Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Gopaldhara Tea Estate

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

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

Gopaldhara Tea Estate

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

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

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Shiva in the afternoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 25 November 2010

delicate tea with undelicate water?

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

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

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

So my question for you is:

Do you filter the water before you brew up?

Monday, 22 November 2010

Darjeeling Tea Tasting

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Well-mannered tea-drinking guest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Rock Sugar before you pour

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 14 November 2010

rub this on your skin and turn back time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Tea with Charles de Gaulle

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 7 November 2010

virtuous Sencha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 1 November 2010

All Saints' Day? Why not pack some tea?

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

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

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

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

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