Monday, 31 May 2010

Playing with Oolong

Was reading Gingko's blog and was pleased to learn so much more about not only how tea is drunk with the old-timers but how Oolong is drunk by different people.

Until now, I've drunk Oolong by steeping it nearly as long as other teas. Recently I've started infusing it multiple times, but have only been doing that a while. From what I'm finding out, those later infusions are weak and watery partly because I'm steeping for so long the first time.

So this blog post is just to announce that I'm toying with steeping times and numbers of infusions when it comes to Oolongs. I picked up a Himalayan Oolong called Jun Chiyabari this weekend, and would like to make it last as long as possible.

I learned as much from the comments at the above-mentioned blog as I did from the original post, so I welcome comments about your experiences with Oolong. I'm aware that steeping times are entirely a matter of personal preference, but your advice is appreciated.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

A green tea you might try (or maybe not)

I started this teablog lark in January of this year, but the truth is that I deliberated about doing it for nearly nine months. When I finally decided to stick my neck out, it was after looking at other blogs and sites that were out there. It was disheartening at first.

I wanted to be knowledgeable, but there were people out there who knew so much more than me. As a matter f fact, some people said that my lack of expertise could be used to my advantage. That my readers would increase their knowledge of tea while I did. That's sort of how it happens here, incidentally.

I wanted to make a beautiful site, but I’m neither a web designer nor a graphic designer. I’m limited in how much I can pretty it up visually. Really limited.

My focus has tended to be on my writing. I get a lot of compliments on my writing, but I assure you I don’t believe any of them. To be candid, I wouldn’t put myself out there if I didn’t think I had a voice. But I almost feel as if I’ve been becoming a writer for so long. I hope I never arrive.

The tea reviews here are nothing special. I know that. It’s not what I’m best at. It’s ok. I do want to talk about a green tea I’ve been drinking, because I’m almost out of it and I’m not sure when/if I’ll get it again. Have mentioned it in passing once while reviewing a string of greens, but never given it its due.

China Sencha Dong-Bai

From Claus Kröger (in Hamburg)

Here’s how he described it:

Der Tee zeichnet sich durch ein langes , dunkel grünes Blatt aus, sehr milder & bekömmlicher Grüntee.

This is not the nicest tasting green. Actually, it’s got that bitterness that makes some
not like green tea so much. Definitely ‘grassy’ and not bad if you like strong green teas, but this was only the first infusion. We’ll see how the tea improves in the second and even third infusions.

As expected, the second infusion was far superior. This is a much nicer tea than I first noticed. Might be getting more of it soon enough, after all. It’s no longer at all bitter. There’s more of the nice green tea taste now and I’m pretty sure that this tea’s taste will mellow as it cools.

This is something I’ve learned about green tea thanks to Sir William and Asiatic Fox. I used to make green tea once and pitch the tea immediately afterwards. I wasn’t knowingly wasting tea. I didn’t know.

These days, I really infuse green or Oolong every single time. It’s rarely better on the first infusion. Tea almost always improves the second or third time around. Not true with black tea unfortunately, but you can’t have everything, can you?

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Tea for two at the Grand Prix

Watching the Eurovision Grand Prix

Now what the hell does this have to do with #tea, you ask? Be prepared to be entertained.

First of all, I’ve been watching the Eurovision Grand Prix for years. It’s mostly terrible. No exaggeration. Horrible.

Why do I watch it then? I like train wrecks. I like drama. I like to see the few performers who aren’t embarrassing. When there’s a good song and singer, it really is something to behold. Some years there’s nothing to behold except vocal mediocrity and bad songwriting.

If you have no clue what I’m talking about, go here:

Here’s how I do this:

Some people know all of the songs from the different countries long before the performance even gets aired. They buy a cd with the songs weeks before the big day. And know all of the songs ahead of time. I don’t bother doing this. I’m mad but I’m not demented. Well, maybe a little demented, but in a good way.

When I hear the performers singing tonight, that’ll be my first and probably only opportunity to hear them. And I’m going to write my tea suggestions to them as I watch and then that’ll be today’s blog post. Sounds like fun, huh? Maybe not. But as is often the case, since watching this thing will take up so much of my evening, I feel possessed to write something about it.

The young man from Cyprus just showed us his belly before the curtain rose. He needs a tea that'll mature him in a short time. Some very dark Assam is called for. An Assam Greenwood is my choice. Get him a tea quickly. The guy from Bosnia/Herzegovina needs to be put out of his misery. Any tea will do, as long as it's laced with plenty of arsenic.

The boy from Belgium has a nice voice and is playing a song about him and his guitar. After my own heart. Give him a nice Dung-Ti Oolong. He's my pick thus far. The entry from Serbia was Balkan Freaky Dance music. They've already drunk the Kool-aid. No tea will help them at this point.

The Irish entry is far too ethnic. I'd like to give her an Irish Breakfast blend, but she needs less Ireland instead of more. She gets a simple Ceylon Adawatte. Both the Greeks and British singers were nearly as bad as their songs. This is dreadful. They simply get no tea and need to go home as soon as possible.

The lovely lady from Georgia can have any tea she desires. Were I to decide for her, she'd get a Ceylon Nuwara 'Lover's Leap'. The young lass from Iceland needs something slimming. A tea to speed up her metabolism maybe. The Ukranian woman looks like she was let out of a Ren Fest. She starts out in a cloak with a hood. Then, BAM, she whips it off and reveals a bottle-blond mane and Stevie Nicks dress. I'd give her a Chai. Not because I like Chai. Possibly because I don't like Chai.

Most years, I stay awake for all the performers, but this year I just can't seem to do it. will stay awake for at least long enough to see Germany's Lena. She's great, by the way, and I'd make her a nice white tea. My friends Annette and Nigel gave me a white tea called Mao Feng from a shop in Planegg (near Munich) called Tee Ecke. Lena seems to be ok with or without tea, but I'd steep up some white anyway.

They let Spain sing their song again, because some madman stormed the stage while they were performing at the beginning of the show. For the Spanish polka with dancing clowns, I'd make a tea that was sweet. Rooibus with caramel pieces. Calm those Spanish down a bit before they lose. Badly. At least that's my assumption.

Now they're voting. I'll have to write about the results when I wake up in the morning. Hope you enjoyed even a glimmer of this. I certainly did.

The next morning

Awakened to the news that little Lena von Deutschland won the whole enchilada. Wow. Never thought the pockets of Eastern European and Balkan viewers would vote for any German entrants. I read this morning that it was decided by not just the unwashed masses from each country but a jury of *experts* as well.

Don't know if that partailly explains Lena's win. Maybe not. Maybe the viewers liked her as well. All I know is she was my winner with or without the Eurovison gameshow.

I did like some of the others even if I knew they had no chance. I loved the permed Spanish guys with the sad, dancing clowns. The freaky Spanish polka didn't hurt either. Thought maybe I'd been dosed with some brown acid when they started that, but I quickly saw the beauty of it. Not everyone did.

I also agree with the results that the UK entry was the worst of the evening. What a horridly poor singer. I don't care how young they are, they should at least be able to stay on pitch. I guess the evening has little to do with any of the many definitions of the word 'pitch'.

Friday, 28 May 2010

tea indocrination

I know this young woman on twitter who announced a month or so ago that she doesn’t drink tea. She knows I’m a tea-obsessive, and she half jokingly says she expects me to want nothing more to do with her. Far from it. She’s my demographic.

Aside from being a woman, and I like the womens, she’s also a non tea drinker. That’s exactly who I’m trying to reach with this blog. People who one day say to themselves, ‘Why are so many social media types into tea?’

Next, this hypothetical person (who was just asking about people with tea problems) stumbles onto a site like leafboxtea or indonique or ratetea (or even lahikmajoedrinkstea) and starts to understand. The worst thing I could do here, other than be boring, is to somehow be elitist about tea. I attempt to be informative for the person new to tea. The more curious he/she is, the better.

Back to my story:

She jokes with me about it, and I assure her that no. I don’t want nothing to do with her. I want everything to do with her. Next, I threaten to indoctrinate her to the leaf-side. Pull her into the tea-drinking crown. I predict that soon enough she’ll be drinking the bitter, tannic liquor that most of us refer to as tea.

Fast-forward a few weeks later. We banter back and forth about her impending indoctrination. Eventually, she caves and one day she unexpectedly says something like, ‘Ok, I’m not promising anything, but if I were to try some tea, what would I start with?’

My window of opportunity.

You may not agree with what I do next, but she didn’t ask you. I ask her what kind of wine she drinks (she doesn’t drink alcohol) and how she takes her coffee (to see if she liked sweet things and/or dairy). Does she like spicy food? Not sure what that might tell me, but by now I’m just trying to appear professorial. It’s completely useless. I simply look like a knob.

What I do first is tell her to try Earl Grey. Not because I like Earl Grey. Bergamot oil makes me nauseous, and I haven’t drunk Earl Grey in years. At least not willingly.

Here’s my question for you my gentle, lovely readers: what would you suggest to her in this situation?

I don’t want to go green so early on (think I’ll ease into that), so I suggest Oolong when she says Earl Grey isn’t to her taste. What do you think? It’s an intriguing question isn’t it? I really think so. Here you have someone who really wants to make the plunge into tea drinking.

Where does one start? Please weigh in, and I’ll pass the ideas onto her. Can’t wait to hear what you have to say. Cannot wait.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

'We advise tea for the whole nation and for every nation. We advise men and women to drink tea daily; hour by hour if possible; beginning with ten cups a day; and increasing the dose to the utmost quantity that the stomach can contain and the kidneys eliminate.'

-Dr. Cornelius Buntekuh, Medizinischen Elementarlehre, Dutch physician in the pay of the Dutch East India Company, c. 1680

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

When the heavens opened up...

Tonight there was a huge thunderstorm that swooped into Munich from the West. I'd had a full evening of appointments, and was on my way home on the train.

There I was at the main train station, when the skies opened up. The roof of the Hauptbahnhof sounded like it might cave in the rain was so hard. Thunder, lightning, ynd things going *bump* in the night. What a feeling to be in the midst of all that power.

What was I doing while mother nature was rearing her ugly head? I still had half a thermos of Oolong that I'd made in the early afternoon. Because I'd warmed my thermos before pouring my tea in there, the dark brown liquid was still piping hot. Amazing really. What an invention-the thermos.

When I was a kid, my dad packed a thermos of coffee everyday before he went to work. The inner core of his thermos was made of glass, and one single time I saw him drop it. It shattered on the pavement, he threw it out, and later that afternoon, he returned from the store with the broken thermos's replacement.

Instead of a thermos of coffee, like my dad, there I was watching the heavens come pouring down, while I poured Milky Oolong down my gullet. So smooth, so delicious. Mother nature may do what she likes as long as I still have my tea.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Enough with the flippin' tea reviews already

I'm sure all of you are reading, but there's just nothing to respond to when all I do is review teas. Teas that you'll likely never see or read about again. There you are. Two days of blog that I can't get back. I'm back. The real lahjikmajoe:

Drank a lot of tea today. Gallons of the stuff. Quantity not quality is what I say. Ok, maybe not. What I really say is, 'Quantity and quality'. Both of them. More and more often.

Thank you sir. May I 'ave another?

Here's what I've been thinking about lately and what tea I was drinking when I came to the conclusions stated.

Did you see that documentary a few years ago called The Corporation? It treated major multi-national corporations as if they were pathological and unstable mental patients. Based on that premise, it essentially said that your typical run-of-the-mill huge corporation was the equivalent of a depraved hellbent-for-leather sort of 'Nick Nolte on a bender'. Not that that's necessarily a problem. I'm sure Nick Nolte is fun while the party lasts. I was drinking a Milky Oolong while contemplating this part.

The next thing is about Obama. Don't think I'm going to pile on old Obama. He's still doing fine by me. Really. But honestly. The posturing about BP. Are you serious? Does anyone believe the Obama administration can do a damned thing about BP? Short answer: he can't. Full-stop. BP and Shell and Montesanto (sp?) and Nestle and Kraft and Coke and Archer Daniels Midland...they'll do what they like. No matter what Amadieneshad and Kim Jong Il do, they're small potatoes compared to the lords of Big Oil and Bigger (more processed) food. While I was just ranting while writing that last part, I was drinking some Formosa Oolong.

And here's the last piece of mental walkabout for you relatively quiet readers (invitation to flippin' say something in the comments section after this post):

Mustard is far superior to mayonnaise. Any mustard. All mustard is better than the nicest of mayo. I wasn't drinking any tea for that one. I was eating mustard. Mustard slathered all over some more mustard.

Monday, 24 May 2010

What? Another tea review? Two in a row?

Because the second infusion of the green tea yesterday was so mediocre, I decided to do several infusions of a green tea I already know I love. It's called China Wu Lu (at least that's what Claus Kröger in Hamburg calls it). The way the tea seller describes it is that it's one of the most exquisite green teas, and in many cases I'd think that was hyperbole. Not in this case.

This tea really is quite good. And the better news is that the second infusion was far superior to the first. The third was even quite good. I didn't try a fourth. I know I should've, but I didn't.

Here's my best attempt at a traditional tea review:

This is an excellent green. The first time around the tea was strong but far from bitter. None of that harsh taste that critics object to in relation to many green teas. I like even the most bitter greens, but this isn't one of them.

Don't think that means it's mild. If I'm positive about a tea, there's a good chance that tea has a bit of a kick. This tea is no exception. It's flavour is powerful. Very dark cup colour. At least for the first infusion.

The second infusion was an entirely different story. The cup colour was markedly lighter. The taste, on the other hand, was dramatically enhanced. The flavour of the tea diminished in no way between infusions. If anything, the second time was a bit less strong and quite a bit more delicious. It did taste more of grass the second time, but there's nothing wrong with green tea having a bit of a grassy taste. I've certainly had greens that were far grassier.

Please go to your tea seller, and see if he/she has any Wu Lu. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

China Lung Ching Grade 3

I'm writing this under duress. The most useless kind of blogpost I can imagine is where I tell you about a tea I'm drinking, and you never have the opportunity to drink that exact tea. It's one of the reasons I spend so much time writing anything but tea reviews.

But it seems a teablog must have tea reviews no matter how random and useless they are.

If I read about some Japanese Sencha that you're drinking from, and really want to try what you're describing, I'm just not going to go to the trouble to order that exact tea from your wholesaler. I'm not.

I might go so far as to see what similar tea my guy in Hamburg has, but I would likely not even bother doing that. Maybe you'd do that. I really doubt it. I'm sure some of you do. Good on you, then. You're a better tea obsessive than I. Really.

Here's my obligatory tea note. I wrote about this at steepster earlier. This isn't going to be any different in the least:

'If this is the third grade of this tea, I have to try the 2nd and 1st grades. This is a simple but tasty green...take my word for it...It’s a decent, basic green. Not great, but it’s a third grade, people. If I get my hands on a higher grade of this tea, I’ll write another teanote here.'

I planned to do this tea review this afternoon, so I actually steeped it once, waited a while and tried a second infusion. Often I read about how green teas improve with the later infusions. This is not one of those sorts of green tea. The second infusion tasted like lightly coloured water. Wasn't even something resembling tea. With other greens and Oolongs I like, the second infusion is somehow tastier. Or at least as good. Not Lung Ching third grade. Not at all.

So there's a tea note/review from lahikmajoe. I've read it over and edited it once or twice. Maybe I'm also resistant to do more reviews because I'm just not very good at them. I want to have a definitive review. One that can be quantified as 'excellent'. That's not really the point here, is it?

Learning how to taste and describe tea (or anything for that matter) seems to be like learning a language. Except that you're coming up with your own terms as you go. One can certainly use the prescribed terms that other tea lovers have been using. That seems to be a safe bet.

You could also come up with your own terms that fit what you experience as you're drinking. I truly think a balance is in order. Sir William's reviews are beautifully written and he takes delicious photos that complement the text nicely.

Asiatic Fox has a similar approach, and if you haven't looked at what he's doing, you really should. There's a link to both of these blogs in my list above. Both of them are doing tea reviews far better than I could hope to. Go there. Now.


Saturday, 22 May 2010

Tea voodoo

In the dead of winter, the whole world gathers around their televisions and watches a sporting event. Ok, maybe not. The vast majority of Americans watch the Super Bowl and a few expats stationed around the world. They love to advertise the NFL Super Bowl as being watched in hundreds of countries, but my response to that is always, 'Just because you're broadcasting it, doesn't mean the people in those countries are really watching it.' They don't understand American football and they don't want to. Really.

They do know another kind of football. The whole world will be watching the biggest sporting event this summer. The real event-the World Cup. It's taking place in South Africa and I can barely contain my excitement about it. Tonight, there's a game that is almost as exciting. Almost.

The best teams from each of the European leagues play against one another during the fall and spring. The competition is called the Champions League, and the final two teams playing tonight are Inter Milan, who I like, and FC Bayern Munich, who I like far far less. Because I can think of not much else tonight, I'm going to report on the match while it's going on and tell you what tea I'd serve each of them as the game progresses. In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that there is no team in European football that I dislike more than FCBayern. None.

My little reverie here is an attempt to do some serious voodoo against them. I'm normally rather opposed to Italian teams as well, but Internationale Milan is my team for one evening. The enemy of my enemy and all that...

The match starts slowly and only Milan has had any real shots in the first ten minutes. Because I like the tackle Milan's defender,
just made, I'd quickly brew him up a strong Oolong. Maybe a Dung-ti. That'll do.

For Bayern's Schweinsteiger, which roughly means 'he who mounts pigs' in German, I would brew a nice chamomile. Go to sleep are getting sleepy. Robben just shot a rocket, but it went nowhere near the goal. A cup of really mild White tea for the Dutchman. Demichelis just got a yellow card. The referee ignores his pleas, and promptly gives him a steaming mug of Earl Grey. He's doing my job. Good job from the official there.

Milito just scored Milan's first goal. For that, he gets my new black tea blend. It's got Assam Greenwood and Khongea , as well as a few other teas I won't mention. That's reward enough right there.

The player I want to really do some damage tonight is Brasilian Lucio. He played for Bayern for years and although he's a defender and doesn't get many chances to shoot, I'd brew up a blend of Assam and Lapsang Souchong. He needs strength and smoke, and that should get him fired up for the task.

Milan's defender Maicon is having the game of his life. For him, I'd brew a really strong China green. Maybe a Temple of Heaven Gunpowder. Yeah, that'll work.

The other crucial player for Milan is Wesley Sneidjer, and from me he'd get a Macha. A strong one. Right before he ran out on the pitch. Hope that helps him control the midfield.

Well, Milito's scored his second goal, and that's most likely it for Bayern, the jerks. For that goal, he gets a Ceylon Nuwara 'Lover's Leap'. Thank you Diego Milito. You've made my day.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Nondescript green tea

Had a really good Rucola salad with goat cheese tonight, and I wanted to share something you might not expect on a teablog. I had a green tea after my meal. Normally, I'd go on and on about the name and how it tasted. I'd try and be as descriptive as Sir William or Asiatic Fox when they describe what they taste in their tea. I'd mention grass or whatever. I'm sure I would mean it too, but this time I was enjoying a completely nondescript green tea.

Twas nice.

For a brief few minutes, I wasn't a tea nut. No blog. No tea friends. Just a guy digesting a goat cheese salad. And drinking a green tea.

Don't misunderstand-I enjoy doing the blog...I feel like I'm part of a subset of social media. If you know many people who do twitter, you've seen the hierarchy of the tea intelligentsia.

They make it easier to get into tea, but insist that it has to be just so. That they haven't called me out here and taken away my blogger license yet is a testament to how lax the rules are. Let me recap my blogposts I've enjoyed the most.

Although the few times I've posted fiction, it hasn't been particularly well-received. I liked asking about whether tea improved one's prowess in the boudoir. That got reasonable response. So does the reaction when I come up with fantasy in which I have tea with real life people (living or dead). I still like my religion post in which I try to pin which teas correspond to which religious beliefs.

If you think the variety of tea-related stuff I parade out here is heavy on the parade and light on the tea, you should feel fortunate that you don't see what ends on the cutting room floor.

It's not pretty.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Tea fit for royalty

Went to an exhibit today about the Maharaja and their treasures. Paintings, jewels, flags, historical footage of King Charles V's visit to India.

Went there partially because I'm interested in India, but I hoped I'd see something/anything about tea. No such luck.

There was a lot of information. A lot. And I learned many things I'd never even considered. Ever. But nothing about tea.

What tea would a Maharaja most like to drink? No idea. A Ceylon Nuwara 'Lover's Leap'? Maybe. Might be too mild for his taste though.

Maybe I'd go whole hog and shower him with what I consider to be tea for a ruler. A nice Darjeeling second flush. Or something from Assam? Would I be so bold and let him try a Chinese or Japanese tea? Maybe the second or third cup. But not at the outset. Who knows if he'd even drink my tea. I get the impression that tea was a Western obsession.

Read somewhere that although India as a whole consumes a lot of tea, per capita they drink a modest amount. Ok. I'd still serve the hypothetical Maharaja a cup of Indian tea initially.

You should've seen the ceremonial finery they had. I'm sure it must've been horrible to be anyone but the Maharaja in that time. But the top dog could certainly have any tea he wanted. Must be nice, eh? We live in funny times. You and I can order almost any tea in the world. Almost.

There's certainly some tea I've never heard of, which is prohibitively expensive. I don't want to think about it. Today, I'm drinking tea fit for royalty.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

tea that needs no marketing

Blending teas isn't some sort of alchemy or anything. Blending is a nice name for mixing. Calling it blending might be good for marketing, but it's really quite simple.

It seems most tea people I know are fanatic about green and Oolong teas. They might drink black tea occasionally, but some have admitted to me in confidence that they really don't like black tea. I'm the opposite. I like green tea as well as black, but certainly not more.

I've mentioned this before, but this seems to be the obstacle to enjoying a good Assam for most people: the tannins. That musky, tart taste you get all the way down your throat when you drink it (but especially on the backside of your tongue) is what makes Assam unappetising for so many. But that's easy enough to deal with. You simply mix a tea with a high tannin content with one that is milder. Problem solved, yeah? Not quite.

Some others like (dare I say love) that tart slightly bitter taste. The objective for me when I blend these teas is to keep a bit of the bite but to temper it enough that a non-Assam drinker can enjoy it. That's where the milder Assams come in.

Before I get wrapped up in China blacks and Ceylons, I try to stay at least near the Assam family. Lately I've been using an Indonesian tea that is strong like an Assam but not malty. It blends beautifully to temper the natural qualities of a strong Assam.

When you're buying loose-leaf Assam, this is what you should look for. It's all about the colour of the tips of the leaves. Unlike many good Ceylons, which can be dark dark brown and have no other shades or colours, the Assams I like have light yellow or even red tips. I've had good ones that didn't-that were only deep dark brown. But that seems the exception rather than the rule.

Right now, I'm using Assam Khongea a lot to soften my stronger Assams. Hajua is good for this, too. Please, if you don't like malty, strong teas, don't spend too long here in this neighbourhood. Ceylons or Darjeelings are probably more your style.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Brewing up with Bill Wyman

There was a thing on NPR today that got me thinking. Then a question on pushed me to consider something related.

When the Rolling Stones were recording Exile on Main Street in Southern France in the early 70s, they had a hard time adjusting to some things. They were avoiding the British tax authorities, and recording in the basement of a Villa. It was a very heady time if you believe the accounts of both band members and hangers-on.

'But The Rolling Stones adjusted to life in France anyway. In the new liner notes to Exile on Main Street, guitarist Mick Taylor writes, "I'm not having any problem with the language here, because I don't speak French." Jagger then mentions what Bill Wyman says in the documentary — that the band was in the part of France where people went specifically for its food, yet he can't find his favorite tea bag.'

The question they posed was 'If you could have tea with someone famous, who in the world would that be?'

I'd go back in time to the summer of 1971, load my retro suitcase with all my tea gear and a selection of my best loose-leaf tea, and fly into the Nice airport. I'd call a friend of mine who's lived in Nice his whole life and have him drive me up to Keith's Villa. He and I are on first name terms. Me and Keith...thick as thieves, us.

The house is called Nellcôte and it's located in Villefranche-sur-Mer not far from Nice. I arrive sober as a judge, set the kettle on and sit down in the midst of the hedonistic madness going on around me. Then and only then, I take out my tea.

Little bags of this and that that I've collected in my travels. (This is the Seventies people. There was no on-line tea shop.)

Have a shop in London where I go to for good Indian tea, and when I'm in Hong Kong, I get all the Chinese green and Oolong I can carry in my bags.

You young whippersnappers have no idea how easy you have it today.

Being 'into' tea has never been easier. Never.

So what would I serve Bill? He's been complaining for weeks about the fact that shops here in France have no proper teabags. I'd quickly serve him an Assam-Ceylon blend. It's something I've been working on. It has all the spice of a good Assam, but the Ceylon softens the blow. It's malty, but not overly so. It's the best I can do for my old compadre. Playing bass for the Stones is a much harder gig than anyone recognizes. Bill needs some tea.

I pour it, he smiles, takes a soft leisurely sniff. Smiles wider, and sips the dark brown stuff. At that moment, while he and I
feel the tea go smoothly down and make its way to our farthest extremities, we are brothers in a way that only made sense in the early Seventies. There you go Bill.

Historical Revisionism of the highest order.

Monday, 17 May 2010

A whole blog about tea? Only tea? Really?

Again this weekend, someone was excited to hear I had a blog, asked more about it, and then asked, 'A whole blog about tea? Only tea? Really?'

Well, yeah. Why not. I mean it's not about tea and only tea. Seems sometimes I even have to be reminded to reel it back in a bit and talk about tea again. I always find some connection from what I want to talk about to tea. Eventually.

One of the things that pleases me to no end is that several of the people who come here semi-regularly are avowed non-tea drinkers. I've been joking with one of the people on twitter, who meekly admitted she drank no tea, that I will slowly indoctrinate her. That through my powers of persuasion and suggestion, I would pull her over to the leaf-side.

I also like to be informative. There were so many questions I had when I first started drinking tea. The places I found the answers are more varied than you might think. Sometimes I'm having a conversation with someone about a completely unrelated topic, and I mention my tea problem. I don't say it like that. I say, 'I'm really into tea.' Or 'Tea's really big right now.' That's actually not quite true. Tea's always been big. We just haven't all noticed. The number of people drinking tea around the world dwarfs those swilling the java.

I also don't think it has to be an either/or sort of thing. A coffee now and then is actually a nice change of scenery.

To answer Sir Will's recent question: it was in fact a real Milky Oolong, and it's delicious. I went back the next day and tried to get more, but the line was even longer then. I decided I could order it if I didn't find it anywhere else. Will write about it in more detail soon. There's a tea review to look forward to.

Am still toying with running a list of tasting terms down the sidebar here, and modifying it as I go. Things like malty in relation to Assam and floral when it comes to good Darjeelings.

I guess I could ask now if anyone has a resource they've used to learn the accepted terms? I started a list several weeks ago, and felt it sorely lacking. Sorely.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Breaking open teabags

Because I've been learning about editing video online, I've been knee-deep in different clips I've found all over the net. Am not going to mention what site I found most of it on, but you know. Who else, right?

Have seen some very fun video blogs the last several days. Every time I'm told to do an exercise by the facilitator of the workshop I'm doing, I go to tea blogs or clips about tea. Why not? Am still learning despite the fact that I#m researching another topic.

Watched @The_Devotea's archives and an Asian woman explaining why tea bags are deceptive about the quality of their tea. This morning before I was fully conscious, I saw the lady from the Bigelow family explaining the same thing. Breaking open teabags and discussing what teadust was.

I loved how concisely she described the difference between green, black and Oolong tea preparation when she discussed caffeine amounts in the these different tea types. She's really not bad. I have to admit that we always had Constant Comment in the pantry whenI was growing up, and I was curious what she had to say about its recipe from the forties.

Because I'm travelling today, I would really rather add the clip here later. You can find it anyway. You know where.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

In defence of a brand of teabags

I know loose-leaf tea is superior. With it you have more choices. You're more certain that you know exactly what you're drinking. How often do I ask what kind of tea a place serves and they're answer is 'black'. What does that mean? Black. It's normally a mix of non-descript teas that they couldn't seem to use somewhere else. Teabags are often a gamble if you want to know the specific tea.

But does it have to be like that? Can't you imagine tea bags being as good as loose-leaf? Merely more convenient, but just as good. I've heard it mentioned online and in real life that some teabags aren't so bad. I'd even venture to say that Taylors of Harrogate is quite good tea. Why can't we have more companies giving us high-quality tea in a teabag?

We can. We just have to make it clear that that's what we want. The market is too small? I doubt it. Many tea-snobs reject teabags without a second thought.  I've had terrible tea out of bags. I'm not saying we have to give up on taste.

I've carried all my tea gear on this short trip, and am glad I did. Not only did I have a nice selection of tea from home, but I found some teas that I hadn't tried before in shops here. Even when I have the teabag option, I don't think I'd completely give up on loose-leaf tea. Even when it takes up space in the luggage.

What got me thinking about this is that my hotel had decent tea. I drank it at breakfast the first morning, and was pleasantly surprised. The brand is called Ronnefeldt. I know I've seen the name before, but have never given them a second thought. I just assumed since it was in teabags, it must be subpar.

Looked at their website, and it turns out they've been doing tea since the early nineteenth century. While other German tea importers were based on the coast in Hamburg, this tea merchant decided to set up shop inland in Frankfurt am Main. Tea drinking was certainly more a nearer-the-coast endeavour here, but his counter-intuitive gamble paid off. There was a huge untapped market in central and southern parts of Germany.

The first one I tried was a Darjeeling Jungpana FTGFOP. Light and floral. Exactly what you'd want from a first flush Darjeeling. Took their Morgentau (China Sencha) with me into the city and it was really ok. I don't normally like flavoured tea, but the citrus-mango didn't bother me at all.

This morning at breakfast, I had the English Breakfast and it wasn't anything special, but it wasn't bad. I did force myself to brew their Earl Grey, and had a few sips. I always get the feeling the Bergamot oil is covering up some really questionable tea. Might not be the case, but I can't help but wonder.

While I'm writing this, I'm sipping the Cream Orange, which is a Rooibus with vanilla orange added. I'm a Rooibus fan. It always reminds me of Christmas, because years ago I got a bag of it with caramel pieces in it. Every time I drank it after that, it made me think of the holidays.

Like I say, I don't want to give up the selection and control I have when I steep my loose-leaf tea in a paper or cloth tea filter. I just think that it's really possible that we're ignoring some decent teas that happen to be in bags, and at some point the tea drinker is going to demand even better tea served in this more convenient way. I'm sure of it.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Teashopping in Stuttgart

I'm not kidding myself. I'm very well aware that few, if any, of you are ever going to visit these German tea shops that I report on. Maybe I want to tell you about them because I love the sensory overload I get when I walk into one. When I know I'm travelling somewhere, one of the first things I do is scout out the tea shops. Along with searching in the online maps for exactly where the hotel is, I locate the different tea shops and salons. I purposely pack much less tea than I'll need for the number of days. That way I'm sure I'll need more tea and be forced to try something new. It doesn't take much convincing for me to storm into a tea shop and soon walk out with far more tea than I'll need for the trip. Today it was a Milky Oolong (don't have a more specific name unfortunately) and black Java Santosa.

So the tea shop I happily visited was the Stuttgarter Teeladen Robert Lang. It was a beautiful little establishment. The picture shows you the signs that say they've been in business since 1985. They're clearly doing something right. It's not a large shop, but they're doing well with the limited space. I felt really sorry for the woman behind the counter. If every day is so stressful and busy, I'm surprised there aren't more people working there. Maybe it's because yesterday was a holiday and the crowds of restless tea customers were stocking up for the weekend. She handled it well. She didn't rush me in the least. Had I been the only customer, and had I not had a line of thirsty tea freaks rustling behind me, I'd have asked her many more questions about the tea they offer.

Unfortunately, there were no brochures. I didn't have a price list, which I normally like to look at when I'm in line. I got the feeling that the prices were up to her whim and whether she liked you. Could almost imagine her saying to me, 'I like the cut of your jib. Today the tea is free.' Didn't happen. But a boy can dream, right?

The Milky Oolong was a milky Oolong. Nothing special. I do like almost every Oolong I've ever tried. One Oolong I had months ago was a bit bland, but that's periodically to be expected when one tries such a variety of tea.

The Java Santosa is a different story. This might not be an excellent tea, but it's certainly very good. The shopkeeper said it was dark 'like Assam' but not nearly as bitter. I agree. Had not yet tried any black teas from Indonesia. The blurb on the tea said that there are no bad teas grown in Indonesia. Sounds like advertising, but based upon this tea, I'd have to agree. It's certainly not boring and also not unpleasing.

It has enough kick that I'm buzzing along right now, when I should really be going to bed. You lot probably already know about Java Santosa. You don't need my review.

If there is anyone who knows this tea well, please say something in the comments.

Enjoy your weekend!

the next day

I had an hour for lunch yesterday, wasn't hungry and wanted to explore a bit of the city I was briefly in. Didn't see much of interest for the first three quarters of an hour, but I was wandering and enjoying myself. Told myself I needed to start heading back, and decided I would walk a parallel street to the one I came down. I was a bit out of the way, but I could see an entire row of architecture and shops. As soon as I rounded the corner, I knew I'd made a great decision. Here's what I saw:

They sell yarn and tea. All in the same little shop. Now for some countries, this sort of entrepeneurism or creative blending of related products is almost to be expected, but not here. Here in Germany, most things are done in a prescribed way. Not all people are like that, but I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to do something just a bit differently and the person across from me, whether at the post office or in a private conversation, would practically react in horror at my suggestion. There are ways of doing things. And you have a yarn shop and a tea shop. But you don't sell yarn where you sell tea. What if the tea got on the yarn. Or some yarn got in your tea? Unacceptable. Inconceivable.

Well, it's been done. In Germany no less. Every little old lady's nirvana in one little 60 cubic metre establishment. To be clear, they don't serve tea in the shop. At least not while I was there. Maybe she'll make you a cup if you ask. And it's not actually a German shop. The Inhaberin is actually a French woman called Madame Roche, and she's very helpful and informative on both subjects. The woman in front of me had a list of questions that were dealt with with aplomb. She wanted to give me the same service and go into great detail about the tea I wanted, but I was late by now (the yarn discussion ate my remaining fifteen minutes).

If you're ever in Stuttgart, you have to see this place. It's at Sophien Straße 24 and not far from the Stadtmitte Underground station. If you're nice, Mme. Roche might let you call her Isabelle.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Tempering my Assam

Here's a tea review for you. Sort of. It's an anti-tea review, actually. And then a traditional review. Or as traditional as I'm capable of. I've already written a bit about Assam Greenwood. It's not a bad tea, but it's not to my taste. The best way to describe it is that it's too bitter for me. Now some say all black tea is bitter. Or that it depends upon steeping time. Or that it really depends upon which specific black tea you're talking about. All of these things are true. Certainly some black teas are less bitter, and the more developed your tongue, the better you can differentiate the amount of bitterness.

But what is the bitterness? It comes from the tea tannins. It's not tannic acid. It has nothing at all to do with that. The chemical compound is one of the things which makes tea so healthy. There are many other chemicals involved, some of which we know about. Many we don't. But many black teas are loaded with these bitter tasting tannins. Herein lies the problem. I like the Assam Greenwood, but it's too bitter. There's something about it that's just a bit too much.

A blend recipe

So now I'm going to describe the simplest of blends. Some of you seem interested in this, so I'll tell you what I'm doing. If you can't get these exact teas, try this with an Assam that has a lot of tannins. Ask your tea-seller which one. Then take another Assam that's definitely not so bitter. The ones I've been using most are Assam Hajua and Assam Khongea. The Hajua is stronger, and although it tempers the tannins quite nicely, this is not a light tea. Not by a long shot. But when you mix these two teas (1 part Greenwood plus 1 part Hajua/Khongea), it takes away some of the bitterness. Not all of it, but certainly the lion's share.

Like I said, you needn't try and get these exact teas from these exact plantations. Just because you find a tea online or in a shop that comes from Khongea, definitely does not mean that you and I are drinking the same tea. Two teas from the same plantation can have incredibly different qualities. It depends upon what season, as well as what year. And not all the plants are identical. Both your Khongea and mine will have the characteristics of what I'm describing, but they'll never be identical.

Assam Khongea

For an Assam, this is a surprisingly subtle tea. Like most, if not all, Assams, this has a taste of malt. No matter how smoothly in goes down, there will always be a bit of earthiness in an Assam. This one is typical on both counts: smooth and malty. It's certainly worth trying. I had multiple pots of straight Khongea today. Still prefer that to any Greenwood or highly tannic blend I've tried.

Would love some feedback on this. Try blending a few black teas. Whether the ones I've mentioned or the ones you already have in your pantry. Let me know.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Blending lighter and lighter

Here's what I'm obsessed with these days (I wish it would pass):

Blending my black teas. It started with some teas I wasn't so crazy about, but just couldn't throw out. Then I had a few nondescript teas that needed a little pizzaz. Now, I have these visions of me as a little kid with a dump truck. Instead of sand, I'm shoveling loose tea here and there. Playing with really strong Assams and softening them with Ceylons...

The vocabulary fails me when I try to talk about it in any more depth, but I can see why certain companies that sell blends take such care when they develop them. As my taste develops, I just cannot drink the same over-steeped Irish Breakfast tea that used to be a morning staple.

What I might do is go back to the teas I wrote about when I started writing this blog. I'd like to see what my tongue tells me no that it just didn't know then.

If you're still here, I hope you'll come along...

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Celebrity tea drinkers

Whether you like it or not, celebrity drives media. Papers are sold not because people want to know what’s in the new financial regulations for the Greeks. A few people want to know that hard news stuff, but most people just want to know which celebrity is dating whom, whether Nick Nolte has had another airport meltdown, or if the new season of Lost will finally explain what the hell Lost is all about or not.

So all of this has trickled down to my laughable teablog. Even this site is celebrity driven. The increase in traffic when I mention Kevin Rose and his tea tattoo is only win-win. Or that Larry King killed Michael Jackson with his own hands for ratings week (until now it’s an unsubstantiated rumor).

Everything you’re about to read is an out and out lie. I made all of it up. Every word. It’s not even based on a whit of fact. Still, it could be true. All of it is within the realm of possibility. England could with the Cup in South Africa this summer. Not remotely likely, but a nation can dream, right?

What tea are our celebrities drinking these days? Hmmm…good question, Lahikmajoe. Let’s explore. You know Woody Harrelson drinks the green tea. Something that looks and smells like turtle urine. But green tea it is. Although it’s clearly primarily tea, this is Woody Harrelson. The aroma might very well be a mix between green tea and green leaf. To each his own, eh Woody?

What’s in Nicholas Sarkosy’s cup? I’d say, based upon my nuanced understanding of geo-politics, Nicky’s drinking a second flush Darjeeling. He and Carla Bruni might tipple in the afternoon, but the day starts with some very upscale tea. Figures.

You might think Richard Branson’s drinking coffee or some ridiculous energy drink. Wrong on the first guess, but his energy drink is tea. No doubt. He likes almost any Assam blend. Almost. And he wouldn’t turn down a smoky Lapsang Souchong.

The pope drinks Chamomile. The Archbishop of Canterbury is partial to a hearty English Breakfast blend that’s mix of a strong morning tea with lighter black teas. He’s not going to ask for it by name. Too conspicuous. Again: all true. Every word.

I know for a fact Boris Becker could care less about the tea they’re serving him. Give the guy a cup of Earl Grey. He won’t ever notice that the Bergamot oil is overwhelming. And other athletes/actors? Chuck Norris? Chuck Norris drinks the sort of tea that vanquishes your enemies and leaves time for a picnic at the end. One where Chuck Norris leaves early to go either brew up more tea of catch some bad guys.

Speaking of bad guys, how about Kim Jong Il in North Korea? What kind of tea would keep him from launching his next ill-advised loony campaign? Why not a nice cup of Green Temple of Heaven ‘Gunpowder’ tea? Certainly couldn’t hurt.

Be sure to include these factoids in your dinner party banter. You’ll be the envy of the party. Or seen as the equivalent of a mental patient who needs the kind of tea that comes in a prescription drug bottle. I’d aim for the former rather than the latter option. If you’re the life of the party, you can more easily find out what tea the celebrities are drinking. When you find out, could you let me know?

Monday, 10 May 2010

How much water do you drink?

Tell me something, will you?

Do you all drink water? How much?

I drink pot after pot of tea. When I was a coffee drinker, the dehydration was much more pronounced and water-drinking was incredibly necessary. I'm sure the same is true when it comes to tea, but that it's more subtle.

Study after study shows the caffeine levels in tea. And that it dehydrates you. Right? I mean...I'm far from a scientist. I'm very curious by nature, but don't have the follow through to go and research every hare-brained thought that jets through my cranium. That's where you lot come in.

Someone who comes here regularly can inform us: does tea, in fact, dehydrate us the same way coffee does? Really?

Is it necessary to drink water to counter-balance the tea you've consumed? How much? 1 part tea=1 part water? Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Not that I'm drinking that much water. Not by a long shot.

I drink a pot of black and a pot of Oolong before I've even transitioned from pj's to human clothing (business attire). And my normal schedule entails carrying either one or even two thermoses of more black tea, which I down before the clock has even struck twelve.

By early afternoon, I'm easing into lighter Oolongs or even white tea, and by evening, I've easily consumed 6 or 7 full teapots. Easily.

My worry? Do I really need to be drinking that much water? Really? Please tell me it isn't so.

I mean, water's ok. But it's certainly not tea. Hot, delicious tea. I think I'll have one more cup before going to bed.


Sunday, 9 May 2010

Niggling conscience

Modernity has also reached tea. It's being grown organically, as well as being traded on the market. Orders are even being made solely by internet and shipped anywhere in the world. Only the growers are still living exactly as they did one hundred years ago.

Source: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Saturday 8 May 2010 p 11

The state of the tea business is ever-changing. Methods of irrigation, growing, distribution and sales-all of these things change radically at unheard of speeds. The only constant is the reliability of the people who actually tend the plants and pick the tea. They're the only part of the puzzle that cannot be outsourced. Not yet anyway.

I've written about this before, and it always makes me peevish. Specifically with regards to Darjeeling. The families that cultivate the tea have been doing this for generations. Not only are they virtually modern indentured servants, but the tea baron, if he's candid, will admit that he owes his fortune/his entire livelihood to the hard work of these peasants.

The article that I cite above introduces a boy of fourteen, who's working endless days and weekends for wages that'd embarrass a Chinese sweatshop worker. His father goes off to the tea factory in the morning and the tea that he prepares will go as far as the tea counters in Hamburg and San Francisco by way of Tokyo. There will be unmentionable money earned because of these expensive and rare tea leaves, but very little of it will ever make it's way to the growers.

Please tell yourself that the cost of living is incredibly low there. Feels better doesn't it? Sit back and enjoy your tea, and try not to think about what miserable lives some growers have. You can't do anything anyway, can you? Yeah. Me either.

Oh well.

Cheerful topic after all the football and Bavarian tea shops. But I felt it needed to be said. The article in the Frankfurter triggered my conscience. I'm sure that niggling feeling will quiet and I'll go back to obliviousness soon enough.

Till then, cheers!

Saturday, 8 May 2010

What sort of tea goes with miserable football?


Somehow I was able to sneak a thermos into the stadium a few weeks ago. Because it worked so much better than expected, I plan to see how much I can manage again tomorrow. A picnic? Actual bone china teacups? Will do what I can, take photos and report on the results.

It's the last match of the season. Am going with a crowd of rough trouble-makers. The last thing they're thinking about is tea. With these animals, I'm always a bit nervous they'll get angry at the officiating and go out onto the pitch. If they do, they'll be going without me.

Can't you just see it? My hooligan friends completely without regard for human decency scurrying over the barricades to attack the opposing players or photographer or the guy dressed as a Disney character...all the while, I'll be sitting calmly sipping my tea. Happy that I know better than to try and provoke the German police.

Am sure some of you are saying, 'What does football have to do with tea?'

Well, it does. Why does football have to be associated with beer? I know it's the most logical fit, but still. Bowling makes me think of White Russians. And Bourbon goes with the Kentucky Derby (for obvious reasons). Cricket is much more associated with tea, but I'm no cricket fan.

So while everyone else in the stadium is enjoying malted hops, I'll be clandestinely sipping my tea. What would you suggest I brew for the big event?

A little backstory: it's one of the worst teams in the second division of German football (Zweite Bundesliga) and no lead is ever safe. Watched them leading 3-0 going into the 80th minute against Wiesbaden a few years ago, and they blew it. The game finished 3-3.

What tea goes with a miserable football side? Am sure some of you support a terrible team and you can help me out. Red Dave need not answer. And you FC Bayern fans can enjoy your title(s) and please be quiet about it. Enough already.

You have about 12 hours to influence my tea choice.


Well, my prediction was totally off. We won. Handily. Was unbelievable. I screamed so much that I have no voice left. Am glad I had both tea in the stadium and another thermos in the car for the drive home. During the match, I drank a blend of Assam Hajua and Assam Greenwood.

Afterward, I had a Japan Sencha Fudjithat helped soothe my throat.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Tea drinking in Bamberg

Why in the world am I in Bamberg? Oh, yeah. Research for a travel article about this small Bavarian city that’s consistently stayed in American’s favor since the end of the war. I’ve wondered about this. Why Bamberg? Why do Yankees love this little city? It’s about an hour due north of Nuremburg and Fürth on the train or by car.

Why Bamberg? I’m sure there are other reasons, but I’m going to give you the two most obvious ones. Many soldiers have been stationed here over the years. Limitless GIs. They go back to their families and tell them about where they were stationed in the Fatherland. Everyone knows Munich (due to a little beer festival in late September) and often travelers make their way to Berlin or Garmisch-Partenkirchen or many other excellent destinations, but these former soldiers want their families to see where they were stationed. So years later they go back to Bamberg.

The other reason it stays on people’s travel lists is that, like Heidelberg, it wasn’t destroyed during the war (like so many other German cities). Not at all. All the landmark buildings you see are originals.

I’m here writing about the cathedral and the history of the Catholic church in Bavaria and where the best places to eat, sleep and explore are. It was a nice day, and I’d unquestionably rather be doing this than some boring, repetitive job. Nevertheless, I’m a bit worn out.

I’ve drunk all my tea, had two shots of espresso and I’m likely to need a third before too long. And that’s when it happens…and why I’m writing about it here. I’m really starting to curse the late afternoon. It’s cold. I’m coming down relatively hard from a caffeine high, I’m dehydrated from the espressos and can’t find a bottle of water.

And that’s when I see it: Schuster’s Tee/Kaffee. An oasis in the desert. But unlike an oasis, this is NOT an illusion.

I stumble in and order a second flush Darjeeling. I mumble to myself, ‘Make it a double, barkeep.’ And she brings my tea. Three and a half minutes later, I take out the tea filter and take a big sniff. Perfect.

I make the biggest slurp I can as I take the first sip…really good.

If you’re ever in Bamberg, go to Schuster's at Au Straße 31 and do what I did. You’ll be glad you did.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

What kind of music goes with tea?

Any music, right? Wrong. There are certain sorts of music that really go with a nice cup of tea. Are there any that don’t? Can you put some Metallica on the box and sip from a hot cup of Chamomile? Really?

So my question is: What kind of music goes with which kind of tea? Is classical music better with Darjeeling or Assam? Do you need to match green or Oolong with traditional jazz?

Here are my immediate thoughts on the subject. I’m sure you’ll tell me if I’m way off base here, but I think I’m onto something. First I’ll deal with Ceylon. I’ve already written about Ceylon Nuwara ‘Lover’s Leap’, and it continues to be the Ceylon I prefer. So when I have a cup of this tea, I find myself listening to 60’s and early 70’s soul/Rhythm & Blues. Otis Redding crooning while I take deep slugs of this delicious brew.

And what about Oolong? There are so many sorts, but I’ll use the Dung-Ti Oolong that I’ve written about here. It’s a smooth, hearty Oolong, so I’d say the perfect music for it is: Alt Country. Make a nice cup of Oolong and put on ‘Ohio’ by Lambchop. Or The Flatlanders. Perfect.

Darjeeling? Bach. Or Brahms. Not Beethoven. Ok, Beethoven if you must. I can’t stop thinking of the Goldberg Variations with Wanda Landowska at the harpsichord, while I have a small pot of Darjeeling Singbulli. Mmmmh…

What about Rock and Roll? What’s the right tea for AC/DC? Assam, of course. Are you kidding. I almost want to say Celestial Season’s Rolling Thunder, but I won’t plug a brand. Not here.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

A body wants what a body wants

Feel ill today.

For once I'm drinking tea because my not-well body demands it for medicinal reasons.

When I was in Hamburg several weeks ago, I was talking to a shop owner, and she said that people naturally gravitate to tea when they're ill. Not just tea drinkers either.

Coffe drinkers, who'd never ever touch the stuff, will heat up the water and throw a tea-bag in. I find it really interesting that this is something that our body does naturally.

This morning, I awakened with that scratchy sensation I get in my throat when I know a cold is coming. Instead of even considering black or even green tea, my hand reached out for the Rooibus. Now, I have nothing against Rooibus. I like it even. But I only have it in the house to serve other people. And for when I'm ill. Like today.

It's a Rooibus with pieces of orange in it. And I drink it with inappropriate amounts of honey mixed in. It's the only thing that makes my throat feel better.

Hope you're still out there reading. I'll talk about *real* tea again tomorrow.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Virtual tea party

Imagine we were somehow able to have tea with each other here. What on earth would we talk about? There’s no question that we’re a motley crew. As is normal with most blogs, there are some of you who make comments and others who are loyal readers but they’d sooner declaw themselves with pliers than leave any record of having been here.

That’s ok. Am relatively sure my friend Jana still drops in now and then. She religiously read my blog called spearewinds and this tea nonsense is even more to her liking. She’s an anglophile of the highest order.

I could list the others who are lurking, but that might take a while and show the limitlessness of my imagination. Instead I’ll mention the regulars who do make noise. There’s my Canadian friend Asiatic Fox and our New Mexican amigo called Sir William of the Leaf. You likely know of them already. They’re the most regular commenters. Even when they don’t like what I’ve scrawled here, they’ll make a positive comment. I read their blogs. It’s a nice thing.

Then there’s Ice Hellion. Also consistent in the interaction department. I get the impression that Ice has a devilish sense of humour, but that might be my fantasy acting up again. And I can't leave out BobL. He's made some very astute comments about tea and tea drinkers. His participation is greatly appreciated.

Hazelblackberry and Shirley are regular readers despite the fact that neither of them is a tea drinker. That's ok. If they made the journey, I'd happily make coffee. I'm a decent host and make excellent coffee.

Alex is a tea blogger and tea expert who always has something informative to add. When I’ve been hung up on something or frustrated trying to decipher a topic, Alex has often come to the rescue. He’s got a site about rating tea and a blog as well. Check them out.

Although she’s been otherwise occupied of late, Jackie has been a regular visitor here. Her comments also have a tinge of sarcasm. It’s what I appreciate most about her visits. And how could I forget Jeffrey? He's offered invaluable tips and advice on how to keep it *real*. Thanks dude.

So, what would we talk about over a cuppa? This virtual world is fantastic for playing make believe. How would we interact with one another sitting around my front room here in Munich-Neuhausen? Would we avoid mentioning politics? I certainly hope not. Or would a few of you be wishing I was serving Bavarian beer rather than the tea? I could serve you an Augustiner if you’d prefer that. Who'd be tea mother? Who'd politely avoid commenting on the questionable quality of the biscuits I served?

I mean it. What might we talk about were you here drinking tea with me right now? Be creative.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Blend my tea, baby-Blend it

My opinion of blends isn't so good, but I think I need to reconsider. I only want to drink tea from this or that plantation. 'Where is this Darjeeling from?', I ask myself or whoever's serving it. I avoid non-descript black tea blends. That's a bit idiotic, don't you think? Not all blends are bad.

Here's why I'm talking about this: I have excess tea that I don't know what to do with. Drink it, you say? Well, duh. But it's not to my liking anymore. Or it never was. For example, I have a hundred grams of something called Assam Greenwood. It's not my taste. It's too tannic. I know that's supposed to be healthy (the same stuff that makes red wine good for you), but this tea is somehow displeasing.

So, I've started mixing it with what the Germans call 'China' tea. It mellows out the harshness of the Assam. This is likely where most blends are born. I've talked to quite a few tea shop owners about this. Most shops have their own line of blends. Called things like 'Breakfast blend' or 'Friesland blend'. They've learned that this or that mix of black tea is pleasing to their customer.

Tea shop owners must rue the day when they see me coming. A million questions always at the ready for them. Normally, they're only waiting for me to leave so they can go back to whatever they were reading before I came in.

Am still working on my list of tasting terms. Quite a few people here on the blog and in 'real' life have told me it's a good idea. Very practical. Coming soon, ok?

Sunday, 2 May 2010

A couple of greens

Recently Sir William o.t.L. mentioned that he'd like to read more tea tastings/tea notes from me. I aim to please, so this evening I prepared two very different green teas to review here.

One I bad mouthed a long time ago. In the comments to that post, someone recommended I try other Yunnan teas and I'm really glad I did. This one is simply called China Yunnan, which is so vague I almost don't want to review it. Both of these teas I got from Claus Kröger in Hamburg. The other one is much different, and has character that this specific Yunnan could only hope for. It's a Sencha called China Dong-Bai. The Sencha is not a light, soft green tea. Not by a long shot.

I have to say that since that bad experience with one questionable Yunnan, I've tried several and was pleasantly surprised. Have come to understand that Yunnan greens can be very very good, and I just picked a lemon at the outset. It happens. This one I'm drinking tonight is mild, but that's not always a bad thing. It'd be perfect if I'd just had something stronger and wanted a break.

The Sencha, on the other hand, is fantastic. Not a tea for people who're trying to ease into green tea. Very strong and earthy taste. Now, one of the Japanese teas I like most is also a Sencha, but this only tastes remotely like that one. The Japanese is called Schattentee (Shadow Tea) and is very smooth and almost hesitant. This Dong-Bai is the exact opposite. There's something smoky about it. Something so much like Lapsang Souchong. I know that's a black tea and this is green. Nevertheless, the smokiness ties them together in my mind.

So many green teas are called grassy. I guess that's how I'd describe the Yunnan. A bit like the taste of grass. But the Sencha is in no way grassy.

When I first started this blog, I focused on the different kinds of black teas at first. I knew more about them and had more connections to India, so it was a logical decision. The thing was that I was and am very curious about China and Japan and wanted to dig deeper into their teas. I knew even then that the more I got into green tea, the more obsessed I'd be.

Well that's exactly what's happened. I read more about the specific greens and whites, and all I want to do is go there and see where this tea is grown. There was a video blog last summer from Kevin Rose and some of his friends travelling across China drinking tea and eating bar-b-que out of the back of a portable grill pulled behind the guy's bicycle. As I watched the footage, all I could think of was, 'I wish that was me. I wish I was hoofing it across China, looking at tea plantations and interacting with the people.'

Not too late. I could be taking just such a trip later this year. We'll see.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Tea Tasting Terms

Jeff gave me a great idea, and I'm pondering how to present it.

Here's what he said and what I'm thinking:

Why do wine drinkers have such easy, accessible terms to describe the way wine tastes but tea terms are often so indecipherable? 'What the hell does "tannic" mean?', were his exact words.

I have noticed my vocabulary for tea tasting is limited, and I want to develop it. I don't want to just do one or two blogposts about this and forget it. Instead, my plan is to put something permanent on the side of the main page of the blog. So that when people are looking at the other blogs I follow or my twitter feed, they'll also see a list of common tea tasting terms/phrases.

Sounds useful, eh? I think so.

Stay tuned amigos. And have a great May Day weekend. Drink better tea. Much better tea. You'll be glad you did.