Saturday, 31 July 2010

ring that gong

Am watching Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and remembering the Gong Show.

What used to be so wild and unpredictable seems so tame in comparison with today. I had a professor in school who used to say that people haven't really changed since the time of Chaucer. We think that our technology has advanced us, but ultimately we're organically the same animal that we've been for a long, long time.

Today's Gong Show is exponentially more wild on Youtube.

Where does tea fit into all of this? It just seems to improve what already was. I was always looking for a drink that'd both calm me and enliven me. When I finish a delicious pot of tea and immediately brew another, it's never going to send my heart-rate over the edge like other beverages.

So the world swirls round. Television and now the internet continue to show us the limitless variety of creatures we really are. And I'm brewing yet another infusion of Milky Oolong. All is right with the world.

Friday, 30 July 2010

How do you make 'milky' Oolong?

Have done a bit of research, but found very little of substance. I was asked today about Milky Oolong, which I really like, and immediately answered that the better quality Milky Oolong is not artificially flavoured. But then I got to thinking about it and wondered how they make this tea. I'm going to open it up here, and ask you all if you know how this tea is made. Do you?

One site called explained it this way:

Milk oolong tea, harvest in Taiwan, is also known as Jian Xuan. When brewed this tea produces a milky aroma and a creamy light sweet taste. The milk oolong is naturally processed with no artificial flavoring. The cream milky taste and aroma are produced by processing the tea leaves that endured a sudden change in weather during harvest at special conditions.

That's the most information I've unearthed. And it's not very specific. Another site that I won't mention said that the tea is rolled in milky water. Or watery milk. That makes no sense to me. Sounds like an answer a tea seller might come up with on the spot when he/she has no idea.

So I'm leaving it up to the scores of people who stumble by here. How does one make Milky Oolong milky?

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

living cup of tea to cup of tea

Badly translated German phrase: What for a day. There are some days where I look back and am amazed at how much I accomplished while I was awake.

Today was a normal day, but I was just living from cup of tea to cup of tea. Normally love to go out with the dogs and it was a nice, cool summer morning, but I was thrilled to get home to my breakfast and the pot of tea I'd brewed before I left.

Had a number of important appointments and because I hadn't packed tea in my bag like I normally do, I hurried home for my next dose. My minimum tea requirement.

And the evening was divided into two parts based upon what I was drinking. The early part of the evening was accompanied by a Formosa Oolong, while the evening was Gunpowder.

That's it for me today. Not much more to report. Enough excitement-off to dreamland.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

If the Chinese wouldn't drink it

Lately there's been a bit of talk about Earl Grey among friends on twitter, and I've mentioned here a few times that I see this blend as a gateway tea. Something many people start out drinking, but eventually the Bergamot oil becomes intolerable, and they find other (less perfumed) teas.

As much as we tea people seem to have lukewarm to even virulent aversion to this tea, it seems to be ever present in any shop I go into. Supposedly, it's one of the best selling teas on the market. Looked it up in Pratt's The Tea Lover's Treasury, and he was kinder about this subject than many of us are. Not much kinder, but kinder nonetheless. Here's what he says on the subject:

To me, however, the real mystery about Earl Grey is why everyone seems to like it. Not that I actively dislike the stuff, mind you-it has its place and gives its pleasure too-but I find it exactly analogous to Lancer's Crackling Rose wine from Portugal: Nice enough now and then but how'd it get to be the best-selling imported wine in America? That's the same status Earl Grey enjoys among specialty teas...(p.125).

Then he goes on to say that if one uses too much Bergamot oil, the tea can easily make it taste of 'cheap perfumed soap and the ability to anaesthetize the roof of your mouth and the back of your throat'. Sounds delightful, right? He does say that if you get the balance of tea to oil right it can produce a 'well-mannered, mild-flavored tea with a very distinctive, yet delicate scent.'

Not everyone moves on to non-perfumed teas. This stuff sells really well in parts of the world. I did find it funny that Pratt explains the history of the blend, and concedes that although the Chinese introduced the Earl of Grey to the recipe but that they themselves were never, in fact, Earl Grey drinkers themselves. I think if I were in his position and they offered me the possibility to drink this mix of black teas soaked in Bergamot oil that they themselves wanted nothing to do with, I'd probably have passed.

If the Chinese wouldn't drink it, that must've said something.

Monday, 26 July 2010

enough with the fanciness

Sometimes I wonder if all the obsession about different teas is a waste of time. Tea is tea, right? I think that maybe my penchant for finding 'the best' gets in the way of my simply enjoying a simple tea.

Then I drink something like I did today, and I'm sure that being picky is necessary. Had the end of a bag of a Sencha simply called Fancy Sencha. I don't know how I got through the majority of this bag, but I will not be running out and replacing this one. Fancy? Indeed.

It had all the characteristics of a bitter, grassy green tea without any of the charm. My only hope is that another infusion or two might save it. Might be, but isn't likely. Someone said here recently that we drink the mediocre tea to make the good tea all the better. All this fanciness is going to make my next pot of anything else all the tastier.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Siggy and Uncle Gustav on the leaf side

Went to see a film today called Mahler on the Couch in which Gustav Mahler is so upset about his wife Alma's extramarital affairs that he goes to see Sigmund Freud for his expert opinion.

Freud is in Amsterdam, about to board a ship for the Mediterranean, and the story shifts between the scenes there between the General Director and the good doctor and different parts of Austria where the Mahlers lived.

But the thing that made me smile when the young ladies working in the Dutch hotel asked what they were drinking that these two Austrians who came from the Hauptstadt of coffee, Vienna, ordered tea. Almost like another character in the scene was the tea service.

Seemed so stereotypically dignified. Everyone else was focused on the serious discussion of how Mahler felt he'd failed as a husband. I was interested in that part, too. But part of me was also so pleased that these two were over here with me on the leaf-side.

I'm well aware that it could've been a decision of the film makers that had no basis in fact. It might've been a historical reality that when in Amsterdam, one had an easier time being served tea. All of that's immaterial to me.

In my fantasy world, if I was invited to join them in the lobby, I'd join them for a cuppa. Happily.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

the dangers of coffee drinking

Not much tea-related to report today.

I did have some coffee in the afternoon, and then 18 people (and counting) died at the Love Parade rave festival in Duisberg (Ruhrgebiet) shortly thereafter. You might think those two events are in no way connected.

Nevertheless, I assure you I'll be sticking to tea tomorrow.

Friday, 23 July 2010

non-Gong Fu multiple infusions

Last week I wrote about Gary Vaynerchuck, Kevin Rose, and Jesse Jacobs talking tea and wine at, and I wrote about social media but not about tea. When asked about how much tea and how long for steeping times, he repeated several times that he often advised more tea and shorter steeping times.

I've been doing this more and more with varying results. When I put green tea in a paper filter, the third or fourth infusion is sometimes the last one that really has reasonable taste. Oolong lasts for a few more infusions, but I still think this form of brewing is not the optimal one for multiple infusions.

The Gong Fu style of brewing seems to be much better for this. As much as I've tried to modify more tea/shorter brewing times in a larger pot with a paper filter, it's not yet working so well.

I know this isn't normally a place where you find practical tea-making advice, but it is a teablog. I have to talk about tea sometimes, don't I?

Thursday, 22 July 2010

and now for a bit of the mundane

Am watching a very French musical from 1967 and drinking a China Sencha Dong-Bai. Thought about going into detail about The Young Girls of Rochefort, but I'll just name it and if you want to go look at or wikipedia, I'm sure you'll find all you ever wanted to know.

It's full of all the total irrational improbabilities that people who like musicals always disregard, but it's not all bad. It has Gene Kelly playing one of the sister's love interest. The sisters are played by a very young Catherine Deneuve and her real life sister Françoise Dorléac.

Sometimes the voices are dubbed, Gene Kelly's accent is terrible when he's not dubbed, and despite all the things I can come up with that are wrong with it, I can't turn it off. There's a summer storm raging outside and the pastel colours and faux-jazz melodies on the screen are a welcome distraction.

Not that I need to be distracted from a storm. I love storms. Is this the right tea for this weather? I guess so. I'd like to try some new green teas. This one is delicious, but I bought so much of it and often make it because I think I need to get through the bag. That's not a reason to drink tea, is it?

It's not bad. Even as I write that I think, 'You should be drinking teas that excite you...not just ones that aren't bad.'

Now there's a biopic about Francoise Hardy on and while I could be distracted while the cheesy musical was on, I don't want to miss a minute of this.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

striving to understand

I already read Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson quickly for pleasure, and am rereading it, and sharing my favourite tea-related things here as I come to them. On page 150, he finally explains the main idea of the book, which I've repeated here many times. While drinking three simple cups of tea, the people sitting across from one another go from being strangers to friends to family. Of course it's simplistic, and I don't think I can easily start seeing you as my blood just because we've had several cups of tea.

But the context of his example is important. He brought enough money to build a school he'd promised, but was delayed because first a bridge had to be built. Then when the bridge had been built, he became obsessed to have the school built as rapidly as possible. He was demanding and pushy with the locals as he ordered the people he was working with to do this and that.

Haji Ali, the village elder and Mortenson's mentor, pulled him aside and insisted that he sit down in order to share some tea. The old man explained to him that his way of accomplishing things didn't fit in this context. Here's how Mortenson explains what he was told in this passage:

Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.

There's part of me that just wants to reject this outright. What if he was an expert in construction? He wasn't. What if he really had better ideas and they were being lazy? Well so what? I've worked with bossy people. It can be a nightmare. It's almost worse when they're right.

Here I am tonight drinking my Sencha Dong-Bai and continuing to pick apart this book. My biggest problem with reading this sort of book, which I'd call inspirational of a sort, is that then I put the book down and cannot imagine how I could ever do such a courageous thing. But this idea about building relationships is something I can imagine myself doing.

Pouring tea and trying to understand the other people more than to make sure I'm understood. That's certainly something I can strive for. Often, I'm looking for something more complicated. Something mind-blowing. The simpler the better, eh? Yeah-I can see that.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010


There was an interesting article yesterday in a left-leaning newspaper from Berlin (the tageszeitung) that I considered translating swaths of, but instead I'll just give you the main idea.

It was about teahouses in Iran, and how important they are for the resistance. Not political resistance but social/personal resistance. On the edge of Teheran, many dance halls that were closed during/after the revolution in 1979 have been reborn as teahouses.

People meet and drink tea and, I assume, talk a bit louder than they normally would. The article also mentions an Iranian saying that 'One who drinks alcohol starts to think about politics', which would indicate that it's not just tea they're serving in these teahouses.

The women wear clothes that would never be acceptable in the street and they openly wear make-up. As I'm reading about such simple pleasures, I consider how easily I take what fortune I have for granted.

Would I go to such lengths to simply have tea and good conversation if I knew I was putting my safety in jeopardy? I don't particularly like a lot of make-up, but would I see women across from me at the next table and view them as suspect? There's really no way to know.

But as much as I enjoy my tea in relative freedom, I'm sure it'd taste even better in those surroundings. Not just the taste of the dark, strong black tea diluted with only a bit of milk, but also the taste of such a small personal resistance. My own little stand against the authorities. My own little tea-stand.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Irish breakfast?

Remembered a funny story about an illegal after hours bar that I used to go to, and it has a funny connection to tea.

Am not going to mention the name of the place or in what city it was located for reasons that'll immediately become evident, but I actually have no idea if the place still exists.

Not sure if the place had a liquor license, and they'd only do this for after hours drinkers. If you'd already drunk until the bar closed elsewhere and weren't yet ready to call it a night, you could go to this above-unnamed place and order an 'Irish Breakfast tea', and they'd bring you a big mug of Guinness.

Now that I look back on it, there're a few obvious questions that come to mind that never occurred to me then. The first thing is: why Irish Breakfast? Guinness-Ireland. Yeah, I get that.

But secondly: what would happen if someone really wanted such a tea that late at night? Not someone just trying to elongate his buzz, but someone in the mood for a bit of highly caffeinated Camellia sinensis . How shocked might he be when his first sip of brew turned out to be that dark syrupy Stout? Another brew entirely.

Not much of a teapost tonight, but peripherally involved. A bit of a stretch? Yeah, maybe.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

brewing underground

Am watching a Whodunit on German television that takes place during a mining disaster, and I'm wondering what tea goes with miners. Were I to work underground, what tea would I take with me? I think it'd have to be a strong blend of black tea. And just for practicality's sake, I think I'd take bagged tea down into the mine.

So I'm going to say Yorkshire Gold. I assure you that no-one's paying me to say this. Who would anyway? But that's my brief daydream for the day.

I don't think there's any way I'd be a miner anyway, but there it is. Yorkshire Gold.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

turtle pee

It's a rainy Saturday evening after weeks of unbearably hot weather. I'm drinking a simple Bancha tea, and listening to the rain pitter patter on the window.

The little bit of research I've done about this tea is that it's a simpler/coarser form of Sencha, but even if this is a lower grade tea, I really like the way it tastes. It's grassy and rather bitter. But the second and third infusions lose the bitterness while keeping the flavour.

Years ago, someone told me that the taste of green tea was what they assumed turtle pee would taste like. It was on a trip to Japan, and she had one sip of green tea, decided she didn't like it, and from then on referred to it as turtle pee.

Only on reflection did I realise I should've asked her how she knew how terrapin urine tasted, but I think it was just the worst thing she could think of to compare it to. At least that's how I remember it.

But somehow over time because I love the taste of green tea more and more, I've started to imagine that maybe turtle urine isn't that bad. I know that it's madness, but that's where my thoughts take me this evening.

Read a book years ago by Rudolfo Anaya called Tortugas in which the waters from Turtle Mountain healed the wounded protagonist. The characters in the book saw the waters that came from the mountain as healing and I think they also referred to the waters as turtle pee.

Regenerative green tea. Low quality Bancha or not, this is delicious.

Friday, 16 July 2010

tea drinking and resolve

As he worked his way throught the pot of tea, Mortenson told Abdul the story of his failure on K2, his wanderings on the glacier, and the way the people of Korphe had cared for the stranger who wandered into their village.

from Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea (p. 58)

As I'm going through this book again, I've decided to ponder some of the things he brings up, and leave my thoughts here. I plan to at least start off talking about tea, but there's no telling where these thoughts might take me. That's part of my attraction to tea. You could certainly make a case for the spirited conversation one might have drinking whiskey or the heightened alertness that coffee might create.

But tea is both calming and enlightening. Whether drinking it alone or sharing it with others, something exquisite often happens in the process of draining a pot.

Several paragraphs later, after Abdul has resolved to help Mortenson get the best deal possible on the materials for the school he's going to build, the story continues:

He swept aside the doubts about his ability to build the school that had nagged at himfor the last year, as Abdul had briskly cleared the tea try. Tomorrow it was time to begin.

Something else I've noticed about tea drinking and resolve. If I'm debating with myself about doing something and first sit quietly with a bit of tea, I normally find at least the beginnings of an answer. I try to make a point of ignoring my very first impulse. Not always, but often it's my worst thought. While the tea cools and I sip it slowly, alternatives that I hadn't thought of start to materialise.

My friend Patsy used to always say, 'If you think there're only two answers to a problem, you're not looking at it clearly enough.' Her point was that upon further reflection, there's always another way to look at a situation.

That's it for tonight. Although it's not a long post, there's plenty here. Am drinking a really simple Darjeeling Green that I got at a shop in Hamburg back in April. It's so simple it didn't even have a specific name. Nothing more than Darjeeling Green Tea. I was intrigued because I'd never had a green tea from Darjeeling. Third infusion and it's still going strong.

Off to ponder.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

'be part of the community'

Just watched Gary Vaynerchuck, Kevin Rose, and Jesse Jacobs talk tea and wine at, and I want to take a different tack than I normally do. There was plenty about different teas and how to prepare them, as well as wine (that's what Garyvee does after all), but at the very end they talked about tips dealing with social media and getting a product/idea out there.

The thing that's often said is 'scratch your own itch', which is something I take really seriously here. The whole prospect of this teablog lark was set in motion because I kept seeing people on twitter obsessed with tea like I was. I thought if I documented what I was learning, it'd be interesting to someone other than just me. At first I was daunted by how little I actually knew about tea, but eventually decided I'd let that be a plus. I'd be really upfront that my knowledge was limited and the blog was a record of my search.

I was obsessed about numbers of visitors to a degree, and I still gauge how much people enjoyed the post by how many people comment on it. Rationally, I know people read the blog without ever saying anything, but I still judge my performance by reaction. I really do.

But here's what I liked most about what was said at the very end of the video: 'be part of the community.'

I used to write my blog and make snarky comments at twitter about anything but tea. I'd make a teanote at, and see what was said at leafboxtea. Might even go read a wikipedia page about a tea I didn't know about. But I believe this really started to work for me when I read other blogs. Mostly teablogs, but I read a lot of other stuff too. And I really try to comment when I can. Sometimes the only thing I have to say is 'great post-thanks for writing this,' but I try to make it more than that.

The thing is that I'm really part of my little corner of the teaworld. I really get excited when I read about the World Tea Expo, write about it, and then I find out Sir William was there. He's part of my tribe here, and when things go well for him, they go well for me.

Although I really make a point that my content is original, I will credit when I find something interesting and want to write about it. I still think there's so much opportunity for growth in this Web 2.0 thing. If I try to make this blog like anything else I see out there, it won't sit right with me.

The more I inject my kookiness into it, the better response I get and the more people come looking for more kooky.

So the other thing that gets good response is when I ask questions. Here goes:

Do you feel like a part of a community with tea sites and teablogs? Is it a bit overwhelming when you see the obsessive blogs that're out there? I stay focused on black tea partly because it seems like most tea freaks are obsessed with green and Oolong, but I love those as well. I write about what I know, and I try to leave more than I take. How about you? Are you in my tribe?

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

assuming a lizard pose

Today, after I took my mom to the bus that took her to the airport, I fetched the dogs from the sitter and thought I'd catch a catnap. Not sure I could really sleep, I brewed up a pot of Margaret's Hope Darjeeling and got plenty tea-drunk.

Then I lay down and despite the heat and the fact that it was the middle of the morning, I was out like a light. The last few days were insufferably warm, and I muscled through to be able to show my mother the city we lived in back in the early 1970s. Today, my heat exhaustion caught up with me. Full of the Margaret's Hope I reclined and was out like a light. A few hours later, I got up and was a bit surprised at how hard it was to do so.

I brewed a second infusion of the Darjeeling, and drank half of the pot before I had to lay back down. I'm not a runner, but I do a lot of hiking every year, and the way I felt was similar to how it is after a long mountain trek. Often the night after the hike is no trouble, but the next day is overwhelming.

Pot after pot of tea and just staying horizontal until mid-afternoon seemed like the only thing that would help regenerate my ailing body. Now it's one of those absolutely perfect Bavarian summer evenings that're just cool enough. Not cold, but a nice cool breeze. I've said it before, but on a night like this it feels like anything is possible.

Earlier today, I had a conversation with an acquaintance about the best weather for being productive. As optimistic and wistful as these warm nights make me, I do find that my thought process is somehow compromised. Colder weather is easier to write and work in. For one thing, I don't feel that inner drive to go out and enjoy the weather while it's good.

So, I've brewed some more Formosa Oolong, and am repeating my evening ritual. Will keep my cranium as cool as possible hoping it'll work again when the air is humane once more. Until then, I'll assume my lizard pose and conserve energy.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

samovar sipping

Tonight, I'm not talking about specific tea, because I can't. I don't have any idea what it was. Except that it was black tea and thick as oil.

There are some Turkish Döner stands that are not attractive, and on the other end of the spectrum there are very nice restaurants that serve upscale Turkish cuisine. But in the middle there are simple restaurants where the food is home-made and the kitchen is clean. These sorts of places in the middle are one I really like to eat in. You might know the Gyros-like sandwich as a Kebab (I've also seen Kebap), but whatever you call it, it's a very simple meal.

The best shops in Berlin look a bit shabby but the food is delicious. The most basic part of the sandwich is the meat that's shaved off a big slab that's spinning around in circles on a vertical spit. The guy cuts open the bread, lays a heap of shaved meat inside the bread, and here comes the best part: a bit of lettuce, cabbage (both white and red), onions, one or two slices of tomato, a yoghurt sauce and ground spicy pepper to taste. Some people only go for such a sandwich after, or in the midst of, a night of hard drinking, but I enjoy it as a quick filling meal.

Maybe I've lost whatever credentials I may or may not have had as a foodie by admitting I like Döner, but now it's out there. No turning back now.

After I took the empty plates back in the shop, I noticed a Samovar in the corner. For the regulars I thought. Well, aren't I a regular? Not only do I love Döner, but if the done thing after eating here is to have a cup of tea from the samovar, then shouldn't I take part? I certainly should. And I did. I asked politely first, and he seemed both amused and curious that I'd even want a cup.

So now I was into it. If I poured too much of the sludgy tea liquor from the little teapot cooking on top, I couldn't exactly spit it out and start over. If I didn't pour enough, the tea would be weak. What's the point of that?

So I went with about a third of the little cup filled with the tea essence. Then I filled the rest of the cup with the near-boiling water from the huge pot underneath. Still not sure I'd made the right choice as to the sludge to water ratio, I put a healthy amount of sugar in my cup and went back to the table outside.

There's no handle on these little cups, so I already knew the tea was very hot. I waited, took a very timid sip, and was pleasantly surprised by the thick, dark, sweet tea. This was the perfect way to chase down my spicy dinner. The last gold of the sun lit up the tops of the buildings as I slurped and contemplated my day.

I don't think I'm going to trade in my green tea or Oolong that I normally drink after my evening meal for muddy, strong black tea. But the next time I'm eating at any Turkish place, I assure you I'll scowl the corners of the room for their tea Samovar. I'd highly recommend you do the same.

Monday, 12 July 2010

easing me out of consciousness

Just read something on twitter that many blogs go as many as, if not more than, four months at a time without putting anything new on a blog. If anything I've erred on the side of over-posting. Sure, there are some blogs that deal with celebrity gotchya stories and those might need to be added to multiple times in a day, but leaving something new here once a day seems to be the speed I can manage.

That I keep finding things to talk about doesn't surprise me in the least, but then I don't necessarily write about things exclusively tea-related. Maybe you out there question whether I'm actually coming up with something interesting everyday, but for some reason you keep coming.

Tonight's musings are going to be rather simple. I've been tour guide, dutiful son, hungry writer and sleep-deprived citizen the last week or so, and I want to talk about coming in after a long day and brewing up one last pot of tea before I slip out of consciousness and into the land of my dreams.

That's where I am now. I had a pot of Formosa Oolong this afternoon, saved the bag and just infused it once more. It's absolutely perfect. It's got that nice aftertaste that some Oolongs have, but it's in no way harsh.

The older one gets, the more obvious it is that there are moments you just can't get back. I review my time with my mother the last week, and am incredibly aware that this time is both banal and precious at the same time. You deal with the simple inanities of where you'll eat for dinner or how many new postcard stamps are needed, and only in the late hours or the small hours of the morning can you recognise what value these glimpses have.

How many times did she go through this when I was a child and too lost in my own thoughts to look outside of myself? These moments where she didn't necessarily want to stop time, but to merely slow it so it wouldn't evaporate.

That's how this tea is helping me tonight. As I let it warm my thoughts and feel it soothe me so deeply, I'm aware that whatever lands I visit while I'm sleeping I will be carrying my mother with me. Not just the one I see before my eyes today, but that young woman who struck out in the world and did all she could to help me see that I wasn't alone. Not the wolf-child that was my nature. Only fighting to get his piece.

Now the teapot is dry, and I'm halfway into my nocturnal mountains. What beyond the next ridge might I find there?

Sunday, 11 July 2010


What tea goes with losing the World Cup final? Winning would be an easy answer. I'd think of a regal Darjeeling or an exquisite green tea.

Instead, I'd like to consider what the losers get. And they really are losers. The Dutch knew that they couldn't win with pure football, so they chose to play dirty. To foul and bruise and elbow their way to penalties after one hundred and twenty minutes. Thankfully, the Spanish won in a fair way despite the tactics of their opponent.

For the Vice Champions, I'd serve a Japanese Bancha, which is described at Wikipedia in this way:

Bancha (番茶?, coarse tea)
Lower grade of Sencha harvested as a third or fourth flush tea between summer and autumn. Aki-Bancha (autumn Bancha) is not made from entire leaves, but from the trimmed unnecessary twigs of the tea plant.

Rather fitting for a team that played rough and went down complaining. Sort of like Bill Lambeer on the old Detroit Pistons teams. You despise him unless he's on your side, and then you likely think the ends justify the means. And for that sort of thinking you get a steaming mug of unnecessary twigs. It's not bad tea, actually. You were probably hoping for something top-shelf.

And like the Netherlands national football team you'd pout as they did being anointed with their runners-up necklaces. You ungrateful bastard, you.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

On the leaf-side

To write about tea, demands that you consider both taste and smell. Not just consider it, but ponder it as well. Can you remember the smell of the forest in October when it’s still springtime? On a winter morning, can you recall the sweet fragrance of a summer’s evening? How do bacon and eggs in the pan smell? Freshly baked bread? The fisherman’s net coming out of the water? And the smell of tomatoes right in the moment they’re being picked? A smell that will disappear as quickly as it came.

To talk about our sense of smell is a curious endeavour-as good as we can smell, we are amateurs when we compare ourselves with other animals. Every dog would dismiss us and the butterflies would openly laugh at us. According to the animals, smell can distinguish love and hate, affection and rejection, (please forgive me for saying it because it’s a bit embarrassing) but smell doesn’t lie. You cannot hide one’s true character when your odour betrays you. Unconsciously, smell plays a much bigger role than we realise. There’s wisdom in an old saying ‘I can’t stand the smell of him’.

from Die Kunst Tee zu trinken (The Art of Drinking Tea) by Peter Martin Urtel

I've been thinking more and more about what effect smell has on how we appreciate tea. When I go into a good tea shop, I'd never purchase a tea until I'd smelled the leaves. As I bring the cup up to my mouth, I first take a deep breath in and have a good idea what's coming long before the tea cools enough to sip it. The smell of tea is so intertwined with its taste, that it's nearly impossible to consider the two separately. Actually, it is impossible. They're part of the same thing.

Barbara, the newly tea-indoctrinated, talked of this as she was first trying on new teas and experimenting with steeping times. You instinctually notice the smell of something long before you'd ever consider putting it in your mouth.

Have had a wonderful trip the last few days. Although traveling can be exhausting, every morning I pack a thermos of tea that I know I'll appreciate at some point mid-morning. Then at the end of the day, I retire to the room and brew up at least a pot (sometimes two) as I review the events of the day. Tonight it's a Sencha Dong-Bai, but it needn't be anything fancy.

As finicky as I might come across here (talking about this or that first flush Darjeeling), there've been multiple times over the last few days where I've been immensely grateful to sit down in a cafe and have a simple, earthy Ceylon or Assam.

Careening in and out of this castle and that museum, I'd see the sign of a cafe. I'd find a seat away from the windows and the burning sun. I'd wonder if this was one of those cafes that hadn't bothered branching into tea as well as coffee. Slowly I'd crack the menu, and rifle through the different finger foods on offer, and the multitude of coffee and coffee drinks. Near the back, I'd invariably come upon the page of tea.

'How do I feel?'. I'd ask myself? Had I had enough strong dark tea at breakfast? If not, an Assam was in order. What about if I felt a bit bogged down by the breakfast tea, and needed a bit of a light break from it? Then a Darjeeling first flush. Depending on the variety of the available teas, I might even risk one of their green teas. Sometimes a mistake in a cafe, but not always. Once again, this has been one of the nicest surprises while away from home.

I no longer feel so alone in an ocean of the unwashed masses. When you think more about a topic, you're naturally drawn to others of the same ilk. I'm sure that if we met on the street we'd have no idea of our similar tastes.

I might lean in and, as if it was a conspiracy, ask you, 'Do you prefer coffee or tea?' The delight you'd see on my face when I realised you were one of us. Those of us on the leaf-side.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Refuge in the midst of the Arabica-addled

A few days ago, I mentioned that Vienna is well-known as a coffee-drinking mecca. The history of the coffeehouse is unquestionably entwined with this city. That's why I'm pleasantly surprised by a phenomenon that I'd never noticed the many times I've been here. I think it's because I thought, 'When in Vienna, you're obligated to drink the sticky, dark java.' Assumed that if they had any tea at all, it'd be simple, boring tea bags.

I was very mistaken.

The Viennese know their tea. And nearly every single cafe I've been in (And I've been making the rounds I assure you) has an impressive array of loose-leaf tea. Sometimes multiple choices of Darjeeling and at least one Ceylon and Assam. The green tea selection is also admirable. Wrote about one shop yesterday that had so many good tea books to flip through. Not that every citizen here is as tea-obsessed as we are, but they at least have far more opportunities to learn about it than I would've ever expected.

The best tea cities I've experienced so far are Hamburg, London, San Francisco (though it's been years since I've been there) and Tokyo. All of them have some connection to a port and/or trade. This place doesn't fit either category.

But it was the capital of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire at the time when tea was making it's way from Asia to the West. The diplomatic significance then and now of this city means that tea drinkers, however small in comparison to their Arabica-addled brethren, are still a sizeable and vocal minority.

In the last few days, I've had a variety of Darjeelings, an excellent Matcha, two Chinese and one Japanese green. And a Jun Chiyabari Oolong, which always seems to delight me whether I have it at home or while travelling. If you're coming to Vienna anytime soon, no need to despair about the state of tea drinking.

There's plenty for those of us on the leaf side in this city of coffeehouses.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Wiens Teehandlung Schönbichler

From the Stephansdom (Vienna's cathedral), you round the block and see a tea shop which is clearly from an earlier era. There are teas displayed in the show window that prove this shop has some of the rarest Darjeelings. They were not shy promoting what the Germans call Flugtee (the newest First Flush brought in by plane).

You step inside, and you're transported back at least a century. There are huge canisters that the tea-seller will pull off the shelves and let you both admire and smell the leaves.

After a few minutes of admiring the tea sets and paraphernalia, you notice that there's a little loft above the showroom with comfortable seats and pillows. You climb the short flight of stairs and can look out over the shop to watch the customers flow in and out to ask questions and peruse the tea. There are books about tea, as well as Vienna , that you can peruse while you wait for your tea, but once it arrives, all you can do is sit quietly and let the world outside bustle by.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

What's the point of fruit tea?

You'll have to excuse me for being a bit down this evening, and that's partly why I'm mailing it in. Have done my best to not write too much about the football here over the last several weeks, and tonight I'll simply say that Spain was a far better team than anyone Germany had seen thus far in the tournament. The better team definitely won tonight, and I hope the Final is as exciting as this Semi-final was.

You're going to have to excuse this blogpost tonight. I just don't have it in me to be inventive or entertaining after the emotions that've been spilled on my floor while watching that match.

My mother's been in Germany for a week, and spent the last few days in Oberammergau where she saw the Passion Play (Yes, the one that's caused so much controversy about Anti-Semitism over the years). She returned to Munich today with some fruit tea from Upper Bavaria. I was happy to prepare it for her, but had no intention of drinking the stuff.

I did look at the *tea* though. Poured it out on the counter and looked at the leaves, even though they're not really leaves per se. I've dealt with the what is/isn't tea on this blog before. I know fruit tea isn't considered real tea by purists, but I use the term infusion when I talk about multiple steepings. Even though I prefer tea from the Camellia sinensis plant, I don't have any qualms about calling other things tea. Within reason. I'm not going to go into what I don't consider tea. Just thinking about that topic makes me sleepier than I already was.

Here's my thing about fruit tea, though. The un-steeped tea looked delicious...really fresh, delicious fruit. But then I steeped it, served it to my mom, and had a cup so I could tell you about it. No matter how good the quality of the dried Hibiscus leaves, various dried berries and unspecified aroma were, the fruit tea really didn't taste any different from the most generic supermarket bagged tea. There was just no noticeable difference.

The more delicate my taste gets, the more excited I get when I can try something new and compare it. This was not worth the anticipation. Fruit tea. What the hell's the point?

Tomorrow, we're off to Vienna. You might only think of coffee when thinking of Vienna, but I assure you that there's a tea drinking culture there. I intend to write plenty about it the next several days. Something to look forward to, eh? Hope you stick around.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

...coursed through my veins and warmed my extremities...

Am rereading Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, and plan to periodically bring up things I find there. There's a quote from Sir Edmund Hillary's sherpa that begins one of the chapters, and I wanted to talk about it a bit.

Hillary asks: 'Tell us, if there were one thing we could do for your village, what would it be?'

And the sherpa responds: 'With all respect, Sahib, you have little to teach us in strength and toughness. And we don't envy your restless spirits.

Perhaps we are happier than you? But we would like our children to go to school. Of all the things you have, learning is the one we most desire for our children.'

Then Mortenson goes on to describe what led up to him promising to build a school in the village where he was treated so well. But what I thought about while I pondered this quote was the restless spirits part. I'm definitely a restless spirit, but to a different degree. I love living far from my homeland. I love that everyday is a sort of cultural adventure, but it's not like I'm a perpetual backpacker. When I go to visit a city a city in southern Europe, it's a far shorter plane ride and I nearly feel like a German in my matching socks and hat.

But I am restless. I need to see more. Even though home is endlessly comfortable, I want to experience as much of this world as I can. That's where tea comes in. Tea slows me down. I've said here before that I love how I seem to be able to do more while guzzling tea, but there's also the reality that if I take the time that carefully brewing a cup or a pot, I need to slow down a bit. Or even a lot.

So today, I rushed home, made a sauce to go with my lunch, sat down and rushed through the paper that I didn't have time to read this morning. I'd brewed a pot of Java Santosa while I was cooking, and something happened as I took the first sip. It's a strong black tea, but doesn't have the same bitterness that many Assams have. It's ok with milk, but is really just as good without any.

As I sipped and took a deep breath, I realised that I was still completely wound up. I put the paper down, looked out from the terrace onto the bustling street in the distance and watched cars whoosh by...

The tea coursed through my veins, and warmed my extremities. I wasn't even aware that I needed to slow down. But here I was letting the tea work its magic. Somehow I was relaxed and reinvigorated simultaneously.

Whatever I decide to do with the rest of my afternoon, I'll try to carry this moment with me. Won't be too difficult. I assure you it won't be difficult.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Bromine of the Theo

Have read about the many chemicals in tea and often wondered why it seems like I stay more focused when I'm drinking pot after pot. LeafBoxTea had a great essay about busy people and tea drinking a while back, and at some point I'll figure out to link to other sites. Am sure it's easy. Just need to figure it out.

But then I was perusing the Teahacker's site, and he went into some detail about Theobromine. He breaks down theo, which means 'God(s)' and I thought bromine would mean murky dirty liquid. I learned there that bromine means 'food'. So, as he says there, this Theobromine is literally food of the gods.

When I was in school, there was a hilarious percussionist who I had an early morning class with...John something...and he'd slink into class looking like hell, with a big cup of coffee. He'd take a big, slurping sip, and say, 'Mmmmh...Coffee, nectar of the Gods.'

The thing is that I don't get the same results from coffee. I do from tea. When I drink more than a cup of coffee, my heart pounds in my chest. Tea only leaves me wanting more of it.

When I have a project to do, the constant accompaniment of my ever steaming mug of tea keeps me going. And the very best part is that when I eat sugar or drink coffee, there's nearly always a crash that follows. The spike is exciting and short-lived. With tea, it comes on slowly but eases away slowly. Very slowly. Wouldn't even call it a spike.

More like a slow burn.

Mmmmh...tea...bromine of the theo. Delicious stuff, this.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

bag-in-your-mouth tea

Have read more and more about iced tea lately. Both in the comments here and on other blogs, I've read more and more about ways that people prepare iced tea. One place talked about taking a tea that's already been infused several times, that you then put in cooled water overnight. In the morning you have naturally brewed tea. I thought the hot water was essential, but I'm certainly going to try following the directions to get tea from cool water and almost over-used leaves.

I'm reminded of the way my mother made tea when we were young. It was also cool water, or at least room temperature, and she'd put it and the tea in a large glass jar. After several hours, the sun would've heated the water enough to seep the tea. 'Sun Tea' she called it. Inventive name, eh?

Always thought the sun and its heat were an essential part of the process, but now I'm wondering if you need sunlight or heat in general are even necessary. After I've done multiple infusions of a tea I really like, I'm going to try cold brewing it. Can't wait to tell you the results.

It's so hot today, I've considered simply putting a teabag in my mouth and letting the leafy goodness go straight into my system, but something tells me it'd be of no use whatsoever. My suspicion is that 'Sun Tea', as good as it can be, is far different from 'Bag-in-your-mouth' tea

Saturday, 3 July 2010

meditative power of tea? my ass...

The meditative power of tea drinking? My ass...

Thought about that this morning when I was trying to get everything settled/prepared for my mother's visit. Needed to make tea quickly before the dogs lost their cool. Started the day with pure Java Santosa, which I wrote about a few days ago in relation to black tea blends. The leaves of the Java Santosa are medium-sized and have little light brown tips. When I buy Darjeelings, I keep reading about the FTGFOP marking at the end of a tea's name. I wonder if this tea from Java would pass the muster in India of being called an Orange Pekoe.

I rarely try to be very educational here, but I will go ahead and impart a bit of knowledge. I assure you it happens very rarely, but you know that already. This rating (the letters after a tea's name) has to do with the quality of the tea. The Darjeeling that I usually drink has FTGFOP at the end of it, and here's what it means: Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe.

When you look at some black teas, you can see little red/light brown tips on the tips of the leaves. That's where the tippy and golden come in. Orange Pekoe is used cavalierly and is endlessly confusing what it really means. Many people in the tea industry just mean that it's a black tea with a certain size of leaf. Some people just use Orange Pekoe to describe any black tea.

When I was in school, we could order Orange Pekoe tea in the cafeteria in the dorm, and it was nothing like the loose-leaf teas I talk about here. Just because you see OP at the end of a tea label, doesn't mean it's good. The letters that precede the OP are what matter.

Enough of my attempt to teach you anything. That's why God invented you could go there instead of here. I've already steamed though the above-mentioned pot of Santosa, and another pot of Margaret's Hope Darjeeling, which you must've noticed I really like. And before I packed my bag to go watch Germany play Argentina, I polished off a pot of Japan Sencha Fudji, which is certainly not the name I'd buy it under in Japan. Only for the German market. I need to find out what this Sencha is really called.

That's for another day. Hope you're enjoying the weekend wherever you are. As much as I like the sunny weather, part of me wishes I could be sitting with you Aussies through the long winter nights. Soon enough, right? Soon enough.

Friday, 2 July 2010

I'm only borrowing it for a short time

You know when you come here, you're not getting your normal teablog. I've gotten huge spikes in traffic and conversation when I wrote about religion and music, which are goldmines I can continue to pull ideas from. But the most fun I've had both here and in the responses I heard in my *real* life was when I talked about sex. Whether tea drinking improves your sex life. I think I put it more delicately. Are tea drinkers more amorous? That's how I approached it.

But now I want to write about a touchy subject that is less salacious than scatological. Have been having a lot of success with practicing the multiple infusions of Oolong. Have written enough about it here that this won't be new to you. More tea, in a smaller container for dramatically shorter steeping times.

This works fine in the early afternoon. Especially if I'm home working on a project. I steep my Oolong leaves for twenty seconds and then sip at that mug until it's gone and then I brew the same leaves again. Once more for only twenty seconds. The amount of flavour from such a brief time is surprising. And the accounts I've read about a certain taste only coming out after several infusions are finally my personal experience. For example a floral taste that was not there the first few infusions starts to surface.

As I say, this is fine in the afternoon. Unfortunately, I've gone a bit overboard with it in the evenings a few times. What happens when you drink mug after mug of Oolong, or any tea for that matter?

I've heard a funny saying made about beer, but I'm going to repeat it and insert 'tea' where 'beer' normally goes. When I drink tea, I don't really get to keep it. I'm only borrowing it for a short time. Soon enough I have to give it back.

So that's what I'm thinking about today. This method of brewing Oolong that I've learned about from reading many very interesting sites/blogs is delicious. And economical. The tea certainly lasts longer. But there's only so many mugs of tea one can drink before one needs to relieve one's self.

Have heard that this is a great definition of serenity. You're in the car on a highway. Desperately you need to get rid of all the tea you drank, but there's no exit for miles. You wait and wait as the miles fly past, but it seems like the exit will never come. When you think you just can't hold it anymore, you come to the exit.

You park the car, run inside, fumble with your jeans or your skirt...or whatever you're wont to wear when you travel...and finally you can let go and release all of that frustrated tension that was allowing you to persevere. You let go and relax your whole body...your whole being. That feeling? That's serenity.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

You can have any colour you long as it's black

'You can have any colour you long as it's black'
-Henry Ford on the Model T

Most of my weekly travel is relatively nearby, but Thursday mornings I go to a little town about half an hour east-northeast of Munich called Poing. My clients work for an industrial printer/copier manufacturer, and although their actual business is mind-numbingly boring, the people are hilarious. Most of what I do is help people break down stereotypes of the different nationalities they work with, and help them learn to better understand other people.

Because I never know what to expect refreshment-wise when I go to companies, I always pack a thermos or two. It does take time out of my morning ritual, but when I'm sitting in a meeting sipping on an above-average Oolong or Darjeeling, it makes it worth my while. Without a doubt.

Today I had half a mug left over for the ride home, and I savoured it as we sped through the vibrant green fields back towards the city. It was a blend from different teas I picked up in Hamburg in the spring. The tea comes from a region between Hamburg and the Netherlands called Ostfriesland. Talked at length with a few tea shop owners in Hamburg when I was there and learned a bit about what makes a good blend of black teas.

The tannins in black tea are incredibly healthy, but unfortunately bitter. I've toyed with blending the bitterest of my black teas with milder ones and it seems the balance is the secret. As bitter as you can make it, but not too much so. Am always trying mixtures of different Assams and other teas I find.

One tea I don't drink on it's own, because it's just too bitter, is an Assam called Greenwood. Mixed with other teas, it's fantastic. One of the teas I've found that softens the blow is actually a tea from Java called Santosa. It has all the strength of a good Assam without the bitterness. At least that's my experience.

I'm still partial to Indian teas. I love green and white teas, and it doesn't matter to me whether they're from Japan or China or somewhere else in Asia. But I still get such a kick out of a new Darjeeling I haven't tried before. African black teas are purportedly excellent. Need to find a shop that offers them.

If you have any tips or questions about blending black teas, please leave a comment here. If I don't know the answer to your queries, I'll make every effort to find the answer out. Would love to do it.