Tuesday, 28 June 2011

finally a cup of first flush

I wrote a while back about Flugtee and the way some German tea shops market the freshest Darjeeling. Here's what I said back then: 'flown tea' nine months too late.

I write about teashops when I travel. Love to find obscure, out-of-the-way places to either drink tea or purchase it. But I don't spend much time talking about the tea establishments in my immediate surroundings. Now that I'm getting to know more German tea fanatics/teabloggers, I feel I should mention the places I go for tea.

That's where the Flugtee comes in. I passed the Tee Gallerie the other day and saw a sign in the window announcing the freshest, right-off-the-plane selection of first flush. I was too curious not to go in and have a look.

The teaseller, Thomas Olmesdahl, is always very helpful, but as soon as I mentioned what I was there for, he couldn't hide his enthusiasm. He showed me quite a selection of wonderfully fragrant teas. One smelled of flowers and another of asparagus. Might not sound so great, but I've been pondering the scent of the asparagus-smelling tea since then. I really might have to break down and go get it.

What I did get was a Darjeeling Singell, which I'll talk about more in a later post, but suffice it to say that this is unquestionably a step above the Darjeeling that's been sitting on shelves since last year. The leaves smell like they've just been plucked (I guess that's the point of spending more for this stuff) and there's no question that this tea can be infused a second time.

Like I say, I'm going to get at least one other first flush tea and make a taste comparison. This isn't the last you'll hear of this 'flown tea'.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

thinking of an American teaseller

Although being in a little village up in the Bavarian Alps means I'm not personally visiting new teashops, the tea world gets more and more intimate partially due to the web.

Every year I say I'll do my best to make it to next year's World Tea Expo, which is wrapping up in Las Vegas, but things get in the way and I'm left promising myself that it's not the last one. I can always go there for the next one, right?

So here I am enjoying very mercurial mountain weather while browsing tea shop sites (If I can't be there in person, I can go there virtually). I've been meaning to write a glowing review of Upton Tea Imports since I had such a fantastic experience ordering from them back in the spring, but things kept getting in the way.

About that review of Upton Tea Imports? Well here it is. Everything about the ordering process was effortless, and it seemed as if the tea arrived much more quickly than was possible. But there it was. The hyper-critical among you will say, 'They're an tea seller who offers tea online. That's what they do. You order tea from them, and they send it immediately.'

Well, be that as it may. The website was easy to understand, and regardless of what some might consider service to be expected, it seemed above-average to me. I had it sent to my brother's house while I was travelling in the States, and upon my arrival my sister-in-law and I had some wonderful Pu-erh fannings, which I wrote about here: fannings aren't always teadust

With my tea the Upton Tea Quarterly was enclosed. There was a very interesting article about the history of Ceylon Tea. There's something similar, and much more brief, on the Information page of the above-mentioned website, but the in depth article seems to be only in the Quarterly itself. I'd read versions of the story in various places, but it was nice to see it compiled in such detail there on the page.

That's all I have for today. Need to get back out in the mountain air, but I wanted to mention the excellent experience I had. Were I more often in the United States, I'd definitely take advantage of this site/company more often.

Here's a photo of Bayrischzell. It's nearly as far south in Bavaria as you can go before you're in Austria.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

middle of the road blend

Am up in the mountains this week, so I thought there wouldn't be much to blog about. Man, was I wrong. Got a ton of traffic and some very positive responses from my German teabloggers post from a few days ago. Better than that, I've connected with tea lovers closer to home. The thought of meeting some of these German teabloggers is much more feasible than some of the ones who're farther away. We'll see. They're certainly passionate, these local/regional tea enthusiasts.

Brought some books on tea with me, but I can't put down David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, so there's no tea literature for me to review till now.

To continue on my German tea theme this week, I've happened upon some very unassuming supermarket tea that I was very curious to try. I talked about my ridiculous desire to find decent, inexpensive supermarket tea a few weeks ago in drinking while unwell.

As much as I love tea shops and rare tea, I'm always on the hunt for an excellent tea that is economical. It's probably a mix of the Holy Grail and a fool's errand, but there you have it.

I've written about blending black tea in general and blends from Ostfriesland in particular here: You can have any colour you want...as long as it's black. This is a well-known tea in Germany, and probably considered pretty questionable to tea snobs.

But like I say, I'm on a quest to find quality tea at bargain prices. Wish I could say this was such a tea. It's certainly not a bad tea, but I have to try their tea in the higher price range. Strange as it may sound, I might use this tea as a blend with another tea.

To be fair, there is a freshness to the taste. It's neither too dark nor completely flavourless. It's exactly what one might expect of a middle of the road black tea blend. And the price really is remarkable.

The little statue in the photo above is clearly drinking something a bit stronger than tea. Welcome to Upper Bavaria.

Oh, one other thing. At this point in my reading, there've been two fleeting references to tea in Infinite Jest. I've seriously considered blogging about each of them, but thought it'd only irritate whoever's still reading. But I'm desperately searching for any reason to talk about this book and tea. You've been warned.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Kraut teabloggging

Those of you who don't read German might want to move along at the outset. Or if you really like facebook. I've seriously considered shutting down my facebook account for a while now. It was intriguing when I first signed up and was able to connect with friends I thought I'd never see/talk to again. The downside is that there are plenty of people I reconnected with on facebook that I now rememberwhy I never wanted anything to do with them in the first place.

But there are times when I go there and find something interesting. Rarely, but it does happen.

How I found this group of German tea enthusiasts, I don't know. But there they were. My friendship request was accepted, or whatever it is one calls it when being let into a group on facebook. Now I get an email update every single time someone writes a post or comments on said post. I could do without that part. Am sure there's a way I can disable these alerts, but I'd rather complain about it than actually doing anything to change it.

But now there's this whole new world of teablogs in German in which I'm excitedly immersing myself.

So here's the one that got it started: ZiehZeit. It's written by a guy called Bert F. Boege, and I'm pretty sure he's the one who started the facebook group. The blog is well written and it's clear this is someone to know if you want to know about tea drinking/blogging in Germany.

One of the topics big in tea right now is the safety of Japanese tea. Herr Boerge links to a very thorough article (Wie sicher ist japanischer Grüntee jetzt?) written by Thomas M. Grömer, who's also known as the Tee Papst (the tea pope). I'm not kidding. The pope of tea.

Here, look at his site yourself: TeePapst

Then there's Stephan Kockmann, who's responsible for Tee-Tagebuch (tea diary). There's too much good information for me to go into it here, but a lot of care has gone into this site. I also like that he reads Alex Zorach's blog. Small world.

Herr Kockmann does a series of blogposts I like where he interviews tea friends. Reminded me of the Tyros of Tea interviews that Jordan M. Williams used to do.

Another one I found on the ZiehZeit list was a guy called Marc in Bremen. He's been at this teablogging lark since 2006, and his blog is: Cha Tao.

He blogs, he sells teashirts, and his site is a fantastic source for what's going on in the world of tea. The layout, as well as the site in general, is really attractive.

Seems like the world of German language tea blogging is a male dominated endeavour if you go by this list, but there's a Taiwanese woman, Meng-Lin Chou, in Switzerland who has created something quite exquisite. It's called Tee erleben (tea experience) and it certainly is that.

Finally, I wouldn't be doing an adequate (but limited) review of German tea blogs if I didn't mention TEEorsten. He's not a proper teablog like the others. Meaning he doesn't deal primarily with tea. Tea appears to be part of his whole lifestyle, but he also blogs about whiskey and neckties and tea, of course.

Like I say, this is not an exhaustive list. There were plenty more on ZiehZeit's above-mentioned page, and I'm sure there are plenty of others. These are simply the ones that jumped out at me. I'm sure I'll be talking about these blogs and the things I learn there in the near future.

The extra g in the title is for German goodness.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Gottfried Helnwein drinks tea (I think)

Watched a fantastic documentary about Gottfried Helnwein this evening. It was so enthralling, that the time I'd normally be writing my blog was spent staring at the television screen.

And as it was going on, I thought, 'What am I going to write about on my tea blog?'

But every new painting of his I saw dragged me farther and farther from thoughts of tea. As interesting as his work was, his ideas were even more intriguing. If I thought I could describe them succinctly, I'd love to try.

As he was explaining his methods and how carefully he dealt with the child models, he was often sipping from a ceramic mug. Hmmm? Wonder if he's fueled by coffee.

But then right near the very end as they're wrapping up the whole thing, there's a shot of his teapot.

Don't care about the controversies I read about him as I searched the web. He's apparently a tea drinker. Controversy be damned.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

a selection of malty and not so malty Assam

Now that I have my sense of taste back, I've been drinking quite a lot of Assam. I go through phases where I really focus in on one tea that I like at the moment, but several months ago I ordered multiple sorts of Assam from Claus Kröger in Hamburg.

Here's a link to the selection he has on offer: Schwarzer Tee Assam

So rather than sit down and do a traditional tea note on each of these that I like, which I still may do at a later date, I've been brewing two or even three of these teas side by side and then drinking them without a lot of fuss throughout the morning. I love the smell of the Assam Sephinjuri tea before it's brewed. That smell doesn't necessarily come out in the taste of the tea, but it's still a delicious tea.

Since I'm often brewing the tea on my own (without fellow tea drinkers), it's not so easy for me to do some sort of blind taste test of the different teas. In addition, I'm getting to know the tastes well enough that I very likely could tell you which is which even if someone were to hand me a cup without telling me what it was.

But I've been wondering about the cost and whether the more expensive tea is really noticeably better. Going simply by price, the above-mentioned Sephinjuri must be a simple, unassuming tea. Like I say, I find it delicious. Why is it so much more economical? I'm not complaining. When I think back on some of the tea shops I visited in the US and their prices for an ounce of simple black tea, these prices are truly a steal.

Is the Assam Mangalam really that much better? The tips of the leaves are definitely a beautiful golden brown. The smell of both the leaves and the brewed tea are both extraordinary. No doubt about that.

But is my opinion somehow swayed by how much more expensive this second tea is? I guess that's human nature, isn't it? If a tea costs more, it must be of greater value. Right?

I'm probably opening up a topic that we as the end users can hardly begin to comprehend. But I am curious about it. Not only why tea costs what it does, but what factors make different tea from the same region so varied in price? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Am sure it's not the last time I'll be pondering this.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

grandpa tea

This is the kind of blogpost that writes itself. I've often said that I feel like a very old man whose body is slowly growing to its correct age. I like to sit in cafes and complain about the state of the world while sipping my tea.

I enter phone numbers and addresses into my computer and phone, but I still have an address book where I write people's names and relevant details. The more volatile or nomadic friends' names go in ink, but their numbers are in pencil. Erased and rewritten many many times.

It seems a bit antiquated, but I still write thank you notes. I'm definitely not being smug about it. Someone gives me something nice, and the least I can do is put pen to paper and say how much I appreciate it.

Surely there are times that I'm not conscientious or thoughtful, but on the whole I do find myself being proper and upright without giving it much consideration. My mother insists that my time in Germany has made me more particular and even rigid in various situations. I tend to blame maturity more than my adopted home, but my impartiality is clearly suspect.

Thanks to Erik Kennedy, otherwise known as @thetearooms, I was led to a site called Tea Addict's Journey and a wonderful piece, written by @Teafanatic, about drinking tea grandpa style.

The simplicity of this is what I like most. Throw some tea and hot water into a mug (the more over-sized the better) and voila, there's your tea. No fuss. No dogma.

Was essentially doing this with my lesser-quality tea while I was sick last week. There'll be plenty more of the same this week, too.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Black Dragon love

The more I look at the traffic on this blog, the more fascinated I am at what generates more eyeballs. I know some people are much more professional about this. Up until now attracting readers has been a very unscientific endeavour for me.

I write long-winded descriptions of tea shops in obscure places and get little or no response, but then I write a quick post about masculine tea drinking and get more attention than ever before. The search results that bring people here alternate between obvious and obscure. I'll go into more detail on that another time.

But the thing that's been fascinating me lately is what other sites send me traffic. People come here from twitter, and quite a few read my mirror blog over at teatra.de and then click through to here to see this site, as well. But almost twice as much traffic as anywhere else comes from one source. It's Black Dragon Tea Bar out in Seattle.

Once I started looking at this data, it was clear I should show my gratitude. So in my own small way I'd like to send a bit of traffic back his direction. I could go into painstaking detail about the things I learned about Brett (Black Dragon's proprietor) while looking at all the nooks and crannies of his blog, but I'll let you do it on your own. It just so happens that his latest blogpost is a very nuanced and interesting take on organic and sustainable tea. Don't take my word for it, have a gander:

My Thoughts on Organic Tea

It really is interesting, isn't it? Read more about Brett and what he's doing with tea. He's clearly one of the good guys.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

blindingly optimistic

I can feel my sense of taste coming back to me. For a few days there, I was drinking really strong (even bad tea) and getting nothing but a inconsequential jolt of caffeine. It was often loaded with Vitamin C and obscene quantities of honey, and I could barely tell. The consistency of the tea was a bit sludgier, so I guess the texture was noticeably different. But for a tea lover, having this sort of cold was the worst sort of punishment.

So here I am back in the saddle. There was plenty of Oolong, as well as a light, floral Darjeeling. It's so nice to stop coughing and sit down with a pot of tea and the paper. I stare off and think to myself, 'My goodness, I'm glad I don't talk about politics in my tea blog.'

There are incomprehensible things going on in the world, but here I am sipping on my Pasir Nangka Java. I wonder about another American politician making questionable choices, but I'm more embarrassed by the maelstrom of coverage it gets. Is any of it really necessary? Sometimes after reading an article about all of this I wish I could scrape the information away from my polluted eyeballs.

Instead I take another sip of tea and remind myself that a Bavarian politician had a love-child in Berlin several years ago. Of course, the press had a field day. They hunted the woman and her baby down and there was plenty of hand-wringing all around. Well-meaning columnists pondered whether he could keep his rather elevated position in the German political system.

Good thing this teablog's not about politics, huh?

So, I'm reminded of an article I read in Time this last week. The article was called Optimism Bias, and gave me plenty to think about.

Very roughly summarised, it said that despite all evidence that'd lead one to be morbidly depressed about the state of everything, we're hard-wired to believe things are going to turn out blindingly well. A losing streak has to end at some point. The storm was yesterday, and this is the first day of the rest of your life.

I don't know about all of that. But as I drain the last of this pot of tea, I weigh my options for the next tea I'll brew. Maybe there is something to this optimism, after all.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

drinking while unwell

What do you drink when you absolutely can't taste anything?

That's a bit of an exaggeration, because although I have a bit of a cold, I'm still able to taste. It's just that I'm sniffling and wheezing and all I want is something that soothes my throat. Last year when I was in Greece, I introduced Greek Mountain Tea when I wrote:

You needn't Climb a mountain

I remember when I wrote that I thought, 'I'm so rarely ill. It might be years before I actually get to find out if this helps when I'm under the weather.' So back to my question. If your sense of taste is muted or even deadened, what tea do you drink?

Was in my local Asian Supermarket this weekend, and look what I found. If you've been reading lately, you know I'm slowly getting deeper into Pu-erh tea. Whenever I wander into such a shop, my fantasies take me to a place where I make some fantastic find. Some tea that has nondescript packaging, but is excellent tea. I had to find out if this was any good.

I'd had enough Greek Mountain Tea loaded with honey. It had soothed my throat, but I needed tea. Real tea. Just so happened that my friend Jeffrey the Contrarian was visiting, and I cajoled him into trying this stuff. But not before he indulged himself in plenty of jokes about the name Pu-erh and how the un-steeped tea smelled of 'poo air'.

Jeffrey the Contrarian had had the fannings that I wrote about last week, and was less than impressed. He said the taste was noticeably fermented, and it was clear this wasn't a complement. So I wanted to see what he thought of this simple Yunnan Pu-erh.

He said it was less pungent. It was definitely drinkable. I thought it had almost no taste, but my above-mentioned muted sense of taste might have something to do with that. My suspicion is that I'll use this nondescript tea in some blends, but that it won't easily become a regular tea in my rotation.

What about you? Do you even forego tea entirely when you're ill? Do you drink infusions?

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

tea on the train

If I were better at moving photos from other places and posting them here, then I'd do what I could to have this one up on my teablog.

But alas, you'll have to click on this link to see A Nice Cuppa.

Two characters enjoying a cup of tea on a very comfortable looking train. I love trains, as well as tea, and these two seem to be appreciating both in equal measure.