Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Promenade dans les Jardins de Gaïa

One of the things I really enjoy is learning about new tea companies. So last week I went to a Bio Messe, which is an organic food trade fair, and mentioned that I hoped I'd find something tea-related. Soon after saying this on twitter, I get this response from Xavier:
@lahikmajoe At this Biomesse, you will be able to find a French tea company based in Alsace, Jardins de Gaïa.
— teaconomics (@teaconomics) February 17, 2012
Was very happy to hear it, and off I went to Nürnberg. Was there on other business, so once I got that out of the way I started hunting for tea. I was particularly interested in finding the company Xavier had mentioned. Sure enough, without much difficulty, I rounded a corner in the section where many French companies were, there was les Jardins de Gaïa.

Here's their website if you'd like to know more about them:

les Jardins de Gaïa

The woman I talked to was very helpful and serious about her love for tea. I tried to explain how I'd heard about the company, but I think trying to explain who Xavier was and how he informed me that they'd be at this story just made me look like a madman.

The French, as a rule, seem to know how to handle awkward situations such as this, and this was no exception. I was served a cup of very nice Korean green tea, and told that it was made in the style of a Japanese Sencha but with a much more reasonable price.

I got the distinct impression that not just fair-trade, but economic development in tea growing countries is very important to this company. It would be one thing to pay this topic lip service, but as I looked through their catalogue I saw plenty of emphasis on this aspect of their business.

As I was getting ready to leave, I was asked if I'd like a sample of one of their teas. I'm a tea blogger for goodness sake - I'd love a sample. She opened her crate of tea, and while I peered over her shoulder, I hinted, 'I do like a nice Oolong.'

'Oh, in that case,' she responded, 'I've got just the thing for you. It's a nice lightly-oxidised Oolong from Vietnam.' This is just the sort of thing I like to try.

Here's what the website said about the Trà Kim Tuyên:

'Cueilli sur les hauts plateaux, ce thé aux feuilles d’un vert intense, peu oxydées, est proche du thé vert. Sa tasse brillante, fraîche et fruitée couleur anis, rappelle les Oolong de Taiwan. Son bouquet aromatique est dominé par des notes d’abricot et soutenu par de légères pointes de mangue et de fruits exotiques. Original et Rafraîchissant!' (this is a lightly oxidised High Mountain Oolong with bright green's very similar to a green tea. A bit like a Formosa Oolong, the cup is fresh and fruity and the colour of licorice. The aromatic bouquet is dominated by apricot notes with peaks of mango and exotic fruit. Original and refreshing)

That sounds ok, doesn't it? It's actually a surprisingly good tea. I've now gotten quite a few infusions out of it, and I plan to continue steeping the same leaves tomorrow. It'll be my own version of Good Morning Vietnam.

Oh, and here are the leaves before I had my way with them:

Saturday, 18 February 2012

tea monkey infuser

The longer I take part in this teablogging lark the more curious tea-related stuff I find. This I found a while back in Nice, and I knew I'd include it here at some point.

It's a bit of a stalling technique to be completely honest. Went to a Bio Messe in Nürnberg yesterday, and there was more than enough tea. Tea companies, and health food companies that have tea brands, and different countries promoting their tea industry.

But the thing is: it was a bit much. It's going to take me a bit of time to sift through all the information. So that's why you're getting my distraction blogpost. Look at the shiny tea monkey infuser.

I had the last leaves of a nondescript Keemun, and it was the perfect amount for a cup of tea. The tea monkey infuser was practically making monkey sounds in desperation that he be used.

ooh ooh ooh

taking a dip

I crammed the tea inside, clasped it shut, and several minutes later I had the perfect cup of tea.

It really was a nice cup of tea. I did spend a bit of time wondering what material the thing was made of (It's not a real monkey, you know?).

But it looks like stainless steel, and although there are probably studies that say stainless steel is a dangerous material in which to cook (or steep) things, it's probably too late for me to worry about such warnings.

And here we are after all that hard work...a photo of the cuppa and the very satisfied looking monkey.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

fish eyes

Don't have one of those fancy kettles where you can adjust the temperature of the water. Keep hearing/reading people talk about machines that brew a perfect pot of tea, and I find myself going the other direction.

I'm no luddite. I like technology in many instances, but I'm often considering the simplest way of brewing tea. Over time, I've tried brewing a tea with boiling water for which I'd normally have used much cooler water. Talked with a Taiwanese tea shop owner a while back, and she insisted that she used very hot water for her best High Mountain Oolong. Tea that I'd been very cautious with until that point.

Not anymore.

Then a few people in the Google+ Hangout mentioned that they brewed many sorts of tea with water much hotter than I was accustomed. Rather than talk about specific temperatures, one or two of them mentioned different sorts of boiling water as it's described in the Chinese cooking culture.

The thing I remembered from the discussion was 'fish eyes'. The water starts to boil and the size of the bubbles can be described as 'shrimp eyes, crab eyes, fish eyes, rope of pearls, and raging torrent'. Tea Trade Peter found that when I asked about this in a Tea Trade forum (fish eyes).

I especially like the quote that Bram included in the discussion, so I'll leave you with that:

When the water is boiling, it must look like fishes’ eyes and give off but the hint of a sound. When at the edges it chatters like a bubbling spring and looks like pearls innumerable strung together, it reaches the second stage. When it leaps like breakers majestic and resounds like a swelling wave, it is at its peak. Any more and the water will be boiled out and should not be used.
The Classic of Tea (Cha Ching) by Lu Yu  (~ 800) (translation FR Carpenter)

(photo source:

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

retirement of the trusty orange flask

my old tea traveller gear...remember Nokia?

So, I was sent down a road of nostalgia when I read a recent blogpost by LattéTeaDah called Three Good Reasons to BYOTea, but it's likely not for the reason you might think.

If you're going to be known for something, travelling with my tea is as good a thing as any. It's resourceful, it's practical, and best of all it includes a flask of steaming tea. So when Xavier referred to me in the comments of the above-mentioned post as someone who's 'always ready' with his tea, I was undoubtedly honoured.

However, the actual reason I got nostalgic is that in my earlier life as a musician I was once on a tour that went through both St Louis and Kansas City. I'd spent quite a bit of time in the former, but I was thrilled to finally see a part of the country where my dad had spent some of his formative years. Tea was the last thing on my mind on that tour, but now I'm really curious what one might find in the way of shops selling loose-leaf tea.

Would I trust that I could show up and find something, though? Not on your life. Kansas City is great for barbeque. For tea? Not so much.

So that's where the travelling with my tea comes in. Years ago, I wrote a piece for Leafboxtea (thefolk who bring you Tea Trade these days) called Tips for traveling with Tea. Check it out. You might like some of the ideas.

Which reminds me...I really should revisit the topic. How has my tea gear changed? I do have a bit of sad news to report. Several months ago, I had to retire the trusty orange flask (pictured above) that'd seen me on so many journeys. It was leaking like a sieve, and once that starts happening...well, a flask that actually holds liquid is sort of the whole point, right?

I considered some sort of ceremony. Then I thought, 'You really are a daffy one, aren't you Lahikmajoe? A send off for your trusty orange flask?' I refrained from any such nonsense. It was a constant companion for quite a number of years. Like any respectable train traveller, I'd purchased sandwich boxes and canvas bags in the identical colour.

Now? I have a nice selection of orange accessories that went with the retired flask, and a beautiful, brand new, stainless steel one. As beautiful and practical as the new flask is, it's horribly mismatched. Oh well. I'm not ready to jettison the orange accessories yet. Please...not just yet.