poll years ago where they asked people which direction they pointed in their morning shower. They were asked, “Do you face the shower nozzle? Or do you turn away from the water?” 50% pointed away. 43% towards the shower. 4% didn’t know. Didn’t know? Those are my people.
Ok, need to pack up my things, get out the door, and board the train. Wonder what my day will be like once I awaken. Should be good considering how nice this Assam Sephinjuri tastes. See you on the other side.