Tuesday, 31 May 2011

fannings aren't always teadust

I'm not a Pu-erh drinker. Not that I have anything against Pu-erh. I'd like to be one. I've certainly drunk it, and I'm always looking for more, but it's one of those few sorts of tea that I've read a lot about and I just don't have enough direct experience with it.

When I first discovered this stuff, I'd read about decades-old cakes that were worth thousands of dollars/euros. So for a while I thought this tea was just out of my price range. There's reasonably priced Pu-erh out there. You needn't start with the most expensive stuff. Actually, I've read that not knowing more about this tea can actually make an amateur more easily duped to believe a highly-priced cake is more rare or more valuable than it really is.

I researched buying this tea with trepidation. Seemed like the whole ordeal was going to be a bit of a minefield. Where to start?

Well, when I was going through the Upton Tea website I came upon this.

It's almost as this blurb was written for me and those of my ilk. And I quote directly: A flavorful Pu-Erh offering suited for those who want a quality, flavorful infusion at a modest price. That's me-that's me.

So the only thing that's worse than ordering tea that you really don't like is getting a tea like this that you like so much. What? Are you really complaining about liking a tea too much? Well yes, actually I am.

The idea of fannings made me nervous. When people complain about teabags, they often say that the teabags were filled with teadust or fannings. I thought these were synonyms.

In the case of this tea, this is definitely not teadust. There's a fermented taste to the cup, and the colour is as dark brown as a cup of coffee. And strong, too. There's no doubt that this tea packs a punch.

Like I say, as good as this experience is, it makes me a bit nervous that I'm getting to the end of my supply. I guess this is a problem I'm grateful to have.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

tea that flowers

I've made a point of including topical events in this blog. I continue to believe that anyone can write a blog entirely about tea, but my challenge has been to write about other things going on in the world and their thin or even questionably-existent connection to tea.

So, the Indy 500 is this weekend. I suspect some of the people sitting in their lawn chairs near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are drinking tea. Not very many, but I could wax poetic about what the perfect tea for such a situation might be.

We also have the Champions League Final this weekend, and like last year, I could watch the match and ponder which tea I might serve each player as they play well or poorly. In addition to that exercise, I described a little about what the Champions League is in Tea Voodoo.

But instead, I'm going to do a very typical teablog post. When we were trading tea a while back, Neil from Neil's Yard gave me a few samples of flowering tea from Canton Tea Co, and I'm only now getting round to trying it. The way the company describes it is quite informative, so check it out here.

It's what they call Golden Glow Flowering Tea, and I felt a bit like the whole ordeal was like a science experiment. You start out with a little wound-up ball of what they apparently want you to believe is tea.

The crucial piece of information is to use hot but not boiling water. Sure enough after just a few moments in the water, the little bulb opened up to show a concoction of flowers and white tea leaves (See the photo at the top of the blogpost). If you see Silver Needle Tea for the first time, you know immediately where it got its name.

I should've stated at the outset that I'm not big on white tea. For a long time, I'd drink it before I went to bed. Later I found out that some white tea has plenty of caffeine. Just because the taste is subtle definitely does not mean that the tea is weak or caffeine free.

So what did I think of this flowering tea? It was tasty, but not overly so. The aesthetic of the flowers were really nice, and I can see why the company advertises that this is a nice idea for a gift. While I was drinking the first cup, I should've poured the second cup out of the glass. Because I waited, that second cup was overly strong. It was a perfect example of why one shouldn't over-brew a tea.

Although this isn't a tea I'd drink everyday, I can certainly see myself serving this to guests who find my everyday black tea to be too bitter. Light and delicate flavours that would be a nice tea after a meal. Either served with dessert or in place of it entirely.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

planning to host fellow tea obsessives

This week I found out that a fellow tea obsessive that I met through twitter will be visiting Munich this summer. Actually a couple of tea obesessives. Should be quite the experience. Am already pondering where to take them for tea.

I go on and on about the meagre opportunities for decent tea drinking here in this city, but we do have tea shops/tearooms and I honestly can't wait to show these places off.

My visitors are already very familiar with the city of Munich, but in Southern Germany the people are much better known for their Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) than they are for their knowledge of tea and tea drinking. This is slowly changing. We have a budding tea culture.

There's the Tushita Teehaus, which I wrote about in a general sense of well-being, and then even closer is the Laifufu Teesalon, which I wrote about in Oolong Nirvana in the Next Street Over. (pictured on the left)

There's a very British place, which I'll talk about another time, where we could have cream tea, and if we're really ready to throw caution to the wind, there's always Afternoon Tea at Die Vierjahreszeiten (The Four Seasons).

So there's no reason for me to get overly excited just yet. Still have to wait several months for the opening ceremonies, but just going through our options for tea in Munich is making me thirsty.

Monday, 23 May 2011

my last tea

I made a mockery of my blog this weekend. I don't mind admitting it. Got caught up in the swell of emotion and ridicule that was The Rapture of 2011. I really couldn't help myself. Ok, I could've. But I didn't want to.

But what if I really only had time for one more tea? I'm not taking the above-mentioned Rapture even remotely seriously, but I am using the event as an opportunity to play with this hypothetical. One more tea? Really.

Not my best tea. I couldn't even begin to decide what that would be. But the last tea. How would I usher myself on the way out of mortality?

So here's my Alishan Zhu Lu Oolong and the precious tiny rolled leaves. I wrote about it here in the dead of winter. It's the kind of tea that just gets better and better.

I write mostly about black tea here. And I like to encourage people curious about tea to take a deeper dive. To come a bit farther in and not be daunted by the obsessiveness of some of us tea people. But there's a reason so many tea bloggers and tea experts get so excited about High Mountain Oolong from Taiwan. I assure you that if I could only have one more tea, this wouldn't be a bad choice. If nothing else, I could drag the time out by infusing it again and again and again.

And here are the leaves after multiple infusions (I didn't count). I wish they'd actually gone through with the invention of smell-o-vision, and you could actually smell these leaves? They're delicious.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Rapture tea

Last year, I live blogged what sort of tea I would serve each of the players in the Champion's League Final. You can see it here: Tea voodoo.

So, I joked about it earlier in the week, but this blog is anything if not topical. What sort of tea should we serve for the Rapture? Now, I'd normally avoid any sort of religious topic on a tea blog. I'd like to do anything to avoid any sort of controversy, and religion will certainly send us down that road more quickly than almost anything else.

But having said all that, what sort of tea would be perfect for just this event. I did only the briefest of research on what specifically the Rapture actually meant. I'm sure I could find plenty more about this, but for our purposes, Wikipedia will be more than enough of an authority.

And I quote: 'Some Dispensationalist Premillennialists (including many Evangelicals) hold the return of Christ to be two distinct events or one second coming in two stages. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 is seen to be a preliminary event to the return described in Matthew 24:29-31. Although both describe a return of Jesus, these are seen to be separated in time by more than a brief period. The first event may or may not be seen (which is not a primary issue), and is called the rapture, when the saved are to be 'caught up,' from whence the term rapture is taken. The 'second coming' is the public event when Christ's presence is prophesied to be clearly seen as he returns to end a battle staged at Armageddon...'(my parentheses)

So here's my point. All over twitter and throughout the internet people are joking about this Rapture. These people who're getting so much mileage out of this are clearly not in the crowd who're going to be 'caught up' and carried off. It's the doubters among us who're going to be sitting round and not seeing anything.

What sort of tea do we need for just this sort of event? Here's my scenario: I brew up a pot of my darkest Assam, and go sit on my terrace. Looking out over the sky above Munich (with the Olympic Tower in the distance) nothing happens. At least nothing as far as I can see.

I read somewhere that the optimum place for those who really believe this is happening is on a mountain in the French Alps. The citizens and authorities of the nearest village are purportedly less than impressed with the pilgrims who're making their way to this mountain. While they're being carried off, I'll be sipping my Assam on my terrace.

See you on the other side.


Tuesday, 17 May 2011

diplomatic license at Tea Embassy

The Tea Embassy

Wanted to write about this fantastic tea shop in downtown Austin, but was waiting until I had a reason. Now I have a reason. Recently served tea to a friend. Many times I've said that drinking tea with milk and/or sugar is one way to get into tea, but if you want to really taste the tea you have to drink it black. I still drink tea of questionable quality with a bit of cream, but that's because I'm masking the taste.

So my friend normally drinks her tea with milk and sugar. Despite all of my protests. Oh well. But I still take every opportunity to foist unadulterated tea on her. Normally to no avail.

But this time was different. I'd never heard of Jaimisi black, but I tend to focus my attention on black teas. Am always looking for teas from exotic locales such as Kenya or Indonesia or wherever. But here's a sort of Indian black tea that I didn't know existed.

It's a simple black tea. I'd even say it's a nice daily tea. But the best part? It tastes fantastic without adding anything. Anything at all. I handed her the mug, she sniffed it and said it smelled good. But she wasn't planning on drinking that dark unsweetened liquor until I prodded her and said, 'Come on. It's good enough as it is.'

Hesitantly, she sipped at it and then drank a bit more. 'Wow, that's ok. That's really quite good.' And what about me. I started to worry she was going to finish all of it. It was all I had left.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

layers of leftover tea

See that orange flask over on the right there? Got back last weekend from several weeks on the road, and that flask served me well. Quite well.

There was a patina left over from all that tea, and I was faced with a dilemma. Many people believe you never clean a teapot. That the caked on remains of earlier tea supposedly enhances your newly brewed tea. Ok, I'm still undecided on this, but that's a teapot. What about a thermos? Is it the same thing?

I've used different products on the German market and good old vinegar is sometimes the most effective at taking away the old tea. But once again, is cleaning my teapot or my flask actually hurting the taste of my tea?

Do you clean your teapot? With what?

Friday, 13 May 2011

Drinking very masculine Java tea

Have had a lot of tea grown on the Pasir Nangka tea estate in Java lately.

Wrote about Java Santosa last year (Startles me awake), and I still like tea from this region. This one might even be better than the earlier one. Maybe.

This one is strong like a good Assam, but not a lot of tannic acid. So it's not at all bitter. That's why I like to use Java tea in blends of black teas. There's something fruity and spicy in the taste as well.

Did a bit of research about tea from this region, and what I learned is that they started out planting tea plants from China here in Indonesia. For some reason, they switched to tea plants from Assam at some point.

Am rather curious why tea grown from the same plant, but grown in an entirely different region, has such a dramatic difference in taste. Any thoughts on that one?

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Pappy's Sassafrass

What the heck is that?

It's Pappy's Sassafrass Tea.

Can't you read?

Saw this in the supermarket on my recent trip to the America, and I had to include this in the blog. Found the website for Pappy's Sassafrass Tea, and thought you're life would be a bit less full if you didn't see this.

As the site says, 'With Pappy’s there is no work, no mess and no tea bags to wring-out or discard!' This is like the exact opposite of all the hassle involved in preparing green tea that I wrote about in the last post.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

why does green tea taste like dirt?

Green courtyard to go with the green tea

One of my intentions is to write this blog not just for those initiated to tea, but for people curious about tea, as well. Maybe they've had teabags and don't really get what all the fuss is about. Or they only drink tea when they're ill. Or they bought a box of teabags three years ago and periodically pull it out to brew a dusty old bag. With terrible results.

So, a good acquaintance on twitter (look how far we've come with all of this) complained about green tea today, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to give a few simple tips for brewing this stuff.

First of all, here's @CherylAnneNY and if you roll back through her tweets, you'll see that she's less than impressed with the green leaf.

I'm sure we could find a really pedantic site that explains brewing green tea in a really intricate and obsessive way. We're going to avoid that route entirely. I found a clearly written, short article about it (How to brew green tea), but I can already here you kvetching about each of the little things mentioned.

Here is a direct quote of the four main points:

1. Use loose tea

2. Heat fresh cold water to 165-170 degrees F in a non-reactive teakettle.

3. Let the tea expand while steeping

4. To adjust the taste, change the amount of tea, not the brew time

'Loose tea?', you ask. Is that really necessary? You want as little mess as possible. I know where you're coming from, but it really makes a huge difference. Quality and temperature of water are also crucial, but if you're using tea of questionable quality, then you'll get tea of the same questionable quality.

We want to keep this simple. Although filtered water is best, the most important thing, in my experience, is how hot the water is. For a long time, I let the water boil and added cold water to it. I've since learned that the water's properties change when you let it get to a rolling boil.

If you don't have a thermometer to check that the water isn't hotter than 170°F, then simply let it almost boil. I know that's not at all scientific and there are tea obsessives out there who'll insist that this is leading you down the wrong path. We're going to ignore them for the time being.

We just want to make it more comfortable for you in here with us tea drinkers. Once you taste how much better the tea is brewed with cooler water, you're more likely to ease in a bit deeper and start juggling thermometers and the teapots that're more ideal for green tea.

Until then, play with it. Use more leaves or less. Brew it for shorter than you think you should. It doesn't matter if the water is such a light shade of green that it looks like yellow water. How it looks is far less important than how it tastes.

I'm going to end this post by begging for responses. Cheryl agreed to let me mention her here by name, and then she pleaded, 'Hopefully you will suggest brands that don't taste like dirt.' Help me out here my loyal readership. I don't know American tea brands very well at all. What should she start with? If she has to go with teabags to start out, what's a brand of teabag that's not that bad?

Come on people...jump in here and help us out.

'Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.' -Princess Leia

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Tea drinking in America

Thought I'd be able to blog more easily while waiting for my flight, but the wifi is spotty. Am at some sort of odd public terminal, and I thought I'd quickly get down a few of my thoughts.

Because I wasn't all over America, my blogpost title is a bit of a reach. The first thing I noticed was that tea drinking isn't an inexpensive pastime here in the land of Stars and Stripes. I was pleased to see that tea drinking was at least an option, but the specialty shops I went to seemed to be overpriced or incredibly overpriced.

I hear people on twitter complain about selection of tea in supermarkets, but it really seems to depend on which one you go to. Texas is the birthplace of Whole Foods market, and they had both loose-leaf, as well as decent bagged tea options.

There were so many I couldn't try, but the Mighty Leaf tea bags I tried were quite good, and the Yorkshire Gold that I've heard so much about was a fantastic black tea blend. Really.

I only had a chance to try one online tea shop while I was stateside, but I'm going to be writing much more about the excellent experience I had with Upton Tea. Very quick and personal service.

The next time you hear from me, I'll be home in Germany. Can't wait to brew all this new tea I picked up.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

on The Path of Tea

In the South (of the United States), the natives drink a very aptly titled concoction called Sweet Tea. It's iced tea mixed with as much sugar as it can possibly take. Actually, there's normally more sugar than can actually be dissolved in the tea. You get to the bottom of a glass of Sweet Tea, and there's a syrupy sludge that is surely a dentist's nightmare.

I had few illusions that I'd find anything promising when I did a search for tea shops/tea rooms in Houston, Texas. It seemed like an exercise in futility.

Boy, was I wrong.

Almost immediately, I stumbled across The Path of Tea. I knew I had to visit this one. The site is beautiful and informative, but the shop itself is an experience.

The webpage introduces you to Thia McKann and says that she's the only Certified Tea Master in the State of Texas. That Texas needed more than one tea master, I would've sarcastically questioned before seeing this site. It was clear I'd need to keep my snarky comments to myself. I resolved that I definitely needed to see this shop.

The thing I liked most when I arrived was that there was absolutely no tea snobbery. There was an incredibly friendly woman that ushered us deeper into the shop and quickly put us at ease in a way that seems oddly second nature to people from this part of the world. She explained to my mother in very understandable detail what health benefit each type of tea offered. We hadn't even met the owner/tea master, but we were already in good hands.

I've often felt uncomfortable making claims of tea's health benefits, but I like the very concise list that's offered on the website here.

There was quite a nice selection of teapots and teacups, and it was instantly evident that this place was not willing to sell a bit of Kitsch, while sneaking in the good stuff. The owner laughed when she recounted how people told her a shop that focused exclusively on tea would never be successful here. She'd insisted on a shop that focused on quality tea and just tea, and the result speaks for itself.

The best part was the selection of tea that was on offer. There was a display case with little cannisters of loose-leaf tea. Unlike so many places where the tea is jealously guarded behind a counter, this case was out in the middle of the shop where the customer was encouraged to open and look at and sniff at each sample of leaves. Like I said, the whole thing seemed to discourage any sort of tea snobbery.

They'd received a shipment of various Chinese green tea, and the staff was happily pouring cup after cup not only amongst themselves but also with the customers milling around. Our conversation veered wildly away from tea issues and we found ourselves in a lively chat about anything and everything. Exactly the way it should be.

If anyone asks you, there is tea drinking in Texas.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

tea party with Amelia

Had a wonderful day with my brother and his family. His wife Sara has been a valiant supporter of my tea obsession in general and this blog in particular.

But today my niece Amelia insisted that I share my tea. I considered something herbal. Or light.

Sara assured me that she often sips from her mother's cup and she would like my strong tea, as long as I added quite a bit of milk and even a bit of sugar. I did that and we had the sweetest little tea party.

Nothing special. A bit of Jaimasi black tea from the Nilai Estate in India. I didn't prepare it with her sensitive palate in mind.

She absolutely loved her tea, and I have to say it was the nicest experience I've had on this trip. Thanks for that Amelia.