Saturday, 30 July 2011

tea choices for marauding teenagers or Zombie Apocalypse

So I was watching the opening scene of the 1966 British film Blow-Up this evening, and there were packs of wild (even insane) teenagers romping through the streets of London. I think it was supposed to signify the Swinging Sixties, but it served a different purpose for me.

It got me thinking.

About the Zombie Apocalypse, of course.

Whether it's marauding British teenagers in clothing styles that really can't be described as flattering or zombies in full-scale apocalypse mode, there's an obvious question that I haven't seen discussed by the more reputable teablogs. Well not yet at least.

What tea might you serve to these eerily similar groups of people? The object of serving them tea wouldn't be in any way to dissuade them from their brain eating goals. Simply put, a nice tea would at least slow them down. And potentially make the whole experience just a bit more civilised. If only a bit.

But which tea for this most delicate of situations? Be honest. It's a more difficult question than you first thought, isn't it?

My first choice was a decent first grade Keemun. Seems like this is the sort of tea many blends include to temper the boldness of a strong Assam. If it's good in that capacity, then why not here? But something about that choice just seems too easy. The zombies may or may not go for the Keemun, but I have serious doubts that the teenagers would have anything to do with such a tea. It's just a hunch.

What about a tea from Kenya? My friend Neil introduced me to Everyday Kenya from leaf tea. I wrote about it in I'll show you mine if you show me yours. That's interesting enough to please the teenagers and strong enough that the zombies might even be able to taste it. But still...I don't know. It's simply not the perfect choice.

Oh wait. I have it. Why'd it take me so long to come up with this one?

Another tea sometimes used in blends to tame an errant Assam is a good Nilgiri. The one I'm thinking of has all the attributes of the above-mentioned teas, but it's got an extra dose of zombie-halting flavour. It's one I found at Le Palais des Thés and, as you can see, I can recommend it for the most unlikely of occasions.

The name of this delicious Nilgiri is Thiashola 'Carrington', which really cannot be recommended more highly. As much as the teenagers will enjoy the actual taste of the tea, they'll get as much fun out of the name 'Thiashola' as I did when I first read it. My thoughts ran wild at the thought of a girl named Thia and her anatomy.

If nothing else, this tea's name can be employed in their sophomoric poems to rhyme with Pensacola or Indianola.

Only the most crucial of questions are answered on this teablog. I feel as if I'm providing an important service.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

a Tea Manifesto

Since the madness in and near Oslo occurred last week, it’s been hard to avoid details of the meticulous organisation of the murderer. We’ve even been shown his manifesto that he released explaining his reasons as well as his regimen of precautions and planning. My first thought was, ‘Wait, does everybody have a manifesto? Is this some sort of requirement of living in modern society?’

So I’ve been trying to devise my Tea Manifesto, and I need a little help. Truly. There’s the obvious stuff about loose-leaf tea rather than bagged. And the whole idea of not selling tea as Darjeeling if it wasn’t, in fact, grown in Darjeeling. Those are pretty straight forward. And at least fellow tea obsessives will in all likelihood be on board with such things. But what else? What else belongs in a Tea Manifesto?

Here’s the problem I found as I tried to come up with a list of platitudes and guidelines: it doesn’t seem like it’ll be easy for me to get terribly rigid about my beliefs here. Something about all this tea drinking that necessitates that I be a bit forgiving if someone doesn’t do things exactly as I expect or demand.

Maybe if it were a Whiskey Manifesto, I could get blustery and radical. And after a pot of coffee, I could imagine my heart-rate boiling and my thoughts turning to a bit of revolution fomenting. But here I’ve just finished a nice day of reading and walking in the park and then more reading. It was all fuelled by pot after pot of delicious tea.

First a bit of Assam Mangalam, then onto some Ceylon Nuwara. After being outside, I turned to a bit of first flush Snowview Darjeeling. It was so good, I infused it once more. There’s another possibility for my manifesto…don’t throw away leaves that’ve only been used once. Some tea really is excellent he second time around.

What do you think? What belongs in my Tea Manifesto? Need your help with this. Desperately. Unfortunately, I’m just a bit too measured in my rabble rousing.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

guest blogposts

Over the next several weeks I'm going to have a few guest blogposts. I tried this last year with someone I successfully lured over to the leaf-side, and we'll hear from her and how her tea tastes have changed over time.

That should be interesting. I think you'll agree.

There're also a few other people in the tea world I'd like to talk to and possibly interview here. There are German tea experts whose sites/teablogs I'm reading that have some ideas worth discussing. Maybe a different perspective than what you might get in your corner of the tea community.

So, you've been warned. If you come here and there's a voice/author you didn't expect to find here, it's an attempt to spice things up a bit. Enjoy.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

charms of The Iron Goddess (Tie Guan Yin)

For regular readers of my teablog, I'll have to apologise at the outset. Normally I write about anything but tea. Sure I drag tea into it, but the topics I like most are tangentially related to that hot brown liqueur. I like to write about whatever film I happen to be watching or what I might serve footballers playing in the World Cup Final based upon the quality of each individual's play. You get the idea.

It's a teablog, but I rarely get bogged down in actually reviewing tea. Not in the traditional sense anyway. Robert (@The_Devotea on twitter) has assured me that there's nothing more boring than, 'I took the tea and I submerged it in the water and then I tasted it and it tasted like ______ and then I infused it again...' It might be informative and clearly written, but it's not the most exciting stuff. To each his own, eh?

But sometimes I feel I should just do a traditional review of a tea. It is still a teablog after all. And of course with the introduction I've built up, I'm almost daring myself to make it somehow more interesting than the typical teanote. I might have set myself up with unrealistic expectations in that case.

The tea I want to talk about is Tie Guan Yin (the notorious Iron Goddess). A while back I read someone disparaging comments about how everyone knows the sultry temptress that is the Iron Goddess.

As if this tea was somehow boring due to its popularity. I gave into her seduction when I visited Zhi Tea in Austin when I wrote An oasis on the Eastside.

Alex Zorach made a valid point, in the comments of that post, when he said, 'It seems to be the "default" named Oolong, so there have been a few cases where I tried it and it wasn't the best quality.' He went on to write that finding a good Tie Guan Yin is an entirely different story. I think I know just such an exception. The one I'm talking about is from Upton Tea Imports.

Now according to them, this is a 2nd Grade tea. Their description actually states:

A classic Tie-Guan-Yin, with dark-golden, rolled leaves, producing a flavorful cup with the aroma of sweet raisins complemented with robust earthy tones. The fine flavor lingers on the palate with a toasty, sweet aftertaste. (source: Upton Tea Imports).

I can definitely taste the raisins by the second or third infusion. Although the earthy tones are evident immediately, they somehow get stronger the more times I brew the same tea. In my estimation, that's the sign of a good, sturdy Oolong.

As I've heard so often when people talk about it, the thing to remember when brewing decent Oolong is to use more leaves and less water than you might be accustomed to. And almost as important are the incredibly short brewing times. Really.

Roughly twenty seconds to start. After many infusions, you might increase it to thirty or forty-five. But if you're truly using more leaves and less water, steeping this tea for a long time is only going to result in something bitter. And in my experience, Oolong isn't supposed to be bitter.

If you haven't before been lured in by the Iron Goddess charms, will this review convince you to try her out? No idea. I'd like to think this tea is a perfect introduction to Oolong in general. And might this specifically encourage you to try multiple steepings? That would please me more than you might know. Well, now you know. I just told you.

Friday, 22 July 2011

little Gaiwan's workload

* (the red dragon attempting to take my tea) *

How do you welcome a new teapot into your life? It's a ridiculous question, but I was thinking about the interview I might have with a piece of tea paraphernalia before taking it back to a very good home. Mine.

Many tea fanatics have excessive gear. Pots as well as cups and saucers and the list is rather endless...In order to call myself a tea obsessive, I'm not even sure what stuff I'm missing . I know my cupboard is light when it comes to this subject.

But I do have a growing collection, and typically I go for function rather than form. When I was first experimenting with Gong Fu brewing, I didn't even have a glass teapot, so I was using a large measuring beaker. Thought I'd written more extensively about that here, but maybe in a moment of wisdom, I destroyed the evidence.

Wrote about one of my favourite pieces of tea gear in shrinking my teapots. Still like the photo of that teapot from the dead of winter.

But without further ado, here's my relatively new little Gaiwan:

What would I ask the little guy if I wanted to let him know that a teapot's existence might be a bit overwhelming? Don't want to freak him out before he even gets accustomed to his new digs. But in the interest of full disclosure, it's probably best that I'm up front about the workload around here. At least for such a little Gaiwan.

Why wouldn't he be thrilled at the opportunity? What else is his purpose as a piece of tea paraphernalia? You know, that's the path to just taking your tea gear for granted.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

the 'best tea'?

Was asked by a friend today what the 'best tea' was. What a question, eh? But I love a good debate. And blog comments. In case I've been unclear in the past, I really really like blog comments. So here's my not-so-humble answer. I wonder how the rest of you might respond.

Many teabloggers focus on green and/or Oolong tea, but as much as I like them, I've focused more on black tea. Most tea sellers in Germany make their own unique Ostfriesen Blend that is often a mix of strong, malty Assam and a Chinese Keemun (and maybe an Indian Nilgiri). If I had to choose my favourite non-single estate tea, it'd be one of those specialty blends.

But if it's brands we're talking about, the tastiest and most consistent tea I've found is 'Yorkshire Gold' made by Taylors of Harrogate. But that's only if we're talking about black tea blends.

I'd say the best non-green/Oolong tea, in my opinion, is still a single estate Darjeeling (to be truly accurate, most 'black' Darjeeling is really only 90% oxidised, so it's actually Oolong). I like stronger tea, so I enjoy second as well as first flush Darjeeling.

But the best brand? If you're buying from a seller that can tell you on which estate a Darjeeling was grown, then the likelihood is that it'll be better than something labeled simply as 'Darjeeling'. The estimation is that 40,000 tonnes of Darjeeling are sold worldwide, while only 10,000 tonnes are grown. Logically, one isn't always entirely sure that purchased Darjeeling was actually grown there.

Again, I'm very grateful for the question. Clearly the answer you'll get is entirely objective. I like thinking about how to make loose-leaf tea drinking more attractive. If I were a tea snob, it'd be the worst way of going about the whole thing.

What about you other tea obsessives? When someone asks you what the 'best tea' is, what might you say? I know on the face of it, it's an impossible question. But please jump in and claim your stake on this issue.

Did I mention that blog comments are encouraged?

Saturday, 16 July 2011

tea where you might not expect it

A weekend in a little bitty village (in the Ostallgäu region of Bavaria) called Pfronten. Fantastic hiking in summer and purportedly equally good skiing in winter, but I brought all the tea I'd need with me from home. It's not a big place. The shopping options were bound to be slim.

Upon arriving late Friday afternoon, I decided to take a walk into the town, and as I was peering into windows, I told myself, 'You might find a gift shop with some tea of questionable quality, but there's little or no chance of a real tea shop here.' Less than three minutes later, my eyes found the above-pictured door. That's a bonafide tea shop. I was pleasantly surprised.

Went in, looked around, chatted with the friendly tea-seller. The conversation consisted mostly of me saying how dumbfounded I was that there was a shop selling loose-leaf tea in such an out of the way village.

The woman laughed as she said that many people had expressed the opinion that a shop that sold only tea would never be successful. It was exactly the same thing that I'd recently heard (here) from Thia McKann at The Path of Tea.

Luckily, it wasn't to be the case. The shop is doing so well that they've expanded next door and are opening a Tee Stube (the German word for tea salon). I assured the woman that when I come back to Pfronten next year, I would be very excited to visit the Tee Stube.

Below is a photo of the wonderfully displayed tea tins. The likelihood that someone reading this blog will ever be visiting Pfronten down in southwestern Bavaria is small. But if you happen to be there, I have a tea shop for you that I can highly recommend.

If you'd like to see the website or peruse their tea selection, here they are: Elkes Teeshop. There's an Irish saying at the bottom of the opening page, and I like it so much, I'll translate it below.

'Whoever wants to be king, tea is the queen.'

Thursday, 14 July 2011

dying of tea drinking

'King Gustav III (1746-92), determined to prove coffee was a poison, ordered a convicted murderer to drink coffee every day until he died. In an attempt to do things scientifically, he ordered another murderer to drink tea daily, as a control, and appointed two doctors to oversee the experiment and report on which prisoner died first. Unfortunately, both doctors died and Gustav III was murdered before either prisoner succumbed. The two prisoners enjoyed, or at least endured, a long life until the tea drinker finally succumbed first at the age of eighty-three.'
(source: The World of Caffeine p.93)

Have been thinking about prohibitions of many kinds lately, and it might surprise you to know that European leaders didn't always see the merits of caffeine consumption. For some reason coffee got the brunt of this over the years. It was a dangerous beverage.

I wonder what it must've been like to be one of these prisoners forced to play guinea pig and drink these exotic punishment. If I were either one of them, but especially the tea drinking one, I'm not sure how easily I'd be able to deceive my torturers. Right?

Even if it was sub-quality tea, and I'm assuming it wasn't first flush Darjeeling, the ordeal of being forced to drink tea daily would be a welcome respite from the drudgery of prison life. If they got the idea that I was enjoying it, I'm sure the doctors might feel obligated to find an unhappier subject.

So, there I am staring over at my coffee drinking colleague. We both make as if this is really the worst misfortune that could ever befall such poor creatures such as we. But we're smiling inside. We guinea pigs.

Monday, 11 July 2011

tea-powered gore fest

Earlier today I was listening to an interview about a novel method of writing, and suddenly the subject of tea came up. In that moment, I knew this little nugget would be mined for the teablog. Such is the way of the teablogger.

But first the interview. Turns out a married couple, who happen to be writers, wanted to cash in on the success of the Swedish brutal-hyper-sexual crime novel (à la Stieg Larsson and his The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). In order to write together, they came up with a pseudonym Lars Kepler and they even went so far as to concoct a few specific habits, that are not their own, for this Kepler character.

One of them is that he's a tea drinker (in real life they both drink coffee), and they arranged to have what they call a 'tea meeting' when they'd actually sit down and write in the name of Kepler. They even brewed tea for these little sessions, and thankfully they actually drank the stuff.

While I was listening to the interview I was half-expecting the couple to say that they brewed the tea for their imaginary friend (sort of an empty chair for Elijah), and then poured the tea out after their session.

This would be a very different blogpost had that been the case. We don't take kindly to discarding perfectly good tea in these here parts. Not that whatever tea these two self-described coffee drinkers are brewing is necessarily decent tea. Can't imagine that it is even remotely acceptable, but you get my point.

I ask myself: What do I think about these two writers getting into character by coming over to the leaf-side if only for some sort of quasi-inspiration? I don't see much wrong with it. Why not? Maybe one or both of these writers will get ahold of some quality loose-leaf tea and start drinking the stuff on the sly. When the other one isn't looking. Stranger things've happened, right?

The original interview that I heard can be found here: The Authors Behind The Author Of 'The Hypnotist'. The book is admittedly a bit brutal and possibly not to be read after eating too many of the same lemon biscuits that the writers themselves enjoy.

But if you happen to enjoy gory crime novels, brew up some above-average tea and dig in.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

the hotter the better

It's been exactly a year since I took my mother to Vienna. Was surprised at the variety of tea options there were in this coffee-centric city, and here's what I had to say about Wiens Teehandlung Schönbichler

It wasn't the date that reminded me but the warmer weather. It was actually really quite hot then, and I got to thinking about all the iced tea drinking I read about at this time of year.

I'm not an iced tea drinker. I really don't get it. All I taste is ice. Sure, I've had iced tea. And there were certainly times, when I was much younger, that I dumped a ton of sugar into a glass of iced tea and stirred to no avail...all the sugar sank to the bottom anyway.

Have no idea if this is scientifically accurate, but I've heard that it actually takes more energy for your body to convert the ice cold liquid to your body's temperature than to simply drink hot or even room temperature liquid. So, no matter how hot it gets, I still happily drink very hot tea. Happily.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

accesible Gong Fu

When I think about who I write this blog for, other than for myself, I imagine people who're curious about tea and want to know more. There are certainly some rather knowledgeable people who come here, but there are so many beautiful and knowledgeable blogs about tea. I want to try and help demystify tea drinking a bit, and so I purposely write with the tea newcomer in mind.

Because I'm passionate about it in my daily life, I get a lot of earnest questions. I'm sure some of the more direct inquiries never get made. Along the lines of, 'Wow, this guy's a bit obsessive, isn't he?' But instead, people ask me a variety of questions both general and specific. And I figure such curiosity is the perfect sort of thing to write about here.

So my friend Gaby was over the other evening, and I offered her a glass of wine or some sort of sparkly fruit beverage. She knew I'd be drinking tea, so she insisted that sharing tea with me would be just perfect. I have a new Gaiwan that she hadn't seen, so I decided to go the way of Oolong. It wasn't immediately clear if I'd made the right choice.

Recently, I read something Alex Zorach said about not doing Gong Fu in a traditional way. Essentially his idea was, and I hope I'm paraphrasing it correctly, that he did a sort of a modified Gong Fu that might look a bit strange to a purist. Those are really my words, but the point was that he brewed in a way that worked best for him.

I think it's applicable if my above-mentioned goal was to make tea drinking a bit more approachable. As I poured the first infusion of the Milky Oolong for Gaby, she looked at the curious little snifter cup. 'Where did you learn about all of this?' It's a funny question. I've watched plenty of videos, been to tea ceremonies, peppered tea shop owners with a myriad of questions.

She didn't particularly like the smell of the first infusions of the Milky Oolong, so I didn't make such a big deal of sniffing every infusion. She did like the taste. She said it smelled like a flower you can get at the Viktualienmarkt, which is an open-air market in downtown Munich. Maybe it was called the Joshua flower, but she wasn't sure.

The nice thing was that she was so curious and so eager to try each new infusion. Although she preferred the taste of the tea to the smell, she continued to use the snifter cup. She liked the tea as it got weaker and lighter. As we continued through cup after cup, I tasted less 'milky' and more Oolong, but it wasn't the most complex tea.

What's my point here? Do I really think I can proselytise and convince everyone I know to not only drink tea, but go the way of Gong Fu brewing? No way. But it was a pleasure to see how accessible it was for a tea newcomer. It was nearly a foregone conclusion that I'd have a good time with all of this, but I was very pleased that Gaby did.

Monday, 4 July 2011

anything but a Tea Party?

As a rule, I avoid talking about politics or religion here. To be completely candid, I've broken my rule on multiple occasions. But still, it seems like me getting particularly vitriolic about something non-tea related might turn off someone reading, so I avoid it.

But ever since theTea Party has become so ever-present in American politics, there's been an interesting twist to being a tea fanatic. There's a Tea Party website nearly every time I make a general internet search for tea. Sometimes I actually click on the site before I realise it's a wacko site. But there I go showing my bias. Not the place for that.

I'd give specific examples of such illicit Tea Parties, but I don't want to be a party to driving any traffic to them, as it were. Anyway, you can easily use innocuous search terms including tea, and you'll find what I'm talking about. For example, punch in 'tea party socialism obamacare apocalypse', and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about.

But today I happened upon the inverse of this topic. What might that be, you ask? Well, the Democrats Abroad are very active around the world. And because there are plenty of Americans living in Germany, there are chapters of both major American political parties active in raising money and getting out the vote for ex-pats.

So here's what I read today:

'As a reminder, we are putting on a series of Coffee Talk videos, aka “Anything but a Tea Party”. Our thought is that you can watch YouTube in the comfort of your home while drinking a cup of coffee (or anything but tea). Then you donate what it would have cost if you had bought the drink at a coffee house or restaurant.'

This is their inventive way to raise funds. The money you saved that you would've spent in the cafe is what they're asking you donate to the cause. I get that. Since the seventies or eighties they've used the phrase 'for less than a cup of coffee a day' to get people to be more willing to donate to a good cause.

Children who're starving in Africa? You can make sure that at least one of them eats if you donate such a miniscule amount.

But 'anything but tea'? Did they have to call their Coffee Talk event 'Anything but a Tea Party? Really?

I know this is a backlash against the people who call themselves the Tea Party. The inverse of the polluted web search. But I still don't have to like it.

Friday, 1 July 2011

nostalgia for a place I've never been

I'll start out with a disclaimer. Bavaria is nothing like Darjeeling. Not at all. Not that I've been to Darjeeling. Not yet anyway. I'll go there one day. The more I read/hear about the mountainous region of northeastern India and its mystical air and bountiful soil, the more I desperately want to see it for myself.

So, instead I've been here in the Bavarian Alps for most of the last two weeks, and it's rained more than it hasn't. It's beautiful up here whether it's raining or not, but I love hiking and this torrential rain has definitely limited my opportunities to go up the mountain.

I was sitting here this afternoon, staring out the window at yet another dark and heavy cloud...I wondered to myself, 'What's the perfect tea for this weather?' Well, the mountain air and relentless rain is very similar to what I know of Darjeeling.

I've written quite a lot about Darjeeling in these pages, but here's one of the posts I liked the most. Actually, the comments/discussion after the post is what I liked most of all. Check them out: soil from which it came.

Had a few infusions of the Singell Estate first flush that I wrote about in the previous post. As good as it was down in the Bavarian capitol, it was somehow even more delicious up here at the higher altitude.

I somehow feel nostalgia for a place I've never been. Just thinking about is making me thirsty.