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.