Friday, 30 December 2011

tea out of egg cups

Don't know many tea drinkers where I live. I'm sure they're out there, but for the most part my tea community is online. There are some really nice tea places in Munich, and one of my goals in the new year is to spend some time visiting the different options and reviewing them here.

Yet I have made some friendships online that've transitioned into the real world. Wrote about meeting a few of you at the 1st annual Tea Trade gathering, which was quite a joy. I mentioned to Xavier then that we're often in Southern France for New Year's, and there was talk about maybe meeting each other there. Or here I should say, because Nice is where we are.

I'm sure there'll be plenty more about tea in the days to come, but in the meantime, we had a very nice Gong Fu session with some simple Dung-ti Oolong. I packed a Gaiwan for this very purpose, but knew I'd have to improvise when it came to tea cups.

The flat we're staying in had the perfect-sized egg cups, so that's what we drank out of. Unconventional as they might've been, it worked perfectly. 

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

you can brew tea in cold water?

that's Tie Guan Yin on the left and Silver Needle on the right

This is really a post for summertime. So all of you in the Southern Hemisphere will be happy. The rest of you are probably asking, 'Why not wait until it's seasonally appropriate? What's the story on a summer topic in the opening days of winter?' Well, in my defence, I started thinking about this in summer. And if I try to wait for the right time, I just might forget.

Over the summer, I read people talking about cold-brewing tea. Putting leaves in cold (not remotely warm) water and waiting until the leaves naturally steep into some delicious goodness. You can do that? It works? I'm here to tell you that it does.

Those of you that already know this are going to think it's a non-story. Of course it does. Why wouldn't it? Now I know that...but it was somehow beyond my understanding. My mother made sun tea when I was a child. In her case it was tea bags in a container of water that was set out in the sun. After several hours, the warmth of the sun had brewed up a really strong tea (that people ruined with ice cubes and various forms of sweetener), but that's because of the heat. Right?

If you want to make tea, you need either hot water or you need to add some sort of heat. Isn't that correct?

Not necessarily. Why have I been sitting on this since summer? Well, it's simple actually. I had to try it. I had to know it was true before I went off half-cocked about it (I know that's not my normal way-I'm well-known for going off half-cocked). And once I got started experimenting with cold-brewing tea, I couldn't stop. It became a sort of obsession.

That's why it was so timely when in the comments of a recent post Tea Trade Peter mentioned drinking white tea cold. Here's how he said it:

'Let’s start with why does tea have to be drunk hot? I like white tea, but when it is hot, I find that I cannot appreciate the flavors, but when it is just warm, or at a temperature just slightly above the room temperature so you still get the aromatics (though, I think they still come through at room temp). I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather let my white tea cool off before I drink it, it just seems better that way.'

Now, he's talking about brewing it hot and letting it cool. It's not the same thing. But when I read what he'd written, I had unintentionally been doing exactly that with various white teas. After I got as much out of the leaves as I could with hot water, I went on and soaked those same leaves in cold water overnight. With astounding results.

It's not the same as tea brewed with hot water. There are times when the result is something like faintly-scented water. It's subtle...a lot like what I've recently written about white tea in general. There are also times that I've left leaves in cool water, forgotten about them entirely, and after a day or so, the resulting tea was as strong and flavourful as any hot-brewed concoction.

Here, let's move in a little for a closer look:

Don't really drink the leaves, ok? Pour these through some sort of filter.

My question is: Have you tried this? What were your results? Though I don't think I'd do this with any black tea, it's had unbelievable results with Oolong, green tea, and white tea. How about you? Any experience?

Saturday, 24 December 2011

brain is on holiday with the rest of me

Christmas tree in front of the Neues Rathaus in Munich

Don't think I did any sort of Christmas post last year, and I'm not sure why. For one thing, they really celebrate Advent here in Germany right up until Christmas Eve. The tree typically doesn't even go up until the 24th. Then you keep it up for the whole Twelve Days of Christmas. It's how things are done.

What tea-related thing am I up to for these festive days? Well, for the most part my tea consumption carries on exactly as it always does. But I made a mince pie earlier and as it was nearly ready, I thought to myself, 'Which tea would go well with this?'

Then I remembered...the first Rooibus I was introduced to was during the holidays. I always associate these festive times with this Rooibus with caramel pieces. Actually, I like it so much on occasion that I often have a little package of it sitting waiting for me year-round.

It's also one of those things I reach for when I have a sore throat and want to add a lot of honey to my mug. You don't think I'm going to ruin a cup of genuine tea for that, do you? Absolutely not.

But here I am not remotely ill, nibbling on a piece of mince pie, and sipping away at this caramel-smelling concoction. I do like the taste of Rooibus. It is a nice change every once in a while.

I've been reading limitless articles and blogposts about the holidays, and to be perfectly frank, as nice as they all are, I just can't bring myself to pile this one on top of them.

I was really touched by Geoff Norman's Tea Gift Gratitude, and I really racked my brain trying to think of some ideas to help Rachel Carter manage to review all of her tea samples. You can read about it in Vacation, Resting, Relaxing, Tea Drinking, Tea Reviewing, Need Your Ideas-Please, and if you have any thoughts on that, please let her know. It's like my problem solving brain is on holiday with the rest of me.

Have just realised my mug of honey-soaked goodness has run dry. Before I go replenish my Rooibus, I'll wish you all a safe and peaceful Yuletide.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

give us a slug of that Builder's Tea, yeah?

imagine the tea these builders might've brewed

A friend recently mentioned Builder's Tea to me, and I realised that I've never bothered writing about this before. It's not common parlance outside of Britain (not that I'm aware of), but it's such an evocative term. Here's what Wikipedia says about Builder's Tea.

It describes so brilliantly that milky, sugary sludge of black tea that your everyday typical British construction worker carries to the building site in his flask everyday. Sure, some drink it without milk and even more rare is a flask filled with Builder's Tea that has no sugar. The stuff is too strong. Too bitter.

You can drink it black, but it can't be good for you.

If you didn't have a look at Tea Trade Peter's account of drinking insanely strong black tea in Kosovo while he was serving in the army, do yourself a favour. Go read it. You can find it at:

Russian prison tea, Outpost Terminator and me

Go ahead and look now. I'll wait while you're gone. It's ok. I have time.

Doesn't that sound enticing and dangerous and delicious all at the same time?

I love these sorts of tea that people drink in such an unassuming manner. A little like the Grandpa Tea that I wrote about months ago. Throw leaves in a pot, add boiling water, wait a bit, drink it down, repeat with the same leaves ad infinitum.

You could be drinking all day from the same pinch of leaves if you do it right. Doesn't that sound great? It's the simplicity that gets me every time. Just me, some decent tea leaves and boiling hot water. What more could you want?

Monday, 19 December 2011

The Prison and the Cult of Tea

Not sure exactly what I can say about the death of Vaclav Havel, but I do try to keep this blog topical. What on earth does that have to do with tea? Well, I'll let him explain it in his own words (translated of course-I don't speak Czech, do you?) Here's what the late playwright had to say about drinking of the leaf

'When I was outside, I didn't understand the cult of tea that exists in prison, but I wasn't here long before grasping its significance and succumbing to it myself. . . . Tea, it seems to me, becomes a kind of material symbol of freedom here: (a) it is in effect the only fare that one can prepare oneself, and thus freely: when and how I make it is entirely up to me. In the preparation of it, I realize myself as a free being, as it were, capable of looking after myself. (b) Tea - as a sign of private relaxation, of a brief pause in the midst of the hubbub, of rumination and private contemplation - functions as the external, material attribute of a certain unbridling of the spirit and thus as a companion in moments of focused inner freedom. (c) The world of freedom considered as leisure time is represented by tea in the opposite - in the extroverted and therefore the social - sense: sitting down to a cup of tea here is a substitute for the world of bars, wine rooms, parties, binges, social life, in other words again, something you choose yourself and in which you realize your freedom in social terms. . . . I drink it every day. . . . I look forward to it, and consuming it (which I schedule carefully, so it does not become a formless and random activity) is an extremely important component in my daily ''self-care'' program. From ''Letters to Olga.'' '
(source: The New York Times 8 May 1998 from an article by Michael Scammel called The Prison and the Cult of Tea)

It turns out that this is referenced multiple places on the web, but I found it thanks to Thomas Kaspar, whose a member of the Facebook group 'Teefreunde'. He has an intriguing teablog Siam Teas, which if you're not careful, you might lose an inordinate amount of time perusing.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

sometimes good things happen when you run off and forget your tea

Eight Immortals Phoenix Oolong

If you asked me, 'Do you want to try an Oolong you've never had before?', there's little doubt that I'd answer in the affirmative before you even got the question entirely out of your mouth. A High Mountain Oolong? I'd climb that mountain if I had to. But I have to admit, I like climbing mountains. It's not like that'd be a burden or anything.

While writing about white tea and the Teekampagne, I've actually been drinking a lot of quite good Oolong and working my way up to writing about it. When Jo Johnson sent me her beautiful children's book The World's Special Tea, which I wrote about several weeks ago, she mentioned that she'd thrown in a couple of tea samples. One of them was the Eight Immortals Phoenix Oolong from In Pursuit of Tea, and receiving it was like being asked the question up above. 'Would you like to try a really exceptional High Mountain Oolong?' Well yes. Yes, I would.

Their photo of the leaves is nice, but look how my sample looked:

I'm not going to do a tea review here. Not now. I read something that Alex Zorach said a while back about really getting to know a tea before reviewing it, and that's exactly what I'm doing with this one. Although I'm savouring it the way I would any exquisite tea, I'm also being a bit brutal with it to see if it can withstand the abuse. So far, it has stood up valiantly to every test.

Recently read about the origin of the term Wu Long (Oolong) in The Tea Drinker's Handbook, and thought it'd be a nice way to close out this post. Here it is:

'In Chinese, Wu Long means literally "black dragon" and refers to the very dark colour frequently taken on by the leaves during drying. However, according to legend, there's a different explanation for the origin of the colour: Wu Liang, a Chinese planter, was harvesting his tea one day when he saw a stag. He interrupted the harvest to give chase and arriving home with the carcass he got busy skinning and cutting it up and quite forgot to put the tea leaves out to dry. A few days later he remembered his precious crop and noticed that the leaves had changed colour. He fired them nevertheless, then infused some and was very surprised by the unusually soft and aromatic fragrance they gave off. The secret of his discovery spread around the entire province and the name Wu Liang was transformed into Wu Liang Cha or "tea of the black dragon."'

(source: The Tea Drinker's Handbook by Francois-Xavier Delmas, Mathias Minet, and Christine Barbaste)

Thursday, 15 December 2011

does white tea intimidate you?

an entirely unrelated plant that reminded me of white tea

Like I said last week, I'm going to keep bringing up the topic of white tea until I feel like I have a better grasp of how to make it more accessible for tea newcomers and the tea curious. I've mentioned the Google+ Hangout before, and this last week I asked the others taking part about their take on this topic.

Got a lot of positive feedback for even bringing the topic up, and I wanted to share a few of the ideas that  I liked. First of all, no matter what other information is gleaned, the early favourite for 'best introductory white tea' is clearly Pai Mu Tan (or Bai Mu Dan or White Peony, as it's sometimes called). 

The general consensus is that, for a white tea, this is a much more accesible tea than some other possibilities. I can certainly agree with that. Actually, David Galli from the Portland Tea Enthusiasts' Alliance had an interesting perspective, and it helped reinforce what I'd already thought about this type of tea. He said he was introduced to them as an intimidating tea, and avoided them for the longest time. Now he drinks them as much as any other teas. 

He suggested trying a Tai Mu Ye Sheng white tea from Jing Tea, which you can find here: Tai Mu Ye Sheng. I can't personally recommend it, because I haven't tried it. Nevertheless, the description has made me very thirsty.

But the fact that white tea intimidates some tea drinkers is exactly why I keep coming back to this topic. There's absolutely no need to let the mere thought of white tea freak you out. I'll be going into more detail about brewing it in a later post, but it's really not a big deal. If I can do it, anyone can. Really.

Another opinion that some members of the hangout had, which I think it's important to voice here, is that the ridiculously high price for some white tea makes it hard to rationalise buying the stuff. More than one person said, 'If I'm going to spend that sort of dosh, I'd rather get an above-average Oolong or decent Matcha.' I can see their point. I don't necessarily agree, but I do understand that position.

May-King Tsang (of May King Tea) said that she found that people who were already accustomed to drinking green tea transitioned more easily to white tea. She also suggested a Silver Needle white tea with a bit of jasmine in it. I might actually try that when I introduce people to this type of tea in person. As long as the jasmine wasn't overpowering. 

And finally, Laine Petersen said that she's noticed women gravitate more easily to white tea. She insisted that she didn't want to perpetuate any stereotypes. The opinion that a few shared was that some men already had enough of a grudge against the assumed femininity of tea drinking. That a woman was more likely to go for such a subtle tea. Again, I can definitely see this.

We keep coming back to that. The subtlety of white tea. Like David said: the way in which white tea was talked about made the whole topic intimidating. I'd like to try and help counteract that. Any ideas about how I might help make that happen?

Monday, 12 December 2011

it's not a tea problem, it's a Darjeeling problem

a kilo of the good stuff
A while back I talked about how impressed I was with Günter Faltin and his Teekampagne. Actually, in the US it's called the Boston Tea Campaign, and I wrote about it in tea entrepreneur. While I promised I'd come back to the topic, I couldn't talk about it in any way but theoretically. The unavoidable truth was that I'd not had the tea. No matter how good it might be, I couldn't say so without personal experience.

The thing is I have quite a bit of Darjeeling in my possession. People know this stuff is my weakness, so they send it to me. Even when I already have plenty of Darjeeling, the thought of more increases my heart rate and I'm pretty sure my eyes even dilate. I don't have a tea problem. I have a Darjeeling problem.

That's why as excited as I might be about this extraordinary company, the thought of actually going out of my way to get this stuff was really impractical. Just didn't make any sense. That is until my friend Dermot reminded me that he's been ordering this tea for nearly as long as they've been sending it. If you want to know about the Boston Tea Campaign, go take a look at their American website. Really, go check it out. The vision as well as the history of this organisation is very well explained.

Decided to take this opportunity to do a very informal interview with Dermot and ask him how he learned about Teekampagne, as well as some other tea-related things that you might enjoy reading. It's not a very German name my friend has. If you guessed that he was Irish, you'd be right. You've likely heard this, but the Irish drink a lot of tea.

His description of how tea was prepared when he was a child in Ireland would make some of you tea obsessives recoil in horror, but we have to go there. This teablog doesn't just deal with the light and pretty aspects of tea. When it's ugly, I intend to show it in all of its gory detail. If you're sensitive about steep times and such matters, you may want to avert your eyes right now.

It's actually very simple really. Add tea leaves and boiling water to teapot, let it steep, and then drink the tea till it's gone. Don't take the leaves out. They stay in the pot to the bitter end. Literally.

I asked him if the tea was a sludgy abomination by the end of the pot, he insisted that no. It never took that long to finish said pot of tea. That made sense. Not so gory. Those who looked away can come back now.

How did Dermot learn about this source of Darjeeling goodness? He said he moved into a Wohngemeinschaft (shared flat) years ago, and that they already ordered their tea from Teekampagne. Even when he moved away, his taste for this stuff had developed.

Evidently, he has a tea problem, as well.

He told a funny story about going to his doctor years ago, and devising which medications he could take while still drinking coffee. He came to the conclusion that it was easier just to switch to drinking this above-average Darjeeling than have to worry about duelling medications.

He insisted that what he liked most at the outset was Teekampagne's economical price and convenience. If it'd cost more for the fair-trade status, he truly doubted that he'd have become such a loyal customer. I got the impression that only later he realised that the quality of the tea was so noteworthy.

What about the fact that the tea changes from year to year? That each season's tea really has it's own character? 

He smiled from ear to ear, and assured me that that was in fact the very best part.

overly satisfied customer

Friday, 9 December 2011

do I really have to like white tea?

the perfect ride for white tea drinking
Not only because I keep saying that I write this teablog partially for tea newcomers and the tea curious, but also because I interact with so many non-teadrinkers, I get asked a lot of really good questions about tea. Andreas Heinakroon (@heinakroon) asked about white tea recently. Though I can't remember what his exact question was, I'm going to write this post as if it was, 'Hey, what's the best white tea to start with?' See? That's not such a bad question, is it?

Well, Cody Lynn Clark (@codylynnclark) certainly thought so. Her response when I asked the question was, 'I want to be a jackass and say that my advice to newcomers is to not try white tea at all... but, maybe you'll like it. I don't.' Then she continued, 'It always tastes a bit... musky? to me. And it's finicky.' Please, Cody, don't hold back how you really feel, ok? That is a certainly one way to look at it. Actually, I understand this position quite well. 

Musky? Not the first word to come to mind when I think white tea, but I get it. Finicky? I definitely see this one. Normally, these are some incredibly sensitive leaves. Very finicky.

The first several times I brewed white tea, it didn't taste much different than hot water. It's exactly what Jarrod said about it when I served it to him. You don't remember him? I talked about him in luring them over to the leaf-side. He's always eager to try something new, but this clearly wasn't to his liking. 

What did I serve him? A tea called China Snow Buds that I got from Claus Kröger in Hamburg. I find most white tea to be rather subtle, and this is far from an exception. It certainly didn't taste remotely like hot water to me. It's certainly not a bold tea, but there's a light, sweet flavour there. Here's how Claus Kröger's website describes the China Snow Buds

'An exquisite white tea from the slopes of the Taimu Mountains. This tea has not only a clear and fresh taste, but especially nice is a certain sweetness.' (my translation) 

If I had to say, I'd admit that I liked the China Snow Buds, but I wouldn't go for it first thing in the morning. I have to be in the right mood for this sort of tea, but it's not unheard of that I brew it. Really. 

Although this isn't a tea review, I'd like to show you the leaves. They're beautiful.

China Snow Buds leaves

If you look really closely, you can see a white furry substance on the leaves. That's not a bad thing. In this case, that stuff provides tasty goodness.

Here's my question for you gentle readers: how would you introduce someone to white tea? How would you deal with the observation that it practically tastes like hot water? What'd you say in that situation? 

As always, comments are welcome. They're very much appreciated. (Was that clear enough?)

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

an as yet unheralded tea people in Munich

Altes Rathaus in Munich

Peter at Tea Trade had an idea this summer that I'd already considered, but it was nice to hear it from another source. When tea lovers are going to Munich, I want them to think Lahikmajoe. Of course many of you would. You know I'm here because I write about it all the time.

But I was doing an internet search this week, and on a whim I searched 'Munich' + 'tea' expecting to see myself well represented. Go ahead and try it. I'm not represented at all. This has to be corrected.

For one thing, I don't often include the word tea in my tags. And even though I've written about teashops and tea salons here in my adopted home, I should keep talking about my favourite places and their tea here. There's quite a selection.

If you happen to be travelling through Germany and find yourself here in the capital of beer consumption,  I want you to know of your tea drinking options. If I happen to be in town at the time, I'd love to meet you in one of those shops to share a pot of tea or three. When you think 'Munich' and 'tea', I want you to think Lahikmajoe. I don't think that's too much to ask.

Let me remind you of some of my favourite places here in the Bavarian capitol:

a general sense of well-being

That's all about the Tushita Teehouse, which is normally first on my list of places to take people here. There's also the sweet little shop around the corner called Laifufu, which I wrote about here:

Oolong Nirvana in the next street over

What about teashops? Well, my local shop is called teegalerie in Munich-Neuhausen. I was so excited this summer when he had some Flugtee for me:

finally a cup of first flush

There are quite a few other tea drinking and tea selling places here, and I plan to go into much more detail about them. From now on, I'd like to be much easier to find when people are looking for tea people in Munich

Thursday, 1 December 2011

holding my gift tea hostage

I should really be quiet about this. I got my package from the Deutsche Post and it'd likely be in my best interest to be grateful. And shut up. Right?


As a teablogger, I feel it's my responsibility to talk about the good, the bad and the surreal when it comes to tea. So here goes.

Last week, a letter from the Deutsche Post arrived and I was simultaneously pleased and perplexed by news of an unexpected package from China. I get plenty of tea and tea writing to try (and potentially review), so that part didn't surprise me. But as far as I could tell this package was unannounced. I couldn't remember anyone telling me this one was on its way.

Well, anytime I receive anything in Beamtendeutsch (bureaucratic German), I get nervous. But for a document of this sort, this one was actually rather straightforward.

'We're holding your undeclared package for you,' they assure me. 'In  order to get through customs, the value of the package has to be displayed on the outside of the package.' They provide their hours and's in Garching! Garching? That's nowhere near where I live. Not remotely.

That's quite a trek for me to be able to tell them, 'It's an unsolicited gift of tea and I have no idea the value.'

But I digress.

They inform me that they'll hold my package for 14 days, and then it's back to wherever it came from. When you read a warning like this from a German office, you take it seriously. 15 days? It'll almost definitely be gone.

Later in the document, it says that they charge €.50 per day for holding my tea. Holding my gift tea (that I hadn't asked for) hostage, I might add. And I have the honour of paying for it. Did I mention surreal? Oh wait...if it's less than €5, they'll waive the charge. That's what I call incentive to resolve this immediately. Well, that and there's gift tea involved.

They provide a checklist for what I need when I trudge all the way out to godforsaken Garching, and I don't like the looks of this at all.

a. invoice/proof of payment (it's a gift-that's why it's called gift tea. How on earth will I manage this?)
b. any pertinent documents (what's pertinent in this case? shall I list all the fictional people who might've sent me tea?)
c. cold hard cash for Customs (like you didn't see that coming)
d. any additional documents as a result of this process (they think of everything...these bureaucrats)

I'm told I can send a Vertreter (someone in my stead), which is all well and good. Can you imagine that conversation?

me: 'Hey! I want you to go to Garching and pick up a package of gift tea for me, ok?'

my imaginary Vertreter: 'Uh, ok. That sounds a bit suspect...are you sure this is all legal?' 

So I guess you can see why I'm not sending someone there for me.

Then the document continues: 'In the event you can't/we can't verify all of this info, we offer the following services...' My ears perk up. Here it comes...'Send us the necessary documents or an explanation and we'll take care of everything.'

Pay dirt. This is what I wanted to hear. They'll take care of everything. Then they say something indecipherable about how far the Deutsche Post office is from the Customs office, but by this time I'm not even paying attention.

They're going to take care of everything. No worrying over here.

I send in my 'It's gift tea that I didn't know about and I don't know how much it's worth...please send it to me soon, though' explanation. That's all that was necessary. Yesterday, the package arrived at my front door.

Turns out I did know of this shipment of tea, but had forgotten about it entirely. It's from Teavivre and I can assure you I'm going to talk much more about this company. Here's how attractive their very practical packages are:

The last thing on the form is really the most practical thing I learned from this whole experience. The document states in bold!:

Please inform anyone outside of the EU that anything sent here should prominently display an invoice on the outside of the package. In most cases when this is done correctly, such packages can be delivered more easily directly to your door.

That's good to know, isn't it? Don't ever let it be said that this very whimsical teablog doesn't sometimes provide a bit of useful knowledge. There's your knowledge for the next little while.

But then I turned the package to the side, and what did I see? Here's what I saw:

That, my friends and fellow teabloggers, is exactly what it looks like. An invoice stating very clearly the value of the contents of the package. Did they truly fail to simply look on the side of the package that they'd been holding hostage? Yes. Indeed they did.


Monday, 28 November 2011

The World's Special Tea

How early can one get into tea? And how might one go about it?

I'm sure there's no need to encourage a child. If you're seen drinking tea, eventually the small person is going to ask for a sip of that steaming hot beverage. It's inevitable, right? Earlier this year, I had tea with my niece and wrote about it in:

tea party with Amelia

But I stand by my initial thought on this. I have no qualms about a child having a sip of my tea but if a child isn't accustomed to tea, I'd start with an herbal blend. It just seems like the more natural introduction. 

Still, I wondered then what I'd say if she wanted to know about the history of tea. How did people start drinking tea? for example. Or Why does your tea have such funny names?

So imagine my surprise when Jo Johnson asked if I'd like to see a book she'd written that specifically introduced tea to children. I enjoy tea samples and receive my share of them, but I think my writing about tea books has (correctly) led people to believe I'm as interested in tea writing. In case it wasn't completely clear, I'll say right now: I love tea books. They're good for the teablog, they encourage conversation about tea, and finally they're books. One of my weaknesses.

The book is called The World's Special Tea, and it's exactly what I'd want to have had in order to introduce Amelia to tea. It tells the history of tea from it's earliest Chinese origins through Japan and on to Europe. There's a brief explanation of the Boston Tea Party, as well as the English replanting of Chinese tea seeds in India

The book tells about the Camellia sinensis plant, from which all tea is made, and even mentions herbal or Tisane without getting mired in a discussion about what is and isn't tea. I like that. I've mentioned it here before: although I understand the hard-line position that we should only refer to tea as that which comes from the tea plant, I find it's often pedantic and nit-picky. With an adult, I might get into a discussion about this topic, but with a child? A Tisane is tea.
beautiful gift packaging 
And the best part? The book comes with it's own special tea for children (hence the name). Exactly the sort of thing I wanted for Amelia when I served her tea. An herbal blend with a mixture of Rooibus, bits of apple and ginger, as well as orange peels and cinnamon among other things. 

Would I drink this tea? If I were drinking tea with Amelia, I'd drink it happily. Although I rarely think to myself, 'I want some delicious tea,' and then reach for an herbal blend, that's not the point here. Having said all that, I did brew up The World's Special Tea and I could taste many of the flavours that were described in the ingredients. 

Most importantly, this is an inventive answer to my original question: What would I serve a child who was interested in tea? There's a bit in the book about planning a tea party. Not so sure how well I'd manage that one, but I might give it a try. 

The book itself? The World's Special Tea? I can definitely recommend it. Happily.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

tea awakening in the Chicago Tea Garden

Chicago Tea Garden
Several weeks ago, one of my non-teadrinker friends, who happens to live in Chicago, had signed up for a tea tasting at Chicago Tea Garden. My ears perked up and because I write this teablog partially for the tea newcomer and the tea curious, I asked Sue (@sepilipa) if she'd take a notebook along with her to the tea tasting and record her impressions. Sue, being the eager scientist that she is, quickly agreed. For the sake of science. And my teablog.

So because of her diligence, I can essentially mail it in today. Or cut and paste. Thanks Sue. First of all, here's the inside of Chicago Tea Garden:

Here's what she had to say:
First let me say my expectation was that Tony (Gebely) would be a much older guy, but he's probably younger than I am. He was very welcoming to my friend and me and to the other group of five ladies that attended (they were together). His shop is small but cute and his table was set up so there were essentially two groups; one on either side of the center where he worked. The people were all tea novices and there were no mr-know-it-alls in the group, so everyone was comfortable and friendly.

Tony worked on a tea table and had us use a snifter cup for each tea. He gave us basic tea information as he went along and was quite knowledgeable. He told us what plant tea comes from (Camellia sinensis) and told us that everything that does not come from this plant is NOT tea (I didn't know that). 

He briefly described the leaf and anything significant about it each time we started a new tea (ie, white tea smells very floral because it's withered a long time, oolong leaves are bruised and have 15 processing steps, black is fully oxidized, etc). Overall, it was a very pleasant experience. My friend and I had a very good time and learned a lot....well, relatively speaking, of course.

Below are the 7 teas we tasted. 

Name: Wu yu 
Type: green
Notes: used a gaiwan to serve
1st steeping @ 175F; tasted a bit like dusty spinach to me. 
2nd steeping @175; a little less dusty tasting but I still didn't love it. 

Name: Silver Needle
Type: white
Notes: kinda furry,  used a gaiwan to serve
1st steeping @ 175F; light and feathery, not a strong flavor but enough of a flavor to keep me interested. This one was my favorite of the whole bunch. 

Name: Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy)
Type: oolong
Notes: rolled into little balls, used unglazed clay pots to serve
1st steeping @ 190F for 45 seconds; smelled a bit like a root vegetable; I could barely taste it.
2nd steeping @190F for 45 seconds;; felt "meh" about it.

Name: Mi Xiang (honey orchid flavor)
Type: oolong
Notes: rolled long ways, used unglazed clay pots to serve
1st steeping @ 190 for 45 seconds; darker in color, tasted a bit earthy
2nd steeping @190 for 45 seconds; more flavorful. I definitely like the second steeping better than the first.

Name: Golden Bi Luo (tiny snails)
Type: black
Notes: hand rolled into snail shapes,  used a gaiwan to serve
1st steeping @195F  (instructed not to steep longer than a minute or the tea would be bitter); smelled ricey to me but Tony said "malty vanilla finish".
2nd steeping @ 195F ; sweeter and smoother taste, a nice strong flavor. I liked the second steeping better.

Name: Chrysanthemum Toucha
Type: pu-erh
Notes: bird nest shaped; Tony said it makes a good cold brew,  used a gaiwan to serve
1st steeping @ 208C for 45 sec to 1 min; Very dark. Tasted like a forest floor. A comment was made from one of the other attendants that it was like "licking the bark of a tree". I did not care for this tea at all. He made another one that was even darker and more disgusting but I didn't write down it's name.

Name: Yue Guang Bai (moonlight)
Type: white
Notes: Hmm. curiously I didn't make one single note about this one except it's name and type. I don't know why.
1st and 2nd steeping @ 175F for 1 minute

Really nice descriptions for a tea novice, don't you think? I think Sue did an excellent job. Although she's still a coffee drinker with a healthy curiosity about tea, I wonder how long it might take us to lure her over to the leaf-side. Thank you again my Cubs-loving, bicycling, outsdoorsy friend.

Tony Gebely and our staff tea reviewer

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Mago Merlino and his tea world

On the way back from visiting the tea shop that I mentioned in the previous post, I stumbled upon this little establishment:

Mago Merlino Tea 
The manner in which I found it was a bit like something out of Lewis Carroll...almost felt like it sprouted up out of nowhere while I was still teadrunk from a bit earlier. While taking photos from outside, there was a gentleman lurking ominously outside. Turns out he was the proprietor of Mago Merlino Tea, and I was in for an experience.

Here's a bit more about the fellow in his own words:

As he says, 'My name is Rocco Raffaele Jacopini. Some people-they call me "Bellino". Some people-they call me "Mago"...magician, you know? Because when they enter this place and they go to the tea house, they breathe a kind of atmosphere of the long time gone...I want to show my little touch of class. Imagination. Fantasy. It's very important.'

This guy's fantastic. If he were a teablogger, I'm sure we could get him to be a 
Beast of Brewdom.

The little shop above is at: Via Matteo Palmieri, 21/r. But I don't find that anywhere else on the web (thus my surprise at it's very existence). Instead, I think he wants you to come to the Mago Merlino Tea House which you'll find at: Via de Pilastri, 31/r. You might want to call ahead (tel. 055/242 970), because I'm not sure when exactly the tearoom is open.

I went there this evening, but imagine my disappointment at its darkened, shuttered entranceway. There's quite a lot written up about this place on the web, and it looks like a lot of fun there.

Maybe next time I'm in Florence, I'll get to check it out.

The best part of finding Mago at the shop was the tea he had on offer. After showing me some very delicious smelling Tie Guan Yin leaves that I balked at buying, he measured out a nice amount of what he called King Oolong. I had very low expectations of this tea when I brewed it. Boy, was I wrong.

I brewed it and brewed it and brewed it again. This tea was sturdy and delicious and a very nice, delicious Oolong. Seven infusions and that same fresh vegetale flavour that makes some tea obsessives focus exclusively on this sort of tea.

Here I was thinking I would be penalised for not buying the top-shelf tea he offered, but instead I walked away with an unforeseeable gem of an unknown tea. I'd regularly buy tea from Signor Jacopini were I living in or near Florence. And I'm sure he has some stories to tell. Both stories of the tea-related as well as the non tea-related varieties.

quite a selection of tea ware

One more view of this tasteful little shop

Saturday, 19 November 2011

La Via del Te

La Via del Te
It's not in the city centre where the tourists pack the tiny streets. Even in late November, Florence is overflowing with packs of Asian tourists and even those loud American teenagers (or recent teenagers) that you encounter in any popular European city. As I expected when I first looked at this shop on the map, it's a bit of a hike to La Via del Te. Dare I was well worth it.

You round a corner, see an outdoor semi-covered market with stands selling fresh vegetables, cheeses and meat, as well as cheaply-made designer knockoffs. Next to this market is a very unassuming tea shop sign that I doubt I'd see were I not looking for it.
the sign
There's been quite a lot of walking and standing looking at paintings. As much as I'm ready for tea, my feet are even more ready for a break.

beautiful tea cannisters
A charming little shop and tearoom greets me as I push through the door. I already read that they've been in business for decades, and it's obvious that this is a place serious about tea.

For a moment after I order a King of Pu-erh, whatever that is, I worry that she thinks I want two cups of the same tea. Yet as soon as I land on the words 'due infusioni', the tea server's eyes light up with understanding. Infusion is a universal term in the world of tea.

One of the things I like most about good tea: the first infusion only has a hint of how nice this tea will actually become.

Before I leave I decide to take small portions of what they call Oolong Fleur d'Orient and a simple Keemun. Am glad I remember this, because I like to carry a memory of a nice tea shop home with me.

My body is warm and content. My feet are grateful for the rest, and I'm back on my way into the welcoming streets of Florence.  Via the Way of Tea.

one last glimpse of the shop

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

basic tea gear for a tea newcomer

Several weeks ago, I received a question from someone new to my blog.  It was just a general 'What's the best way to brew this stuff?' question, but my heart sank a bit when she indicated that she, her name's Elizabeth, only had teabags and really only wanted to brew up a cup at a time.

Nothing wrong with that, despite what Robert Godden might tell you, but once you've really been convinced about loose-leaf tea, it's difficult to get excited about teabags.  I've been suitably polite about how some teabags from some brands aren't that bad, but even I have a hard time actually believing it most of the time.

Today, I got another question from Elizabeth.  It was more along the lines of, 'How do I get into tea?'  Which really means, 'What sort of stuff do I need to do this right?'

I'm going to keep this blogpost as short as I can.  I 'd like to keep it as simple as possible.  One of the things I try to do with this blog is to pass exactly this sort of information on to people relatively new to tea.  Well, loose-leaf tea especially.

Firstly, I'll ask you loyal readers how you'd answer this question.  How would you introduce drinking tea brewed from whole leaf?

I use filter bags quite a lot.  Especially when I travel.  And I like to have them around for everyday use.  Especially with most black tea, I don't think it really matters.

But with any whole leaf tea, some enjoy watching the full leaves open up as they steep almost as much as they like actually drinking the tea.  For that, a glass teapot where the leaves can swim around freely would be ideal.  If you don't already have one, I'm not sure I'd recommend going out and getting one.

Let's make sure you like this tea drinking lark first, ok?

So my advice is to get a Finum Brewing Basket. The largest size is ideal because then you can make both smaller and larger amounts.  There are certainly other brands.  This is simply the one I know.  And I'd get that permanent tea filter basket first before choosing a teapot.  Just to make sure they fit one another.

Here's my Finum Brewing Basket

And what sort of pot?  I don't know what the rest of you think about this, but the simplest ceramic pot should be good for starting out.  Why not?

I'm sure you can find a Brown Betty or something similar from a variety of sources.  I'm not a teapot fanatic, so maybe one of the rest of you has better advice for this question.

Ok Elizabeth, once you have a few basic pieces of tea gear, we'll move on to the actual tea.  Curious how easy this is for you specifically and if anyone else reading this has additional ideas generally.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

tea for the long slog of a campaign

patriotic sculpture atop a hotel in Washington D.C.

Was spammed by a relatively new blogger, whose twitter avatar was still an unassuming egg.  He was doing his very best at using Social Media to grow his audience.  Unluckily, he happened upon Lisa Galaviz and me.  We subscribe to the old-fashioned method of ridiculing twitter spammers to grow our audience.

But his was a political blog, and I thought, 'I can do that.'  Poorly, but I can certainly do that.  But the thing is: how can I talk about politics on a teablog?  Quite easily actually.  I rarely let an unrelated topic keep me from pontificating on it at length.

Now, I live in Germany & love it here.  I'm obsessed by their politics and the curious way they go about things here in my adopted homeland.  And I read a lot about the machinations of the State in the United Kingdom.  Not sure I could write eloquently about that topic, but I could certainly give it a go.

But the reality is that most of my audience is across the ocean in The United States, and even those living elsewhere are bound to have read at least the bare minimum about those Republicans vying for the opportunity to run against Barack Obama to become the American president.

Just as a quick aside, I don't understand why anyone would actually want that job, but that'll be my one attempt at an actual political opinion here.  Instead, I'd like to ask what sort of tea each candidate might most enjoy.  If I leave someone out, please don't freak out.  This is anything but scientific or serious for that matter.

Had to consult with Lisa Galaviz and her friend @Whoremongers on twitter for the exact ingredients of Texas Tea.  I have bad news for you tea lovers.  This stuff doesn't actually have any tea in it.  As Lisa said it's, 'gin, tequila, vodka, and rum.  Oh, and a splash of Coke.'  (That's Coca Cola people.  This is a respectable teablog).  Any idea who this might be for?  Well it is Texas Tea, after all.  That one's for Texas Governor Rick Perry.  

What about Herman Cain?  No idea where his tastes might lay when it comes to tea, but I'm going to assume he likes strong flavour.  Maybe a smoky Grand Yunnan to go with that cigarette smoking ad his campaign put out.  That should be just right.

Representative Ron Paul, also from Texas, refuses to acknowledge that tea really has to come from the Camellia sinensis plant.  I'm going to give him a nice Caramel Rooibus, but I'm certainly not going to volunteer the fact that it's made from a Red Bush in South Africa.  Maybe the absence of caffeine will help him from getting overly excited.

What about Representative Michelle Bachmann from Minnesota?  Maybe she'd take a drop of milk with her tea, and the nicest Ceylon I know that goes well with a bit of milk is Ceylon Adawatte.  How's that?  I hope she'd like it.

And I don't have any idea if Newt Gingrich would bother with my offer of tea, but I'd certainly make an attempt.  He's seen as an intellectual, so what'd I consider a tea for a thinker?  How about an Assam Khongea, which is strong but not too malty.

I'm afraid Rick Santorum might see taking hot tea as being a bit too effeminate, so I'll save him the fear of embarrassment and offer him a nice glass of iced tea.  You think his Google search results are uncomfortable now, just imagine if 'tea drinker' came up in connection to him.

What in the world is Mitt Romney going to drink?  Now I'm in a bit of a quandary.  He similarly won't want to be seen drinking a cup of tea, but simultaneously wouldn't want to offend me by turning it down.  He's probably got a decent palette, so I'll go ahead and serve him my best 2nd flush Darjeeling Singbulli.  It's flavourful but is rather subtle about it.  No joke, this is some nice tea.  Even if we are out of the camera's eye (update: my friend Denise has informed me that as a Mormon, Mr Romney cannot have caffeine in any form.  Really?  That's unfortunate.  A better teablogger might edit his choice, but I just can't be bothered to think of a decent tea without caffeine).

I've saved the most difficult decision for last.  See, Jon Huntsman was actually the US Ambassador to China, so he's most definitely had some decent tea in his time.  But he's likely had to stick with the best of mainland tea.  My favourite tea from Little China (Taiwan) is an Alishan Zhu Lu Oolong.  I've waxed poetic about it here before.  I'm rather confident that he'll enjoy it.  If he doesn't, I'll have what he doesn't.  It's that good.

Did I miss anyone?  No idea.  But now I've done my political teablog.  It's going to be a long slog of a campaign.  I'm sure this tea will see each of them through.  That is if they even accept my offer.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

there's tea for hard water?

Was at a Markt der Sinne this last weekend, which translates (poorly) as 'market of the senses' or in a more racy way 'sensuous market'.  I know some of you are going to have fun with that one.

But unlike its name might suggest, the Markt der Sinne was mostly artists and artisans selling their wares.  I stumbled round trying not to look some of them directly in the eye.  Although some stands were selling only homemade objects, there were a few shops that had set up their wares.

And instead of buying a necklace made of monkey teeth or a candle that'd help me align my chakras, I found one shop that had different products from The British Isles.  I didn't expect to find anything I really wanted, but then I noticed some packages of loose-leaf tea.

What caught my eye was a package from Yorkshire Gold.  I've mentioned before that I think this tea from Taylor's of Harrogate is a reliable blend of black tea that might be a good beginning for someone just getting into tea.  But this package had something written on it that I hadn't seen before.

It was tea for hard water. Wow, really?

Now, maybe you come from a place with hard water and you've seen products specially made for this sort of thing.  I haven't.

I know the water's hard here, but does it really affect the taste of the tea?  There was only one way to find out.  Something I didn't know even existed a few minutes earlier?  Now, I had to have it.

Then on my way home, I thought, 'Wait.  Is the tap water in Munich even very hard?  I know it has a lot of chalk in it, but does that make it hard?'  Luckily, I found this website that explains Tap Water Quality in Munich.

No idea how accurate that information is, but at least I felt more confident that I had the right hard water for my new tea.

How does it taste?  Hm...I brewed it.  I've actually brewed it a few times.  Even served it to a few people.  It's ok.  The reaction from others has been that it's a bit weak, but...

This isn't a tea review.  I'll do that more seriously when I've had a chance to try it with varying amounts of tea and lengths of steeping times.

I mainly wanted to ask if you'd tried tea specifically blended for certain water where you live?  Have you even heard of this?