Tuesday, 31 August 2010

be careful typing 'tea' into a web search

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

from Java Man by Malcolm Gladwell

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 29 August 2010

What was missing from my day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twas perfect.

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

Thursday, 26 August 2010

tea people in *real* life

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

But tea people are different, right?

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

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

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

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

tea conversion the other direction

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 22 August 2010

tea tasting out of retirement

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

What an interesting job.

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

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

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

Saturday, 21 August 2010

'Blackbird singing in the dead of night...'

There's a Ceylon that doesn't seem to be named after an estate. Instead, from what I can surmise, they gave it the name of a bird. It's called Ceylon Blackbird, and although it's not the highest quality tea I've ever tried, it's a nice change from the Assams and Darjeelings I normally drink and write about.

But as long as I'm taking about blackbirds, I'll go ahead and mention that this is also a Paul McCartney song that I like. Didn't realise until I looked it up that this was written in 1968 and is the songwriter's reaction to racial tensions in the US at the time.

I'm not normally drawn to Paul's songs, although I do think another one of his songs, For No One, is a masterpiece. But I was talking about Blackbird. Both the tea and the song.

There's something so alluring about the simplicity of this solo acoustic guitar and voice. Even without knowing what the song's background is, it's a beautiful melody and accompaniment. So here I am on a late summer's evening, sipping my Ceylon Blackbird with a bit of cream and listening to Sir Paul.

Can't think of anything more appropriate.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

gateway Assam

Have written mostly about Oolong and Darjeeling lately, but I start most days with a strong Assam. Most of the time I like a really dark tannic tea first thing in the morning, but I can recommend one that isn't so tannic. It's called Assam Khongea.

It's malty, but not overly so. When someone tells me Assam is too strong for them, I let them try this one. Until now, I've only had excellent responses.

So if you normally don't go for strong teas but want to try something just a bit stiffer, here's your chance.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Wasted tea

Continue to be astounded at how many times one can infuse the same Oolong. My morning almost always starts out with an Assam, but soon after that first pot I'm often onto an Oolong.

I used to steep Oolong for five or more minutes, and have also been impressed that it can be equally tasty after only a few minutes. Lately, I've been really enjoying Formosa Oolong, but I'm still under the impression that this name can mean a lot of things. Taiwan was called Formosa the same way that Sri Lanka used to be Ceylon.

It's not that I doubt that this tea came from Taiwan. I just think there's probably a more specific name that it might have and the Formosa Oolong is rather generic.

But after the first steeping, I went into the city for a few appointments. When I got back home, I steeped the same tea again (once more for only a few minutes-once again excellent taste despite the short time) and a third infusion before a light evening meal.

I try not to think about how much tea I've thrown away after only one infusion.

Not doing a very good job of it...keep thinking about all that wasted tea.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Where did Darjeeling tea come from?

In my last post I talked about the two places where Camellia sinensis originated, and quickly admitted that I didn't know the origin of Darjeeling tea. Seems like a good place to continue, doesn't it?

So I did the barest minimum of research, and happened upon this site:


Almost seems like this was a lark by the fellow named Campbell who was a civil surgeon (what is that exactly?), but then it says that the government had already elected to set up tea gardens here. In the middle of the nineteenth century, this mountainous region at the foot of the Himalayas went from having no tea plantations to being practically overrun by them.

What I still don't understand is where the strain of tea came from. Did the earliest tea planters in Darjeeling simply plant tea from Assam, and is the light, delicious, floral result merely because of the soil and spirit of Darjeeling?

My intention was to not only search Wikipedia, but then at the bottom of the above-mentioned page, it directed me back to Wikipedia.

Will continue to research the origins of Darjeeling and let you know my results as I find them.

Friday, 13 August 2010

the Indian Princess Camellia

There are two places that the Camellia sinensis plant occurred in the wild: China and India (Darjeeling is an entirely different strain, and I don't know where it came from). Just read a few pages from Pratt's Tea Lover's Treasury, and he talks at length about the trials and tribulations of developing the Assam strain of tea until it was viable. One of the things they did was to try to make a hybrid of the two strains, but with horrible results. On page 89, he includes a passage from the 'fanciful' J. M. Scott which describes this unfortunate chapter in the history of tea:

You have read the romantic story of how the Indian Princess Camellia (her other name as yet unknown) was found blushing, unscientifically recognized, in the wild jungles of Assam, of how emissaries went forth and searched through China for a prince of the highest lineage who would share her modest realm and thus raise her in the eyes of the world. Prince after prince languished after leaving China, died and had to be replaced. But the ultimate survivors perked up most surprisingly and impregnated all the native plants within reach. There is no cure for hybridization except extermination. And the experts are now convinced that the simple Indian plant was of much the better class. The Chinese princeling, no good away from home, weakened her pure, strong blood. She could travel, but not he. The couple will certainly live happily ever after in their vegetable way. No one can stop them. But those financially interested continue even now to describe this marriage arranged with such difficulty and final triumph as the curse of the Tea Industry.

Now this is something I'd never heard of. This attempt to make a hybrid of the two strains of tea. And is it true that Chinese tea strains don't travel well? I find that hard to believe. Of the up and coming tea plantations in the New World, haven't any successfully grown strains of Chinese/Japanese green teas?

But I do like the idea of telling the story as if the strains of tea were different royal families. Very nice.

I've said it before that it seems like most tea fanatics are more obsessed with Chinese/Japanese teas. Sometimes I think that's for sometime in my future. I drink a lot of green teas, but something still intrigues me about Indian black teas. At some point I might graduate from this obsession, but I hope it doesn't happen anytime soon.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Too modern tea shop?

Walked by a tea shop today, and wonder if any of you have experienced the same thing.

I should start out by admitting that I love tea shops that feel like they're out of the late nineteenth century. Like the one in Vienna that I wrote about several weeks ago. Not dirty. That's not the point at all. But old-fashioned tea canisters are key. I completely understand that shops want to sell teapots and cups and saucers (it's a tea shop after all), but for me the focus needs to be the tea.

So back to today. Walked by a shop I'd never seen, but it might've been there a long time. Just never noticed it.

But it was almost as if the tea itself was an afterthought. The tea gear was beautifully displayed and the space was well-lit, but there was something about it I didn't like. The tins displaying the tea were just too new. Floral print and so spiffy and shiny. But something about it just didn't seem right.

These days when so many of us buy tea on the internet. Here I am complaining about a shop being too clean? Too new?

Well yes, actually I am. It didn't feel like a tea shop. I'm sure many of you would see the place and think it was fine. Modern. Redefining the way a tea shop can/should look. Not me. Give me dark old shops with mousy tea sellers who have one or two holes in their cardigans.

I should really stop while I'm ahead, shouldn't I?

Monday, 9 August 2010


The “Tea Fight” custom, according to research, originated in Jian’an County, Fujian Province, where White Tea is harvested. In those days, when fresh tea had been picked and processed in late spring, each tea farmer would bring out his crop to fight for the honor of presenting his own tea to the emperor as a tribute. Later, the convention was borrowed and carried forward by the tea’s customers, including plain intellectuals, courtier officials, and even the emperors. When having a get-together, they were all fond of the competition to make good tea, and this tradition came to be called “tea fights”.

from: www.chinaculture.org

Found this while searching for something else I heard on Harry Shearer's Le Show (coming soon), in which people who started out sharing tea got into an argument until it escalated into gunplay. But instead, I'll start with the 'tea fight' that I mentioned above.

Sounds like such a civilised fight, doesn't it? We all want to present our tea to the emperor, so we get together and duel it out for the opportunity. But there's nothing violent about it at all. The one with the best tea, serves it to the ruler. Now you're probably thinking that it might get dangerous when one tea is chosen over another. Someone who really believes his tea is superior gets bent out of shape by the results.

No need to worry. These are people who are dueling teas remember? They've all had multiple sips of tea possibly passed around in communal cups. Can you really see violence breaking out in this scenario? Really? I can't.

In the Panjwai district west of Kandahar, the regional Governor and the police chief had an altercation in which the governor was hit by the chief. But with his fists? A club? No and no. A tea kettle was his weapon of choice. The Governor responded by hitting the Chief on the head with a teacup. At the end of it their guards were shooting at each other. (from the Washington Post by way of Le Show)

Now that's what I call a teafight.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

leaf to tea

Although I've read descriptions of the processing of tea in quite a few places, I found a very concise explanation in the Tea Geschwender Book of Tea. It's nice enough that I want to share it with you here:

Soon after plucking, the leaves are set out on trays or in troughs to lose moisture content in a process called withering. Withering renders the leaf supple and physically prepares it for further processing.

Leaves destined to be green tea are often only withered briefly, if at all. As green tea makers know, it is critical to halt the oxidation processby a brief firing, roasting or steaming of the leaves. If this care is not taken, the leaf will begin to brown and its internal chemistry will irrevocably change.

In contrast, the appearance, aroma and taste of Black tea are defined by oxidation. Tea makers will intentionally bruise (or "roll") the leaves, rupturing their cell walls and distributing their sap. As these bruised leaves are set out in special rooms, they interact with the air, gradually changing from vivid green to coppery red. Once ready, these leaves are finished in a high heat dryer. Finally, the crude finished tea is sorted by leaf size. The larger, and preferably, unbroken grades are superior products...

That's nicely put, eh? Don't understand why green tea is written with a lowercase 'g', and black tea with uppercase 'B'. Also don't know why '...Black tea are defined...'. Seems the plural of tea should be teas, but I quoted it as it's printed.

Aside from these small, potential typos, this is an informative way of explaining the steps taken to process tea. When I was first contemplating making this blog, I read about this process in a variety of places. A nearly limitless number of sites that made it sound much more complicated than this does.

I used to think that I could never adequately write about tea if I couldn't rattle off the details of rolling, withering and fermenting of tea. Oh that was another term that I read quite a bit about-fermentation. Has nothing to do with the fermentation that we normally associate with alcohol. I think the confusion of using the same word for two distinct processes leads many to stick with the term oxidation.

But here I am half a year later, and although the specifics of the process of preparing tea are more familiar to me, I'm still on the lookout for clear, concise descriptions. Hope you like this one.

Friday, 6 August 2010

No tea in him

Several weeks ago, I translated a passage from a book about tea drinking called Die Kunst Tee zu trinken(The Art of Tea Drinking) that I found in Vienna. Happened upon another line in it that I wanted to share. Am pretty sure you'll like it.

The author's still talking about taste regarding tea, and says that the Chinese have a saying about someone who has no fine sense of taste. If the person being described has either no taste or what they call bad taste, then he has 'no tea in him'.

Isn't that a great phrase? No tea in him.

I certainly have some days where I'm rushing here and there and can't wait to get home, brew up and get some tea in me. But the thought that my limited taste or complete lack of taste could be described as a dearth of tea? No tea in me?

Well, I need to go get some tea in me. Tout de suite.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Knack

The French/German television channel ARTE has been showing films from the sixties this summer, and tonight was an English madcap comedy called The Knack. Not the band-the film.

There was a very funny moment in the middle of all the shennanigans where one of the characters says it's time for tea. They rode a bed pulled by a car through the streets of London before they floated the same bed on oil drums and floating across the water. Then they were back home and as a transition into the next madcap adventure, they brewed up.

It was perfect. Every film needs a tea break. The action lags, we haven't decided what'll happen next. Well let's have some tea.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

a whiff of Nepal

Have been on a bit of an Oolong kick lately, and really enjoy this sort that I found a few moths ago at a shop in Landshut (an hour and a half northeast of Munich). The estate is called Jun Chiyabari and here's their website:


I've only had their Oolong, but I can highly recommend it. Only had the first infusion tonight, so that's all I can report on, but this one's so good, I'll likely keep talking about it periodically. That first sip was so smooth and clean. Fruity and, as with most Oolongs, definitely not bitter.

Like the story of this estate that I read on their website. Most of the teas I research are grown on estates that seem to have been around since time immemorial. This is a fresh, new operation.

I like that's it's in Nepal, but they have the experience of growing in Darjeeling. As much as I like the Oolong, I can't wait to get my hands on some of their green tea.

Monday, 2 August 2010

tired, brown Oolong

Had a very heavy Bavarian meal (a fried egg sitting atop a fry-up of different meats, vegetables and potatoes), and the only thing I wanted afterwards was to come home and brew up some tea. I'd already made one infusion of Formosa Oolong in the afternoon, so I brewed it again and only then was the evening complete.

Have been reading quite a lot about Oolong lately, and the thing that's almost always mentioned is that it's not bitter. That's certainly accurate. Seems that most of the ones my tea-seller offers are the more oxidised and at least closer to black tea.

When I read about others' experiences with Oolong, they sound (and the pictures appear) as if they're the less-oxidised variety. Closer to green tea. Am very curious to find more of these Oolongs.

The photos of these very green Oolongs on other blogs make it all the more obvious that I'm drinking another animal entirely. The leaves of mine after three or four infusions and very brown and tired looking. Off to do some online tea shopping.