Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Oolong all the way from the Rohini Estate in Darjeeling

The test for my new teapot has been to brew a few Oolongs that I simply couldn't enjoy prepared in my normal teapot. The first one I tried, and it was much better, was a Jun Chiyabari Oolong from Nepal. Not sure why it tasted so much better steeped repeatedly in this brown clay pot, but it did.

I'm hoping that the more I experiment with these different teas, the more infusions I'll be able to get. Earlier this year, I got some Darjeeling Rohini Oolong from Teehaus Shila in Hamburg. I've briefly mentioned Oolong from Darjeeling before (the Himalayan Oolong that Darjeeling Tea Express sent me was quite good), but because I couldn't brew the Oolong from the Rohini Estate to taste very good, I assumed Oolongs from Nepal or Darjeeling simply weren't of a very high quality. Am beginning to see that the problem lay more with me than with the tea.

Here's how the leaves looked at the outset:

If I hadn't tasted this tea, I'd say the leaves looked like a typical Darjeeling black tea. This tea was anything but.

The first infusion was light, but there was something a bit malty to the taste. I steeped the second infusion too long and although it was a bit bitter (something I rarely experience with Oolongs), I noticed a taste that I normally associate with Formosa Oolong. It was almost a bit of a burnt flavour.

The third infusion was where I under-steeped it after going too long the time before. Nevertheless, there was a bit of a mint aftertaste. Very light, but definitely there. Only on the fourth infusion could I detect a bit of vanilla. I've never tasted vanilla in an Oolong. Quite a surprise.

Here's how the leaves looked after the workout I gave them:

For the next week or so, I'll be in France for the New Year. Cannot wait to report on the Tea Salons in Nice and whether there are differences between tea drinking there and in Paris. Stay tuned.

Monday, 27 December 2010

comfy tea gear

In the early days of this blog, I could always rely on Jeff for a snarky comment about something I was being particularly pedantic about here. But he continues to read semi-regularly, and is always game to try whatever tea I'm obsessed with at the moment.

He was over earlier today and we had four of five infusions of a Formosa Oolong in my new ceramic teapot. Aside from questioning why we had to drink out of the thimbleful ceramic cups that came with the teapot, he seemed to enjoy the way the taste developed from one infusion to the next.

Fast forward to the evening, and I'm at Jeff's to watch football. He has a reliable teapot he bought at Whittard in London years ago, and we typically drink a pot or two in the course of an evening. This was a nondescript mix of Indian black tea, but was tasty and certainly did the job.

And then he has a tea cozy , which he says used to seem obscenely touristy, but he's gotten used to. I assured him that at least it didn't scream LONDON in big block letters.

During the holiday festivities, Jeff was given a bizarre specimen of fruit, and I'm curious if any of you have a clue what in the world this could be. Any ideas?:

Thursday, 23 December 2010

a bit deeper with the Gopaldhara 2nd flush

Decided to try two Darjeelings alongside one another, and wanted to see how this new tea from Darjeeling Tea Express tasted in direct comparison to tea from another source.
The former is a Darjeeling 2nd flush FTGFOP1 from the Gopaldhara estate, while the latter tea was described as simply Tea of the Year 2010 and had the grade FTGFOP1, but it wasn't clear which flush it was.

Although the leaves of both teas were very dark green, the leaves of the second tea were lighter and even had a glimmer of light green leaves mixed in.

My preference in Darjeelings continues to be teas from the 2nd flush, and this was no exception. My suspicion is that the Tea of the Year was a 1st flush. The brewed tea smelled flowery, but the taste was simply not very memorable. Both teas have a very coppery cup colour, but the taste of the Gopaldhara 2nd flush was much fuller. There was also a light wood smell to this tea. Even though there was a bit of bitterness, it wasn't as much as with some 2nd flush teas.

The Gopaldhara is on the left, while the Tea of the Year is sitting nearby. This is definitely not an advertisement for either tea, but if you want to know where to find the Gopaldhara, here's where you can find this specific tea on the Darjeeling Tea Express website:


Am really enjoying spending more time with these teas that I had such a rushed introduction to during the tea tasting a few weeks ago. Thus far, this is the tea I like the most from the five we tried.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

am sure the tea is helping

Am in a relatively pensive mood. Although the tea is helping, it's not only tea that's on my mind.

Have been brewing pot after pot of Oolong in the new teapot I introduced here the other day. Although I'm sure I'll get back into a frame of mind where I'm writing teanotes and analyzing tea-related topics, today I'm simply enjoying the tea. Not ignoring the sensation of drinking tea, but simply not in the mood to record all of my thoughts.

I did read in the paper recently that many people consider this cold, wet weather perfect for drinking tea. Because I enjoy drinking tea in all weather, it's hard for me to imagine one time of year being better for enjoying tea. I suppose this is simply one of those assumptions about tea that fits alongside only drinking tea when one's ill.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

shrinking my teapots

Recently I was asked several questions by Jordan Williams at Tyros of Tea (http://tyrosoftea.wordpress.com/), and one of them was about the teapots I use. I have a few Art Deco teapots that I happily use, but have not branched into other tea gear. When I read about Gong Fu , I resolved to get a teapot specifically for such brewing. But in the meantime, I was making do with a large measuring cup and a strainer. Needless to say, I never made photos of my ridiculous contraption.

But now I've been given a more suitable teapot. Although the ideal size seems to be much smaller than I'm used to, I'm slowly moving my way down. I like to brew a proper pot of tea. So here's my considerably smaller teapot that I've decided is only for Oolong.

So I did a bit of searching, but don't know what this type of teapot is called. Until I know, I'm going to call it Compromise. It's not nearly as small as it probably should be, but it's as close as I can get until now.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Oolong Nirvana in the next street over

My plan is still to go into more detail about the teas I was sent by Darjeeling Tea Express, but something excited has come up. I have to talk about it.

Recently, a few different people told me that there was a new tea shop nearby. My hopes were not high. Immediately, my thoughts turned to what sort of shop it might be. My worst nightmare was kitschy knick knacks and assorted artificially flavoured teas. Just in time for the holidays.

I was in for a shock. Immediately as I walked up to the window, it was obvious that my assumptions were all wrong. Here's the Laifufu Teesalon:

The owner is a Taiwanese woman called Pei-Jen, and it was quickly apparent that she was a wealth of information about Oolong tea. This really could not get any better. First I wandered through and admired the teapots and cups on display:

Then at the back of the room there's a little set of tables looking out on the quiet, snowy courtyard. I think you'll find me here quite often in the coming months:

Asked for an Oolong recommendation, and was encouraged to sit and try multiple infusions of a high mountain Oolong called Alishan Zhu Lu. The first infusion was ok, but nothing special. It had a very strong floral smell, but I couldn't taste it. Luckily, each infusion became more floral and more dramatic. Once again, I'm not surprised that I like a tea grown at a high altitude.

While Pei-Jen poured cup after cup, we talked about a wide variety of topics relating to Oolong tea. Wealthy nouveau riche Chinese who come in and buy entire crops of a plantation before the tea has even been processed. Oolong tea being sold on the market as authentic Taiwanese, which is over-priced and potentially not even from Taiwan.

If you happen to be in Munich-Neuhausen, you'll find the Laiffu Teesalon at Maillinger Straße 14, 80636 München (Munich). There's a website still under construction, but I'll go ahead and give the address (http://www.laifufu.de).

I wanted to include a photo of Pei-Jen, but thought it might be overwhelming on the first visit. Nevertheless, here's a photo of the table where we drank the delicious tea I've described:

Sunday, 12 December 2010

all those pretty cans of tea

Whenever I find something in the paper about tea, I feel like the stars are shining down on me. Has absolutely nothing to do with me, but I still feel like I'm being somehow rewarded. It also makes me wonder if there are more tea articles, or if I'm just more aware of them. And finally, I'm curious if it's a German thing or if tea is more in fashion than it was even a short time before. That's where my thoughts are today.

So if I read an interesting article in the German press, I try to mention it here. Sometimes the article is boring. No new ground is covered. In those situations, I don't bother saying anything. There's plenty going on in the world of tea, otherwise.

But today was one of those fortunate days. And the article in Die Welt am Sonntag (The World on Sunday) was in the finance section. It was about investing in tea and, on a related note, how expensive some specialty teas can be.

Investing in tea? Gold certainly. Even some collectibles might be more advisable.

To be fair, neither the journalist nor the people interviewed actually suggested substituting tea for your investment portfolio. The thrust of the article was that Pu-erh tea improves in taste and value as it ages. The very crucial point was also made that there's often no way to verify the origin or the age of the tea that you've bought.

The other thing that was reported earlier in the article was that Germans are drinking more and more tea. Here's how it was phrased, 'The German coffee-drinking nation is discovering more and more the health benefits of this beverage made from dried leaves.'

Granted, some are simply buying the decorative tea cannisters from Mariage Freres at Galeries Lafayette. Simply displaying the tea indicates that you have a cosmopolitan kitchen. I like to think if you were such a person, that eventually you might actually make a cup of tea from the leaves in those pretty cans.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

tea of the Bobo

Had a very interesting conversation with the first guest at the Darjeeling tea tasting I hosted a week ago, but I was so preoccupied with the even that I neglected to ponder what was said before others arrived.

I've known Caroline for years, and we rarely stay on one topic for very long. It seems like when we meet, we start twice as many conversations as we have time to really explore. It means there's always plenty to cover when we pick up where we left off. I knew she'd studied Chinese, and in the early days of this blog, she wrote a comment about Pu-erh. Just based on that comment, I knew she knew was at least moderately into tea.

So, she was the last one invited, the first one to arrive, and she told me a bit of the story about how she got into tea. Since this is one of the topics I like to cover here, my ears perked up when she went into detail. For her, it all started with Bobo tea.

I thought all week about contacting her and asking more about this elusive tea. Today, I saw her at the train station. I had to know more details. What is Bobo tea? How did she discover it?

Well, here's the cliffhanger. She's visiting family in England for the holidays and had no time to go into detail. She'll tell me in the new year.

I've done a bit of research about this tea she mentioned, but to no avail. We'll really have to wait till January to get the whole story. She said it was a mix of green tea and some other teas. Was a black tea involved? I think she said it was. She tasted it one time, was intrigued and when she finally located where to buy it, it could only be ordered in bulk. She had to buy kilos of the stuff to get her fix.

I cannot wait to find out about the mysterious Bobo tea.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

“So all this time, we were doing it wrong?”

“Yoko, Yoko, you’re supposed to first put the tea bags in, and then the hot water.” John took the role of the tea maker, for being English. So I gave up doing it.

It was nice to be up in the middle of the night, when there was no sound in the house, and sip the tea John would make. One night, however, John said: “I was talking to Aunt Mimi this afternoon and she says you are supposed to put the hot water in first. Then the tea bag. I could swear she taught me to put the tea bag in first, but ...”

“So all this time, we were doing it wrong?”

“Yeah ...”

We both cracked up...

(source: Op Ed by Yoko Ono in the New York Times 8 December 2010)

Saw 'The Tea Maker' (title of Yoko's piece) out of the corner of my eye as I was skimming the New York Times, and was so glad I stopped to read this. There are a few things that strike me as I read it. First of all, the proper tea etiquette part.

John was absolutely sure of the order of teabags and water, and made a big deal of the fact. Assuming it was black tea, it really doesn't matter whether the water or the teabags go in first (I don't think), but he was sure he'd seen his aunt doing it a certain way and that was the only way.

I see this sort of thing among tea people often. It has to be done this way or that. One website describes exactly how to brew tea, while another offers contradictory information about the same topic.

As I'm writing this, I'm imagining someone pouring boiling hot water onto green tea leaves, and I'm shaking my head and repeating what I've read from multiple sources-that you'll destroy the tea leaves and ruin the green tea's taste. So please don't think that I'm advocating simply ignoring tried and true wisdom about the particular way to brew specific types of tea. I'm not suggesting that at all.

I'm saying that one of the reasons learning about tea is so daunting is that some tea people are simply pedantic about the only way to do things. More than one time, I've heard people tell me they went into a tea shop and were overwhelmed by all the requisite gear and instructions to make a simple cup of tea.

The other thing I liked about what Yoko said was it got me thinking about people close to me who've died or who are very far away. The tiniest moments I remember. The words that were said may or not be able to be accurately reproduced, but the feeling of connection while we maneuvered round one another in the kitchen is what I carry with me.

So as I sip my tea, I'm thinking about all that John left us before he was taken. I'm also thinking about those people who were once close to me. It sounds so trite to say you have to enjoy what you have when you have it, but that's exactly where my thoughts are taking me.

Oh, and water and THEN tea. Really.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

straight from Darjeeling

The people who provided the tea for the tea tasting I did at the weekend are launching the new website, and I want to make a lot of noise about it.

It was already a treasure trove of information about Darjeeling tea. But now they're launching the website and providing authentic Darjeeling tea to be sent anywhere in the world.

Here, you can see it for yourself:


I have to reiterate how reliably and smoothly the tea was delivered. Even in our globalised world, it's still remarkable that the tea was sent last Monday afternoon and easily arrived by Friday afternoon. This is even more surprising considering that we had our first major snow of the year and shipping logistics were a nightmare.

I also like the thought that the people at Darjeeling Tea Express know the growers at the tea estates. I feel much more comfortable where my money is going, when I know someone who has direct contact with the growers.

So, here's the announcement:

Darjeeling Tea Express Launches New Tea Website

Go check them out.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Castleton's coppery cup

Here's a photo of the very beautiful red and even yellow tips of very dark green leaves of Castleton Autumnal Darjeeling.

Because Sir William spoke so highly of autumnal Darjeelings, I was excited to try this as soon as I pulled it out of the package from India. I thought there were only 1st and 2nd flushes for Darjeeling, but am happy to find out about the tea that's plucked after the rainy season. The tea we're dealing with here come from the Castleton Estate. There's a structure, which is still standing on the Castleton Estate., that looks like a castle. Hence the name.

So, I brewed the tea and for once I took a photo of the leaves afterwards. The tea has a very floral smell that didn't lessen on the second infusion. Actually, the tea held up well on the second infusion. It was a bit lighter, but not much. Here's a description of tea from this estate at the Darjeeling Tea Express website:

The teas have (a) rose like fragrance, golden like sun-spun amber and are most prized for their unique "mucatel" comparable to sweet summer wines with intense fragrant top notes of musk.
(source: www.darjeelingteaexpress.com)

The cup colour is coppery, and although the taste is a tad bitter, it's very fresh. There's definitely a muscatel flavour, as well as a hint of citrus. It's certainly lighter than a 2nd flush, but seems a bit stronger than a 1st flush. I doubt I'd start my day with this tea, but it seems perfect for a cold, rainy afternoon like we had today. Even after I'd had two infusions of this tea, I brewed another half pot of it after a long walk in the afternoon. Ultimately, the fact that I went back to it after having already had two pots is a hearty recommendation indeed.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Camellia sinensis-fueled

For those of you waiting on the edge of your seats, the tea tasting went rather well. I waited until people arrived before I even opened the vacuum-packed sacks of tea, and as a result I experienced the tea for the first time during the tasting. There were advantages and disadvantages to that, but I'm sure I'd do it the same way again.

The disadvantage was that I couldn't easily be the impartial observer. I was right in there as one of the guinea pigs being introduced to five new teas in one sitting. Not complaining. Far from it. The thing is that my attention was split between assessing the qualities of the tea and making the others' tasting experience as pleasurable as possible.

So I'll give you a quick overview of the teas right now, and then over the next few days or weeks I'll go back and try these different teas. In the stillness I'll be sure to get a better understanding/description of each one.

Caroline showed up first, and we always seem to have twice as many stories to tell each other than we have time for. As a result, she gets through half of a tale before I've interrupted her with half of one of my tales. It means that we often say goodbye at the end of meeting each other promising to pick up where we left off. This event was no exception. Caroline briefly told most of the story about how she got into tea. She's not much for black tea at all, so I opted for starting with the Kangra Oolong.

It wasn't new to Caroline that in some Asian cultures the first Oolong steeping is poured out in honour of one's ancestors. We joked about not wasting tea, and it's a good thing we didn't discard it because that first pot smelled too good. It tasted a bit light/unremarkable, which is why I want to go back and experiment with this tea in the near future. We did brew it a second time, but that was later in the tasting.

By then Monique and Peter arrived and I was eager to brew the Gopaldhara 2nd flush. I'm partial to these darker Darjeelings, and I wasn't disappointed. As I was pouring it, a few people admitted that they didn't normally drink much black tea. Immediately after my assurances that Darjeeling isn't typical black tea, they had a few sips and were convinced.

Monique and Peter

At about this time Caroline had to go, but Jarrod arrived and took her seat. The discussion veered toward the appearance of the leaves and the Grade specifications of Darjeeling. For example, this Gopaldhara 2nd flush is a FTGFOP, which stand for Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. Everyone was impressed with this tea, but I'd spent so much time talking about the differences between 1st, 2nd and Autumnal flushes that they were eager to move on to the next victim.

As long as we were speaking German, we had no problem with talking about the teas that were plucked most recently right after the rainy season. But as soon as I started saying 'autumnal', we got lost in a fit of giggles. They all knew the word autumn of course, but I have no idea why they thought 'autumnal' was so urkommisch. But they did. The Castleton Autumnal was also one I enjoyed, but didn't get much response from the others. There were no negative comments, but I seemed to be the only one who wanted to wax rhapsodic about its merits.

It was around then that we digressed entirely away from talking about tea. We kept drinking, but the conversation had a life of its own. It was really enjoyable, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if the excellent tea was somehow responsible. As I served the Gopaldhara green, Peter told us stories of hitchhiking in the United States. At some point we got into a rather heated debate about how many grams were in a scoop of tea, so we had to get out the scale and compare the weight of the black and Oolong teas. When I think about how much tea and non-tea ground we covered in a few short hours, I'm amazed.

After a second steeping of the Oolong that we'd started with, I brewed the final tea. It was a Goomtee Pre Autumnal flush and the others were really taken by it. I thought the cup colour was much darker, but the taste wasn't nearly as complex as the other black tea we tried. It wasn't bad. Not at all. And maybe when I drink it on its own, I'll see it for its strengths. Like I said, I'll go back through these teas again in the near future and give them a more careful taste.

The whole ordeal was rather enjoyable. The best parts of it were the parts that could never be planned. The conversation was unquestionably Camellia sinensis-fueled. The company was exceptional, and I'd happily have any of these people over again and again.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The tea is in my possession

What a roller coaster of emotions. Was absolutely convinced that the tea for tomorrow's tasting wouldn't arrive in time. Several days ago, it made the lion's share of the journey when it flew from Delhi to Leipzig. I thought we were home free at that point. It's actually in Germany-it'll be here tomorrow. Maybe the next day.

Then the tracking page said it was 'on hold' in cold, snowy Saxony. Didn't they know I needed that tea for a very important event here on Saturday afternoon? Most of the time when I've ordered something online, I'm very nonchalant about when it arrives. It'll be here when it's here. The more logistics are developed in our globalised world, the more astounded I am that things jet around the globe so quickly and easily.

Think about it: Monday afternoon this tea was still sitting in the possession of @DarjeelingTeaXp, a day later it cleared the beaurocracy of the subcontinent (can one still say that word?) and on it's way to the city of J.S. Bach's Thomaskirche. I'm probably making too big a deal of this. Planes fly from continent to continent daily. Not such a big deal, eh? While you're fyling to Germany anyway, could you take this tea with you?

Here's a photo of the package right after it arrived (Can you see the relief on my face?):

So, the tasting is upon us. I've looked up the most common terms used to describe tea generally and Darjeeling specifically, and I found a nice list at the website of our tea supplier, so I thought it'd be appropriate to link to it here:

Terms Describing Tea Liquor

Hope we won't be needing the terms 'sweaty' or 'weedy'. Am rather confident we won't.

Here's a photo of the attractive sacks that the tea were packed in:

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Goomtee Tea Estate

Goomtee enjoys a family relationship with its workers spreading over generations. The Estate had (sic) always ensured the well being of their workers as well as their families. All workers receive free housing and medical care for the family along with the supply of cereals at heavily subsidized prices.

source: DarjeelingTeaExpress.com

So whenever I read something about how well an estate treats its workers, I wonder if that says anything about the other estates that say nothing on the subject. Have read multiple places that generations of tea workers have dedicated their passion to this exceptional tea. I've mentioned blaming Shiva for this tea's unique taste. The empirical among us would explain it away as a matter of the soil and crisp mountain air. In addition to all of that, I'd say one of the truly crucial factors is the people who lovingly tend the tea plant, as well as processing it once it's been picked.

I don't want to get too esoteric here, but sometimes while drinking Darjeeling I do let my thoughts wander to what gentle and experienced hands have manipulated the leaves floating in my teapot. This is exactly the part that cannot be intellectually proven. But if I had to choose between an estate that made a concerted effort to honour its workers and one that didn't see that as such a priority, I can't imagine taking long to decide. I can't imagine who would.

Here's the complete description at Darjeeling Tea Express:

Goomtee Tea Estate

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Careening out of Leipzig

The clearance processing has been completed in Leipzig, and the tea for our Munich tasting is careening it's way toward my teapots. Excitement, eh?

I was just commenting that I've always wanted to see Leipzig. Maybe the vacuum-packed delicious Darjeeling tea can tell me all about it.

Am really getting excited about trying these teas. Salivating has commenced.

Will write more about another tea estate tomorrow.


Just checked to see where the package of tea is. Now the shipment is on hold in Leipzig.

Wonder if this is going to turn into trouble.


Just checked the status of the package, and the Darjeeling tea has made its way from Leipzig to Munich. The tea tasting will go on as planned.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Gopaldhara Tea Estate

One of the tea estates I'm learning about is Gopaldhara. Both a second flush black and green will be among the teas that are on the way from India to Munich as I write this. One of the highest altitude estates-the pictures of the fields of tea are glorious.

The name is a mixture of the Hindu god-child Gopal and the name of a fresh stream of water called Dhara. Here's the description of the estate from @DarjeelingTeaXp:

Gopaldhara Tea Estate

I wonder why it is that I like teas from the highest elevations. Ceylon teas are in no way similar to those from Darjeeling, but the highest peaks in Sri Lanka are where they grow Ceylon Nuwara ‘Lover’s Leap'.

There's such a wonderful feeling when I'm hiking to the summit of a mountain and can look out over the next range. I wonder if that same energy is in the tea leaves.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Shiva in the afternoon

Less than a week before I host a Darjeeling tea tasting, and I thought I'd invite discussion about tea from this region. For the rest of the week, I'll be writing about the specific teas and other things Darjeeling-related, but to start out...what do you think of when you think of Darjeeling?

Many people only drink Darjeeling in the afternoon. No idea why. Maybe one of you has a theory.

On some site more than a year ago, I read that the Hindu god Shiva had something to do with the inexplicably unique taste of these teas. I'd be more willing to blame it on the soil, mountain air and caring love of the tea growers, but I wouldn't count Shiva out entirely.

It's been mentioned here before, but why does a tea that's classified as black appear to be dark green leaves? It's definitely not green tea, though I have had some green as well as Oolong from Darjeeling, but why the not quite brown/black leaves?

Ok, please join in the conversation here. Even if you know little, what are the things you've heard/read?

If you ask me something I'd never thought of, it very well might become an impending blogpost.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

delicate tea with undelicate water?

Mentioned several days ago that I'd be hosting a tea tasting, and now I have a bit of a dilemma I need your help with. Have read again and again that one should filter the water before brewing tea. Almost always they say that with black tea it really doesn't matter, and that normally helps ease my conscience as I procrastinate about getting a water filtration device.

But Darjeeling isn't any normal black tea. The taste is truly delicate and one must do everything possible to allow that taste to come through. And I'm thinking that doing everything possible means filtering the water before serving Darjeeling at a tea tasting.

It's not even normal tap water either. To make matters worse, Munich's water is full of chalk. It's some of the best water in Europe, but the coil on the electric kettle is quickly caked in white, milky sediment. Although the water's safe, it's hard and chalky.

So my question for you is:

Do you filter the water before you brew up?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Darjeeling Tea Tasting

There'll probably be a bit more talk of Darjeeling in the next few weeks. Someone I know from twitter (@DarjeelingTeaXp) is launching a website offering authentic Darjeeling tea. The reason that authenticity is important is that although 40,000 tons of tea is sold globally with the name Darjeeling, they only grow about 10,000 tons.

I've documented my slow-developing love affair with Darjeeling here in earlier posts, but I'll give you the thumbnail sketch. Early on in my tea obsession, I tried a few teas from this region. I was so accustomed to darker/stronger teas that, at first, these teas were just too weak. Or so I thought. The more teas I tried, the more sensitive my taste became. Eventually, when I came back to Darjeelings, I was astounded at the delicate floral tastes in the tea.

Once my tongue could finally appreciate these teas, I became obsessed. I tried every Darjeeling I could find and read every Darjeeling website I came across. @DarjeelingTeaXp was one of the connections I made during that time.

On Saturday 4 December 2010, I'll be serving Darjeelings from various tea estates. If you happen to be in Munich then, you're certainly welcome. More details to follow.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Well-mannered tea-drinking guest

The last few weeks I've been serving one of my clients tea. I'd prepared both tea and coffee the first time we met, and although he opted for tea, he did admit later that he wasn't normally a tea drinker.

Was it my above-average tea or was he being polite? He matched me cup for cup, and I'm no slouch when it comes to volume of tea drunk. I kept pouring one for him and one for me. He thanked me politely, and drank every cup dry. Why did this please me so immensely?

I don't have any illusions that I've indoctrinated him to the leaf side. He drank it happily enough, but I got the feeling that he was simply well-mannered. Absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The other funny thing was that I found myself serving him my very best tea. Alternating between light floral Darjeelings and vegetal Oolongs, I worked my way through the many teas that I've written about here.

Was a joy. I did have a bit of a quandary that first day. Because he and I had opted for tea, I had no idea what to do with the pot of coffee I'd made. Luckily I could turn to twitter where quite a few ridiculous coffee disposal options were presented. Thanks for that.

So, do you serve tea to guests? Do you offer an alternative? Do you proselytise? I didn't in the past, but I'm wondering if I might start.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Rock Sugar before you pour

Had a client in my office yesterday and served a tea that I've talked about before, but is not one I love. It's a simple Ceylon mixed with dried roses and pieces of peach, and I serve it primarily because some people really like scented/flavoured tea. The rose/peach Ceylon was a hit, as it often is, and I'd like to defend it a bit. Despite the fact that I like pure tea, I know this sort of thing makes tea more palatable for some.

The other thing I rarely add to my tea is any sort of sugar, but several years ago I was invited to a friend's for tea and as a result changed my sugar policy. The friend was originally from Ostfriesland, which is a region between Hamburg and the Netherlands. Every country has a region that is the butt of their jokes. In Canada, it's people from Newfoundland. In Texas it's Aggies (people who went to Texas A & M University). Well, in Germany, it's Ostfriesland. Tons of jokes about these people.

But the thing is that the most avowed tea drinkers are from Ostfriesland. If you're ever in Northern Germany and have the chance to buy an Ostfriesen Blend, definitely go for it. Fantastic blends of black tea. Some of the best I've had.

But the thing is, they serve tea with what the Germans call Kandis, which I'd call Rock Sugar. I'm not saying I always drink tea with Rock Sugar, but every once in a while, especially when the afternoon tea is really strong, I'll put a few pieces in the bottom of my cup before I pour the tea in. Which is exactly what I did with the rose/peach Ceylon.

Not something I'd enjoy everyday, but was a nice change. The spice of life and all that.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

rub this on your skin and turn back time

-Eases irritability, headaches, nervous tension and insomnia.
-Acts as an anti-spasmodic agent, to relieve stomach cramps and colic in infants
-Can be used to treat hay fever, asthma and eczema
-Placed directly on the skin, it can slow the aging process
-Boosts the immune system

Health advantages to drinking Rooibus tea (source: http://coffeetea.about.com)

I've written about this tea only a handful of times, and normally turn to it when I don't feel well. This evening, I simply didn't feel like making a whole pot of anything. I looked through my cupboard and found some bagged tea that was a gift.

While the bag steeped, I looked at a few sites, and found the above list of medical benefits. I wasn't irritable to begin with, but I'm less so now. The same can be said for headaches and nervous tension. Don't normally avoid caffeine (even late at night), but I did reach for the Rooibus partly because I knew it was caffeine free.

Am relieved to know I can drink this stuff in case of spasms. And stomach cramps. Not being snarky. Those really are helpful uses for this tea. As for hay fever, asthma and eczema, those don't sound very nice at all.

I am a bit curious if the aging process is slowed by rubbing the plant or the tea on one's skin. Doesn't really matter. That's one of the most ridiculous claims that so many products make. At the very least, I think breathing deeply slows the aging process.

Supposedly much less research has been done on the health benefits of the South African Red Bush (Aspalathus linearis) than on the tea (Camellia sinensis) plant. I'm not drinking it for any of those reasons anyway. It has a natural sweetness that makes sugar or honey unnecessary. And am pretty sure I'll slip softly into unconsciousness with the taste still on my lips.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Tea with Charles de Gaulle

I have heard your views. They do not harmonize with mine. The decision is taken unanimously.
Charles de Gaulle

Imagine you have the opportunity to share tea with any historical figure, as long as that person is Charles de Gaulle. What kind of tea would he drink? Let's say to make this interesting that he's agreed to tea but insists on Earl Grey. Oh, I can already tell this one's going to hurt.

But dear Monsieur de Gaulle, the Bergamot oil just masks the true taste of the tea. Whoever tended the Camellia sinensis plant and processed the leaves and sent it all this way for us to enjoy, probably wanted us to be able to taste the actual leaf. The delicate balance of either malty or flowery goodness. Although the oil might be the best of its kind, it's still interfering with our ability to actually taste the tea.

Here's where in my imagination Charles de Gaulle politely responds, 'I drink my tea with so much cream and sugar that with or without Bergamot oil, you can't really taste which tea it is. That's how I like it and that's how we're going to drink it. After all, you have invited me to tea, and that's the only way I know.'

Uh...ok. Milky, sweet Earl Grey it is. No-one said this'd be easy.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

virtuous Sencha

Have been on a bit of a Japanese Sencha bender of late, and was doing some reading about the way it's processed. Actually, my first query as I trudged through page after page of what the search engine spit out at me was whether Japan Sencha Fuji was a real tea name or something a tea seller created. Although I really like this tea that has the name Fuji on the package, it seemed like too generic a name. Turns out my assumption was wrong. It's a real tea name.

If you like vegetal, dare I say grassy, Japanese green tea, this is a really nice one.

But another thing I happened upon as the Sencha sites flew by my head, were the Ten Virtues of Tea. I've seen these before and knew that at some point I'd drag them over here to my blog. I'm going to take a few minutes and ponder whether tea does these things for me. First a list of the virtues:

It has the blessing of all deities.
It promotes filial piety.
It drives away evil spirits.
It banishes drowsiness.
It keeps the five internal organs in harmony.
It wards off disease.
It strengthens friendship.
It disciplines body and mind.
It destroys all passions.
It gives a peaceful death.

'All the deities'? Really? All the minor and major ones? This isn't starting well. I can't even fathom the parameters of this one. Whichever deities there are or aren't however, I can definitely accept that they'd give tea their blessing.

What on earth is 'filial piety'? Do I really need to be pious toward my brother? If I even tried this one, it'd make my brother very uncomfortable.

I can without any reservations agree that tea drives away the 'evil spirits'. There. I sorted that one nicely, didn't I?

Tea lessens drowsiness, but 'banishes' it? Maybe this one was lost in translation. It does give one a nice gentle lift, and it often does so in the most opportune moments.

But I'm a little uncomfortable with the 'five internal organs'? I'm no whiz at physiology, but I'm certain that my internal organs number more than five. So which five does tea keep in harmony? This one makes me uncomfortable.

There are tons of websites that promise the health benefits of tea. I'm not going to even try to open that Pandora's Box. I can honestly say that I feel better when I drink tea, but that's the simplest sort of empiricism. I wouldn't be surprised if it does 'ward off disease', but I'm not going to attempt to prove it.

But the next one I like the most. Tea definitely 'strengthens friendship'. Assuming those friends like tea. In my experience, friendship needs a great deal of time. Drinking tea slows me down. I'm sure it improves my ability to be a better friend.

The one about 'disciplines mind and body' is another virtue that I've undeniably experienced. Sometimes when I feel I just cannot continue the task at hand, I pour a cup, take the deepest of breaths, and after a few sips, it's as if the fire of life has been blown back into me. Both mind and body-back on track.

Not quite ready for either my passions to be destroyed or my death to be peaceful. The former might sound better if it were passions tempered instead, while the latter sounds fine as long as it's off in the distance. A 'peaceful death' far, far away.

There are your Ten Virtues of Tea. They were allegedly brought to Japan by Eisai, a Zen monk, when he delivered the original seeds from the Chinese tea plant. I try to imagine greeting Eisai the monk as he arrived in Japan. First the seeds and then the list of virtues. I like to think I'd waste no time at all planting those seeds and tending the plant as virtuously as possibly.

Monday, 1 November 2010

All Saints' Day? Why not pack some tea?

The first of November is All Saints' Day. Or All Hallows...or I'm sure there are other names for it. It's a national holiday in Germany, and the day when people go to their relatives' gravesite(s). Germans typically take excellent care of a gravesite throughout the year, but All Saints' (what they call Allerheiligen) is when they outdo themselves. Only the best fresh flower arrangements and candles.

This might seem like an unwanted or even unnecessary piece of advice. If I were going to spend considerable time on my day off in the cemetery, I'd definitely pack a thermos of tea. I wouldn't do anything symbolic like pour a bit of tea on the grave. At least I hope I wouldn't.

But accompanied by enough boiling hot Camellia sinensis, I'd be less likely to rush the whole procedure. Imagine sitting on a bench near the gravestone, and quietly pouring cup after cup of tea. If there is in fact any connection with the eternal soul of the person buried there, and I won't even begin to speculate on that one, then won't the whole experience be better if you're not thirsty? Or even a bit cold?

I'm not being glib. This really is where my thoughts brought me today, as I imagined people trudging off to pay their respects.

And if you're sitting there staring at a Jack o' Lantern filled with Halloween candy that you'd rather not devour all at one sitting? Yep. A nice pot of tea will slow that one down, as well.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Keemun all alone

My plan was to get some Keemun tea and immediately start blending it with my strongest Assams, but I got caught up steeping this wonderful tea all alone. I'm sure I'll eventually mix it with other teas, but not yet.

I've now gone and done a bit of research about this tea and am surprised that there's much more here than I realised. I didn't think Keemun was a simple tea, but that it was mild and a bit boring. Little did I know.

Developed in the late Nineteenth Century (very recent for Chinese tea), this is a very well known tea and the best of it was allegedly reserved only for the British upper class and royals. Like the Ceylons I prefer, it doesn't surprise me that the best Keemun is grown at high altitudes.

The specific tea I'm starting with here is Keemun Hao Ya. I agree with the accounts I've read that this tea is floral, though not as floral as a Darjeeling, and definitely mellow. There's no bitterness at all. One writer even said you can't over-steep this tea. I'm not going to test that, but I can imagine it's difficult to leave this tea in the water too long.

In addition to the tea being grown at such high altitudes, there's another reason this tea stands apart from others. One is an essential oil called Myrcenal. This is supposedly the only tea that contains this oil. There's something else found in many teas called Geraniol, which is forty to one hundred times stronger in Keemun. The unique, sweet taste that Keemun is known for has these two chemical properties to thank for it (source: Keemun Tea-the Burgundy of Tea by Alexa Wang http://www.goarticles.com/cgi-bin/showa.cgi?C=2448790)

So at some point, I'll start throwing this tea in with others to see how it softens or enhances other tea. But until now, I've been enjoying it too much all alone.

Friday, 22 October 2010

tea scam

Let me start out with a disclaimer that the farther you get from high-traffic tourist places, the less likely it is that you'll run into this sort of thing. I haven't been to Shanghai, but am sure that I'd fall for this if I weren't warned.

You've just arrived in Renmin Square (People's Square) and a few very friendly Chinese people appear and start to chat you up. You're very likely exhausted from the trip, a bit unsettled by the culture shock and here are some friendly people.

So the scam allegedly goes like this: a couple or even several young adult 'students' come up and strike up a conversation. After varying lengths of time buttering you up, they convince you to go to a teahouse with them. Like I say, this is the only bait they'd need to land me. Tea with the locals? Well sure.

You sit down, have tiny cup after tiny cup of decent (but not exquisite tea) and are presented with an astronomical bill at the end of the visit. That's it. Logic tells you that these overly friendly folk are not to be trusted, but as I say, I'd be overly willing to trust them. Wouldn't want to offend them culturally at the outset. Might really think the experience was an authentic one I wouldn't otherwise have.

Having said all of that, I avoid the most heavily-travelled places that attract most tourists. Hopefully in the event of a trip to Shanghai, I'd have already done enough research to know where to go without being lured into a scam. At least I hope so.

Monday, 18 October 2010

it's not aversion-it's healthy respect

What could be the reason I wait until late afternoon or evening to drink green/white tea? Good question. Am glad you asked.

It's not that I don't like these teas-I truly do. And I can't say I never drink green tea earlier in the day. Just rarely.

But on the whole, I wait for the green. As with other sorts of tea, I like strong green teas. Don't mind that vegetal taste that turns some off. And grassy Japanese Senchas are very much appreciated.

Have read limitless conflicting information about caffeine levels in different teas. Some say black tea has far more caffeine than green tea, others say green tea has just as much caffeine as other teas. No idea why, but I can sleep after drinking plenty of caffeine. So whether a tea has a little or a lot of the stuff really doesn't make any difference.

I do feel a bit daunted writing about green teas. So many sites and blogs are out there written by people who've been all over China or have been drinking this stuff half their lives. Unlike other teas where I feel more qualified to make judgements, green teas still seem to be in a category that I've not yet mastered.

It does take a while to learn that not all green teas are created equal. That how you prepare the more sensitive kinds has everything to do with the quality of the resulting taste. It's almost as if I have the rest of my life to solve the mysteries of all the different Chinese and Japanese creations. I'm not complaining. Far from it.

It's simply very clear to me that I still have plenty to learn.

I have a friend who swears by a study trick he learned at university. Whatever you read right before you fall asleep is more likely to stay lodged in your brain. Well, my day normally ends with a pot or two of green tea. My body has yet to complain about this last taste before bed.

My bladder, on the other hand, would prefer I lay off the limitless green tea.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Curious and satisfying

Instead of writing about which Oolongs I like as I transition away from black tea, I'd rather talk about why. There's almost always some Darjeeling in the late afternoon, but before that I like Oolong. Again-I'd rarely go from black tea to green. Don't ask me why. Sometimes after a bit of Oolong, I'll dive into the green, but even that's seldom my desire.

Why Oolong and why now? There's a point at which the dark black tea has run its course. I've heard that too much black tea can make one's pH balance sour. No idea if that's true (or even what that really means), but there's a point in the late morning/early afternoon where I just don't want anymore of that smoky or malty brew that I so craved just a few hours earlier when my eyes first cracked open.

Maybe it's because Oolong doesn't have any bite. No aftertaste. None at all. Have written here at length about my shock at finding out how many times the same bit of Oolong can be steeped. Merely thinking about the tea I wasted before I then makes me cringe. In those days, I'd make a pot of Oolong and afterwards simply throw out the leaves.

Now, I can make several handfuls of Oolong last half the afternoon. And the better I get at multiple steepings, the more variety it seems there is in every infusion. It makes the whole process both curious and satisfying.

I am by no means an expert at these delicious Chinese and Taiwanese creations, but it seems like the only way you learn is by trial and error. Possibly because of my multiple errors, I'm that much more appreciative when I can pull even more taste from yet another steep.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Startles me awake

I liked what Ice Hellion asked me in the comments of my last post so much that I decided to wax philosophic on what sort of tea I drink at what time of day. The simplest way to describe it is that I start my day as dark as possible and go gradually lighter.

I enjoy black teas with a lot of tannins, so I'll almost always go for a strong Assam or simple Ceylon at the outset. I've played with making my own blends and will continue to do so. Although I've heard a lot about using Keemun to soften other black teas, I haven't yet tried it. I will soon and let you know my experience as it develops.

Another goal I have is to find more black teas that were either grown in Africa or Indonesia. For a while I was drinking a Java Santosa either alone or to lighten the darker Assams I like.

Something Alex said in the comments was that he really liked the Ceylon from Nuwara. I cannot agree more. I've tried and liked many different Ceylons, but the higher elevations seem to produce the very best of Sri Lanka. The very best I've had was from the plantation called 'Lover's Leap'.

Why always start the day with black tea? Maybe it's because I'm a reformed coffee drinker, and I still associate starting the morning with as much of a kick as possible. I don't think it's only the caffeine levels either. I've read that some Oolong and green teas have as much caffeine as black. I love the effect of caffeine and my body's certainly come to expect it. Nevertheless, I think I also like the heavy, bitter taste that startles me awake.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The tea that got me through

So it's been a long trip for a tea drinker in a coffee drinking culture. Have had my share of Greek coffee with the grounds sifting to the bottom. If you want to be a tea snob on this tiny little island in the Aegean, you have to bring your own. And I did.

Have already written about the teas I discovered in Athens, but there are a few mainstays in my tea chest that got me through.

If I wasn't drinking the new Grand Yunnan first thing in the morning, I was happily guzzling either Assam Khongea or Ceylon Nuwara. Here's the roof terrace where I'd try to have a cuppa before the heat of the day was so strong.

That took me through to early afternoon where I often switched to either Darjeeling Singbulli or a variety of Oolongs that I'm a bit obsessed with right now. The Formosa Oolong was a fall back if I couldn't decide on another, but often I was dipping into the ones I've been talking about here lately. Especially the Bao Zhong Imperial. I get thirsty just thinking about this tea. And after four, or even five, steepings of the Oolong, I'd move onto some green. More on that later. Off to the airport on a tiny propeller plane to Athens. Then home to Munich.

The above-mentioned transition from Oolong to green often happened while I was watching the sunset from the roof terrace. Nice, eh?

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Don't blame the tea

I try to be magnanimous. Really I do. When it's unbearably hot, I know many of you enjoy iced tea. Have written before about how even in burning hot weather, I stick with hot tea.

Many tea sites extoll the virtues of serving really excellent Oolong or green tea cold. I can understand that in theory, even though I personally wouldn't go so far and actually ice it. But canned/bottled iced tea? It's not even really tea, is it?

There's something just not right about it. Not that I needed proof, but here's some:

Hamilton was arrested in the dawn hours of Sunday morning after she and a friend allegedly swiped a couple of cases of canned or bottled iced tea from a convenience store, and then accidentally backed into the 66-year-old clerk's knee as they made their getaway.

Source: http://blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs/2010/10/samantha_michelle_hamilton_ice.php

Now I realise that most of you might think this is jumping to conclusions. But really.

I don't blame the tea, because as I said already it's not even really tea. It's more sugar/sweetener and artificial chemicals than anything resembling tea.

Can you imagine any loose-leaf tea fan doing such a thing? I can't.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

You needn't climb a mountain

When I started researching for tea shops/salons in Athens, I kept finding mentions of Greek Mountain Tea. Having no idea what it was, I resolved to find some of this stuff, try it and review it here. At first, I thought I had to locate a specialty shop in the capitol, but in fact this is no delicacy and can be bought most anywhere. Supermarkets, shops and a few said specialty shops…this can be easily had.

It’s simply the dried leaves and flowers of the Sideritis plant (ironwort). Allegedly, it’s a hardy plant that can grow with relatively little water or soil at high altitudes. One kind of the plant, called Sideritis raeseri, is actually cultivated exclusively in Greece, but other wild sorts are out there being picked, dried, thrown in boiling water and otherwise enjoyed.

Now on to how it tastes: my hopes were high for this tea. When I found so little tea culture in Athens, I thought at least I could make a unique discovery to share with my little corner of the tea world. Alas, it wasn’t to be. At least regarding taste. It’s not bad, but it’s truly nothing special. At all. The closest thing I could find to compare it with is Chamomile. Nothing against Chamomile. I’ve heard a bit of Chamomile daily can do wonders for your health.

Which is actually where this Greek Mountain Tea comes in again. They drink it when the temperature drops, which it apparently rarely does. According to http://greekfood.about.com/:

Mountain Tea is enormously popular in Greece, and used most often in winter when levels of physical activity decrease and colds, aches, and pains increase. It is said to have a positive effect on almost anything that ails but, most notably, it is used for colds, respiratory problems, digestion, the immune system, mild anxiety, and as an anti-oxidant. It is also used as an anti-inflammatory and to reduce fever.

So there you have it. It’s herbal tea. Because it doesn’t come from the tea plant, I know some of you won’t even go so far and call it a tea at all. I certainly don’t want to open that can of worms again. For lack of a better term, it’s tea. Oh, it’s also sometimes called Shepherd’s Tea, because that’s who brews it up in the mountains. Greek Mountain Tea or Shepherd’s Tea? It’s certainly not going to hurt you. Unless you’re allergic to Ironwort. In which case, stay away. Who’s allergic to Ironwort?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

every last drop

One of the best known Wu Longs from Taiwan. Mildly fermented, the leaf produces a liquor with a flowery, almost peppery aroma. -Le Palais des Thes' description of Bao Zhong Oolong.

I've been waiting to write about this because I wasn't sure if my enthusiasm for this tea would waver. Somehow the two teas I found in Athens have managed to be of superior quality. Maybe I'm getting better at selecting tea. Maybe I simply got lucky. I wrote about the Grand Yunnan black soon after I got it partly because I drink so much black tea, but also because I was overwhelmed by how delicious it was.

Thought that possibly my trip was clouding my judgement-that any tea drunk while staring out at the Aegean while on an isolated, practically unknown island would be perfect. So the Yunnan I delighted in and wrote of it glowingly and that was that.

The truth is that although I write more frequently about black tea and enjoy the bitter tannins that turn off so many other tea drinkers...the truth is that I drink quite a bit of green tea and Oolong. More than I talk about here. Several days ago, I mentioned one of the Oolongs I like most (Dung-ti Oolong), and said that I had another lightly oxidised tea to report on.

In the comments section, both Sir Will and Alex sang the praises of these teas and Taiwan Oolongs in particular. I've read so many blogs and accounts of them, I knew I'd finally locate some of the finer ones. Bao Zhong Oolong is definitely in this category. Definitely.

The first infusion made me wish I did what so many do and discard it. I've said before that I have a hard time throwing any tea away. I steeped it only a few minutes and there just wasn't much to the taste. It smelled very similar to the Dung-ti, but I was really disappointed at the outset.

Here's the thing though...here's why you infuse Oolong multiple times: the second time around was divine. Like most if not all Oolongs, there was absolutely no bitterness. None. 'No peaks, no bites,' is how Pratt says we tea drinkers describe these teas and here it's definitely the case.

By the third infusion I could nearly taste flowers in the cup. The above-mentioned description says it almost tastes 'peppery', which I couldn't quite locate. But it had the nicest vegetal notes that made me slow down and savour every sip. I cannot recommend Bao Zhong Oolong more highly.

Whether you're an Oolong aficionado or still trying this sort of tea on for size, this one is unquestionably worth a taste.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

less-oxidised Oolongs

Although I still drink quite a bit of black tea in the morning, I'm on another one of my Oolong binges. I brought a few on my trip, including Formosa Oolong and something Kröger in Hamburg calls Choice Oolong, but my tastes keep leading me towards the less oxidised sorts of Oolong.

One of the nicest is one I've written about here before, and continue to believe is a really good intro to Oolongs. It's called Dung-ti Oolong. The more I experiment with these delicious teas, the more astounded I am that they can be steeped so many times. And the taste on the third or fourth time around can sometimes be even more interesting.

I love how fresh and clean the Dung-ti is. It's definitely vegetal, but in no way grassy. It also tastes fresher after several infusions.

One tea I found in Athens was only 10% oxidised, and I'll be writing about that in the next few days. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

the beginning of a Yunnan quest

There's no tea to purchase here on this tiny island in the Aegean, as I expected, but there are a few teas I picked up in Athens to write about and there's always some sort of ruminations that come to me when I have so much time on my hands.

For some reason, all the Yunnans I've tried from my suppliers in Germany have been green teas. I read about Yunnan blacks, but haven't come across any until now. The name, Grand Yunnan, that came on the package doesn't indicate what plantation it came from. My complete lack of Greek kept me from grilling the tea seller on exactly where this came from.

But this is a perfect introduction to Yunnan black teas. What I've read from multiple sources is that this is a good tea to include in a breakfast blend, and I can whole-heartedly agree. It's rather strong but in no way bitter. There's a bit of a smoky taste to it, but nothing as strong as Lapsang Souchong.

Now that I'm on the hunt, I'm sure I'll find plenty more Yunnan blacks.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

a tea oasis (or two) in the heart of the city

It turns out I'd given up one day too soon. My impression of Athens was saved by one tea salon and another tea shop that I found within a block of one another. The tea shop I was looking for specifically, while the tea salon I just happened upon.

First the shop:

The Greek word for tea is tsai, and the shop is called Tsaina (www.tsaina.gr). The tea seller was very helpful and the tea was displayed beautifully. Here, look:

After I drooled over quite a selection of Oolong and black teas, I chose a few that'll be reviewed here soon. There were plenty of green and flavoured teas as well, but I packed enough green for the trip and am not remotely interested in flavoured tea. The Anglicised version of the address is: Likavitou 9 Athens in the Kolonaki neighbourhood, where it seems some of the best shops are.

Then I went around the corner to the tea salon and it was called To Tsai. 'To tea'? Yes, I can agree to that.

The place was perfect, and because I'd rushed out the door to see as much as possible on the last full day in Athens, I'd not had nearly enough tea in the morning. This would quickly be rectified by the friendly owner. I ordered a Chinese green tea called Jade Fire, as well as a very tasty Nepalese Darjeeling. Here I am obsessing about the steeping times:

The address is: Al Soutsou 19. The website is entirely in Greek, but there's allegedly an English page in the works. Maybe they'll have it ready by the time you make your way to Athens. www.totsai.gr

Hate to say that this saved the trip for me, but it really was perfect to finally locate a bit of tea in the heart of Athens. Next stop: one of the Greek islands. Am sure there'll be no tea shops there, but now I'm prepared with plenty of tea packed in my luggage. Plenty.

Friday, 17 September 2010

dearth of tea

Well, I was wrong. There might be great tea shops in Athens, but I haven't found them.

Greek is indecipherable and it's possible that when I crank my search engine into service that my inability to read the native's language is hurting my chances. But they seem to all drink coffee. The Greeks that is. And because it's still unbearably hot, they seem to drink icy coffee drinks while they leisurely stroll around pretending that it isn't incredibly inhospitable here.

But tea? Not that I can tell.

Tomorrow's my last ditch effort, but the signs don't look good. Would love to be proven wrong. But at this point, I'm underwhelmed.

Wish me luck. I'll need it.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Voyaging on the lookout for tea

I've been easing off on daily blogposts for a reason. For the next several weeks I'll be in Greece, and I'm not yet sure how reliable the internet access will be.

One of the things I like to do when I travel is to visit tea shops/salons and report on what I've found. Maybe you'll never be looking for a tea shop in Hamburg or Athens, but who know? But then again, possibly you will. I've already located at least one shop in the latter. We'll see if I happen upon any more.

But as long as I have at least intermittent internet access, it doesn't matter where one is in the world. I've packed my Pratt in case I want to dip into it for something to expand upon.

One of the things I've discovered since I started getting more into tea: there's much more of a tea culture out there than I recognised. One of the cities I love most is Vienna, and until my trip this summer I only thought of it in relation to coffee. Quite unexpectedly, there are some really interesting shops in Austria's capitol.

Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised by the birthplace of modernity.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

the higher the better

Heard someone mention high tea earlier today, and because the term is often confused with afternoon tea, I thought I'd quickly point out the difference.

Now if you're British, you can move on to the next post or another blog, because this will be more than obvious. Often my Scottish friends ask me what I had for 'tea'. In this context it means the evening meal. Tea is definitely included, but it means whatever meal one has when returning from a long day of work.

This is also called high tea.

An entirely different term is used for the tea that's served with small sandwiches or sweets. That's afternoon tea. To make a distinction, some even call this mid-afternoon treat low tea.

This used to confuse me to no end when I first heard people talking about having what I'd consider a heavy meal for their tea. 'Had roast beef and potatoes for my tea', I might overhear. For your tea? In place of your tea? You traded your tea for a good meal? Must've been some excellent tea.

I'm reminded of the mother, Barbara, in the television series The Royle Family when I think of this. No matter who came over to see them in the evening while they were watching their evening telly, she'd always start the conversation with, 'What'd you have for your tea?' She's talking about high tea there.

Monday, 6 September 2010

forgotten tea?

What makes me reach out for white tea in the evening? Although I like the subtle, intricate taste of most white teas, very rarely do I decide to steep it. Seems like I need to be in a particular mood to reach to that part of the cabinet. Can't say that it had to be a hard day, but white tea is very soothing.

Even at night, I like strong tea. Not necessarily black tea, but something with a bit of a punch.

So tonight I wandered into the kitchen and dug behind my other teas to find my canister of Pai Mu Tan white tea. And no matter what the occasion, or lack of occasion, this tea never disappoints. So why don't I drink it more often? Hmmm...

Are there teas like that for you? You know you like a certain tea, but it somehow gets overlooked? Passed by?

I don't mean that you're saving it. You have only a little, and haven't yet replenished that tea which you like. That's another subject entirely. What I want to hear about is a tea you have in your cabinet that you forget about. A tea that whenever you happen upon it, you're pleasantly surprised that you still have some left.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Milk in tea?

Am always curious what I'm going to write about when I come here. Sometimes I do a bit of research, and write on that. Often, I think I'll write one thing and what comes out is altogether different.

What I've been reading about lately is the history of putting milk in tea. In the early days of this blog, I spent quite a lot of time talking about this.

My position then (and to a degree now) was that milk masked the true taste of tea. If one was accustomed to milk in tea, why not try it without for a few sips before adding the milk?

From what I've read on the subject, I know now that whether you pour the milk in the cup before or after the tea affects the release of the tannins. And allegedly stains the cup more if you wait and add the milk at the end. That makes no sense to me. I've added milk at the beginning and at the end, and the cup seems equally stained.

So, my present stand on milk with tea is that it's sometimes nice with some black teas. I'd never add milk to green or Oolong teas. And the thought of putting milk in a cup of delicate Darjeeling seems sacrilegious.

Nevertheless, when I'm drinking a strong Assam or Ceylon, a bit of milk can make it somehow smoother. Sometimes when I'm offered tea and it's just not very good, then a bit of milk or sugar or both is the only thing that makes it palatable.

How about you? Did you used to drink tea with milk? Do you still? Is the mere thought unappetising?

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

be careful typing 'tea' into a web search

That the American Revolution began with the symbolic rejection of tea in Boston Harbor, in other words, makes perfect sense. Real revolutionaries would naturally prefer coffee. By contrast, the freedom fighters of Canada, a hundred years later, were most definitely tea drinkers. And where was Canada's autonomy won? Not on the blood-soaked fields of Lexington and Concord but in the genteel drawing rooms of Westminster, over a nice cup of Darjeeling and small, triangular cucumber sandwiches.

from Java Man by Malcolm Gladwell

There's much more in this essay that I want to talk about, but this seemed like the easiest place to start. In addition to writing of different teas I like and their origins, I've talked about religion and sex in relation to tea. I did this partly because I knew it'd attract readers, but also because the topics really interested me.

Something I've purposely avoided thus far, though, is politics. Not that I don't have opinions regarding politics, but I just thought it had no place here. It is a bit frustrating that most searches with even the mention of tea will send you to tea parties and all the politics that I'm veering away from talking about.

I'm sure I'll mine this Gladwell essay for much more material. It's a treasure trove of ideas not just about caffeine but about the difference between tea and coffee. So many people writing about tea want to fight this image of it being a drink for emasculated intellectuals. I've written about the stereotypes of tea drinkers, and been surprised that not many people came to our defense.

So I'm opening it up to debate here again. Would coffee really attract true revolutionaries? Is tea truly better paired with quiet drawing rooms and hushed conversation?

Sunday, 29 August 2010

What was missing from my day

One of the only reasons travel is possible in my life is that my dogs have a fantastic dog sitter. Anytime I'm either too busy with work or play, I can take Ella and Louis to their second home where they visit their Black Lab friend Joanna. Except in the very rare instance that the sitter is on holiday.

Was invited to a wedding in the Bavarian countryside today and because the dog sitter is on one of her very rare trips, I had to juggle both things (the dogs and the wedding). What was neglected? Tea.

My day is normally accompanied by rather constant tea drinking. I did have a pot at breakfast, but in a rush, and after taking the dogs for a good run, rushed out the door to be late but not too late.

The wedding reception was a fantastic meal prepared with food grown there in the region. One course after another of delicious combinations of fish and fruit (what normally would never go together), as well as tender meat from what the Germans like to call 'happy' pigs. I'm sure this is a sort of marketing to assure people that these animals weren't fattened in cramped pens. Nevertheless, when I think of 'happy' pigs, I imagine the farmers interviewing their charges to make sure they're truly content with their existence.

But back to the point. It was a fantastic meal and the conversation was interesting, but there was something missing. Sure there was coffee and cake (you can't have an afternoon gathering in Germany without coffee and cake), but my body was screaming out for tea.

Upon returning home, I took the dogs out and immediately brewed a pot of the darkest, strongest Assam I could. Am sure I would've enjoyed a nice delicate Darjeeling or even a grassy green tea, but to break my tea-fast, I wanted something with a little kick.

Twas perfect.

By mid-evening, I'd blazed through two pots of tea and started to feel balanced again. Am sure I'll be up in the night at some point to give some of this liquid back, but honestly it was worth it. That warm, happy glow is all around me. I blame the tea.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

tea people in *real* life

Gingko mentioned something in today's blogpost (Life in Teacup) about meeting people from online tea communities in *real* life, and I'm sitting here pondering if I'd even seriously consider doing that. One of the weirdest things about twitter is that I adore communication with those people there, but I really doubt I'd actually want to meet many of them. Some would even make me surprisingly uncomfortable.

But tea people are different, right?

The thought of dodging a pterodactyl while sipping on some tea with Robert (@The_Devotea) is rather delightful. And after having read an old essay at Leafbox Tea about not blathering on about which estate the tea came from and actually having a bit of intellectual discourse about something other than tea, I can't stop thinking about where the discussion might head while chatting with Jackie and Pete. Last summer I was in Paris for a few weeks, and Ice Hellion and I have talked about trying to arrange both going there at the same time someday, and maybe meeting at Mariage Freres or one of the limitless tea salons.

There are far too many people I've come into contact with to list all of them here, but it is an interesting prospect, isn't it? Maybe you've already met people face to face that you got to know first in virtual tea rooms. Maybe you'd never risk it.

So here I am inviting your comments. Would you be interested in meeting some of the tea people you only know online face to face? If you're hesitating, what's holding you back?

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

tea conversion the other direction

Just read something on Alex Zorach's Tea Blog that got me thinking. It was about convincing coffee shops to sell loose-leaf tea. I've written about converting non-tea drinkers to tea, but never thought about this sort of conversion.

Although in Germany the northerners are far more associated with tea, you can find coffee shops that sell loose-leaf tea here in southern Germany. Not many, but they do exist.

Often the wifi is a bigger consideration than whether they have decent tea, but that depends entirely on whether I'm there to get some work done or primarily for the tea.

What I've never considered doing is explaining to a coffee shop owner the potential benefits of branching into tea. Often when I ask about tea in a coffee shop or restaurant, they assure me they have it. Then they point at the cheapest supermarket tea bags that sell for little more than a euro per box. I just can't accept paying a few euros for the miserable cup of tea that comes from one of those bags. Horrid taste+exorbitant price=miserable experience.

But the oasis that would be loose-leaf tea in the exact same situation is worth contemplating.

Thanks Alex (you can see a link to his blog in the 'blogs you might consider' section in the right hand column here).

Sunday, 22 August 2010

tea tasting out of retirement

There was an article in one of the Sunday papers today about a tea taster. What he said and what was said about him was not terribly intriguing, but it still got me thinking.

What an interesting job.

Slurping, tasting, spitting...and repeat. One thing he said that got me thinking. He was already retired from some unnamed career, when he officially became a tea taster. What a thought, eh?

Enjoying his golden years, and what brings him back to the work force (if you can call tea tasters part of the work force)? He's got an above-average penchant for distinguishing good from mediocre tea. So, he gets to make his hobby into a dream job.

I'll leave you with this happy ending for a change. Tea tasting into eternity.