Thursday, 24 February 2011

this tea lark

Lately, I've been writing a lot about attracting people to loose-leaf tea, and I've been pondering how difficult it is to convince someone not only to eschew teabags, but to order tea online, as well. I'm sure those of us obsessed with tea will continue to see the benefits of ordering tea from as wide a variety of places as possible. And the possibilities with the internet are vast.

But how about someone who's just not that far along on the tea journey? Why not just send him to the shops for whatever loose-leaf tea he encounters? Yes, why not?

One solution to this I've found is to assess what teas are available in the shops. Have recently been introduced to Hampstead Tea, and it's exactly because of them that I bring up the subject of what tea you can easily obtain.

Well, I went into an Alnatura shop here in Munich, and found these teas alongside the Alnatura brand. I like the idea that if someone asks where to get decent tea, that this is an option.

And calling this tea decent is an understatement. Seems all of their Darjeeling is grown in the Makaibari Tea Garden, which is a well-known and respected source.

I'm so excited about the coming year's first flush teas, that I was thrilled to try theirs (from last year). Here's how it's described on their site: Hampstead Tea first flush. And here's what the leaves look like:

The tips are a much brighter yellow than the photo shows. The smell of the leaves was so delicious as I broke open the bag. This isn't a proper teanote, but there was a wonderful butter taste to this tea. I've been alternating between this and the tea that they simply call Darjeeling all week. Here's how it's described: Hampstead Tea Darjeeling.

So Neil from Neil's Yard came over last night and we went through some tea he had, as well as one of mine. I'm going to write about what he had to offer another time, but it was this Hampstead Tea Darjeeling that he liked so much. The muscatel and fruit tones are definitely there, but Neil said he could even detect a hint of vanilla.

I love it that this guy who was measuring his steeping times with how long it took to smoke a cigarette a few weeks ago is already noticing these subtle flavours. This tea lark just gets better and better, doesn't it?

Sunday, 20 February 2011

over to the leaf-side

Even though I enjoy drinking green tea and Oolong fascinates me the more I learn about it, I've noticed that most tea bloggers have already cornered the market over in the semi-oxidised and not-at-all-oxidised categories of tea. Not that no-one writes about black tea, but to me it seems that in our world of the tea obsessed, darker tea sometimes gets short-changed.

This is something I like to focus on. What tea might entice a coffee drinker? If someone only knows teabags or herbal tea, what could I say to lure them over to the leaf-side? Those questions are normally answered with malty Assams or light Ceylons. Maybe even an Indonesian or Kenyan black tea for those accustomed to sipping the liquor of the Arabica bean.

But there's a tea that I've found myself more and more drawn to the longer I research and write about tea. I've written at length on this blog about being drawn to Darjeeling tea. I did a search through my old blogposts on the subject, and I really have written the most about these teas. Bordering on obsessive I've been.

In the early days I tried these teas from multiple estates, and my taste hadn't developed enough to appreciate tea that I tried from the first flush. Slowly, as I tried more and more tea, I developed an appreciation even for these teas. I'm excited to try the newest crop of them this year as they come out.

The tea that's rushed back at the earliest possible moment is sold as Flugtee, and Germans pay a hefty price for the opportunity. I try to remember what it's like for someone new to tea, who is introduced to all of these exotic names and tea specific terminology. It's overwhelming.

So, you've heard about Darjeeling being nice in the afternoon, and the selection you read about online only baffles you. Do you just buy the simplest generic Darjeeling teabags you happen upon in the supermarket?

In my experience, that's not going to persuade anyone to drink different tea. Most teabags that're called Darjeeling might as well just say 'black tea' on them. There's hardly any relation between this and the real loose-leaf tea that I'm talking about.

What's your experience with this? Have you attempted to sway anyone to drink loose-leaf tea with anything other than the best quality? Has your taste changed, so that you're surprised at the tea you used to think was so tasty?

Friday, 18 February 2011

dark brown unfurling

Am excited about a package full of Hampstead Tea that I received today. Seems there selection of Darjeeling all comes from the Makaibari Tea Garden. A great resource for information about any Darjeeling estate is Darjeeling Tea Express, and this is what I found there about Makaibari.

So the teas from Hampstead Tea are a white tea, two black teas (one first flush), and even an Oolong. In the next several days, I plan to brew these up and share my impressions here. I must say that I'm very impressed with the presentation of the packaging. The picture of the dark brown liquid unfurling into the white background is really attractive. You can see it at their website here:

Hampstead Tea

Should be a good weekend for tea drinking.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Vorsicht: Tee! (Danger: tea!)

This is satire. Please don't take this seriously. If you don't read German, this'll be lost on you anyway. But when I read informative or funny things about tea in the German press, I like to mention them here. I'll do my best to explain it without losing the style.

On Valentine's Day, I was looking through a newspaper from Berlin (die tageszeitung) and happened upon this tongue-in-cheek warning about the improper brewing of a bag of tea:

Der Tee ist sicher

It's a rather caustic take on the directions written on a box of teabags. Five or six minutes in boiling water, he asks. No, really? He calls tea a democratic beverage, and jokes that maybe it's enjoyed by such a wide variety of classes that you have to print warnings about how it should be prepared very explicitly.

And that's where he starts to quibble. The text on the box ends in a very dramatic manner: '...nur so erhalten Sie ein sicheres Lebensmittel!' (This is the only safe/secure way to use this product).

He takes the warning to ridiculous extremes and jokes about the mortal danger of letting the tea steep for only half the time. For centuries, he points out, we've enjoyed tea that fought against the worst of the world. It makes the old, weak and sick somehow stronger. Do we even have to fear reliable tea now?

Then he jokes about living on the wild side and purposely going for shorter brewing times, which is what I do when I have no other choice but to drink bagged tea. But then he realises that while he's been pondering the horrific dangers of tea, that the originally recommended steeping time has been achieved and now the tea can be enjoyed. He even wonders if, on this cold winter's day, maybe the teabag wouldn't rather somehow jump back in the warm tea. Especially if, in the first place, it was so dangerous to be taken out early.

Now, I know this is this writer's take on how unnecessary the directions on packaging can be. It really is funny how some companies feel they have to describe their products. I'm going to explore this idea more in the coming days. If a package had to describe in intricate detail all the things to remember when preparing specific loose-leaf tea, there might not be room let for the name of the tea.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

hot at the outset, but quickly cold

Read a post at Alex Zorach's teablog recently, which was inspired by another post at J-TEA International's The Oolong Tea Times about drinking tea out of dainty little cups versus big sturdy mugs.

Here's the original:

The Oolong Tea Times

And here's Alex's take:

One Advantage to Drinking Tea from a Mug

Then I got into a discussion about it with other tea drinkers on twitter, and realised I've held back the fact that I often drink out of a mug. For some reason, it doesn't seem like the actions of a tea obsessive to be swigging from these bulky ceramic mugs. And the point J-Tea makes is really true: mugs are ineffective.

As he says, 'As soon as the tea is ready, it is too hot to drink. Then, near the end of the mug, the tea is cool. This wide range in temperature combined with the volume of tea results in a very narrow window in which tea stays at the ideal temperature for consumption. This problem is particularly exaggerated with using large mugs.'

I'm not yet planning on giving up my mugs, but what he describes is definitely the case. Above you'll see a mug with a picture of a happy Bavarian with his little Dachshund, which always puts me in a better mood. Here's a mug I found years ago at the Chagall Museum in Nice. It also makes me smile every time I pull it out of the cupboard.

And here's a ridiculous one I found on the Baltic Sea a while back. It's a very thick ceramic mug. Always works for me. If by working for me, you mean 'It's too hot at the outset and too cold at the end'. That's not really working for me now that I think about it. Nevertheless, when I'm feeling a bit whimsical, it's nice to have a cup that bends in the direction the wind blows.

When I brew Oolong, I use the little cups that I got with this teapot. Well I should say, I pour the two little cups full, but then I fill what's left in a big ungainly mug. I love the way the tea tastes from these little cups.

This is the cup that goes with our dishes, and I really like the pattern. When I serve tea to guests, this is what I normally use. Although the tea doesn't necessarily stay warm that long, I'm too busy pouring a new cup for you to notice.

And finally, here's a Herm├Ęs cup and saucer that always makes me nervous. While I'm drinking from this cup, I'm not enjoying the tea. I'm very simply trying not to break the cup. That's no way to enjoy tea, is it?

Am wondering how the rest of you enjoy your tea. I often try to open up such a topic to discussion with varying results. So I'll ask a few pointed questions:

Have you ever thought about the impact what sort of cup has on the way a tea tastes?

Do you like thin, bone China sometimes?

If you still prefer a mug, then why?

Friday, 11 February 2011

not proselytizing

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking of how to make tea more accessible for people new to it. I don't want to minimize the importance of knowing how long to steep certain tea or the particular idiosyncrasies of certain types of tea. Those things are certainly crucial and the trial and error that I've gone through discovering these things is part of what I enjoy about tea.

But having said all that, I do attempt to simplify the whole process when I know someone is curious. That's not so hard to fathom. Someone finds out about my tea fascination, and they're curious what it's all about. They ask a simple question, and I go off on a windbag tangent about water quality...well, that's no good. Few people are going to walk away from that situation eager to be a cock-eyed fanatic like me. I don't think it's such a stretch to say that that would even put some people entirely off of tea. Maybe even assume that the tea had done some sort of lasting damage to my synapses.

So, I had some pretty good fortune with all of this during the week. One of my colleagues had shown more and more interest in my brewing, and asked about Oolong. We set aside a bit of time and brewed multiple infusions of a Bao Zhong Imperial Oolong. He quickly admitted that he rarely drank tea without milk and sugar, but was eager to get the full Oolong experience.

And here's the part I liked the most: we talked a lot about tea, but the best part of our conversation had absolutely nothing to do with infusions and tea processing and the like. While the tea coursed through our blood streams, the conversation took all sorts of completely unexpected turns. I'm not saying that doesn't happen with other beverages. But there's something different that goes on when it happens around a teapot. I don't know exactly what it is. Suppose I don't really need to know either.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Masculine tea drinking

Sometimes I search far and wide for something to write about here. If I get on a roll, I'll blog on a theme for a few days. If I get a lot of responses, I might dedicate an entire new post to answering a question or going deeper into an earlier topic.

Then there are sometimes that a topic is simply laid in my lap. This is one of those days. A friend and I were hypothesising why there's such an unmasculine association with tea. Certainly there are exceptions to this, but one doesn't typically think of a group of grisly, dangerous men circling round to share a pot of tea.

Tea fanatics sometimes have a hard time remembering what tea drinking looks like out there in the *real* world, but I assure you tea drinking doesn't always get the best rap.

So I'd like to introduce you to two places that're doing their small part to fight against the stereotype. I think you'll appreciate their attempts. I think the tea world is a better place with them in it.

First of all, I'd like to introduce you to Big Man Tea (Big Man Tea). Where else but Glasgow would a place like this exist? These guys appear to be the real deal. If I ever actually make it to see a home match at Fir Park Stadium to see Motherwell Football Club play, you can be sure I'll go visit Big Man Tea at some point during my visit to the Glasgow area.

Secondly, I want you to know about a teablog that ain't playing around. These guys are called The Tea Blag (The Tea Blag) and this is how they describe what they're all about:

'We drink tea, write about it, and make fun of life while discussing manly endeavours. Come for the trainwreck and stay for the /t/ea. This is not for the faint of heart or the politically correct.'

Tell me what's wrong with that. Nothing, I assure you. Am pretty sure it's run by (a) college student(s), and although it's not a blog for the faint of heart, it's definitely fighting the good fight against a sissified perception of tea and tea drinking. If you take a look over there, I think you'll see exactly what I mean.

Update: Sara mentioned Man Teas in the comments, and I thought it really belonged in the post itself. Here they are: Man Teas

Fine company indeed.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

I'll show you mine if you show me yours

What an enjoyable afternoon Neil of Neil's Yard and I had trying a variety of tea. Am going to briefly go over the highlights, and possibly come back and go into more detail if there's more to cover.

I wanted to see what he thought of the Darjeeling I have from Darjeeling Tea Express, so I started with a Goomtea Pre Autumnal Black. You can read about it here: Darjeeling Pre Autumnal. This is a tea I like, but Neil was immediately smitten. He loved it. Couldn't help but taste the muscatel, he said. He could clearly see why I was so excited to share this tea with him.

Then I tried his Everyday Kenya from leaf. (leaf. tea), and I was similarly impressed. I've not had much Kenyan tea, but this was delicious. It smelled smoky like a good Yunnan, but was so smooth and spicy. Here's how the leaves looked before adding boiling water (Very dark brown with yellow tips):

Although many Darjeeling lovers wax rhapsodic about first flush tea, I've always liked the stronger second flushes. So I was excited to brew a bit of Gopaldhara 2nd flush (again from Darjeeling Tea Express Gopaldhara 2nd flush). Although he liked it, it didn't make nearly the same impression that the Pre Autumnal did.

This is one of the things I love about tea. Not just the variety of flavours, but the incredibly subjective response that can result from two different tea drinkers.

After we got the black tea sorted, we spent the remainder of our time on multiple infusions of something called Organic Blue Tea (again from leaf.). According to their website, Oolong is sometimes called Blue tea because it's somewhere between black and green. Had never heard that description, but why not? Here's how they describe it: Organic Oolong 'Blue' tea, and it's stated, 'this oolong tea is a Qi Lan from the province of Guang Dong in China.'

From both appearance and taste, this is clearly a highly-oxidised Oolong. Like many first infusions, the smell was more pronounced than the taste. Nevertheless, you could tell what an enjoyable tea drinking session was in store based simply upon this smell.

Sure enough as we drank multiple infusions, the taste of the tea developed. How I ever brewed one single infusion of a decent Oolong still makes me shudder. It was at this point that we sat down and looked at twitter. I think Neil was a bit impressed, as well as intrigued, that the tea companies he'd been in contact with were so easily accessible on Web 2.0. So often, twitter makes no sense until one can see it in action.

There you have it. A wonderful tea tasting experience, and the more he talks about it, I can't wait to see how Neil's Yard turns out. Stay tuned.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Neil's Yard

My friend Ruth married a guy named Neil, which means I got a new friend in the process. A while back, I saw them at some function, and they informed me they were packing up and moving to Newfoundland (and Labrador), where he'll have a little cafe/shop and serve tea. That's right tea!

The plan back then was to sell/serve tea from teabags. I thought that maybe my short-term goal was to bring him over to the leaf-side, but he seems to have made it over here on his own already. Thankfully.

Nevertheless, he wants to show me the teas he already has, and I want to introduce him to the Darjeeling from Darjeeling Tea Express that I served at the tea tasting I did a while back.

I'm also going to show him the basics of twitter, and extoll the virtues of meeting/communicating with tea people there. Should be fun. Will definitely be reporting here on the whole ordeal, but I wanted to start out by introducing Neil and his soon-to-be-opened cafe/shop. It's called Neil's Yard, and here's the website:

Neil's Yard

Go have a look.

More soon on an impromptu tea tasting and a welcome newcomer to the online tea community. You can't wait, can you?

Sunday, 6 February 2011

tea drunk

Was reading something about being teadrunk at, and thought it'd be a nice place to start for a post. Actually, they called it 'tea-tippled', but I thought teadrunk sounded more direct and sometimes even more accurate (teadrunk is actually used at one point).

Here was the original article (from this time of year back in 2008) that got me pondering the thought:

Cha-dzui: "Tea-Tippled"

So, he talks quite a lot about detoxification whilst drinking 'very good grade, chemical-free, organically grown High Mountain Oolong', and I'm wondering if I've gone through that. I know I don't drink only one sort of tea, and I have no idea if the Oolong I drink is all of those things.

But I definitely know the feeling of being teadrunk. It can certainly happen after a few pots of black tea, but there seems to be something to the unique effect of drinking Oolong.

There was an episode of Lives of the Cowboys on Prairie Home Companion this weekend, and one of the cowboys is given some fennel tea that knocks him out cold. I'm not sure I'd call that teadrunk. That's more like tea-comatose. It was funny how the cowboy talked about the way tea can relax you. Another one of those tea stereotypes that isn't necessarily so bad.

As always, I'd love to start a bit of a discussion here, so I'll just ask: do you ever feel drunk on tea? Does it matter if it's white, green, black or Oolong?

Thursday, 3 February 2011

(maybe) not for a teablog

Jackie asked for link back to my titillating posts, so I thought that's what I'd do for this post. A retrospective, as it were.

Here's one about celebrity/politics. A bit whimsical, but you'll see why:

Celebrity tea drinkers

Next up, I tackled sex. This one was fun:

Does drinking tea make you sexy?

And finally, one about religion. Since I'd already talked about two moderately taboo subjects, I called this one:

Hat trick

Goodness, that was fun, wasn't it? I have no intention of doing this sort of rehash again anytime soon, but I think you'll see why this one was called for. Hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

cup after cup getting better and better

Today seemed endless. That being said, my tea drinking was as close to ideal as I can imagine. Had a strong Assam Khongea to help open my eyes, a pot of smoky Grand Yunnan to carry me through until early afternoon, and then I started on what seemed like a limitless string of infusions of Darjeeling Kangra Oolong.

Here's where I got it: Darjeeling Tea Express

and here's a description:

Even the first infusion, which can sometimes be a bit weak/watery, was delicious. Light, but full of the flavour that was to come. And here's what I loved: each infusion was tastier and tastier...I thought it couldn't get better. But it did. It tasted like the flowers that were only hinted at were coming alive in my mouth.

Another time I might go back and talk about the specific notes I tasted, and how those notes strengthened or faded. But I simply wanted to mention that all the trial and error with multiple infusions of a good Oolong can eventually produce quite a tea drinking session. Today's was one of the nicest I can remember.

I was out and about for most of the evening, but upon returning home I couldn't resist seeing if those sad, abused leaves could yield one more round of not nearly boiling water (80°C). They did. The last infusion was still worth it. More than worth it.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

luring them over to the leaf side

Seems most teablogs are in some ways similar. To a degree at least. There's a mix of tea tasting notes, and pictures of leaves, plants and entire fields of tea depending on the blog you go to. There seems to be a mix of both scientific, empirical data and more personalized impressions of tea drinking and customs.

Although I attempt to include things here that are to be expected in a typical teablog, I enjoy doing things that one wouldn't necessarily expect to find on a teablog. It's been a while since I purposely talked about tea in relation to topics that reasonable people should make every attempt to avoid, such as religion, sex or politics. But there was a time when I made every attempt to touch on these sorts of subjects. Not to offend. Maybe just to see what I could get away with.

Another way that I've set myself apart is to focus on attracting new people over to the leaf side. Whether describing tea basics here on the blog or slowly introducing people in real life to more and better tea, I really get excited when I can make tea drinking more enticing to someone who has little or no experience with loose-leaf tea.

Whether it's a client or a friend, I take every opportunity to serve tea. Maybe the first time someone's visiting, I'll offer a choice of beverages. If they show any interest in tea whatsoever, then I'll regularly serve it from then on.

My friend Jarrod comes over regularly to play music, and he seems open to try just about anything. He was here for the Darjeeling tea tasting I did a few months ago, and each time he's here his taste is stretched just a bit more. He drinks his coffee black, so I started off with a malty Assam and then a smoky Yunnan. But after he seemed to like the more delicate teas at the tasting, I started branching out even more. We've worked our way through some highly oxidised Oolongs, and he's already able to distinguish some very subtle flavours.

Here's Monique & Jarrod way back then, and I'm sure you'll hear more about my experiments with serving him tea in the future. You can't wait can you. Maybe he's just being polite by trying all of this tea. In that case, I'll make it my challenge to find something he dislikes so much it over-rides his manners.