Wednesday, 30 June 2010

there was a woman involved...

Had another three-cups-of-tea moment with a friend of mine tonight. I've done this before, so I hope I'm not boring you, but while we drink the first cup we're strangers. During the second cup we're friends, and by the end of the third cup we're family.

In Greg Mortenson's book, it's used as a peace making method. Over three cups of tea, we can start to see things as two from the same family. Rather than members of opposing tribes.

But does it work with someone you're already friends with? Why not.

My buddy Wolfgang was worked up about something, but couldn't quite get out what it was. I tried to get him to drink some Oolong with me, but he was worried about the caffeine. I had some Rooibus with little orange pieces which I served him, and It smelled so good I thought the whole experience would be better if we drank the same thing.

The first cup was just him calming down. It was really soothing. For both of us. He drained that first cup, and it was the first time I saw him smile. A big, sweet smile. He took a deep breath in, and started to tell me his story as I poured the second cup. It was quite a story.

I won't go into it (he'd never forgive me for spilling his private life here), but needless to say...there was a woman involved. While we slowly sipped at the second cup, he started filling me in on more details. The reasons why this was bothering him so much and why this situation was going to destroy the small semblance of sanity he'd created at home. I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said there was a bit of gnashing of teeth. The deeper we delved into his problem, the more emotional it got. Were there actual tears, I wouldn't mention it. He's Bavarian. It's better to be angry than to be sad. From me you'll hear no talk of crying.

He paused as the third cup was poured. A deep, long breath. I asked him if he wanted to know what I thought. He was so spent from all of the energy he'd burned while telling me his story. He begrudgingly agreed to hear my opinion. We slurped and pondered a few more moments before I finally spoke.

'What day is it?'


'What day is it?'

'Uhm...the 30th.'

'Of what month?'

'What d'you mean "What month"? It's June. You know that.'

'Ok...30th of June. What was your biggest problem on May 30th?'

He thought a minute. Wondered what on earth had been his biggest concern back then. Couldn't remember. For the life of him, the man had no idea what had been bothering him a mere four weeks ago.

I knew. I knew exactly what'd been bothering him on the 30th of May. The point of all of this is to see that the things we're so worked up about are only an issue because we're so close to them...and that problems are fleeting. If we look at things objectively, we can normally see that the solution is easier than our hot-headed self could ever imagine.

Simple solutions. While we finished that third cup, he looked across at me and laughed. His problem wasn't so massive anymore because he wasn't nearly as important as he'd been. Rather than the star of the show, he was just another bit player. He'd been playing with all the gusto of a prima donna, but had no lines to speak of. He finally laughed at his earlier pompousness.

From nervously smiling, to yelling (and maybe even crying), and then laughing in the time it took to drink three simple cups of tea. So far, in my experience, it's always worked.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Hot tea in the scorching sunlight?

Seems like most tea people are more fascinated with green tea than black. If they had to choose, I mean. Of course this is a gross generalization, but when I go through the blogs/sites I know, it seems like the beautiful photos are of Oolongs and greens. The logical among you might say, 'Yeah, but have you looked at black tea after it's been used?' You'd be right. It just looks like refuse. Nothing like these delicate sea creatures that float in their green tea soup.

But that's my contention. Even if you like drinking black teas, and I'm not willing to believe you do, then you at least seem to be more taken with the delicate, sometimes even grassy, tastes of non-oxidized tea. Or at the bare minimum you like partially oxidized teas.

Turns out this phenomenon is nothing new. I was reading about tea drinking habits of Americans in the early 20th Century, and most people drank green tea from China. Those who drank tea, that is. The story is that because tea from China had somehow cornered the market, a group of Indian tea importers set up a stand at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. They decked out the people serving the tea in elaborate costumes and tried to make the black tea exotic.

To no avail. It was too damned hot in St. Louis in the summer (They really do get the worst of cold winters and hot summers, don't they?), so because no-one wanted the steaming hot brew, the guy in charge started serving it on ice. And only then the people drank it. Supposedly with pleasure. Thought that'd be a nice bit of trivia to drop on you for this sweet summer's evening (source: The Tea Lover's Treasury by James Norwood Pratt).

Although I'm not much for iced-tea myself, there you have it. But St. Louis in the burning noon-day sun. Someone offers you the chance to take the turn-of-the-century equivalent of the Nestea Plunge, and you're going to reject it?

Monday, 28 June 2010

Easing lightly toward an Oolong dreamland

This Gong Fu-style of brewing is really helping me see what all of the excitement was about. To be clear, I don't yet have an actual Gong-fu pot, so I'm only using more tea and less water for a much shorter time. I've been reading about the varying character of multiple infusions for so long. Only in the last few weeks have I been able to appreciate it.

The tea I'm doing this with is a very middle-of-the-road Oolong called simply Formosa. It's not bad, but not the nicest I've had either. I'm enjoying experimenting with this simple tea and planning to employ my new tricks with better tea once I get better at it.

One thing that surprises me is that even with far shorter steeping times, the tea is still so strong. Some places I read about twenty second infusions, and I'm not there yet. Nevertheless, I can get a good strong cup of Oolong by only leaving the leaves in the water a minute. I used to use the same temperature water as I did with green tea, but I seem to be getting better results by using boiling water.

I've considered taking photos of the leaves like I see on so many other people's blogs. But my photos make the leaves just look like any other leaves. I continue to believe I should play to my strengths. You didn't come here for photos. Obviously. It's the stories you get when you come here, right?

So I'm going to tell you a story about an afternoon without tea. Most days, when I'm going to be gone for more than a few hours, I'll brew a few thermoses and tote them along. Today was an exception. Had my hands full with both a guitar and an amp, while my bag was filled with gear. There just wasn't room for tea. I thought I could find a shop on the way, and get a decent cuppa. If worse came to worse, I could always duck into an Italian place and have an espresso. That's exactly what I did.

When the morning tea started to wear off, I went into a cafe to fill up. I always check to see if they have loose-leaf tea, but often it's simply teabags of dubious quality. In this case, it was just easier to have some java. But even with the little cup of water that typically accompanies coffee in both Austria and Italy, I was soon totally dehydrated.

By the time I got to my rehearsal, I was parched. My mood soured a bit. I had plenty of energy, but something just wasn't quite right. After the rehearsal I hurried to my class, but not before downing another espresso. Now my heart was racing, but I was going to at least make it through.

My students were eager to see the results of their end-of-course exam. As I returned their work, I noticed I was blathering. More so than normal. I could take responsibility for my river of words, but instead I plan to blame the coffee. It was the coffee. There. I said it. My pal Shirley, who visits here despite the fact that she doesn't enjoy tea, often talks about the positive effects of coffee drinking. One thing she says is that it sometimes loosens people's tongues similarly to alcohol. I can see that happening.

After they pleaded their cases on some questionable marking, I sent them on their way with my normal 'What you can do to further improve your English' spiel. They seemed attentive, but I doubt they do any of what I suggest. They'll wait until next semester, study madly right before the exam, and then promptly forget most of what they learned.

I could take the view that their relaxed attitude keeps people perpetually employed teaching them English, but instead I'm continuously searching for methods to keep them engaged with the language even without me breathing down their necks. Especially without me breathing down their necks. It's how I've had the most success when learning languages-when I do it leisurely and at my own speed.

Noticing I was short-tempered, I tried to compensate by being especially gracious with my students. When I finally got home, I was able to go through my above-mentioned Gong-fu ritual. Somehow, that was all I needed. My the third infusion, I was human again. Or as human as I can get.

I'm slowly easing towards dreamland now. As I slip out of consciousness, the Oolong lets me down lightly. Very lightly.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Torn up and undecided

This might be a day where I post twice, but then again it may not.

There's a little football match on today between England and my adopted home country. You'd probably assume I'd have an easier time choosing the team I want to win, but I'm honestly conflicted. Life in Germany is much more pleasant when the national side wins. That's a bit of an understatement, actually. People here have heart attacks while the national side plays. Literally. The first week I lived here, England beat Germany 5:1 (September 2001). I watched it with my Bavarian neighbour, and he really had to call paramedics. He was so upset, he had a small heart attack. Welcome to Germany, eh?


It's still hard to root against the English team. I love the Premiere League. Love it. Am for Arsenal, and as a result, I despise ManU, Chelski and Liverpool. Hate them. You think hate is too strong a word? You clearly don't understand what's at stake here.

My amigo Nigel has taught me more about football than I thought I could ever retain. He and I love it when England win. And there's no question at all who Nigel's supporting today.

But I'm still on the fence. I think the German team has a better shot of winning more matches and could even win the whole thing (if not this year, then in Brazil in 2014). I'm afraid if England beats their arch nemesis today, that'll be it for them. Somehow beating Germany in a World Cup is about as good as it can get for an English fan. What's to top that? The whole cup?

Don't know if this English side really has that in them.

We'll see.

I'll write about tea later. I'm having a hard time thinking of tea. I am drinking Margaret's Hope Darjeeling, and enjoying it immensely. Second infusion is really tastier than the first. Can't believe that I can steep the same bag of black tea more than once. What a world.

You might think of me if you happen to be watching Germany v England later. I'm the one torn between two loves. Very undecided.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Football and tea: a perfect combination?

I know I said I wouldn't blog anymore about the World Cup, but it's all I'm doing tonight. Ghana's side went ahead at the beginning of the match, then the Americans equalised. Despite both sides half-hearted attempts to go another goal ahead, they ended regular time and stoppage time tied at one goal a piece.

Then in the first five minutes of extra time, Ghana scored again. Up 2:1, they didn't do what many conservative teams would've done. Teams like Italy would shift back and hold their one goal lead, but the Ghana side does the opposite. They stay on the attack. It's admirable really.

But now the players for Ghana are wasting time. Doing exactly what I just commended them for not doing. Guy falls on the pitch, and then pretends to be injured. They take him off on a stretcher, and then as soon as the ref isn't looking, he does a Lazarus and hops up from his deathbed. Now the only remaining African team is playing dirty to advance to the quarter finals. Seems like the opposite of fair-play, but I assure you this isn't solely an African problem. I assure you the Portuguese or the Argentinians aren't too proud to fake injury in order to win a match.

Lack of fair-play is probably what Portugal's Christiano Ronaldo is best known for. When he was at ManU, he regularly went down to the pitch to draw a penalty. But often he'd do it when there wasn't a defender within a metre or so. In my book, that's cheating. He knows it. He doesn't care.

What does any of this have to do with tea? Nothing.

I did start the evening with a pot of Assam Sephinjuri, and it got us through the first half. Then I brewed some China Sencha Dong-Bai, which I drank the second half with my meal of Greek Bifteki. Great dinner (thanks Jeffrey) and really exciting football. Wish the American team had played better, but Ghana is no slouch.

Friday, 25 June 2010

How d'you take your tea?

Awakened in the night to a fire alarm, and was out on the fire escape before I realised I had no fire escape. That was only the first sign that something wasn’t quite right.

Then I was eerily aware that I was back in school. Instead of Cincinnati, where I did study, I was at DePaul, where I almost went to school. Had a great audition there, got in and was given a reasonable scholarship. But the teacher discouraged me from going to his school. Should’ve ignored him but I didn’t.

At that point in my life, I didn’t pay enough attention to that quiet, little voice. The voice we all have, but have to learn to follow. My voice said, ‘Go to Chicago,’ and I ignored it.

Despite all that, here I was on the fire escape outside my window, and the elevated train went rushing by. It always shook the whole building, but this time what was more noticeable was the smoke billowing out of the floors up there. The whole building above my floor was burning. I’m lucky I got out when I did.

Had no time to collect any valuables, and in that instant I mused, ‘Now I know how Tom Petty felt.’ Completely ridiculous, huh?

Then I was on the ground outside my building and looking up at the nearly hundred other tenants practically falling down the fire escape. You know, the old wooden ones like the ones in that movie where the dude’s looking for the one-armed guy who killed his wife? You know the one I mean?

As I’m standing there, I heard Harry Caray doing the play-by-play. Like he was calling a Cubs game. Exactly like he did in the old days. The guy was keeping score on who safely escaped the building.

Here’s what was most incomprehensible: he kept saying I was on the losing team. As he read the list of names of people who hadn’t yet made it, there was my name. I was somehow out here on the street, but still on the list that I wasn’t yet safe. Why was that?

Was I like that David Addison-guy in The Sixth Sense? A ghost but I didn’t yet know it? Had I died in the first moments of the fire, but I just didn’t know? Why on earth hasn’t the play-by-play announcer not said my name?

Turns out I was never in any danger. It was my stylish new facial hair that saved me. The powers that be, who were taking care of the list, hadn’t recognised me with my new 'stache.

One of the firemen came up to me and informed me they had coffee and tea in the building across the street. Especially in this moment of calm after the impending emergency, this was music to my ears. A moment of overwhelming gratitude washed over me.

As I walked into the foyer of the, where they’d made a make-shift first-aid station, the woman asked the nicest question that’s ever passed a person’s lips. She quite simply asked, ‘How d’you take your tea?’

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Kudos to Oz

Gong Fu-style brewing in a teapot. Twice as much tea as I'd normally use for a single pot. Boiling hot water. Only two minutes steeping, at least for the first infusion.

Have been watching hours and hours of international football (World Cup) lately. And holding down my job. And writing something here daily. And at least an hour everyday walking/running with the dogs. And getting up at dawn to write/play songs (the only time I'm sure I can get the solitude I need).

This tea drinking is one of the only things that explains all the energy I seem to have. That and the pact I've made with the devil. #robertjohnson

Two regular contributors here have recently gone AWOL. Asiatic Fox was a fresh new voice in tea drinking, but it seems he needs a bit of a break from tea drinking. Hope he makes it back. And Sir William of the Leaf is still out there, active at LeafBoxTea, visited the World Tea Expo in Vegas, but I haven't yet seen his report on it. Am curious if he met Kevin 'tea tattoo' Rose.

Oh, I almost forgot...recently got a shipment of tea from Claus Kröger in Hamburg. I really need to try a new supplier. Might order a shipment from the other wholesaler in Hamburg. The folks who introduced me to Flugtee. They're Darjeeling experts, and I'm completely obsessed with Darjeeling.

In case you're wondering about my amigo the teahobo, he's leaving for Calcutta and then Darjeeling this weekend. He's only left the US twice in his life (Vietnam and Cancun, Mesico) and is a bit daunted by the prospect of this journey to one of the most important tea growing areas of India.

The teahobo will send his reports to me by email, and I'll post them to his blog. He's not very technically advanced (he's an old guy people), so I'm happy to help him where I can. You can read his exploits at

Otherwise, I'll be doing all the things I listed above. I hope you're all enjoying your summer. For you lot in New Zealand/Australia, I know it's winter there. Hope you're freezing your asses off. It'll be summer soon enough. If you're cold, put on another pair of long underwear. Congrats on the new PM. I watched Paul Rudd's goodbye speech. Sad really. Did you really sack him because he didn't do enough for the environment? Wow.

I like the new chick. She's far easier on the eyes than Rudd was. Good job Aussies. Good job.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Was drinking coffee yesterday

There’s no reason for me to avoid it. Have to apologise for yesterday’s post. Normally I drink tea when I write this blog, but yesterday I was drinking coffee. Hence my freak-out.

Yesterday was a long day in a string of long days, I was upset Mexico played so poorly against Uruguay and now has to face Argentina in the Round of 16, and I was writing crazy talk here. Sensuality?

This is a tea blog. People who drink tea are measured and respectable people. I’ve said it before, but Anglicans drink tea. Maybe Catholics are more likely to have a big mug of coffee and get passionate like I did yesterday.

Tea-totalers are staid people. We don’t do anything rash. We consider all possibilities and in a slow and careful manner we decide what our next step will be.

If you imbibe in the leaf, and you’re not sure about a decision, you brew a pot and sit quietly and ponder all eventualities. Ponder the ramifications of the miserable decision you’re about to potentially make. You wait until most of the first pot is gone before you even pretend to know what you’ll do. Maybe even half way through the second pot, you have no idea where this is, in fact, leading. Will there be consensus?

Consensus? That’s right. Consensus. As a drinker-of-the-tea, you’re of two minds on whatever issue you’re deliberating. You can see the benefits of both arguments and try desperately to argue the weaker side convincingly. To no avail, but tea people are nothing if not hopeless idealists.

I will continue to pontificate on sensuality but use safer words for you my gentle readers. When drinking the java, I’ll attempt to avoid writing here. It’s just not right. Not proper.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

sleepwalking through life

Have decided to try a different approach. This blog is fine if I just want to entertain myself and the three or four of you who regularly come and tell me you enjoy it.

I want people coming here in droves. Maybe someone writing a teablog should be happy with a handful of loyal readers, but I'm not. I'll be happy when my handful of daily readers is multiplied by a few thousand. Unrealistic for such a niche topic? Whatever. I disagree. What's wrong is that the people who aren't coming here still think this is a blog about tea.

It's not.

Only in theory is this about tea. To be really blunt, it's not about tea at all. Tea's the gateway. Tea's the thing that some of you are obsessed about. You know I'm obsessed about tea, so periodically you wonder, 'Hm...I wonder what nonsense lahikmajoe has burped out today.'

You're in for a treat if you chose today to happen by. I don't think you've yet realised what a treat this is about to be.

My goal isn't only to attract newcomers to tea. That's only part of the point, but not the most important part. And it's not to write about my impressions of some rare Oolong that you'll neither find nor ever actually drink. That still seems like the biggest waste of energy of many teablogs I know.

What I really want to do here is not only talk about tea, but talk about taste. Developing taste. When you drink more good tea, your perception of all tea changes. It's true if you eat better chocolate or hear an excellent orchestra.

Once you've heard the Concertgebouw with Mengelberg, it's hard to go back to Daffy Duck and the Podunk Philharmonic. Eating top-shelf chocolate is only going to ruin you for common bars. But see, tea only opens a door. If you start drinking decent tea, you might actually upgrade your biscuits/cookies. You might splurge and try a piece of cake to have with your tea.

My schtick isn't just tea. It's sensuality.

I played music with a lovely violinist called Uschi when I went to school in Cincinnati. She and I were as close as two can get without being intimate. We drank Rolling Rock, played foosball, and talked in her improving English about everything from music to politics to astronomy. One day, she turned to me and told me that I was a 'Lebenskünstler'. A what? Lebenskünstler.

What in the world is that? She made it sound so good. 'You really enjoy every moment of life to the fullest. You don't care what society thinks of you and you do what you like.' Lebenskünstler translates as Life Artist.

I liked all of that, although I wasn't sure if she knew me well enough to make these assessments. Maybe she knew me that well. Whatever. I took it as a complement.

Then I moved to Germany, learned the language much better, and found out that Lebenskünstler isn't nearly the positive term I'd thought it was. Maybe for Uschi it was a good thing, but to the typical German, this is not something to aspire to be. A life artist means you can't really do much else than stumble around being a drag on society. A Lebenskünstler can't be bothered to show up on time. Or pay his bills. Or send his mother a birthday card.

He's too busy creating art at every available opportunity. I'm going to keep talking about tea as if I was hellbent for leather. Its not hard to do. I'm told I have an addictive problem with tea. My answer? So.

But I'm also going to talk about enjoying the finer things. There are some really excellent blogs out there with better photography and beautiful graphics that deal with slow food, chocolate, and other things one enjoys sensually. My blog isn't such a site. Doubt it'll be like those any time soon.

I want to grab your imagination with my writing. To pull you into the mire and slather the muddy, dirty, stinky part all over you. It's really our only hope. You might resist at first, but when you finally recognise what the benefits are, theres no way you can go back to the life you were sleepwalking through before. None.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Tea in rough waters

Have had a decent day today. Stressful, but all of what was thrown at me, I dealt with relatively well. To what do I attribute my ability to deal?

Well, tea obviously.

That's a bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit. I dealt with a frustrated client early this morning, and while I calmly explained how I could help him solve his problem, I was sipping on a Ceylon Nuwara.

Then packed up my tea in my bag that I take on the train, and went to an appointment with a client who's not yet paid me for work I did in March. Was still very calm. Somehow. And while I was talking to him, there was Assam Sephinjuri coursing through my veins.

Taught a class to a group of lawyers, while I polished off the Assam, and grabbed a Chai from an evil corporate coffee shop, who I've mentioned before but won't name again.

But the real stress of the day occurred when I got home for lunch and there were multiple emergencies (personal and business-related). I was drinking Jun Chiyabari Oolong at this point, and I assure you it helped.

Now, I'm off to proctor a test that I spent a good deal of the weekend preparing, and I've packed a thermos of Assam Mangalam, as well as a travel mug with China Wu Lu green tea in it.

Am sure I'll be fine the rest of the day. Am even rather certain that the evening will be ok.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

What the heck do I do with this Oolong?

Oolong has a taste more akin to green tea than to black tea: it lacks the rosy sweet aroma of black tea but it likewise does not have the stridently grassy vegetal notes that typify green tea. It's commonly brewed to be strong, with the bitterness leaving a sweet aftertaste (steep time 20 seconds-1 minute).
from Tea Timer iPhone app

If you'd told me how to brew Oolong when I first started drinking tea, I might not have bothered. Don't get me wrong. I love Oolong. If you made me choose five teas to take on a long, long trip, Oolong would definitely occupy one of the spots (maybe two).

But the more I've learned about how it's commonly steeped, the happier I am that I got into Oolong drinking/preparing slowly.

At first, I simply brewed it like black tea. Boiling hot water for far too long. How long is too long? Am a bit embarrassed to say that I use to brew tea for upwards of eight to ten minutes. I'd never do that (knowingly) today, but at the time I thought it made the tea stronger. Turns out that steeping it longer just makes most tea more bitter. The only way to make tea stronger is to use more tea. If you use two spoons of Ceylon and it tastes weak, try three.

Later, I was instructed that Oolong is like green tea and needs to be brewed with water at a lower temperature. So, always trying to follow directions, I prepared Oolong from then on as if it were a green tea. All was well in Denmark. Or so I thought.

Then I read a blogpost from a teablogger far more astute than I, who said that it was possible to get 20+ infusions of this tea. If it's good quality Oolong, I guess it's possible. But there are a few things that make these multiple infusions possible. Much shorter steep times and double the tea you'd usually use.

Most of what I've read about this sort of brewing applies to the Gong Fu-style brewing method. It's a small (often ceramic) pot that only makes one or two servings of tea. You use a lot of tea for such a small container, and only steep it for much shorter times. Maybe half a minute to a minute to start out. Because the ratio of tea to water is so much greater, you needn't steep it any longer to get a nice cup. If you do decide to try this out, be creative. Decide what your steep times are based on trial and error.

Because I don't yet have a Gong Fu pot, I essentially do the same thing described above but in a common teapot. I use the same amount of tea that I'd use for a whole pot, but only liff it with half the water. Be sure to use boiling hot water by the way.

I'm presently drinking Dung-ti Oolong, which I've written about on this site before. Let me know if you can't locate it and I'll figure out how to link to it. Am still learning how to drive this blog. May look like I'm a seasoned pro, but I'm mainly concerned with content. The technical side comes to me slowly if at all.

Somewhere I read that the first infusion is poured out in honour of your ancestors. Was not entirely sure if I had a good enough feeling about my ancestors to be throwing any tea out in their name. My grandfather came from Scottish stock. I doubt he'd approve of me throwing out perfectly good tea for him under any circumstances. I mean really.

But when I'm feeling generous, I brew my Oolong or a minute, dump what's there and start the process again. Seems stupid to me still, but I did like a handful of the ancestors I had a chance to meet. Not all of them mind you, but it seems every family has a few members who really need a good talking to. Mine is no exception.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

All the tea in China? How about all the tea in Beaumont?

Jackie at LeafBoxTea asked me for a bit more whimsy after all of my melancholy the other day. I normally aim to please.

If I believed the statistics about how many people are even reading this blog anymore, I'd be quite disheartened. The counter says I've recently had days with only one or two readers. How sad. There might be something wrong with the counter, but regardless...there's certainly far less dialogue/conversation going on than there was even a few weeks ago. Maybe the summer is partly to blame. Maybe I'm just not entertaining/interesting.

I try to imagine some deceptive teasers that I could use to lure new in and former readers back in. I could write them at twitter/facebook, and watch the readers come pouring in. The trick is to write teasers that make the blog appear far more exciting than it actually is.

The danger is that they actually do come looking, and are sorely disappointed. Like I give a hoot. Web traffic is my one and only goal remaining in my little, shallow life.

What blogpost titles might drag in my former legions of readers? I'm so glad you asked.

How about these:

She offered him whiskey, but all he wanted was tea!

He had a moral compass...until he tried tea.

All the tea in China? How about all the tea in Beaumont?

Please Mr. Boss-man, could you pay me in tea and biscuits?

Just because I sarcastically mention them here, doesn't mean I won't try them and others. My whimsy bone has been tested...and easily sorted.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Margaret's Hope? Brew it again.

Ordered a Darjeeling a few weeks ago, and it finally arrived earlier in the week. Did a brief search about the plantation where it's grown and decided to write a bit about what I found.

The plantation owner had two daughters. One of them, Margaret, loved it there so much and hoped to one day return. Sadly, she died and the plantation owner was understandably devastated. To honour her, he named the plantation and the tea that was grown there after her and her dreams of returning to their land. To this day, Margaret's Hope tea is associated with high quality tea from Darjeeling.

The shipment I got is a second flush, which means it's from the crop of tea that's picked and processed around June each year (before the rainy season). Normally, second flush Darjeelings are stronger and have much more body. Only because I started getting a little obsessive about Darjeeling earlier this year, was I able to appreciate the delicate flavours of a first flush. Until then, I was only able to get excited about tea from this region from the second flush category. Like this one.

I've mentioned here on a few occasions that there's far more Darjeeling sold on the global market than they could ever actually produce. As a result of that fact, every single time I try a new tea that's supposedly from here, the cynic in me wonders if this one was really grown somewhere else entirely.

One site I was reading mentioned a second infusion of Margaret's Hope. I do multiple infusions with green, white and Oolong tea, but have not had good experience with brewing black tea multiple times. I'd given up even trying. But that was until now. I brewed this tea again, and it was better the second time. Much better.

As I've already said, it's a strong and tasty choice. The floral taste you get in many first flushes only shows up the second time around with this tea. But that flowery taste is unmistakable. Just in case you're still feeling out different black teas: if you like really strong Assams, then normally a tea from Darjeeling will disappoint you. This might be a great place for you to start.

I could write about Darjeeling everyday and never run out of something to talk about. Whether you'd bother continuing to read about it is an entirely different question.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

the tea-indoctrinated in her own words

I’ve prepared you, my loyal readers, for this, and now it’s here. My tea indoctrination has come fully to fruition. At twitter, someone asked me for advice about how to get into tea, and I offered a few thoughts. She didn’t like what I suggested, and I decided to send her a care package. Without further ado, let me introduce Barbara. She has been fully tea-indoctrinated. Here are her notes as they happened:

After a lifetime of not drinking tea and having not liked it on the few occasions I dipped my toe in, as it were, I tried Lemon Sky on day one. Surprisingly, I quite enjoyed it and, as a result, was prepared to go further.

On the second day, I tried Happy Herbs (giggle) and thought I detected a slight cinnamon flavour. Yes, that’s right. It’s cinnamon.

Having heard conflicting reports of green tea (that it was bitter and not easy to drink), I decided to give it a try the next day (day three if you’re counting). What a nice surprise-not bitter at all. Quite soothing and very delicate, actually.

My fourth day of the experiment proved even better than the ones that preceded it. On that day, I tried Sweet Chai, which was quite spicy and rather invigorating. On the same day, came a not so pleasant experience. My first try at the dreaded ‘blacks’. Darjeeling. I didn't manage to finish it - too bitter but I will come back to it some time when I'm feeling stronger.

On day five came a lovely surprise. Rooibus. I loved this one. It has a smooth caramel taste, and I don't care that it isn't a 'real' tea. I will certainly be adding this to my collection when I start one.

And on the sixth day, I was brave and tackled Oolong Formosa. This tea has a nice delicate flavour. It’s dark leaves made me think it was another black tea, but lahikmajoe informed me that Oolongs aren’t black. And not green either. Oolong is something in between. Regardless, Formosa Oolong helped prepare me to give black tea another chance.

The next day (day seven) was a stressful day and suddenly I instinctively knew I needed green tea. I wasn’t yet aware green tea had a reputation for having a calming effect. Later on day seven, I tried Happy Herbs again and found it even better the second time. I was even beginning to appreciate that the smell of the tea was almost important as the way it tasted.

Lemon Sky was planned on day eight for the second time. Still enjoyable-no complaints. On this same date, I tried Assam Khongea, a total disaster but this was entirely my fault as I steeped it too long making it undrinkable.

Sweet Chai with a smidgen of milk on the ninth day. Quite a different experience with milk. This time it had a lovely, sharp gingery taste.

On the tenth and final day, Assam Khongea again with shorter steeping. Much nicer this time. Later that day I tried white tea for the first time. This was a soothing tea with a delicate flavour and an almost grassy odour.

I am now looking into how I will get further supplies. The local shop has a limited choice so I think I will have to turn to the internet, one site I found, http://Tea looks fairly promising.

laqhikmajoe: so, that was Barbara, my guest blogger for the day. What d'you think? Pretty cool story, huh? I feel like I've done something good for tea here. She didn't mention it in her notes, but Barbara has told me that she feels somehow healthier and holds all this tea drinkin' directly responsible. I can't in all honestly argue with her.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Healing old wounds with tea

Have made an executive decision here at

For now on when I'm not sure what to write about, which quite honestly happens very rarely, I'm going to riff on the Three Cups of Tea premise. I've talked enough about this that my regular readers know that I've already credited Greg Mortenson with this idea. I'm certainly not stealing any ideas. To be pedantic, it wasn't even his idea. He was recounting a common practice in Pakistan/Afghanistan and not inventing something new.

But I never would've heard anything about it were it not for his fantastic book on the subject.

My plan is to take a great idea and run with it. As far as I can go, actually. I think this is going to be a lot of fun. Not just today, but for many posts in the future.

The basic premise is that we meet and have a cup of tea and are strangers. While we drink the second cup, we become friends. During the enjoyment of the third, we become family. That's the premise. I think it's good, but I've talked to people in my daily life and they seem to believe it's unrealistic.

Sure for little problems, it might work. Maybe. But for real problems. Geopolitical problems? Never. Family problems that go back years? Forget about it. People you've hated for years for good reason? No flippin' way, lahikmajoe. That's just not to be solved over three cups of your godforsaken tea. No way.

So, I'm going to start with a real person. A real situation. Now this is a guy I've disliked since university. He loathed me and I returned the sentiment. We were the opposite of thick as thieves. We were merely thieves. He stole my energy and I took his. The more I thought of him, the more I despised him. The more I lorded my successes over him, the more he went to mutual friends and talked about what an ass I was. He was in all honesty probably right. I was an ass. Still am sometimes.

When I tried to imagine a situation where this Three Cups of Tea idea wouldn't work, it was with this guy. No way. Not with him.

But I'm going to imagine the conversation and spill it out here. Please notice that we still despise each other while the first cuppa is being drunk. Both he and I are hard nuts to crack.

He reminds me that I gloated every time anything went my way. I retorted that things certainly went my way more often than things went his way. The guy came from such a small town that he thought there were no homosexuals where he grew up. I still think about that when I encounter intolerance. If you live in a town with more then 10 people, there's a very good statistical chance that you know someone who's gay. But somehow I refrain from reminding him of his ignorance while we down our first cup. He smiles as he finishes the tea and complements me on my choice. In this little fantasy, I'm tea mother and I pour the second cup.

Turns out he likes tea too. Just like my story, he was primarily a coffee drinker when he married, but his wife pulled him over to the leaf-side. He's not quite as obsessive about it as I am, but appears to enjoy a good cup of tea. He smiles. I smile. I think we're friends. Too early to tell.

While we drink the second cup, both of us can tell that something is altered. We have a different perspective than we did when we first sat down. Because we're both lost in our thoughts, it gets relatively quiet. We still manage to bleat out a few pleasantries. Somehow.

I pour the third cup and we start to get really personal. Upon finding out how my dad died, he shares that his father-in-law has the same disease. We start to really bond. Is this even possible? Apparently so. I tell him about a friend I have who has two forms of really bad cancer. Not one, but TWO!

He knew someone our age who died last year. A high school friend of his, who happened to be gay it turned out, and they stayed close over the intervening years. He'd taken the friend's death really hard, but somehow things were slowly and softly improving. Because we connected so deeply on these two points, I realise something. We're family. We really are.

And if I'm completely honestI have to admit that he and I were always family. We both studied classical music at University. We both love Brahms.

Three Cups of Tea & we're on an entirely different footing. Entirely.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Tea Indoctrination

A number of weeks ago, I asked someone I *know* at twitter if she was drinking tea, and she meekly answered that she didn't like tea. Jokingly, she wondered if I'd have nothing more to do with her. Instead I began to kid her about bringing her over to the leaf-side.

It really was all in good fun. It wasn't supposed to go anywhere from there. But I continued to send her queries about the tea indoctrination that was slowly but surely taking place. But again-unbeknownst to me. One day, out of the blue, she said, 'Ok, and I'm not promising anything, but what would I start with?'

Now I was flummoxed. Uh? I don't know. This was a new prospect. But I liked it. The longer I thought about it, I liked it more and more.

I've said it again and again here: I want to help people get into tea. The history and the culture of tea interests me, but the thought that I could actually help people into this little corner of the tea world really intrigues me. So I had to ponder this one a few moments.

And what did I answer? First I asked more questions. I realised I had no idea what her tastes were, so I asked if she preferred white or red wine. How did she take her coffee? Spicy food?

And with all of that, I made a horrible suggestion. Earl Grey. What was I thinking? Actually, I was thinking finding some Earl Grey bags would be about the easiest thing for her to locate. I got deeper into tea by starting with Earl Grey. Why not? Well, because it's not a good beginning. She really didn't like it. At all.

I'd also recommended Oolong, but my impression was that there weren't any tea shops nearby. Before I recommended she buy tea over the net, I offered to send her some. Let me be clear, I have no intention of making a habit of this. The prospect of helping someone into tea was too enticing to let it pass by. But in the future, I believe I'll have some alternative sources on offer.

Not that I'm in any way regretful about what happened next. But I'm going to let her tell you that story. Exciting, eh?

In the next several days, you'll be able to read about her impressions of the teas I thought she'd like. She's agreed to be a guest blogger here, and has been diligently keeping notes throughout the whole process. What a story.

Stay tuned. I think you'll like this one.

is the new layout 'problematic'?

Got a message this morning that my new layout is difficult to open. Are any more of you having problems opening this page?

The blogger site isn't making it easy for me to revert to the old layout, but I wanted to ask for feedback while I try to do something.

Have you tried to leave comments, but were unable to do so?

Does the site take forever to load?

Please either leave a comment here or send me a message at:

Thanks for the support.

Monday, 14 June 2010

The 'most famous' green tea I've never heard of

About a week ago, I found a really interesting article in the local paper's travel section about Long Jing tea. It referred to this green tea as the most famous green tea in the world, which struck me as funny because I'd never heard of it. Not that I'd venture to guess what the 'most famous' was. Nevertheless, I was still a bit unsettled by this news.

As I read through the article, I was more and more curious about this elusive tea. The tea 'Meisterin' (mistress) is quoted as saying that she doesn't release the tea to the outside world in shops, but that people go there to try her tea and then sometimes take a few bags home. My cynical side thought, 'This is the travel section. They're trying to get you to go there.' Which you can. And tour the plantations and everything. It's only about 200 km down the coast from Shanghai. Not so hard to imagine making the trek if you were already in that part of the world.

I'm going to go into more details about this article another time (there's just too much information to try and cover all of it in one go), but I will talk about two things that caught my eye.

The journalist asks her what makes tea from the mountains around this village so special. She admits that although tea is ultimately all tea, that's a bit like saying all wine comes from the same sort of vine. It has to do with many things-the distinctive quality of Long Jing-whether it be the temperature their, the amount of rain, the number of sunny days, the time of year that it's picked and the length of time between picking and preparation. All those things play a part, but she says, but what's most important is the love that's in the whole process.

Once again, there's a part of me that wants to say, 'Please. Are you kidding? You can't quantify love.' Certainly not the love that goes into the preparation of tea leaves. But I want to believe it. I desperately want to make that leap and believe that the monks saying their mantras while they cook the leaves in a pan has something to do with the other-worldliness of this tea.

The other thing she tells the journalist is that people from all walks of life come to see her tea house. That she has tea novices and billionaires come in to try the tea and that after 3 or 4 cups that all people are the same.

There're those three cups of tea again.

Now, I know this logic is also a little questionable. I guess it's the same idea that disease knows no socio-economic boundaries. Cancer can strike no matter what your status. And the divisions that we walked into the tea house with are inconsequential when we're sitting in the glow of enjoying our tea. But when I get up and walk out alongside that billionaire, none of his filthy wealth has rubbed off on me. I think I get the bigger point though, and that's what I want to explore in more detail later.

The first thing I wanted to do was ask if you'd heard of this tea. Does one really have to go a few hours southwest of Shanghai to try this stuff?

Sunday, 13 June 2010

tea weirdos

This has been quite a weekend with the beginning of the World Cup, but I can't keep writing about that everyday. As a matter of fact, I think I've exhausted the 'What sort of tea would I give each player' schtick. It's getting a bit tired, eh?

Lately, there's been quite a bit of talk at tea websites such as LeafBoxTea about winning people over to tea. This weekend there's a big tea thing going on in Las Vegas, and the rumblings are that tea needs to be better portrayed to the public. I'm reading people's tweets about the old, tired cliches about tea and tea drinkers, and what must be done to rebrand the whole product. The whole industry.

I think you're going to see me talking more and more about that here. On the one hand, you have this vision of the aged sitting around eating biscuits and talking in hushed tones. I've already talked about the funny assumption that some people have when you're drinking tea that you must be ill. Some would never fathom getting down a cup of tea without being under the weather. I imagine those people with a few boxes of herbal tea in the cupboard that are perpetually getting dusty.

So, we don't like the well-worn picture of a doddering tea drinker. Or we think it's inaccurate considering we know so many active and vibrant tea drinkers. What do we want then? How should tea be seen? Tea drinkers?

There's something Alex Zorach has said on his blog that I like a lot, which explains a bit why tea sometimes confounds. The more varieties of tea you drink, the more likely it is that your palate will change. I've certainly seen it with my development. Multiple infusions of decent Oolong and green teas can bring out tastes that I used to read about but never really comprehend.

Does this mean that one has to become a tea-weirdo to actually get what we're talking about here and on so many other sites that cater to tea obsessives? To a degree, I believe it's rather pointless to try and market tea to the masses. Not because they can't get it. More because they wouldn't want it.

I'm also well aware that there are multitudes of tea drinkers out there who would never consider loose-leaf tea. They've always been happy with their PG Tips and they likely always will. It's a reliable blend. Why not?

That's it for me tonight. I really do invite your comments on this one. Am curious where you see us going.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Tea for the Island Monkeys and the Ostensibly Free

Tonight England and the US meet in their opening game of the 2010 World Cup. If you're in America, you've likely already heard that this is a huge match. If you're English, you'll only consider this match important if somehow the Americans prevail, which is rather unlikely.

The American press is playing this up as if these are two equal sides...or at least nearly equal. This is more than a little presumptuous. The American side is very good. And by New World standards, it's truly a good team. Well coached, well conditioned.

But it's not England. This isn't even a particularly great English side. The Americans could catch the English unaware. As I say, unlikely, but in football/soccer anything could happen.

I plan to be as supportive as I can while watching this match. If I see a player doing something bone-headed, I'll offer him an embarrassing tea. Whether he plays for the Island Monkeys (as the Germans call the English) or for the Land of the (ostensibly) free/home of the (questionably) brave, I will be as even-handed as possible. Or at least I'll try.

I'll start out with the managers before the match has even started. Fabio Capello has his hands full. From me, he'll get a good sturdy Assam Greenwood and I'm sure he'll drink it black or with a bit of sugar. I wonder if he's become a tea drinker while in the employ of the three lions. If he hasn't, this Assam Greenwood is a good gateway tea. Really good.

The US coach thinks tea is for when you're ill, and even then he won't drink it. I'll serve him one of those huge Arizona Iced Teas in a glass bottle. There's enough sugar in there that you can't really taste any actual tea.

Gerrard scored very very early. For that, he gets a Ceylon Bop Uva. One of the nicest Ceylons I know. Heskey almost took the American Goal-keeper out of the game with a very brutal slide. I accept he was playing the ball, but it was a bit too aggressive for my taste. Earl Grey for Heskey.

Dempsey just made shockingly unexpected goal (the English keeper, Green, made a horrible play). For the equalizer, Dempsey gets a Darjeeling Gielle. For the mistake, Green gets a nondescript used tea bag.

Bocanegra almost headed one in on a set piece. Donovan kicked it in from the corner. For that near-goal, both Donovan and Bocanegra get a cup of Dung-ti Oolong each.

Green stopped a near goal from Altidore and for his trouble, he can lose the teabag I gave him and have a true cup of Assam Greenwood like his manager before him.

Now we're in the 89th minute, and it looks like it just might end a 1:1 draw. I'm not making any more tea for anyone until someone shows a bit of passion...

Well it ended at one goal a piece. You lot can all go drink coffee. Hope the matches tomorrow are more interesting than today's.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Don't destroy your green tea!

Regularly, I assess how this blog lark is going and have been candid about what is and isn't going well. I've also been rather clear about the weak spots in my knowledge and what I most like to focus on here.

When I imagine who I'm specifically writing to, it's rarely the tea experts whose sites I love to read. I often finish reading one of their posts very aware that they've not only been into tea far longer than I, but have a breadth of knowledge that I can't even aspire to. Not yet anyway. Possibly never.

I want this to be a place where people want to come to find out about tea, but not be made to feel ignorant. Because I've purposely reached out to people new to tea, I get really good questions. Questions that I'm sure others have, but don't want to ask. For whatever reasons.

The one I've heard lately has to do with Oolong, green and white teas. First of all, are these teas an acquired taste? Also, do you prepare these teas similarly to the way you make black tea?

I'll answer the second question first. Black tea needs to be steeped in boiling water. The pot needs to be preheated, so the water temperature doesn't drop dramatically when you pour it into a cold pot. If you do that with green/white tea, you'll destroy it. The taste of the tea will truly suffer. Because these teas are so sensitive, they should be made with water that's not quite boiling.

I use a thermometer and aim for 80° C/175° F when I make any of these non-black teas. Although it's not in any way scientific, a simpler way to do it is to either stop your kettle right before the water boils, or to even pour boiling water into your pot and then half a glass of cold water in on top of it. In my opinion, the most important thing is that the water isn't as drastically hot. The method definitely works in a pinch.

What about steeping times? Everyone figures it out for himself/herself, but you can find good estimates on tea sites. I personally steep most green teas for about 3 1/2 minutes the first time round and then closer to 4-4 1/2 minutes on the second infusion.

And as for the first question: it really depends upon the specific tea whether you have to acquire a taste for it. I think white teas are relatively easy to take to because they're terribly light. As for greens, Asiatic Fox talks about a Chinese word that means 'good bitterness' that's often used in describing a tea's bite. I think if you're not yet used to that 'good bitterness', it might make some of these teas more difficult to stomach.

The wide variety of these teas that are grown in China, Japan and even India (yes even Darjeeling grows lovely greens and Oolongs) makes it possible that were you to hate a specific green tea, you can find limitless other options even from the same region. If your tea-sellers know what you liked or didn't like, I'm sure they'd be happy to find other teas that you will enjoy. As always, I'm happy to make suggestions. It's what I find myself doing more and more.

Schieß los!/Shoot!

Thursday, 10 June 2010

lush life

Last week, it was really cold and rainy for this time of year, and everyone was complaining about it. Then the sun came out and the result of the weeks of dreariness was lush, green perfection.

But now it seems the same people who loathed how wet it was are now as unhappy about the heat. I know it's useless to please everyone, but I love the different seasons. The fact that we have such a variety of weather makes me smile inappropriately. There are plenty of places in the world where this isn't the case.

Lately, I've also heard people talking about iced tea. I have nothing against it. I've even been known to drink presweetened iced tea in my time. Not for a long, long time, but I've certainly had it.

But I've heard drinking warm things when the temperature is unbearably high is actually better for your body. The thinking is that the your system has to work harder to get the freezing cold liquid to your body's heat level.

So I've had my white tea and am practically sleeping as I finish writing this. As is often the case, I feel somehow soothed and eased into my dreams. Before Louis and Ella, there was a sweet girl dog named Lyle. She was walking along a road in South Dakota, when she found me.

I always marvelled at how vibrant and sprightly she was first thing in the morning. And how she dragged around by the end of her day. I'm an old dog right now. The tea has settled and calmed me. It's the kind of summer's evening where it feels like anything is possible. And, in a manner of speaking, anything is.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

manure tea

Despite the fact that this is a teablog, there will be some talk of football (soccer) the next several weeks. You might not care about the World Cup in South Africa. Maybe you've heard it's happening, but don't watch the sport. Out of sight-out of mind.

Where I live, you can't exactly ignore the event. I wouldn't even want to. As Frank Deford (The sports guy on NPR) said recently, football is the ultimate team sport. Unlike other sports that are geared more for individual achievement, this is a game where you really need a team to win. The Italians are notoriously good at winning with players of questionable talent (and even more questionable ethics), but they play well as a team. A team of criminals, but they seem to be proud of the fact.

Just like the post I wrote while watching the Champion's League Final (where Inter Milan thumped FCBayern handily), I'll find ways to tie football to tea.

How can I associate the host country with any sort of tea? Well, one of the nicest infusions is Rooibus. Years ago, only people who travelled to and from South Africa even knew what this red tea even was. Gradually, the tea has conquered a corner of the tea world. The purists will say that the tea of this red bush is not factually tea, but I see it a bit differently.

Although it's not from the tea plant, herbal tea is, in fact, tea. Why not? My Yankee friend Jeffrey likes to contend that anytime you soak something in hot water (or maybe even just water), then the resulting sludge is called 'tea'. The example he uses is that farmers make a sort of manure tea to spread on their crops. And that they actually call it 'tea'. Manure tea.

Sounds delicious, right?

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Tea Alchemy

I wrote about something the other day and as always, Sir William joined the party. However, the rest of you lot are reading, but not saying a damned thing.

It's certainly plausible that the topic doesn't get your brain cooking like it does mine, but it's also entirely possible that I presented it poorly. As well as I sometimes express myself here, we all have off days.

Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin wrote a book a while back called Three Cups of Tea, and the more I read it and read about it, the more I think it's rather profound. Paraphrased it the other day, but I'll gladly repeat myself.

The first cup we're strangers. The second we're friends, and by the third, you are family. If this seems ridiculous to you, my contention is that we are already family. Not tea fanatics, although that's also entirely true, but we humans. The divisions we have created and perpetuate lead to so many, if not all, of our problems.

Yes of course we still have incurable disease and natural disasters, but when it comes to man-made havoc, there's nothing quite like pitting two people or groups of people against one another. Nothing.

Let me take a ridiculous example to make my point. Most of you already know that I'm a dog lover. I like cats, but really prefer dogs. Were I to invite a cat-lover over for tea, she and I might have the first cuppa and still be feeling out the other's perspective.

But here's one of the reasons the 3 Cups idea works: I've had a cup of tea together with my cat-lover friend. The warm, delicious stuff is coarsing through our system, and we start to feel somehow at ease. As the second cup is poured, we're somehow transformed to friends. Tea alchemy is how I see this. It's a beautiful moment in any tea gathering, whether in a group or 1-on-1. It's a moment to savour.

So now my soon to be familized friend of all things feline is simultaneously warming to my canine capabilities. As we down the dregs of the second cup, we're on a tea high that only Teegenießer verstehen können.

The third cup is where the real magic happens. A few moments previously we were strangers. Or possibly acquaintances. But at some point during the process that started with the pouring of this next cup and continued with the actual drinking of it, we became the equivalent of blood. You might scoff and say this is immaterial. Or too simplistic. Or you might even think the whole premise is stupid.

I whole-heartedly disagree. By the third cup, my cat-loving friend might not love dogs any more or less than she did before, but she'd do nearly anything to defend my right to have my dogs. Before those three cups, she might very well have cursed dogs every time she saw an instance where someone didn't clean up after his dog. Maybe. Maybe not. Similarly, I might no longer think cats are secretly plotting to over-throw the human race. I might continue to have my conspiracy theories about the suspect nature of these other-worldly creatures that the ancient Egyptians even worshipped, but by the time the third cup of tea is swimming in my bloodstream, I very probably have come to the conclusion that an earth run by cats might not be so bad after all.

It certainly couldn't be any worse.

Monday, 7 June 2010

teatime with the buck of the stars


Another day?

What on earth am I going to write about? How about Starbucks? Yeah. Starbucks.

Sometimes on 4square, I mention that I'm at a Starbucks. Then it's announced on Twitter, and I regularly get a snide comment from someone that I'm supping with the dark side. I beg to differ, but there's no way I'll win this argument in a short blogpost. If at all.

I think the first thing that irritates people is that the tea at Starbucks is nearly as bad as the coffee. I'm not going to argue that. They have teabags with decent tea. For teabags, that is. The English Breakfast is tolerable. I'm not an Earl Grey fan, so I don't drink that.

The green tea that isn't flavoured is not unappetizing, and the Chai is really quite good. To be clear, I rarely drink Chai. I'm far from an expert.

But Starbucks in Munich started offering free wifi this year. So I come here to work.

That's right. I'm there now. Drinking tea.

But I had a shot of espresso first. In a little ceramic mug. Do they even have ceramic mugs at the Starbucks in the US? I don't remember them, but maybe I wasn't paying attention.

Then I ordered some English Breakfast, which I drowned in Whole Milk and enough brown sugar to cover up the true taste of the tea. Am trying to be polite, but I guess the way I described drinking it tells you how I really feel.

Thanks for the free wifi Starbucks. It's really convenient.

And your coffee's not so bad.

Compared to Dunkin Donuts at least.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

tea and whirled peas

One thing I like to do is imagine a topic as far from tea as possible and write a blogpost about that. This strategy serves two purposes.

First of all, it means that I never run out of topics. Ever. I've written about football here, and sex, and religion and and and...

The other thing is that because I have a relatively hard time paying attention, this method of choosing things to write about plays to my strengths.

In most of life's endeavours, this inability to concentrate is a problem. In writing, it can be a problem, or one can actually make it an advantage.

For example, if you like a columnist, you go to his/her column regularly and if you miss a week, you go back and look at the archives. If I really love a writer, I go every time I know there'll be something new. I find Cary Tennis at to be intriguing in almost every way. So I read him almost every time he leaves something online. Was devastated when he had surgery relatively recently and I had to find someone else to read religiously.

Or blog. That's roughly when I started seriously considering this teablog lark. And many things he said pushed me to finally stop talking about doing something unique. I used to imagine the songs I'd one day write. Or the short stories. Or certainly one day a novel. Even if, Ignatius J. Reilly-style, my mother had to hand the manuscript over to the publisher.

Here's what I love about his forum:

I can talk about literature. To my heart's content even. Middlemarch one week and Rilke the next. Music is never off-limits. Neither is politics.

Come to think of it, because it's mine...I can pretty much say anything.

So what am I going to do with that platform today?

I'm going to make a proclamation. Are you ready for it?

Everyone reads Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, and assumes that'd only work for the third world. My contention is: we in the West should be practicing this now. Right now.

Allow me to paraphrase:

We drink a cup of tea, and we're still strangers. As a result of drinking the second cup, we're now friends. By the third cup, we're family.

Sounds like something out of Hair, right? Or now you think I'm some Abbie Hoffman throwback. I assure you I'm not. This isn't some pie-in-the-sky theory.

Think of someone you don't get along with, but you must. Your in-laws. Your co-worker who smells like feet. The neighbour you've never liked. Many people you can just ignore. Easily solved, right?

But now imagine your kid wants to marry their kid. Or your spouse really digs their spouse at the company office party, and they want to hang out. Go out to eat. See a movie together. What'll you do now? If you follow the advice of ol' lahikmajoe, you'll share three cups of tea. Can't hurt, can it?

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Cutting the cheese (with #tea)

Most people would ask, 'What sort of wine goes with this cheese?' But I'm not going to do that. Instead: What kind of tea? With cheese? Well sure. Why not? You drink your cheese and nibble at your wine. While you're doing that, I'll be having a nice cup of tea, thank you very much.

And while I sip my dark, steaming, brewed deliciousness, I'll be having a little cheese. Cheese glorious cheese.

Was at a cheese fest in Bad Tölz in the mountains (or in the foothills at least) yesterday and tried more varieties of cheese that I could shake a stick at. Must've tried a few dozen kinds, but I'll only bore you with the ones I brought home with me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that there's no way I could brew all the tea I'm describing as I write this. Well, I take that back. I suppose I could do that, but I'm not going to. I'm drinking a Darjeeling Gielle at the moment. It's a light first flush. Now on o the main event:

First is a bleu cheese from Bavaria. I decided it was strong enough that I needed a mild tea. So I drank Ceylon Adawatte with it. Perfect combination. If I may say so myself.

Then I wanted to pair a cheese with some Darjeeling Singbulli, so I chose Austrian Bergkäse. The Floral notes in the tea seem to somehow fit with the wildflowers I think of when I imagine the cows grazing in high mountain fields. Mmmm...lecker.

After that, I had an unbelievably good French cheese from the Haute-Savoie region on the Italian/Swiss/French border. The cheese was called Reblochon AOC fermier and also made from raw milk. This cheese needed something distinctive. Since I can think of no nicer Oolong, I decided to eat this cheese with Jun Chiyabari Oolong.

I must mention that there was a mustard stand at the cheese fest (Senfmüller Guido Breuer). If you've followed me for any length of time at twitter, you know I have an unhealthy obsession with mustard. Sent an inappropriate amount of time when I should've been tasting cheese trying this and that mustard. Was truly the high point of the afternoon. As good as the cheese and wine are, I'd give nearly anything for a mustard festival.

Back to France, but this time to the north coast to a ville called Lessay. Just looked it up on Google Maps and it's on the coast near Jersey. Old Jersey. The cheese-makers are called Fromagerie Reo ( and they make one of the best raw-milk Camemberts that I've ever tasted. This cheese calls for an exquisite cheese. That's why I'll eat it with a Japanese Sencha I adore called Fudji. It's much stronger than other Senchas I've written about. If you ever happen across Japan Sench Fudji, try it. You'll be glad you did.

I've had so much cheese in the last few days, I think I might burst. Maybe that's partly why I instinctively reached for the tea. Without some liquid to mix with the tea, I might've gotten some cheese lodged in my throat.

If you die of cheese lahikmajoe, there'll be no more tea.

Friday, 4 June 2010

What's lahikmajoe drinking?

Today I'm drinking a Ceylon with peaches and roses. Sounds odd, eh? I know.

It is. Odd, I mean.

For me. In general. Roses and tea? Really? Do they go together? Sure. Why not?

If I find a shop that mixes two things...tea and something else, I'm going to write about it here. I'll tell you why. I'm certain you're waiting with baited breath, huh?

Several weeks ago, I wrote about a shop in Stuttgart that sold both tea and yarn. Knitting and tea drinking. Loved it. Not because I like knitting necessarily. I just like inventive mixtures of shops.

Maybe I enjoyed such fusions before, but the first time I remember being so excited about two sorts of shops smushed together was when I was in school. I went to the College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati. Long time ago. Really good music school, but it seems like a lifetime since I was even in Cincinnati, much less in school.

In Clifton was a laundromat that was also a bar. The name was nearly as inventive as the idea to mix the two types of establishment: Sudsy Malone's.

Today, I was in a little city in the foothills of the Bavarian Alps called Bad Tölz. Was there for another reason, that I plan on writing about tomorrow, but I happened upon a shop that sold roses. Fresh roses, dried roses, rose soap, rose perfume...everything roses. Including tea with rose petals. Sounded dreadful to me at first, but then the woman in the shop let me smell the Ceylon in one of the cannisters.

Was surprisingly good. To smell at least. So I got 100g, and brought it home to Munich. Brewed it up a few minutes ago, and it's delicious. Don't be misled. I won't be drinking this daily. But periodically, I think I'll pull out the peach/rose flavoured Ceylon. Maybe when all of my warm friends are here. You know how warm they can be.

(in German warm is a euphemism for gay. This joke will only be funny to some of you who understand German. Not many, but some of you)

Thursday, 3 June 2010

hundredth post (woo hoo!)

Have been at this for nearly half a year now, and am amazed at how much has happened thus far.

Considering my nightmare scenarios about blogging, I'm pleasantly surprised at how far from reality my fears were. The biggest concern was that I'd write what interested me and others would find it boring. I was also worried about running out of things to write about. If you read this blog regularly, you might think to yourself; 'Hey lahikmajoe, you ran out of interesting things to write about the third week.' Ha!

You might be right there.

But I'm still having a blast. Someone told me a few months ago that some of the best blogs have daily content. If you write something everyday, then people are more likely to come look everyday for what you've got to offer. So for a while now, I've been writing everyday. For better or worse.

I've focused on black teas and India/Sri Lanka because I know more about them, but haven't shied away from talking about green tea. Have been obsessed with Japanese culture/people since I was a teen, and I grow increasingly more interested in China. If I had to predict the future, I'd say I'll continue to specialise in Indian teas (black, Oolong, green and white) but that I'll learn as much as I can about Japanese and Chinese teas as I go along. there are decent Indonesian and African teas that no-one seems to notice. Not no-one, but few of us.

If you're reading regularly, thanks for doing so. If you're new here, it used to be better. If you think it's better now than it used to be, you're being kind. But you're possibly mistaken. Writing everyday has given me an opportunity to find a bit of a voice. Although this blog is ostensibly about tea, that's really only the jumping off point in my opinion. Don't want to delve into too much of a *meta* conversation, but my favourite writers aren't ever talking about what it appears. At least not exclusively.

Melville was writing about whaling, but that book isn't really about the whale. I love tea and everything associated with tea drinking, but this is about something much bigger. Most bloggers would have two separate blogs for what I try to do here. If I want to write about another one of my passions: music, film, politics, media, food (cheese, slow food, chocolate), or various other things, I should consider having a miscellaneous blog for all of that other stuff.

But I have another opinion about that. I write all of that stuff on my teablog. All of it. And people seem to appreciate it. I wouldn't be writing my hundredth post if I wasn't getting such positive feedback. Might still be writing for the hell of it, but certainly not so regularly or so passionately. Thanks for your support. You make this a place I like to visit.

Tea torture

‘In England, health claims and warnings, often fanciful, were touted almost as soon as the first cup of coffee was served…In Advice Against Plague, published in 1665, Gideon Harvey, an English physician and medical writer, counselled, “Coffee is recommended against the contagion,” that is, against the bubonic plague that was then in the process of killing a quarter of London’s population. However, there were two sides to this debate: A translation of an Arabian medical text admonished English readers that coffee “causeth vertiginous headache, and maketh lean much, occasional waking…and sometimes breeds melancholy.”

The health claims for tea are even older. The Chinese scholar Kuo P’o, in about A.D. 350, in annotating a Chinese dictionary, describes preparing a medicinal drink by boiling raw, green tea leaves in kettles. Because boiling kills bacteria, the putative health benefits and claims for longevity may have had some foundation. In England, during the years of Cromwell’s Protectorate, the importation of tea was made acceptable only by its sale as a medicinal drink. A typical advertisement in a London newspaper at the time claimed, “That Excellent and by all Physitians approved China drink, called by the Chinese Tcha, by other nations Tay alias Tea.”’

-from The World of Caffeine (p.xiii)

Yesterday, I wrote about the preventative health benefits of tea drinking. I’ve looked at this topic before, but nearly every time I read about it, the scientists say that it looks as if there’s a connection between better health and moderate (even excessive) caffeine intake, but that they can’t say exactly which chemical compounds make it so. For me this is of no real consequence. I understand why they want to narrow it down to the specific compound. Then you could make a drug with the same effects. But there are allegedly so many chemical properties of caffeine that it’s difficult to isolate any one of them. At least that’s what I’ve read again and again.

Later in the text it states that when they did studies about caffeine’s positive effects, the subjects had to be told they were receiving caffeine for the results to be effective. This would indicate that a placebo might be just as good. Just tell someone the drink they’re enjoying is loaded with delicious, caffeinated healthiness and that makes it true? They feel better? This I have a hard time believing, but it seems at least plausible.

I have noticed that the careful preparation and the little habits I have before I can actually start drinking the stuff seem to be nearly as calming as the actual tea-drinking. That would seem to support the hypothesis. I’m not so sure one can separate the two things: the anticipation and the ingestion. As soon as I write that I realise, ‘Yes of course you could separate the two. Make some tea and don’t drink it.’

Sounds like torture doesn’t it?

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Drink your vegetables

There are certain diseases and afflictions that I just have no connection to. I know a woman who's very active in Aphasia awareness and therapy and because I have no connection to it, I have no clue what Aphasia is. None. But most of us have some connection to Cancer. Some form or another. I'm constantly amazed at the general knowledge that the common person has about which Cancers are most fatal and what may or may not cause it.

A close friend of mine was diagnosed with not one but two forms of the really horrid varieties of Cancer. Won't go into any specifics about him here, except to say that this has completely changed the way he approaches nutrition. He's taking advantage of all the advantages Western medicine has to offer, but before he did any of that, he became quite an educated layman about what foods are and aren't safe.

When this blog was just getting off the ground and I wrote quite a lot about drinking tea with or without milk, he had some interesting points to make about the health benefits of avoiding cow's milk. Since then, he's kept me very well informed about different articles extolling the health benefits of green tea. If you're already into tea, this'll come as no surprise. Nevertheless, I do want to call attention to this.

Here's a page from the National Cancer Institute that says the results of tests are inconclusive:

But notice the green tea seemed to show results with stomach or throat Cancer, while researchers weren't able to prove black tea had any direct link to preventing the same Cancers.

And the link he sent me was promising because it showed a direct link between certain specific fruits and vegetables and their ability to help prevent specific forms of Cancer. You can see it for yourself here:

I love it that this delicious, soothing beverage is also aiding my body in warding off toxins, and even though I write much more about black teas, I drink more than my fair share of green and Oolong. There may be no scientific correlation between how well I feel and the obscene amounts of tea I drink, but it certainly doesn't seem to be hurting.

Aside from having to get up in the night to empty my bladder that is. That's the one downside to all of this tea.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Wasting tea

from NYTimes 18 August 1900:

Wordsworth and His Tea

From threads from the Life of John Mills By His Wife.

We walked from Ambleside to Rydal. As we entered the gate, a lady was standing at the door, who, seeing us waited to give us welcome. She not only congratulated me, but taking my hand, gave me a kiss. I think she saw how nervous and excited I was. In the sitting room sat Mr. Wordsworth, who gave us a quiet but kindly greeting ---After we had sat a few minutes, Wordsworth rose and said to Mr. Mills, ‘Will you come into the library a while?---Mrs. Wordsworth and I then sat chatting in the sitting room. ---At five o’clock the gentlemen joined us at tea. Of that hour I can only recall two things. One that the talk between Wordsworth and my husband turned on Klopstock’s ‘Messiah,’ the other the quiet watchfulness of Mrs. Wordsworth. When her husband got excited, or went off into a sort of monologue, forgetting all about the tea, she quietly and unobserved took the cup and poured away its contents, refilling it with fresh, hot tea, and then saying, ‘William, had you not better drink your tea before it gets cold?’ He smiled and obeyed, but with no notion that it was other than the first cup poured out.

You might think this is a sweet anecdote about how doting this turn-of-the-century lady was on her husband. Not me. What a horrible waste of tea. All because he’s so absentmindedly holding ridiculous speeches while the rest of us are trying to enjoy our tea. Can you imagine a more rude teatime guest? I can’t.

Lucky for old Bill Wordsworth, I like the coot’s poetry. Really do. But his tea drinking clearly left a lot to be desired. Who holds speeches while drinking tea anyway? He sounds like he was a miserable bore. Really fun guy to no longer invite over for tea.

Now, the whole nature of a blog is that I’m holding forth a bit of a soliloquy here. I hope there’ll be a bit of dialogue. And I get more than some blogs, I assure you. But I never know what people most enjoy reading here. And the things that generate the most comments are rarely what I’d predict.

I’ll leave you with one of the old codger’s better pieces. If you’ve bothered to stick around, I’m sure you’ll dig this one. Check it out Daddyo…

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glorydo we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy
But he
Beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature’s Priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

-from ‘Ode: Intimations of Immortality’ (1807)