Friday, 30 April 2010

History of tea coming to Russia

The largest tea consuming nation in Europe? Russia. I know the Irish drink more per capita. And the Russians aren’t really Europe, right? Well, sure they are. What’s wrong with you. All day, they swill from the samovar. Because it keeps the tea near a constant boil, this might be the perfect way to drink black tea. When in Moscow, drink it like the Moscovites. They take their muddy, dark tea strong and with a bit of lemon and a lot of sugar. A lot. No…more. Keep pouring the sugar. Or honey. Or jam. Jam? That’s right. Look what I found:

Russian Tea Traditions: The Russian interest in tea began as early as 1618 when the Chinese embassy in Moscow presented several chests of tea to Czar Alexis. The samovar, adopted from the Tibetan ‘hot pot’, is a combination bubbling hot water and teapot.

Placed in the centre of the Russian home, it could (run) all day and serve up to forty cups of tea at a time. Again showing the Asian influence in the Russian Culture, guests sipped their tea from glasses in silver holders very similar to Turkish coffee cups. The Russians have always favoured strong tea highly sweetened with sugar, honey, or jam.

Source: iPhone app Tea Timer

Compared to other European countries, Russia was a late adaptor to tea. The Russians were even resistant to it initially. Two Russian Marco Polos came back from China in the late sixteenth century talking of the tea plant, but had no samples. As mentioned above, the year that we know tea first made it’s way to Imperial Russia is 1618. It was brought to the czar, and not very well received. The Russians just weren’t that impressed.

Not until near the end of that century (1689), was Russia intrigued enough by tea to bother importing any of it. It took a full year at the time for the camel caravan to make its way from China to Russia by way of Manchuria and Mongolia, and the Chinese accepted furs in exchange for the huge chests of tea. Four chests carrying nearly six hundred pounds of tea could be carried by each camel, and by the turn of the century (1700) there were as many as six hundred camels per year. It was pricey. And took forever to get each shipment. When I think of UPS delivering my tea from Hamburg or London, I’m immensely grateful. Immensely.

It was only the Trans-Siberian Railway (1880) that relieved the caravan from their heavy burden. Until then, any tea one drank in Moscow came overland. The yearlong wait by way of camel was cut to seven weeks on the train. Not too shabby.

I always credit my sources here, and as smart as I like to think myself, this information wasn’t just swimming round my brain. I needed to do a bit of research, and the treasure trove about tea history that seems to never fail me is a book recommended to me by Indonique called The World of Caffeine by Bennet Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer.

Secular Tea Ceremony

Had a few appointments today and the wearther turned out much better than forecasted, so I packed a few thermoses of tea and invited my clients to sit in the park while we talked. The more I've been reading about tea ceremony, the more I consider the daily motions I go through.

Just to be clear, I know there's a religious/spiritual element to the traditional tea ceremony and I'm not comparing what I do to that. I'm not even going to attempt to decipher that part of the tea ceremony. But I have read about the great care that goes into choosing not just the tea but the right utensils and so forth.

So my question is: What's my tea ceremony? When I pack my tea for a day's journey, what exactly is involved?

Certainly I think about who I'm meeting. If I know they don't like black teas, then I'll make one thermos of Oolong and another of green. Some people only drink black with a bit of milk. If I don't know the person I'm meeting well, I prepare one thermos with milk and one without. Carrying a few packets of sugar seems to be the easiest solution to that quandary. An additional pair of thermoses with and without sugar seems a bit much, eh?

Many times I make tea in the early morning before I'm fully conscious. Because the process is repeated so many times in a normal day, I find myself coming in and out of a sort of trance state while preheating the pot. I pour that hot water into the thermoses and gather everything else (cups and assorted cookies/biscuits if I have any), while the tea steeps.

It's really a pleasure when we're finally sitting there in the park with fresh tea. Not quite the same as home, but nearly.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Tea drinkin

Here's a funny situation...I couldn't open my document with the blogpost I'd written on it. It was early morning, and I wanted it to show up on Thursday, so I just wrote 'tea drinkin' and figured I'd modify it later.

Almost immediately, Ice Hellion responded with a 'me too'.

So, I was thinking. Dangerous for me, I know. If I wanted to, I could wait and post what I wanted to for today in tomorrow's slot, and I can write any mad thing I want knowing that Ice Hellion has already admitted to the same thing.


I don't drink tea, I smoke it.


I think people who drink tea are aok.

Well, hmmm...

I can't think of anything to rope Ice Hellion into. It's too bad actually. Missing a golden opportunity.

So here's what I'm doing right now as I write this. I'm sipping a cup of excellent Formosa Oolong. Am pretty sure there's at least one other someone out there drinking tea right now, too. Maybe she'll comment.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Full Moon Fever

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by
You can spend the night beside her
And you know that she's half crazy
But that's why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
That come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her
That you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
That you've always been her lover
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you've touched her perfect body with your mind.
And Jesus was a sailor
When he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching
From his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain
Only drowning men could see him
He said All men will be sailors then
Until the sea shall free them"
But he himself was broken
Long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him
And you want to travel blind
And you think maybe you'll trust him
For he's touched your perfect body with his mind.

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror
And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she's touched your perfect body with her mind.

Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne

Am listening to this song quite a lot lately. Who doesn't like Leonard Cohen?

Also like another French Canadian writer called Mordecai Richler. Writer, philosopher. Brilliant. What is it about Quebec that creates such fantastic artists? Nothing against Ontario or BC, but wow. Maybe you've never even heard of Richler. In that case, I'd recommend Barney's Version. Highly. Get a copy. You'll be glad you did.

So back to Suzanne...the line about tea and oranges all the way from China is why I'm talking about this song on a #teablog. Have been listening to this song since I was 13. Over and over and over again. I've known far too many women who were also 'half crazy', but that was exactly why I wanted to be there.

When I write songs, I try to conjure the things that Cohen does. 'Jesus was a Sailor'. Wow. Is there a better introduction in a song? I don't know of any. Hello Jesus.

So, here I am on a beautiful full-moon evening/early morning, listening to a French Canadian classic, wondering if I'll ever eat Chinese oranges. I certainly drink quite a lot of Chinese tea. Lately, I've drunk too much China Yunnan green. Wonderful tea. Someone in the comments section once encouraged me to give China Yunnan another chance.

The milky moonlight is so bright, I could almost turn out the lights and still read a book by it. I love the full-moon. Great Tom Petty record about it. And Neil Young wrote a classic song and record about a Harvest Moon.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Geiz ist geil!

Something I've only started doing recently (thanks to prodding by Sir Will and Asiatic Fox) is infusing white, green and Oolong tea. I knew you could, and had tried my hand at it a number of times. But every attempt was a small failure and I'd resigned myself to black tea and one time around with non-black teas.

Not anymore. I'm steeping green tea, drinking that pot, infusing it again, drinking the second pot and in some cases I'm able to even get a decent third infusion out of the same sock/bag of tea. A few things I've read or figured out: don't use boiling water if you're going to attempt this. You shouldn't be using boiling water with non-black teas anyway, but especially if you want to infuse the tea.

Every tea has an optimal water temperature. I get a ballpark figure from different tea sites (like or, but ultimately you have to figure out the perfect temperature yourself. 80 degrees centigrade seems to be good for most green teas. That's my best estimate so far.

Let me know if you've tried this and what your experience has been.

Drink better tea.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Drink better tea

We've had several days of beautiful, almost perfect weather, and I was beginning to get accustomed to it. Today is overcast and the rain stops and starts. A bit like Hamburg. I love it.

I find that this is thinking weather. Far superior to clear, blue skies. When the sun is out and it's warm enough to lay in the grass while the dogs scamper round me, it's not particularly likely that I'll get philosophical. Quite the oposite will happen.

My brain empties and I find myself really entering into some sort of odd half zen/half stupid state. It's not a bad thing, but it's not necessarily good for productivity. Today I've already written for a few hours and had a doctor's appointment. Now I'm on my way to my first meeting of the day. I always walk into such Monday morning appointments with a spring in step. This is the advantage to doing something you really like.

Don't tell my clients how much I love my job. They'd never pay me to do it. I'm sure of it.

What tea am I drinking these days, you ask? Quite a lot of Darjeeling. Even have a Darjeeling Oolong that I found in Hamburg (have written about it here before) and it's been a nice mid-morning follow-up to my initial pot of Assam. Still brew the Assam Hajua that I love so much most mornings. Love the dark, bitter taste of Assam Hajua first thing. After that I drink something a bit lighter.

And thanks to something Asiatic Fox and Sir William of the Leaf have been chatting about. I've been infusing white, green and Oolong teas twice and sometimes three times. The tea lasts longer, tastes fantastic and I'm really enjoying figuring out how long the various teas should steep and at what temperature to make them stretch out optimally.

For those of you who still bristle at my fiction, please be tolerant. I had a blast yesterday with my little #teahobo. He's certainly not based on anyone I know, but he does reminds me of so many old men I've been acquainted with over the years. Let me know if it's still confusing when I write prose here. Hope once a week or twice a month I can still do that without alienating my scores of loyal readers.

Have a great Monday and drink better tea. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Could you get me some tea SIR?

I’m like Steve Martin in that movie about the guy who invents a handle for his glasses. What was that movie called? Hate it when I cain’t remember something so easy as that. Stupid mind. Used to be smart. Smart enough. Livin’ out in the elements ain’t so good for your brain. Or your heart. My heart’s ok, I guess. Hope so anyway. No way I’m going to no doctor anyway. Ev’erbody’s all up in arms about health insurance these days. I wouldn’t go in there even if I had all the insurance up to my neck.

My granny told me she din’t ever see a doctor. Ever. She said she wanted to see a doctor twice. Once when she was born and then again when she died. And that’s not a bad plan if you ask me. Really.

I don’t need nothin’ or nobody. Like old Steve. Stupid jerk. I don’t even need a lamp or a tennis racket. Nothin’. Long as I don’t get robbed or get sick, I have a pretty good life out here. Hard to believe, huh? I know. But it’s the God’s honest truth. No appointments. Don’t gotta rush anywhere or act like I give a damn. Used to read a lot. Cain’t do that so much anymore because my eyes’re goin’, but when I could read easier I went ev’erday to the libary. Long as I didn’t gt too hungry, I could read all damned day. Specially in the summer. One a really hot day, I used to sit in there all day. Woulda slept there if they’d a let me.

But I’m set up pretty good here now. I got a tent and ‘lectricity. Can boil water’n heat up a can of beans. ‘Tsall a man really needs if you think about it. I can charge my phone and stay in touch with the world. Just last year I finally learned how to use a computer. Man at the library told me I could do all this crap if I just got some damned email. He was right, you know. All he said was true.

Got an email and then for a while that’s all I did there on the computer. My brother has a computer too, and he and I sent those emails back and forth to each other. He lives on the other side of town, but we don’t never see each other. We get along ok. I think it’s better when family stays the hell out of your life. Best way I can see it workin’. Thanks to email, I don’t ever need to see him and his family no more at all. They always invite me over there for holiday, but I know they don’t want me there. Probably heard in church that they should reach out to the unfortch’nates and I was the first thing came to mind.

But holidays are the best time to be a hobo. People forget you the rest of the year-don’t even see you, then Christmas rolls around and they’re just lookin’ for somebody they can do good things to. And for some reason I attract ev’er damned one of them do-gooders. Jerks.

I’m just minded my own business today. Sittin’ down by the VFW hall sippin’ some tea out of the lid of my thermos, and these people come along. You could tell they was do-gooders. From a mile off. And the questions these people ask. In the first thirty seconds you can tell they think you’re some sort of wild animal. Like they’re human and those of us out here on the street are some kinda sub-human.

‘You have enough to eat there, Sir?’

They always call you Sir. Makes ‘m think they’re showing you respect. Does the opposite, actch’ly. You think that man ever says ‘Sir’ to another adult in his life. Except for talking to homeless people, he han’t called no man Sir since he was in short pants. I told him I had plenty to eat and didn’t need no help. He just wouldn’t let it go. Kept at it.

‘Could some clothes help out a bit? We have a box of clothes in the back of our car there.’

Now, I knew he didn’t mean me no harm. But I was tryin’ to enjoy my damn tea. So I lost it a little. I asked him, ‘You know what you could do for me, SIR?’, I asked him.

Ooh, that wasn’t the thing to say. You could see him get all warmed up. I could a nearly had him down at the next Utotem or Stop n Go getting’ me a cold one. But I told you last time-I ain’t no drinker. ‘Cept for this tea. Not a drunk. Oh no.

So I wanted to run this ol’ boy off and said something to do just that. ‘You have any tea?’, I said. ‘I’m ‘bout to run outa my loose-leaf tea out here.’ Could see by the look on his face that was the last thing that man thought I was gonna ask for.

He said one thing back to me and then he left. That’s all I wanted. For him to just get out of here. All he said was, ‘No. But we can get you some. We can go get you some tea.’

Like I really believe that man’s gonna go get tea and bring it back here to me.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Coffee lovers and tea blogs

One of the things I like most of all about blogging is the community I’ve found. There are tea experts and aficionados in my teaworld as well as rosy-cheeked newcomers who’re writing about the earliest stages of tea addiction. Tea people read what I write here, and that’s to be expected, but it tickles me that both professed coffee-lovers and even people who don’t like hot drinks at all are reading my chicken-scratchings.

This is a tea blog after all. For the most part, it’s going to be about the processing, selling and drinking of tea, and even though I’m sure I could and am going to delve more deeply into those topics, ultimately the themes here have to expand outward from just tea. That must be why I’m entertaining even non-tea lovers. It’s not really about tea. I’m using tea as a cliff to walk off of. The tea drinking is certainly important to me. I couldn’t read and write and talk about tea so much if I didn’t love it and its related baggage. For some unexplained reason as the topics come to me (and lately they’re coming daily), they stray further and farther from merely tea.

I wrote about Warren G. Harding the other day. Because some people read this blog regularly and some seem to be arriving still, I wanted to give a summary of the most peculiar tangents I’ve been on. My walkabouts seem to be the most entertaining moments thus far.

Early on, I tried a bit of prose. It only seems to confuse people. Even when I include a disclaimer that these specific posts are fiction, I get concerned comments offering me emotional support. Have written from the perspective of an 18th Century German inn owner who bemoans the coming of coffee houses, as well as an Indian-American who didn’t even like tea and was offended that everyone assumed he did.

The most fun I’ve had writing prose here was my tea hobo character and I'm sure you'll see him again. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who read what I'm writing. The comments I get are fantastic, but what pleases me most of all is someone coming to me at twitter or facebook or even in real life asking me for a recommendation on tea or advice about how to get into tea.

When that happens I smile. I was already smiling, but in those moments I smile more. Like I'm smiling right now.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Hat trick

While contemplating what I’d write about today, I ran through what I’ve done the last several days, and I realised I’d broken my grandfather’s rule about idiots. He used to say that only idiots talked in public about sex, politics or religion. Not that he’d have thought of a blog as public per se. But still.

So this week I’ve talked about two of those idiot things and I thought I’d go for a hat trick. In the interest of full disclosure, I know a bit about religion. It wasn’t an evangelical one, but I was raised in a relatively religious family. We were Episcopalians and I’m sad to report that some of my relatives are still so afflicted. My mother so much so that she went to seminary years ago and became a priest. For you non Americans, she’s an Anglican. C of E. That’s where tea comes in. Anglicans love tea. A lot.

I know tea is important to many Muslims and the entire history of tea and Buddhism are entwined. Despite the fact that I’m very curious about these other faiths, I don’t know that much. So I’ll avoid saying something stupid by focusing on religion I know a bit about. And honestly, I can’t speak of all of Christianity. Have been to mass, but Catholicism is still foreign to me. Southern Baptists are a curious lot, but I only know of them from the outside looking in. My grandfather was a Methodist minister and I’ve sat through many endless church plus post-church cafeteria sessions. What tea do Methodists drink? I don’t know. Iced tea? What do Presbyterians drink? Probably decent tea bags but as unsweetened as possible (you know, the whole Calvinist thing).

Anglicans or Episcopalians drink tea. No question about this one. Sure some of them drink coffee, but they’re probably converts. Came to the Church by way of marriage I’d venture to bet. Real Episcopalians drink tea. With or without milk. Preferably in the late afternoon when the weight of the day has finally overcome them. Retire to the study or the front room, or whatever you call the quietest room in the house where the ‘good’ furniture is.

When I was a child, this was the one room in the house I wanted nothing to do with. And when we went to visit other people, this was the room I always avoided. The adults would congregate there and talk of sex, politics or religion in hushed tones. A handful of times I tried to sit quietly and listen, but it was dreadfully boring. Still is to be honest.

The tea was often steeping as we arrived. If there were children in the house we were visiting, I’d immediately convince them we needed to go outside or as far away from the tea as possible. Once we were sorted, the adults could pour the tea and pass around the biscuits and, as I say, talk of taboo themes. Quietly. We were Episcopalians after all. We did talk about those things. Just quietly. I’m grateful we talked of them, but it was hard to hear us talking. Still is.

After an hour or so, the adults had drained a pot (or three) and we went home to dinner preparation and homework and whatever else we used to do in the evening. Isn’t it funny that I remember the details of tea more than I do the evenings? I really do. Even though I didn’t take part in the actual tea drinking, I appreciated the monotony of it. Every afternoon the same thing. Over and over and over again. The older I get, the more appealing such a thing becomes.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Warren G. Harding

Teapot Dome, Wyoming

An oil scandal that took place during the administration of Warren G. Harding, generally acknowledged to have been one of the most worthless presidents ever. Secretary of the Interior Albert B. Fall persuaded Harding to give him control of the U.S. naval oil reserves at Elk Hill, California and Teapot Dome, Wyoming. A year later, Fall secretly leased the reserves to the owners of two private oil companies, one in exchange for a personal “loan” of $100,000, the other for $85,000 cash, some shares of stock, and a herd of cattle. It wasn’t long before the secret leaked and everybody was up before a Senate investigating committee. In yet another remarkable verdict, all three men were acquitted, although Fall was later tried on lesser charges and became the first cabinet member ever to go to prison. Meanwhile, the public was outraged that the Senate had prosecuted at all; this was, as you’ll recall, the Roaring Twenties, when everyone was busy doing the Charleston or making shady deals themselves. Even the New York newspapers accused the Senate of character assassination, mudslinging, and generally acting in poor taste.

source: An Incomplete Education by Judy Jones and William Wilson pp.49-50

Now, you’re probably thinking, ‘This quote has nothing to do with tea.’ Yeah? So?
Don’t we talk about tea enough here? Please. Don’t you have any other interests?
Recently read The White Tiger with a group of people I met on twitter. There was a bit about tea in there. The narrator came from a caste that prepared tea. And candy, I think. Really interesting book. This quote about the Harding cabinet helps me make my point. Don’t worry, I won’t get partisan here. I dislike all political parties. Nearly universally. Except for that British political party Monster Raving Loony Party. I’d vote for them.

But this book was all about corruption, and I think it’s easy in the West to think we’re above all of that. That corruption happens in Africa when someone wants a contract. Or if you want to pass a band of gypsies while traveling through Nepal. That’s bakshish…not what we do. Not anymore. Maybe in the twenties.

Please. Whether Germany or France-whether England or the US, we have our own forms of bakshish. Really. German companies donate to both sides of the political spectrum, too. Why wouldn’t you? No matter who gets voted in, you’ve then got the politician in your pocket.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about tea again. Am drinking Darjeeling Singbulli second flush by the way. It’s delicious. Smells like a flower garden when it’s brewing. Delicious.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Stereotypes of tea drinkin'

What are the stereotypes of tea drinking? There's some truth at the heart of most stereotypes, but how much?

Are tea drinkers old, decrepit biddies? Are they high-strung and in need of relaxing? In the comments of yesterday's post, someone mentioned the perception that tea drinkers are old, pasty Brits (my word). Certainly, I don't agree, but the stereotype must've come from somewhere.

Where? It's historical, sure. And the history of tea is unquestionably linked to the Brits in India, but in China as well. The Opium Wars were a result of England's desire to 'have a cuppa'. Am sure you know the new book by Sarah Rose that talks about all of this, so I won't bother.

My preconceptions about tea actually kept me from drinking it for a long time. Now that I know what sort of people drink this stuff and I know what excellent company I keep, I feel a bit embarrassed that I ever bought into the stereotypes. But there they were and I was definitely buying them.

Hope you're still reading, and I promise I'll write something tittilating again soon.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Does drinking tea make you sexy?

A while back, @leafboxtea brought up an interesting point. You know people are reading your blog. They tell you so in real life or mention liking your blog on twitter, but they rarely say anything. I used to think I didn’t get many comments here, but I’ve been reading more of other people's blogs. Now I know that when it comes to comments from readers, I’m really quite fortunate.

Leafbox had an idea to attract people to read your blog in the first place. It was simple: write salacious topics to draw people in. The point was that if you offer something titillating and they come barreling in and then they find out the real topic is …tea? Are you kidding? That titillated surfer would be furious. Might even feel deceived. Tea-that’s possibly the least sexy topic ever, right?

So, here are the naughty and filthy questions I’d like to pose: Does tea drinking make sex better? Are tea-drinkers sexier than the average Joe? Is there any truth to the claim that some teas act as an aphrodisiac? Hmmm…do I have your attention now? I though I might.

Here goes: I’d venture to say yes to all three but would rather let others make my arguments for me.

Does tea drinking make sex better?

First of all, some people say they can only have sex when they have a few drinks in them. Allegedly, some illicit drugs make sex better, but I wouldn’t know anything about that. What about tea?

If you have a cuppa or even a whole pot, are you more amorous? Well, are you? Comments are encouraged on this.

Are tea-drinkers sexy?

What about the typical tea-drinker’s sex appeal? I can already hear several of you saying there is no such thing as a typical tea drinker. Ok. Point well taken. But still. When you think of the tea-drinkers you know, are they somehow more alert? More aware of what’s going on around them? I’d say yes, but that’s just my experience. What do you think?
Tea as aphrodisiac

About the last question: I had to do a bit of research. I’m going to save this topic for another post. There’s enough in the first two questions to have a lively discussion.

When commenting, please try to be discreet. This is a family blog.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Developing one's palate

As I expected, the more varieties of tea I drink the more my palate is changing. Several months ago, I liked green tea but the more pungent the better. And black tea had to be strong and dark. Slowly, as I drank specific Ceylons and read about what to look for, or I should say taste for, I was able to choose ones that were more to my liking.

Any Assam was acceptable before, whereas now I'm not able to happily drink some of the non-descript ones that used to please me. The biggest change has been my complete about face on Darjeeling. When I first started, I suggested drinking black tea with milk if you weren't used to tea yet. There are still some Assams and Ceylons that taste ok without milk, but really good with a splash or two.

I'm sure Darjeeling would be ok with a bit of milk, but the delicate taste of the ones I like most seem to be covered up as soon as you add milk. Maybe you've always drunk tea with a bit of milk. My suggestion would be to try the first sip of whatever you drink without milk.

And any time you're trying some new tea, do the same thing. Even if you resolve to add milk immediately after that sip, breathe in deeply as you slurp one big sip of unadulterated black tea. My experience is that you'll slowly start to appreciate the taste of your favorites. And what's been more shocking to me is that some teas, which used to be perfectly acceptable, have become almost undrinkable.

There's a blend that Claus Kröger sells called Ceylon Blackbird that I drank so happily in early days. Today it need a lot of milk.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Getting my brain around Darjeeling

For some reason right as I'm drinking more Darjeeling, there are articles specifically about this region in the papers I read. Maybe there are always so many mentions of this tea-growing region of India, but I doubt it. I wrote about it several days ago, and today I want to talk about a few specific ones that I like.

Have written about Darjeeling Singbulli 2nd flush here before, and I still think it's one of the best tasting teas I've tried.

Similar to that is another 2nd flush called Darjeeling Jungpana FTGFOP. This is a really delicious Darjeeling. There’s something almost floral in the smell and taste of this tea. Much stronger and tastier than a first flush. It's definitely my taste.

Having said all that, I want to also recommend a lighter tea of this sort because I know not everyone likes such strong teas. It's a 1st flush called Darjeeling Gielle, and it has a much milder taste. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I had it this afternoon, and it was perfect for a light, refreshing break from my normal morning brew. It has a light brown color in the cup and, from what I've read, comes from the middle of the spring growing season. If you can find either of these very different Darjeelings and try them, please let me know what you thought.

The interview I read this morning was in the Business section and talked about some interesting things I hadn't considered. A tea grower called Ashok Kumar Lohia, who owns plantations in both Assam and Darjeeling, was being interviewed. He mentioned that Darjeeling tea had the same problem Champagne, Scotch, Gouda cheese and Parma ham have.

Because they're considered the finest regions for their products, people sell inferior products by trading on these well-known names. Tea sellers play fast and loose with the name 'Darjeeling'. Although only nine tons of tea is grown there in a year, you can find forty tons on the market. Luckily, the EU has decided to help protect the name and will demand more strenuous regulations for what can and cannot be sold as Darjeeling. We'll see if it actually does any good when the first cases actually make it to litigation.

The last thing I want to mention is how the interview began. He was asked why Darjeeling tea was so special. So different from other teas. His answer was that because the tea was grown so high in the mountains in the shadow of the Himalayas that there was something mystical about it. That the soil and the air was certainly crucial, but that the god Shiva lived there and his spirit affected the tea. It's easy for me to dismiss that part, but then he said that the people who actually tend to the tea have an important impact on the way every cup of tea turns out. That growing tea takes a patience and dedication that has been honed for generations. The esoteric stuff is so difficult to quantify, but the thought that this tea tastes so luxurious partly because of the trained hands that prepared it. That's something that even this Western brain can comprehend.

source: Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntags Zeitung Wirtschaftsteil 18 April 2010 p.33

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Kräuter und Würzel 'Sepp'

After spending most of the week before last hunting down tea shops and tearooms in Hamburg, I was pleased to find a little shop here in my backyard that I'd only heard about.

It's essentially a spice shop. But the guy prepares his own spices. It felt like walking into a nineteenth century apothecary. The first thing I liked was that he said he doesn't aromatize any of his tea. Or anything he makes, for that matter. He assured me that he throws weird concoctions of things together, but actually adding aroma to something goes against his code, or something. He was talking Bavarian. I didn't catch all of it.

In Hamburg there was a similar shop that seemed to specialize in spices, but was much more interested in the esoteric/Yogi tea market. This shop is nothing like that. At all. If anything, I think the whole vibe of the place is the opposite. He seems to be a throwback to when people made their own ointments and health concoctions.

He showed me different herbs in bulk and how he would use them for different recipes. If you don't see how this relates to tea, then let me just say I'm becoming more and more intrigued my the medicinal value of tea. One of the shop owners I talked with in Hamburg spoke of how we instinctually reach for tea when we don't feel well. That our body almost tells us, 'You need tea.' Even for people who don't normally drink tea.

There are much better places you can read about the chemical properties and effects than here, but suffice it to say I'm going to try to learn more about this and pass it on to you in a digestible manner. It seems like every time I turn around there's an article in the newspaper about the benefits of tea. This week in the Münchner Merkur, I read about the health advantages of drinking green tea. Certainly not a new idea, but it just seems to be coming at me from so many directions.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Going to Darjeeling in my mind

‘The name Darjeeling came from the Tibetan words, dorje (thunderbolt) and ling (place or land), means the land of the thunderbolt’ (

When I started this blog, I wrote a post about wanting to go to the Nuwara plantations in the mountains in Sri Lanka to see where one of the nicest Ceylons is grown. It was still the dead of winter, and I looked out at the Bavarian snow-covered rooftops. I imagined a nice, cool summer day in the Sri Lankan mountains, where maybe it was warm in the daytime but cool at night. So now my dream is to go to the Darjeeling or Assam region of India. But because I’m getting more and more into Darjeeling tea, I’ll start there.

I’ve been poring over travel guides/websites while I pour my tea. Haven’t yet been to India. Over the years, I’ve tried to plan the perfect first journey to the subcontinent. It’s all a bit daunting. Honestly? I don’t even know where I’d want to go first. Someone told me I should definitely start in Mumbai the first time around just to get acclimated. Doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

The things most often associated with Darjeeling are the world-renowned tea and Tenzing Norgay (Sir Edmund Hillary’s Sherpa). All over the region, you’ll find references to Tenzing. From shop signs that use his name to attract your business to people naming their children after this historically important man.

Read an article in the FAZ about Darjeeling, and now I’ve decided I’m going there. As soon as possible.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

tea cozy or Lapsang Souchong (whichever you prefer)

A cozy for your teapot was mentioned by a few people here, and I want to just run this up the flagpole...see if it flies.

It seems the deal with a tea cozy is very simple. Both Jeffrey and Jackie talked about them in the comments here recently, so I thought I'd mention my deal with the tea cozy. Philosophically, I'm ok with them. Theoretically even.

But I don't use one. And I have no intention of buying one. My mother has a funny one in the shape of a hen that I use whenever I'm visiting her. It's ok. The hen tea cozy always makes me smile.

The way I keep my tea warm isn't tea lights, but I've been known to use them. What I like most is a good thermos. I pour the hot water that I used to heat the teapot into the thermos to warm it while the tea is steeping. Then as soon as the timer goes off to alert me that my tea's ready, I dump the water that was warming the thermos and pour the tea in there.

Am sure some tea enthusiasts will tell me that I'm losing heat by transferring the tea from teapot to thermos, but I just really don't care. I love my Art Deco teapot and the tea seems to stay warmest the longest time in the thermos. Problem sorted.


Now that I read over this post, I'm a little concerned that this is even enough content to make a full post. Maybe I should tak about something else to make it a bit meatier.

Oh, I know.

A tea recommendation, yeah?

Lapsang Souchong. Someone mentioned it here or at or http://steepstercom, and I made a mental note that I wanted to write a few lines about this really tasty sort of tea. It's strong, so if you only like light Darjeelings and Chamomile tea, this isn't for you. It's smoky. Everything I read/hear about Lapsang Souchong is 'smoky'. In this case the reviews are accurate. It tastes strong, dark and definitely smoky.

Monday, 12 April 2010

How Important is preheating the teapot?

This is crucial. Wish I could be more relaxed about this and say it wasn’t that important. The truth is that when we’re talking about black tea, this is probably as important as what type of and how much tea you use.

Maybe the idea of boiling a kettle-full of water and pouring it in the teapot before boiling another kettle of water to use for the actual tea sounds like too much bother. Trust me. It’s essential. I used to think this was ridiculous, but have since been converted to the preheat-your-damned-teapot crowd. At the very least, the tea tastes better over here with us.

If you’re drinking green tea, I’ll give you the opposite advice. Don’t preheat the teapot. At all. The opposite. You need to start with either a cool teapot or check the water temperature before you add the green tea leaves.

Why? Boiling water is good for black tea. More than good. Necessary. But boiling water would damage the green tea leaves. They’re far more sensitive and need cooler water. If you’re drinking green tea, add a bit of cold water to your boiling water to get closer to the perfect temperature. I’ll talk more about green tea and give some tips on good water temperatures another time.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Darjeeling first or second flush?

I’ve said this before, but I want to restate it: there are enough blogs for tea fanatics. I could try to write for them, or I should say us, but I don’t think it’d be nearly as interesting as what I’m trying to do.

Here’s my target audience: people curious about tea, but not into it…yet. I know so many people who only drink tea when they’re ill. Or maybe throw an aged tea bag in a mug periodically, but rarely. That’s who I want to attract here. With you tea freaks who come here and read this, I really do hope this is entertaining. But honestly, you’re the converted. You probably have your own tea blog and calcified beliefs and there’s only so much insulated in-the-know blogging we can do, right? I want to get everyone else on board.

Messner Monument Teemuseum, Hamburg

I was in a tea museum yesterday where they also had a tearoom. It was unbelievable how many apparently normal people had chosen to go out specifically for tea rather than java or beer even (this is Germany after all). I was the only one obsessively going through the museum, but then I saw this packed tea room with a line of more than ten people waiting patiently for a table to open up. For tea, no less.

Now, this was a tearoom looking out over the harbor and the view was spectacular. It’s entirely possible some of those people were there for reasons other than tea. Ok, but still. You should’ve seen this place. I could go on and on about the way they described and portrayed the different stages of tea production, or the different statistics about different tea drinkers and tea-drinking countries in the world.

Pub Quiz

Do you know which country drinks the most tea per capita? And beer? For beer, it’s not Germany but the Czech Republic. Do you know who drinks the most tea?

What I’ve decided to do though is more remedial tea issues and questions. If any of you who normally read this want to ask something, but don’t want to do it in the comments, send me your question in an email. My address is Am looking forward to your questions.

first or second flush?

I’ll deal with one common question right off: When I buy decent Darjeeling, what do they mean when they say first and second flush?

This is a good question and for a long time I incorrectly thought it had to do with brewing tea once and that was the first ‘flush’, then again and the second time you used the bag was the ‘second flush’. That’s not at all it.

The first flush comes from the first crop of tea plants of the year. The spring tea is first flush. Second flush is the next crop of tea in late summer or autumn. When we’re talking about Darjeeling, the second flush is normally a stronger tea. If you like lighter, finer teas, then you’re best bet is to buy Darjeeling ‘first flush’.

If you’re like me and feel like most Darjeelings might as well be hot water, then definitely steer towards the ‘second flush’ Darjeelings. They’re what I’m obsessed with right now.

Hope that makes sense. Or at least more sense. Was this helpful?

Saturday, 10 April 2010

tea hobo

There are two things I hate more than anything, and both of them happened in a matter of less than twenty minutes. I’m not one to complain, but if there was ever a situation where it was warranted, this is it. The first thing that happened was that I got a phone call from my ex. I can be having a magnificent day, all is well in the world and bang-one of her calls and I’m ready to call Billy Crystal in that mobster-goes-to-the-shrink flick. What is that movie called? You don’t remember either? Damn!

So she calls, I try to talk some sense into her, and eventually I just lose it. I’m cussing and hollering and folk are looking at me…eventually I had to get up and leave my spot just to finish the call with her. I ask myself all the time why I ever married that woman in the first place.

People ask me what finally did it-why I’m not with her no more, and the truth is it was tea. My tea drinking pissed that crazy lady off for years and finally she snapped and almost tried to kill me in my sleep. She said I was nicer when I drank whiskey, but that when I went all crazy and started with tea instead…that’s when she says I lost it.

Pay her no mind though. Quitting with the whiskey and the vodka and rum and and and…quitting all that was the best thing I ever did. I know she’s right, though. I know if I’d not picked up the tea, I’d have never ended up out here in the elements. Most people think of a hobo as being a drunk, but I had to quit drinking to lose everything and my damned mind too. My brain never did me no good anyway. Useless it is-my damned brain.

The other thing I hate, and it was only a quarter of an hour after her call that that happened, is when I let my tea over-steep. I used to deal with it when she’d leave the bag in there too long, but I hated it. I was like a bull over there in Spain when he saw that red towel being waved round whenever she did that. I told her over and over not to leave the tea in there for more than the prescribed time. Did she listen? The hell she did. That woman wouldn’t listen if her damned life depended on it.

So here I am with her phone call still running through my mind and then my tea’s too strong on top of it all. It’s enough to make a man lose his marbles.

(blogger's note: this is complete and utter prose. Totally fictional. I'm neither homeless nor separated from my wife. I'm like Joni Mitchell in that song about playing real good for free. I live a comfortable life, and sometimes let my imagination get the best of me when I blog. Please don't worry, ok?)

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Tea drinking in Hamburg

Have been in Hamburg now for several days and had a list of tea shops/salons I wanted to visit. There was quite a variety of the latter, from the Four Seasons tearoom to the tea stand near the Hohe Luft Brücke Hochbahn Station, and even the types of tea shops were impressive. Monday was a holiday (in Germany only the police and the nuthouse staff work on Easter Monday), so I had to wait until Tuesday to get started. That means I have three days to report to you.

Tried to start with Tea Embassy, which is allegedly near the main train station. I say allegedly, because I still haven’t managed to locate where this shop is. I spent an inappropriate amount of time searching, before I finally gave up and took the train to Wandsbek. Am so glad I did.

There’s a tea shop in this less-than-upscale neighborhood of Hamburg called Teehaus Shila. The owner has been in business for nearly three decades and was selling tea at fairs and conventions in West Germany/Western Europe even before that. Their specialty seems to be Ayurveda/Yogi teas, but they have an extensive selection of loose-leaf tea as well.

Before I arrived, I’d read about a special “Flugtee” (airplane tea) that the owner brings back from the plantations of Darjeeling. The other tea shops in Hamburg are promising that the first of the 2010 first flush teas should arrive in the next several weeks, while Teehaus Shila already has some on offer. It’s definitely an advantage. I tried some of this year’s crop of Darjeeling and am over the moon. This is definitely going to be a good year for tea and us tea lovers.

I also visited a tea shop nearer where my hotel is and was similarly impressed with his selection. He’s in the Colonnaden (Neustadt) and his shop is called Colonnaden Tee Contor. If you ever go there, talk to Peter. He’s incredibly helpful and knows his tea.

That was enough for one day.

Day two was the day I went to my favorite teashop. It’s in Hamburg-Altona and is called Claus Kröger Tee. He’s been doing it multiple decades, much like Teehaus Shila, but this guy is NOT a yogi tea specialist. Don’t remember seeing any Ayurveda tea there at all.

He’s clearly a northerner. Probably speaks Plattdeutsch, and wasn’t necessarily cold per se, but definitely reserved. My talk of tea blogging and was utterly lost on him. In these situations I try to describe steepster as facebook for tea lovers. He could truly care less. Oh well. To each his own. He’s aged anyway.

Day three

But today was my tea salon day. I visited two exquisite tearooms, and they were nearly perfect for entirely different reasons. I knew my wife would like the Four Seasons, so we started there. It was everything you’d think it’d be. Very stately and reserved. The Halle where we took our tea was enormous and noticeably calm and quiet. A few times I laughed aloud and almost felt the need to apologize to the other patrons. No need. We were the only ones there. At some point some business men hurried through the tearoom to one of the adjacent conference rooms, but otherwise we were entirely alone.

You could see from their selection, which was impressive, that tea was a British endeavor. They had all the right gear for perfect High Tea. My Lapsang Souchong was served on his own little tea stand with a tea light and everything. There were digestive biscuits and they asked if I’d like lemon or cream, which I declined. The whole experience was exactly like something out of a Merchant/Ivory film. We talked of rebel uprisings in Central Asia and the dollar/euro exchange rate, which I suppose are the sorts of things one talks about in these surroundings.

In the late afternoon, I walked a short way up Rothenbaum Chausee to the Völkermuseum and turned right. Behind the Museum is a perfect copy of the oldest tea house in Shanghai. The sister cities of Hamburg and Shanghai arranged this collaboration in 2004. Although I’ve not yet been to China’s booming second city, now that I’ve been to this place I feel as if I’ve seen the very best of Shanghai.

It’s called the Teehaus Hu Xing Ting, and they’ve created such a truly beautiful place. They do tea ceremonies there, and have an impressive selection of both excellent teas and quite a few tea books to peruse if you’re there on your own, which I was. The woman serving tea, Ms. Huang, was a very helpful Taiwanese lady. She recommended an Oolong from Formosa (Taiwan) that I’d never heard of. Can’t wait to find and taste it.

This might have been the nicest tea-related day so far. These two salons really reminded me why I started this blog lark in the first place. I’m normally so stressed running here and there. Feel I need to accomplish years’ worth of work in a short time. I can really get myself worked up. Then I have a cup of tea, breathe deeply, and all is wieder in Ordnung.

Thank you all for reading this and other posts. I feel very fortunate.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

cream tea and the tea mother

Cream tea

‘Who’ll be the tea mother?’

When I first started getting interested in tea, I met some friends who’d gone on and on about cream tea. I’ve since found out, and it’s worth describing. It’s important how this is done, so I plan on going into a bit of detail.

I can already hear several of you saying not so softly under your breath, ‘What’s the point, Lahikmajoe? Why can’t I just go back to enjoying my simple tea bag? You’ve ruined my tea drinking.’

Maybe when you hear about cream tea, you’ll feel differently. Maybe not. To be honest, when I finally had the opportunity to try it, cream tea turned out to be simply tea with scones, fresh strawberries (or simply strawberry jam) and Devon clotted cream. If you like those things, you’ll enjoy this. Supposedly, the origin of the cream is rather important. The fat content of the cream and the way it’s clotted has everything to do with why people rave about this.

Back to the story. My friends invited me over so that I could finally try it, and I gladly accepted. The first question they asked when I arrived was, ‘Now who’s going to play tea mother?’ I somehow controlled my first response, which was unflattering, and instead I simply asked, ‘What’s a tea mother?’

‘It’s whoever’s going to pour the tea,’ he responded. Oh, ok. I let one of them be tea mother. Each of them is more maternal than I’ll ever be.

So, if you get the opportunity, try cream tea. If you don’t like strawberry jam, scones, clotted cream or tea, then don’t bother.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Dung tea?

It's been a while since I've talked about Oolong, and I have one I can highly recommend. For Westerners, the name is unfortunate, but ignore the fact that it sounds like cow patties, and you'll be alright. It's called Dung-ti Oolong. Can't wait to hear the jokes about this one.

'Dung tea? What're you on about now, Lahikmajoe?'

Trust me-if you're not yet used to Oolong tea, this is a good one to start with. Although it's lightly oxidised, it doesn't taste at all like green tea.

What is Oolong exactly?

Some people say it's a mix between green and black tea. That's an easy way for a tea seller to describe it to an uninterested customer, but more accurately: it's a little like a black tea but not fully oxidised. Some people talk of tea fermentation, and that's another word for oxidation. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fermentation they talk about when they ferment grapes to make wine. It's the same word for a different process.

Green tea has the least amount of oxidation (aside from white tea, which has almost none), while black tea is fully fermented. Oolong has been anywhere between 10-90% oxidised. That's why if you look at the leaves, they can occur in gradations from dark green to almost brown. Logically, the lighter the green, the shorter the time the process took place. My method is certainly not scientific, but I've found that it's accurate enough to differentiate between different Oolongs.

Tell you what. I know Sylvia's tried Oolong, because I gave her some (the first one's always free). If you've had Oolong, say something here about whether you liked it or not. If you have one to recommend, please do so. Would love to try some more.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Navel gazing

Am finishing off a kilo of Assam Hajua. Sounds like I’m a drug addict, eh? I guess I am. Of sorts.

Tonight I had my birthday party and of the forty or more guests, six brought me some sort of tea. Not bad, eh? I was thrilled. And just like at other social events in the last several months, people wanted to talk with me about tea. What kind they should drink, why green tea was difficult to get used to, whether glass or china teapots are better…you understand.

This is exactly why I wanted to do this blog. Exactly.

To learn more about tea is a plus. No doubt. But I could’ve done that on my own without advertising to the bloggosphere that I was doing so. I could easily have read a book about tea, frequented tea shoppes or found a tea mentor. None of those things demanded my doing this blog lark.

The blog allows me to do several things. My friend J thinks all blogs are a bit of self-congratulatory navel gazing. Yeah? So? Have you seen my navel? Honestly?

My navel is something to be documented.

I can get others into tea the way I got into it. I still have a cup of coffee periodically, but for the most part I’ve made the switch. I believe I’m healthier as a result. No empirical proof of that, but I'm not nearly as stressed and am better able to handle the emotional fluctuations of my day. I attribute that entirely to my increased tea consumption. There’s no other change in my life that I can point to. None.

If anything my life has become more overwhelming in the last several months. I’ve left one client and been asked to leave by another one. Have made huge decisions about moving house and continue to drink more tea and breathe more deeply. Did I mention my undeniably intriguing navel?

If you still drink a lot of coffee and don’t have any adverse health problems as a result, keep doing so. If you’re in no way interested in tea but just come here for the gripping social commentary, I can tell you about some much better blogs/sites. But if you’re even remotely similar to me and want to know more about tea and its history, then keep reading, commenting and questioning. You’re certainly welcome to do all three.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

How to clean a teapot?

So, it's almost Good Friday and I'm going to try something a bit different here today.

I'm going to bring up a #tea topic, and ask for advice. Because I live with a very fastidious German woman, I have my opinions based on her very strong views. But I want to hear new ideas. Your ideas.

How do you clean your tea paraphernalia? Your pot, your cups and saucers?

What tips or tricks do you have to wash away the tea residue that makes me sometimes wonder, "Are my insides also becoming this dark brown colour?"

Floating above the Japanese clouds

If you haven’t noticed already, I’m a bit of an Orientalist. Well, to be more specific, I’m crazy about Japan. Nuts. If I acted on every thought, it’d be an obsession. I think when I was moaning about the winter several weeks ago and daydreaming about going to the Nuwara hills in Sri Lanka, my real thoughts were of going to pre-modern Nippon.

Maybe it’s because I went there when I was young and impressionable. Maybe it’s my fascination with Japanese history and custom. It’s very fashionable to be into China right now. I have absolutely nothing against China. Nothing.

But it just doesn’t do it for me. Maybe if I went there and met the people and saw the tea plantations and drank tea and ate Chinese shish-ka-bob (a la Kevin Rose) out of a rickshaw bar-b-que cooker…maybe then I could become more interested in China.

But as of now, I’m on the way to Japan in my thoughts. I’m above the clouds and flying through the air. It’s not enough to go to modern Japan. In my mind I’m floating back in time as well. To the time when tea ceremony wasn’t yet an institution. If we go back that long ago, this is the thirteenth century and we are Japanese monks.

Our brother monk, Dai-o, has been on a long journey to the Chinese monasteries where he observed and learned about the way the Zen monks in China prepare their tea. It’s so much more than the practical aspect of dunking leaves in heated water. He has shown us that the harmony between the people drinking the tea and the tools or implements that we use to make the tea is very crucial.

There are three things he referenced about the tea ceremony that were true back then and are still true today. Respect, cleanliness and tranquility. There’s no way that I can cover everything about this this in one simple blogpost. Am doing quite a bit of research about tea ceremony and might write an article on the topic soon. Stay tuned. Am enjoying this immensely.