Saturday, 28 April 2012

How long should you leave a teabag in?

Just the title of this is going to infuriate Robert Godden, but I can't get around it. Hopefully he's so busy with his budding tea empire that he won't notice.

Although I only drink loose-leaf tea at home, I travel quite a lot and there are times when a teabag is simply the most practical option.

Also, I write this blog partly for the tea curious and the tea newcomer. They normally start with teabags. I can point out the subpar tea that's normally in a teabag. I can admonish them and insist that the whole experience of loose-leaf tea is far superior. I can say all I want, but my experience so far is that when starting out people go to their nearest supermarket and buy teabags.

This is for them.

Incidentally, not every teabag is created equal. This is something I remember seeing in a video from Cindi Bigelow at Bigelow Tea called How do you know you are drinking high quality tea? 

Here it is:

I assure you that I'm getting no financial compensation from Bigelow Tea for including that (this'd be a terrible ad anyway - I'm only using the clip as an example of how some teabags really are better than others).

Back to my original question: How long should you leave a teabag in?

Some really love to know exact timings for such things, but my friend Joe told me the way he knows his teabag's ready. He leaves it in for a while and then pulls the teabag out and looks to see if the water dripping off the bag is still brown. If it is, there's more tea goodness in there.

If there are drops of clear water dropping off the teabag, that teabag's tapped. Time to throw it out. No timer. No bother with water temperature and the like. Boiling hot water and leave the teabag in there till the water's clear.

Sounds simple enough. It really is.

Monday, 23 April 2012

greetings to a new Tea Buddy

While going through my Spam folder, I found a recent comment about a post I wrote last autumn (you pay more for appearance) about golden-tipped leaves and their curious pricing. Which tells me two things: check my spam folder carefully and don't forget that there are still so many interesting tea people out there that I haven't met yet. I'm going to introduce you to one right now.

Here was the comment I found that almost was lost in the rubbish bin of history:

I am enjoying your blog! Came across this post on Assam Teas. My father was a tea planter and I grew up in a remote tea plantation in Assam. The gold tips in good quality Assam are the buds which turn golden after oxidation. Tippy teas are expensive teas. TGFOP “Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe" is the highest grade of Assam and fetches top prices in Arab countries where it is drunk pure (without milk). TGFOP contains roughly one fourth tips. Tea afficianados joke TGFOP stands for “Too Good For Ordinary People”!! Tippy teas are also more flavorful and have higher caffeine content. Very fine tippy teas are entirely hand processed and blankets are used to trap the tips. I have lots about Assam tea on my blog.

Isn't that a great comment? I really enjoy meeting new tea people, and want you to know about her too, so here's:

Tea Buddy: Shona Patel's blog about Tea, Writing and Life

My kind of people. Without a doubt.

I particularly liked her Photo Gallery of Tea Garden Bungalows.

isn't that a great smile? 
So, greetings Shona. I'm sure we'll be talking about Assam and other tea in the future. 

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

tasty tea goodness without the jolt of caffeine

I'm not sure if this has anything to do with sorrow, but I've had a bit of frustration regarding tea this week and what better place to share it than on my teablog. It all started with this question posed to me by Brian, who I know in *real* life:
That's an easy enough question, right? Well, I don't drink decaffeinated tea. I've been asked about this before, and politely pointed the person towards Rooibus or some sort of tisane, but the question here was specifically about tea. Black tea to be precise.

The easy answer is that there are tea companies that offer decaffeinated black tea. Normally, I try to actually try the stuff before talking about it here, but I just can't see myself purposely buying tea without all that wonderful caffeine.

Firstly, I found, with Jo's help, The Republic of Tea has a selection of decaffeinated options and some loose-leaf options that are flavoured, but the best option for me would be their Decaf British Breakfast Black Full-Leaf tea. The description's as such:

'The Perfect Cuppa - A robust blend of quality black leaves, hearty enough to make any Brit smile. A savory mixture of India, Ceylon and Kenya leaves is great with a splash of milk.' 

Yes, this tea might make a Brit smile. Until he realises you've taken away his caffeine.

But this whole search has actually led me down the rabbit hole. I'm really curious how they decaffeinate tea to begin with. The little I've heard about it until now is that there are still trace amounts of caffeine in tea even after the caffeine's been removed. The question remains: how do they do it?

What process takes away the caffeine without upsetting tea's delicious goodness? I'm on a sort of quest with this one, and welcome your support.

(thanks to June Stoyer over on google+ for introducing me to the photo above)

Thursday, 12 April 2012

My mom went to Colonial Williamsburg and all I got was this lousy tea

my Colonial Williamsburg care package

Sometime last year my mother went to Virginia, and then sent me a package with some tea-related goodness that she found in Colonial Williamsburg. And before you get bent out of shape about the ingratitude in the title, I'm only kidding.

At many tourist attractions in the United States (and those places  Americans regularly go in Mexico), there's a t-shirt on sale that says something like, 'My parents went to (insert tourist attraction here) and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.' It's a sentiment that, when you think about it, is actually openly ridiculing gratitude. Nevertheless, it was funny when I was eight.

I wasn't expecting much of this tea. It came from an historical location, after all. No-one goes to Colonial Williamsburg for the tea. Unless maybe they're planning to dump it in the harbour.

Actually, the tea's not so bad. I wouldn't go out of my way for it, but I've been drinking it all week and it's better than I expected.

I started with the Bohea, which is described here'

'A distinctive, China black tea which is one of the finest teas available. It is typical of the tea sold in merchant's stores such as Greenhow's, Tarpley's, and the Prentis Store in the eighteenth century. In November of 1774 two half-chests of tea belonging to John Prentis were tossed into the York River by inhabitants of York and merchants of Williamsburg, in protest of his violation of the nonimportation agreement. A satirical mezzotint was published in London in 1775 based on an account of this Yorktown "tea-party".'
Here are the leaves:

Bohea, the purportedly 'distinctive' China black tea

You probably think the first thing I want to talk about is the description of the tea, but that part's actually horribly bland and useless. If you tell me your tea is 'distinctive', I smell a rat. What does that even mean? 'One of the finest teas available'? I understand that's simply marketing, but I have to disagree. It's decent tea. Finest available it is not.

But no, the first thing that caught my eye was mezzotint. What's a mezzotint? I mean, I can deduce what it means from the context, but I've never heard of such a thing. Must put on my researcher's hat for this one.

Well, I didn't need to go far. Here's the Wikipedia page on mezzotint. I thought maybe it was some sort of theatrical production, but this is somehow better. Oh, and here you can see the mezzotint of the Yorktown tea party (you have to scroll down the page a bit).

In addition to the Bohea, there was also a package of green tea called Pinhead Gunpowder. Despite the fact that the little card accompanying the tea has the same ridiculously vague terminology, I adore the name of this tea. Pinhead Gunpowder is perfect, isn't it? I'm sure there's an historically interesting reason for the name, but for my ridiculously easily-to-please sense of humour, I'm going to assume this is green tea for pin heads.

That's it for me. I'm off to drink some more of this aptly named Pinhead Gunpowder.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

...a hundred visions and revisions, before the taking of toast and tea

You know I like luring people over to the leaf-side. It's one of my passions. I've said it so many times here, but it bears repeating: there's no reason tea has to have the stuffy, inaccessible reputation that seems to be attached to it. I gear this teablog partially to the tea newcomer, as well as the tea curious

There are some people I meet in social media who're hesitant to tell me that they don't drink tea. As if they think I'll have nothing to do with them after I learn that piece of information. 

I have many interests. If you don't drink tea, well then I can politely accept that. Really. I'm not trying to get EVERYONE to drink tea. Just most of you.

However, there are also some people who're rather boisterous about their refusal to drink tea. Today's guest blogger fits squarely in the latter category. She was very clear from our first interactions that she wanted nothing to do with my tea propaganda

Little did she know that it was only a matter of time. I could be as patient as was necessary, but I was relatively sure that there would be tea drinking at some point by her.

And as you're about to read: I was right. Without further ado, here's Amy (to be perfectly candid, I'm an unabashed fan of her blog in particular and her writing in general. You should definitely go have a gander at Lucy's Football. You'll be glad you did).

Oh before I forget, the last few guest blogposts, such as Teascapades of a Tea Newbie, have been from people new to tea. The goal here is to keep encouraging them to try and report on new tea. This is an ongoing project, my fellow tea obsessives. Please read on...

Ken has kindly asked me to guest post. This is exciting because I’ve never done that before. Day of firsts! Day of firsts!

OK, some background.

Ken is one of my favorite humans alive. However, back when I first was introduced to Ken? I wanted nothing to do with him.

Because of tea.

Oh, I forgot. Hi, I’m Amy. And I hate tea.

See, one of our mutual twitter friends, Lisa (@lgalaviz), was always going on and on and ON about this guy who was her tea-friend. And she was all, 'Amy! Have you friended @lahikmajoe yet?' And I looked at his profile. And his tweets. And his blog. Which were all very tea-heavy. And I immediately thought, nope, no interest in this person. Because I hate tea. I HATE TEA MORE THAN CLOWNS. What the hell would I have to talk to this person about?

Luckily, Lisa was persistent, and I grudgingly friended poor Ken, who, come to find out, talks about more than tea.

Now, here’s the tea situation.

When I was six or seven, I was sick and stayed home from school. For some reason, my mom couldn’t watch me. She was a stay-at-home-mom at the time so I’m not really sure what the situation was, but she left me with my grandmother.

Now, I love my grandmother a great deal, but no nonsense is brooked when you are at my grandmother’s house. She doesn’t believe in illness. She’s an old-school farmer’s wife. You WORK THROUGH THE SICKNESS. So she was very skeptical that I was actually sick.

She brewed up a pot of Lipton tea and said, 'This will make you feel better' and put a cup in front of me. I took a sip. I hated it. I told her so.

'Too bad. When you’re sick, you drink tea,' she said. 

She then proceeded to make me drink the entire pot of tea. I was not allowed to leave the table until I did so. There was no milk in the tea. There was no sugar in the tea. Milk and sugar were for WELL children.

I have not had a single sip of tea since. Even the SCENT of tea makes me ill. Except this one perfume I have that smells like white tea, and I have no idea what that’s all about. Is white tea even a thing? Maybe it’s not even a thing and that’s why I like it, I don’t know (ed. note: white tea is a thing)

(By the way, my mother says that a., I’m not allowed to tell this story, and b., it never happened. To that I say, a., I am a grown woman and will tell whatever stories I want, and b., you were not THERE, Mom. You ABANDONED me to the house of forced tea-drinkage).

If a food or beverage item does me wrong, I avoid it for the rest of my life. Other food or beverage items I am currently having a feud with include carrots, most types of beef products, most root vegetables, garlic, liver, onions, and any fried fish at TGIFridays due to the food-poisoning incident of 1999. YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID TGIFRIDAYS.

Now, Ken has been very nice about my fear of tea. He is CONVINCED that it was just the Lipton that was the problem, and not tea itself. I am more skeptical, but, as mentioned, Ken is one of my favorite people in all of people-dom, so I decided, in all fairness, to give it another try.

I’ve been promising him for a long time I’d actually purchase tea. I think he thought I was full of hollow promises. Ha! Fooled YOU, Ken!

Last week, I went to the grocery store, which recently has decided to become fancy and carry upscale things, I think to compete with the Trader Joe’s we’re expecting any day now.

And I purchased, per Ken’s recommendation (and please ignore the fact that I can’t take a photo to save my life and what is going ON with the huge glare from my flash, good gravy):

Equal Exchange Organic Rooibos
And, NOT on recommendation from Ken (but it’s not like he told me I couldn’t buy it or anything, I just was excited about it):

Stash Licorice Spice

The Rooibos was Ken’s decision for me, and the Licorice Spice was ALL ON MY OWN. Well, I asked him if I could. He said he wasn’t against it. I decided it was therefore ok.

See, I have a lot of issues of what I can and can’t ingest. I’m like a delicate flower of a lady. No caffeine. No sugar. It’s a whole thing. I’m probably dying, or something, whatever. But since the no sugar thing happened, I am DESPERATE for licorice. I miss it like crazy. I decided maybe this would be a nice substitute, if the tea part of the tea didn’t make me throw up.

So today was TEA DAY. I needed a nice chunk of time set aside for tea-ing.

First, please let me apologize. YES, I realize these are tea-bag-type teas. I don’t have all the fancy infusers and the like. Because I hate tea. Why would I have such things? I also don’t own a teapot. So a microwave was used. Please don’t kick me out of the Special People club.

I decided to start with the licorice tea and work my way up to the other one because the licorice tea seemed friendly and the other tea seemed like it was more likely to give me flashbacks to my grandmother’s house.

So first, like a good girl, I read the instructions. 8 ounces of water in a mug, boiling. AWESOME. I have a measuring cup. I have a microwave. Which needs to be cleaned because ew. So first I took some time and scrubbed the microwave, because listen, it was the grossest.

Then as I started to boil the water in the microwave, I realized you were supposed to pour the water OVER the teabag. Well, shit, I already lost.

So I took the water in the mug OUT of the microwave (oh, I should explain, I don’t own a teacup? Only mugs. So it was in a mug. Am I in trouble for not using a teacup? I’m really clumsy. There’s no way I wouldn’t have broken a teacup by now, were I to own a teacup) and put it in the glass measuring cup to boil. Nice. I’m winning tea already, only a little later than planned. Then I opened the teabag. It smelled nice. Like potpourri. I’m not sure that your tea is supposed to smell like potpourri, but it did. Like floral licorice potpourri. The ingredients list says this tea has a lot of things in it like cinnamon and orange peel and anise and vanilla and cloves and cardamom and licorice. These things are all also present in potpourri, so that’s a little worrisome. Also, it has not escaped my notice there is no tea in this tea. So, I think this isn’t tea. That seems misleading. Can you call something tea on the box that doesn’t even have any tea in the ingredients? (ed. note: this is a huge bone of contention in the tea community. The general opinion among tea obsessives is that it shouldn't be called tea if it doesn't come from the tea plant or its Latin name Camelia Sinensis)

But I pressed on. I’m very intrepid.

After the water boiled all over the place, I poured it over the teabag. Which floated to the top like Rose’s piece of wood in Titanic. I don’t know if that’s supposed to happen. So I totally smushed it down with a spoon and anchored it. That’s smart, right?

Then the instructions said to wait 3-5 minutes so I set the timer on my microwave and proceeded to tear apart my room looking for the software so I could upload my photos. Of course the software was NOT in my room, but in the fridge. Don’t ask.

Then the timer went off. TEA TIME.

Is it normal that none of the “tea” (I’m totally skeptical of this stuff) even made the water turn colors? I squished the bag. I’ve seen that happen before. Nothing happened. I think the water was a little yellow but not really.

I took a sip. It was very hot so I burned my mouth. ALL FOR SCIENCE.

drumroll please...

Please ignore the fact I look like a crazy person today. Well, I kind of always look like a crazy person, but it’s my only day off this week. I didn’t do anything but throw on my zombie shirt. No makeup happened. Who’m I trying to impress, the cat? He doesn’t care.

It water. With an aftertaste of licorice. And flowers.

It was not in the least bit impressive.

It tasted like drinking potpourri. I’m not 100% convinced this was not potpourri, thrown hastily in teabags. STASH TEA I AM MAD AT YOU.

So I put some creamer in it and drank the rest really fast. Then it tasted like creamer. 

Fine. Time for the scarier tea. The tea that, when I opened the box? Smelled like tea at my grandmother’s house.

Same setup. Boiled the water in the measuring cup. Poured it over the teabag when it was boiling. This time it said to steep it for 5-7 minutes. The teabag puffed up like a funny little pillow which made me giggle. I did my teaspoon trick again. I’m a quick learner.

Then I waited. I told Ken I had a cup of tea and was waiting for the other cup to brew so I could compare the two. He was duly impressed with my feat of magnificence. I warned him not to be because maybe I did the first one wrong. Unless herbal “tea” is SUPPOSED to taste like potpourri-water.

The timer went off. Here is a thing I learned about Rooibos - it is RED. Cheerily and unabashedly red. I liked that a lot.

It smelled like tea, though. Not like potpourri. Which in a way, was good, but also, super-scary.

I was smart and didn’t take a whopping drink of boiling liquid this time. Instead, I used my handy teaspoon and took some out and tasted it.

It tasted...well, like tea. BUT BUT BUT. Not vomitorious. Not at all. It was...pleasant? Not at all like I remembered. Not at all upsetting. Mild. The tea-taste that I hate so much wasn’t overly present.

I sipped two or three more teaspoonfuls and then decided if I was going to drink the whole cup, I had to add something to it, so it got some milk and Splenda. Ken said to use honey but I don’t even keep that in the house. I don’t use it, so it’d go to waste. I know. Splenda is probably not what you’re supposed to put in tea. When you’re diabetic, I think it is, though.

I drank the ENTIRE CUP. Plus the entire cup of licorice potpourri-water.

Now I have to pee. 

OK, so that was...a success? I think? But mostly, I think it was a success, because KEN WINS. Ken got me to try tea again. And listen, that was NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. What’m I trying next, Ken?

But listen, bub, don’t even try to get me to jump off a bridge. Friendship only goes so far.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

International Devotea Day

Robert Godden aka The Devotea

Boy do I have some good news for you. Some of you might think that the religious holidays and their requisite traditions are the most important things going on these days. I can understand why you'd see things that way, and I'd never want to interfere with the way you mark the season.

But me personally, I'm celebrating something else entirely. It's the Eighth of April...That's right, it's International Devotea Day and I'm here to tell you that this is arguably one of the best holidays you could ever imagine. What does International Devotea Day entail? I'm so pleased you asked.

Essentially, what we do on International Devotea Day is drink as much tea as humanly possible. If you're one of those sort who doesn't like to overdo things, this holiday might not be to your liking. There's nothing measured or sensible about a day like today. Under the circumstances, we're taking tea drinking where it's never gone before.

Now, you're most likely thinking to yourself, 'Sure, I like tea ok. It's a beverage that curiously both calms and enlivens me. But I have to be honest: I'm not one for going overboard.'

I hate to tell you this, but you really should consider locking yourself indoors and drawing the curtains. Keep your children and family pets away from any exterior windows. There's going to be some excessive tea drinking and it might not be pretty.

In honour of the big day, I'll leave you with one of my favourite Devotea videos. It's George Orwell's Nice Cup of Tea, and it still makes me smile whenever I watch it. I must leave you to it then. There's so much to prepare before International Devotea Day begins in earnest (Happy Birthday Robert).

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Abwarten und Tee trinken

Did something a bit abnormal yesterday. Not that this'll surprise many of you. I make a habit of the less-than-normal. It's my usp (unique selling proposition)...if I have one.

Here's the thing: I have a teablog. You're looking at it. I write about tea and tea-related topics. That's rather straightforward, isn't it? I tend to think so.

In the past, the only blog I had was a teablog, and I often found myself talking about subjects that at first glance were distantly (if at all) related to tea. It's still part of the enjoyment I have here. To come up with a topic far, far away from tea, and to somehow find a connection.

But now I have a NonTeablog (lahikmajoe's general and rather abnormal blog). It's great fun. I write about a variety of things and it's a portfolio for when someone wants to see examples of my writing. I've made a concerted effort to not let the quality of my teablog deteriorate just because I'm writing over there, as well as other places. For the most part, I think I've been successful.

Although it must be said: the topics that earlier were creatively linked to tea normally find themselves on the NonTeablog. It's sadly a more natural fit.

What was the abnormal thing I did yesterday? Well, a topic that most likely belongs on a teablog was somehow more appropriate over there. You don't believe me? Take a look for yourself:

wait and drink tea

So I decided to pull it over here. Even the title is screaming out to be shared on a teablog. And I know just the one. This one...the very one you're reading. Here's how I described the German idiom that is 'Abwarten und Tee trinken':

'Literally it means ‘wait and drink tea‘. Yet as with most idioms, the literal definition is only part of the story. Wait and drink tea is used specifically when adding pressure to negotiations won’t help. When the best thing to do is to do nothing at all. So, you have to wait…and while waiting, why not brew some tea? It’ll at least make the wait a bit more pleasant.'

Not  a bad phrase, is it?

So what am I drinking right now while I wait? When I was at Laifufu Teesalon last weekend, I got this wonderful Taiwanese green tea called Bi Luo Chun (2011). Want to see the leaves? Here they are:

Bi Luo Chun green
How was it? How did it taste? A bit a Japanese Sencha. But not too much. Very light, vegetal flavour that was terribly pleasing. Not all green tea will taste as good the second time around, but this Bi Luo Chun was as good if not better.

I know Ya Ya at Tea Trade got some of the same tea, and I'm curious what he has to say about it. The story of this specific tea's picking and processing was really quite intriguing, but I think Ya Ya understood it better. I'll leave it to him to explain it (only if he wants, of course).

Here I am savouring the second infusion of this delicious tea directly from Taiwan. I'm waiting and tea drinking. As is my wont.

some very exhausted green tea leaves

Sunday, 1 April 2012

tea gratitude

Gong Fu in motion
Had a fantastic weekend, and it had everything (and nothing) to do with tea. Treated myself to a tea session at Laifufu Teesalon on Saturday, and it put me in just the right frame of mind to savour the rest of that day and the next.

 Si Ji Chun Oolong leaves

Drank a delicious Si Ji Chun Oolong from Nanton, Taiwan.  The tea was relatively highly oxidised and since I normally go for Oolongs that're lightly oxidised, this was also a nice break from the ordinary (Here, to the left, were the leaves beforehand).

I was thrilled, as always, with Laifufu, which I found out means 'Das Glück soll kommen' (luck/happiness is coming).

Like I say, this was the way I eased into a few both relaxing and productive days. Which if I'm forthright, is exactly why I love drinking tea. One of the many reasons.

I can get so much done while drinking tea, and it somehow calms me without interfering with my making progress.

Also I'm really enjoying the tea community and my little corner of it. I suppose I could assume it was understood how grateful I am to have found all of you tea bloggers and tea obsessives, as a result of this blog and The Association of Tea Bloggers and Tea Trade and Steepster and and and...

But Springtime is busting out all over, and I've decided now is as good a time as any to go all wobbly. I adore you folk, and my life has definitely benefitted from our acquaintance(s). Thanks for everything and here's to much more of the same.

the very exhausted leaves after the fact