Monday, 26 March 2012

Have a Cuppa Tea

Was sent a YouTube video of a Kinks cover (thanks Elaine), and I thought this would be the perfect beginning for a blogpost. Here's Elasticated Waste Band singing Have a Cuppa Tea:

It might not be the most in-tune song you've ever heard, but the original isn't much better (Sorry Mr Davies).

Here are the lyrics to Have a Cuppa Tea:

Granny's always ravin' and rantin'  
And she's always puffin' and pantin',  
And she's always screaming and shouting,  
And she's always brewing up tea.  
Grandpappy's never late for his dinner,  
Cos he loves his leg of beef  
And he washes it down with a brandy,  
And a fresh made cup of tea.  
Have a cuppa tea, have a cuppa tea,  
have a cuppa tea, have a cuppa tea,  
Halleluja, halleluja, halleluja, Rosie Lea  
Halleluja, halleluja, halleluja Rosie Lea.    
If you feel a bit under the weather,  
If you feel a little bit peeved,  
Take granny's stand-by potion  
For any old cough or wheeze.  
It's a cure for hepatitis it's a cure for chronic insomnia,  
It's a cure for tonsilitis and for water on the knee.  
Tea in the morning, tea in the evening, tea at supper time,  
You get tea when it's raining, tea when it's snowing. Tea when the weather's fine,  
You get tea as a mid-day stimulant You get tea with your afternoon tea  
For any old ailment or disease For Christ sake have a cuppa tea.  
Whatever the situation whatever the race or creed,  
Tea knows no segregation, no class nor pedigree  
It knows no motivations, no sect or organisation,  
It knows no one religion, Nor political belief. 

Now, I must admit that this video and its text are really enough content for a blogpost. I could leave it at that, and be quite satisfied in my efforts as a respected and influential teablogger. But let's be candid here. If I did only the bare minimum, I'd be letting down my horde of tea drinking fans.

Let's dissect the song then, why don't we

The song begins with Granny, and I can't imagine a better place to start. Yes, Granny brews a lot of tea. She simultaneously raves, rants, puffs, and pants. Put that together with her screaming and shouting, and you have a very fiery kind of elderly lady.

However, just because she's a bit emotionally imbalanced doesn't necessarily mean the tea is to blame. Many people confuse causation with correlation. You know...that she drinks a lot of tea and then freaks out. As a matter of fact, my theory is that Granny would be much worse without her tea. That she's naturally a bit unhinged, but swilling at her tea actually balances her out. Even if only a bit.

That leads us to Grandpappy. He's a character, isn't he? He's what I like to call a raconteur. A man about town.  A bit of a sensualist, as well. If you know what I'm saying. Eats with enthusiasm, has a bit of fire water to wash his meal down, as a gentleman will do. How do I know Grandpappy's a gentleman? Well, he has that 'fresh made cup of tea' to round out his voracious hunger and thirst.

Then we sing praises to (or possibly with) a woman called Rosie Lea. Aren't you curious who she is? Me too. I'm going to assume with Granny hollering and Grandpappy nipping at his hipflask, that Rosie Lea could very well be one of those ladies of the evening. Seems only appropriate.

Tea will help whatever ails you - we've talked about the medical benefits of tea on this blog before. Just recently, I wrote tea will cure everything...all of it. Here're a few more items for your list of things tea will cure. Hepatitis, insomnia and even a tonsilitis? Well, of course. Fun times. But what about 'water on the knee'?

But this also promises relief if one feels 'a little bit peeved'. I'm nearly always just a bit peeved. I'm very doubtful if tea's done anything about that.

Or...maybe without the tea, I'd be incredibly peeved. Massively peeved. I don't like the thought of that. Need to think about something else quickly.

I also appreciate the mention of tea at every meal. Breakfast? Check. In the evening? Check. When Mr Davies says 'Suppertime' here, he means his midday meal. Shall we have tea then, as well? Yes, please. I believe we shall.

Good weather or bad weather - any meteorological situation calls for tea. Any time of day, as well. Wait, we've already been over all this. And again with the health benefits. We get it. Does the songwriter think we haven't been paying attention?

And finally, we get to the best part. The 'tea is an equal opportunity elixir' section. Race or creed? You can be one or even both and drink tea. Do you have any class? Well, have some tea. Uncooth? I know the thing for you. You guessed it - a nice hot cuppa.

I do have one difference of opinion here, though. Tea 'has no motivations'? Oh, really? This has certainly not been my experience. Plenty of motivations if you ask me. Plenty. And then some.

And right at the end there's the whole John Lennon Imagine thing. The 'no countries' part and the 'nothing to kill or die for' part and the part that makes some religious people irritable, as well as that little 'people living life in peace' afterthought.

Repeat the chorus (again with the Hallelujas and that tramp of a Rosie Lea) and there you have a nice little song about a spot of tea. What more could you want?

Friday, 23 March 2012

dunking my biscuit

one of my favourite dunking biscuits

Saw Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and really enjoyed it. I'm always on the look out for references to tea in pop culture, so I was thrilled halfway through the movie when Judi Dench's character Evelyn explains not just Builder's Tea, but how to properly dunk a biscuit in it. Here's the exact snippet of dialogue from the film:
Evelyn: Yes
[It is builder's tea]
Evelyn: , we dunk biscuits into it.
Sunaina's Brother: Dunk?
Evelyn: Means lowering the biscuit into the tea and letting it soak in there and trying to calculate the exact moment before the biscuit dissolves, when you whip it up into your mouth and enjoy the blissful union of biscuits and tea combined. It's more relaxing than it sounds. 
I love this sort of thing.  You know I'll be doing this very thing with my biscuits the next several weeks. I suspect there'll be quite a bit of broken biscuit down at the bottom of my Builder's Tea.

The Telegraph had an article on the subject a few years ago, and went to the trouble to recommend Tea and Biscuits? Better make it a Keemun.

And I quote:

No, according to Tim Clifton, the former director of the UK Tea Council, each biscuit has a perfect brew to accompany it. He and Simon Pope, the new product development controller at Fox's Biscuits, have coauthored the Biscuit and Tea Tasting Guide.

Why haven't I heard of this until now? The Biscuit and Tea Tasting Guide is now something I must have. Immediately.

They say a Ginger Nut goes well with Chai. Wait, Ginger Nut? That's no way to talk about our Robert Godden. Oh, you meant the Ginger Nut biscuit. Oh, ok. 

If Earl Grey's your tea of choice, they say you might consider a lemon biscuit. I can see that. Nice call Biscuit and Tea Tasting Guide. You've not yet led me astray.

They only make a brief mention of chocolate-covered biscuits in the article (strong Kenyan tea to go with that one if you were wondering), and I certainly hope chocolate-covered biscuits get a bit more attention in the actual book. It wouldn't be an authoritative source otherwise, would it?

Right near the very end of the article, they offhandedly mention:

'Keemun, from eastern China, should be sipped with a caramel filled biscuit, such as Tunnock's caramel wafter, while squashed fly biscuits require Pu-erh, a nutty Chinese brew.'

That sentence could be parsed to such a degree that an entire new blogpost might result. A Tunnock's caramel wafterIf not that, then some squashed fly biscuits? Squashed flies optional, I hope.

What do you think fellow tea obsessives? Do you 'ave a favourite biscuit to go with your Builder's Tea? Incidentally, I talked about this stuff in give us a slug of that Builder's Tea, yeah? Go check it out. It's not going to hurt you.

Off to dunk my biscuit, as it were.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Searching for Tea in Berlin

holding my breath till I find good tea
Not sure how to break this to you, but I'll pull the proverbial band-aid away: I found a really nice tea shop/tearoom in Berlin. If you've been following my travels, you know that my prospects were not looking good. My last post was written as politely as I could manage, but I doubt I'd recommend anyone go there. Perhaps only if you were to buy tea and take it home with you.

Tee Tea Thé in the early evening
I should say that I did find Tee Tea Thé (Goltzstraße 2, 10781 Berlin 030/21752240) in Berlin-Schöneberg the first evening I arrived. They sell a variety of tea brands including Ronnefeldt and Pure Tea, even Celestial Seasonings, as well as a handful of others.

the shelves at Tee Tea Thé

When I stayed in a nice hotel in Stuttgart, I thought a bit about Ronnefeldt Tee when I wrote In defence of a brand of teabags. Up until then, I'd only had the tea-bagged version, but here was row after row of this loose-leaf tea on offer.

Most German tea companies that've been around for more than a century are located in harbour cities such as Hamburg or Bremen. The fact that Ronnefeldt was founded in 1823 in Frankfurt am Main (far away from the coast) is both curious and impressive to me, and this brand appears to be the tea that many good hotels worldwide choose to serve. I've asked it before: How did that come about?

I'd certainly like to get to know this tea brand even better. Frankfurt's not so far away. Maybe the next time I'm there, I'll arrange to visit Ronnefeldt's headquarters.

Was even more curious about Pure Tea. This was also a brand I'd heard of, but not yet tried. I like the concept of all pure, unadulturated tea, so I got a package of their White Downy Oolong Longkou. I brewed it as Gong Fu as I could in a conventional glass pot, but I can't wait to get home and try it in my Gaiwan. Huge light brown and green leaves with plenty of white tips, this Oolong has a both vegetal notes, as well as a taste of honey.

Tee Tea Thé isn't only a tea shop, though. It's a proper tearoom, as well. Plenty of reading material strewn about and people either chatting or studying diligently. If I lived near here, I could see this place becoming my second living room.

Teehandelshaus Benjowski

If rare tea is your thing, you really should consider going to the northern side of Berlin. It's a bit odd for me to recommend Teehandelshaus Benjowski (Danziger Straße 3, 10435 Berlin 030/4403 ext. 7571), since when I went to visit the shop, they'd already closed for the weekend.

Nevertheless, I'd heard so many good things. If one can tell anything from peering in the window right after closing time, I can assure you that they have an astonishing collection of Yixing teapots. Everyone I talked to about this shop said the selection of tea was similarly impressive. 

Berliner Teesalon

But the experience that saved my tea search in the German capital was the Berliner Teesalon (Invalidenstraße 160, 10115 Berlin 030/2804 ext. 0660). The people running this shop clearly know what they're doing. It's not only a tea shop with quite an unbelievable selection of loose-leaf tea, but there are tables and plush chairs where you can sit  and really savour your time drinking tea. It's an incredibly inviting atmosphere, and had I not shown up there half an hour before closing time, I'm positive I could've sat there the better part of an afternoon. 

There's all of the typical tea you'd expect: a few nice Keemuns, quite a selection of both Chinese and Japanese green tea. Yunnans, Darjeelings, Ceylons and Assams...I could go on, but instead I'll link to their website here, and you can go look for yourself. It's quite a list.

the salon of Berliner Teesalon
It was when I started chatting with the young woman running the shop that I found out about the good stuff. I'm often looking for a good way to get deeper into Pu-erh, so imagine my delight when I happened upon their Pu-erh cabinet. Gorgeous stuff in there. 

the bar at Berliner Teesalon

Partially because I wouldn't shut up about my Taiwanese Oolong obsession, she also showed me some Lagertee (stored tea) that I desperately wanted to try. There was also talk of Oolongs grown in Thailand - this is something I'd like to learn more about. I've certainly heard/read about Thai Oolongs, but not yet tried any. 

tea gear at the Berliner Teesalon
Looking back at what I've written so far, I don't think I've done justice to Berliner Teesalon's Japanese green tea selection. It was notably extensive. There's also plenty of tea gear if you want to get into Matcha. That in addition to Yixing teapots, as well as more conventional Western teapots and tea cups. If I had a tea shop/tearoom, I hope I'd have such a nice selection. I couldn't recommend this place more highly.

Finally, after quite a bit of walking over the several days I was in Berlin, I saved the Tadschikische Teehaus  ‎for last (Am Festungsgraben 1, 10117 Berlin 030/2041112). It's centrally located, but you'd never know it was there unless you were looking for it. You can find it inside the Palais am Festungsgraben right off of Unter den Linden  - just a few hundred metres from the Museum Insel.

in the Tadschikische Teehaus
Until you go up the staircase and locate the room outside the tearoom where everyone's taken off and left their shoes - until then, you can't actually believe there's a place here to drink tea. But there really is. Please persevere in your search. Finding the Tadschikische Teehaus a nice reward. No idea how authentic it is, but to me it looks like what a tea house in Tajikistan might.

sipping at the samovar

Although they have several tables, be prepared to sit on pillows on the floor. The tea is not only served in an assortment of funky teapots,  I had the Lommonossow-Tee (something purportedly from the 'eastern banks of the Black Sea'), but you can also order what's called a Russian Teezeremonie (tea ceremony), which appear to be not only tea served in a samovar, but a selection of delicious things to munch on. Actually, there was a full menu that I didn't even glance at, but I'm sure I would check it out if I were in Berlin more often., delicious tea

Saturday, 10 March 2012

King's Teagarden on the Kufürstendamm in Berlin

There are many way I can write about this shop and this tea seller's philosophies, but I've decided to make this about how one sells tea. It's easy enough to say, 'the customer is king' or 'the customer's always right', but what if said customer isn't knowledgeable? What if part of having a tea shop is educating your clientele?

But let's start with the shop where my thoughts on this began. If you search for tea online in Berlin, one of the first results you'll find is King's Teagarden on Kurfürstendamm. This shop has been here since before the Berlin Wall came down. Herr Werner F J Schmitt has been at this for more than thirty years and I'm sure he could tell you some stories about tea trends.

Actually, he told one story about a local tea place who'd been celebrated in the media for the brilliant idea to sell tea in to go containers. Tea isn't something to be hurried, he insisted, and of course I had to agree with him. There were a lot of things I agreed with. I'd looked at the King's Teagarden website before my visit, and he has some very strong beliefs when it comes to the preparation of tea.

I considered reprinting his Ten Golden Rules, but then I carefully reconsidered this. I'm trying to be as nice and polite as possible about this, but I don't want to attract his ire. So instead of posting his clever Ten Golden Rules, I'll simply link to them here.

He's very proud of his packaging, and from what I saw it looked like he had every reason to be. He told me another account of the history of the development of his 'special compound foil bag', and the high praise he'd gotten for how fresh his tea stays as a result of this state of the art technology. I've seen tea sold, as well as delivered, in some questionable packaging, so I was pleased to hear of this gift to the world of tea.

Let me be clear at this point: I was excited to come to Berlin partly because I wanted to see what sorts of tea shops and tearooms the German capital had to offer. I looked at the King's Teagarden website, and chuckled at the 'No Teabags Please' on the homepage. I thought to myself, 'This is going to be nice. This guy is passionate about tea. He's one of us.' Really, I did.

I hadn't read his website carefully enough. Some of the surprises that were in store for me would've been avoided had I really paid attention to his Provokation, which is exactly what it sounds like. If you scroll to the bottom of that list, and click on fordern Sie sie! then you can see his argument for all of these things. They're very meticulously and carefully thought out. I heard him quote some of these things verbatim while I was in his shop, and quite honestly I didn't know where to start.

So I went to this shop very excited, was not prepared for what happened next and really tried to be polite while I was on the premises. As I'm being right now. I think a lot of passionate tea lovers could get overly emotional about something like this and lose their composure. I have no intention of letting that happen.

A very brief recounting of the story is that I went into the shop, ordered both an Oolong and one of his tea blends that included mostly Ceylon and a bit of Darjeeling.

I must divulge that I respect good blends immensely. As he was making the tea, I perused the different varieties on offer and was really curious about them. Positively curious. I wanted to know what many of them tasted like, but especially the one he named 'Kanzlerin' after Chancellor Angela Merkel, which is described as 'black and white leaf tea, first and second flush Darjeeling with leaf buds and Oolong from China'. There were others...there were plenty others that struck my fancy. I couldn't even begin to name them all.

The tea arrived, and it was poured very nicely. Just so. And I sat down to savour it, and took the first sip. There was something about it...I'd never had such sweet Oolong. I really wondered if my taste buds were deceiving me. It was a delicious Dong Ding Oolong, but the sweetness was really doing my head in. After finishing the first cup, I turned to the black tea blend and had a sip of it. At that moment I was absolutely certain that there was sugar in the tea.

I've got nothing against sugar. Really. Later in the conversation, he mentioned something about the irrational opposition to sugar that many people have, and I wondered how often he'd had the argument where a customer insisted, 'I didn't ask for sugar in my tea.' But like I say, I'm not necessarily against it. And I'll try most things at least once. I finished the Oolong, and then asked if I could have a second infusion.

Here's where things took a turn for the worse. The feigned look of surprise on Herr Schmitt's face was probably well practised. As if no-one's ever asked him for a second infusion. He politely smiled and insisted that once tea has steeped in 100°C water (for exactly 3 minutes, as it states on his website) that all the best part of the tea was gone. The leaves were now useless.

I was a bit taken aback, but it was his shop. I had no intention of being rude. At this point I asked him about all the Chinese who infuse tea multiple times. He informed me that the people in China are very poor. As a rhetorical device he asked me if I was very poor.

This is the point I think some of you would just pay for the tea you'd drunk and leave the shop. Not in a huff. You might smile and nod and wish him a good day. Then step out of his shop, shake your head and think to yourself, 'Well, I need never go there again.'

Although that was my first inclination, I was really curious about some of his ideas. I asked about whether there was sugar in the tea and he not only said that he'd added sugar, but then made an analogy to the culinary world that still has me baffled (You can see this in his fordern Sie sie! section that I mentioned above). He posited that  no-one questions a chef when he enhances a dish with sugar. The logical corollary of this was that someone brewing tea should be given the same latitude.

This is where we had the spirited discussion about the above-mentioned irrational opposition to sugar, and I wondered about Diabetics who stumble into his shop unaware that they're getting sugar they hadn't expected. But that's just irrational, right?

Because I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, I'll say that I believe Herr Schmitt really sees himself as a serious tea expert. And like I said at the outset, he's been doing this for decades now. There's a guy on Steepster who says nice things about the Claudius blend from King's Teagarden. His long-term customers, in all likelihood, love his expertise and appreciate the authority that he has when talking about matters of tea.

Most importantly, he's not rooted his ideas on feelings. He mentioned a professor with whom he'd done significant research, and he wrote a book that's prominently displayed both in his shop and on his website which purportedly details and supports his philosophies of tea. He proudly stated that the book has had multiple printings and nothing he wrote had ever been disproven. Like I say, I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Although I don't have thirty years in the tea business, I've learned a bit about tea. I wonder how many people who know something about tea have smiled and nodded as they were backing out of the King's Teagarden door.

Which brings me back to my original thoughts on all of this. How much of tea selling is educating your customer? Can one afford to disregard the conventional wisdom on tea preparation? What about if you've done a lot of research and have written a book about it? One than no-one has disproved?

It's a bit sad that I'll never get to try all those delicious tea blends that were on display in King's Teagarden. I suppose I just can't handle the sweet aftertaste. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

tea will cure everything...all of it

There are two sorts of teabloggers in the world. Those who mindlessly regurgitate the purported health benefits of tea, and those who scoff.

Ok, that's a bit of a simplification. I know. And it's not fair for me to disparage every single person who writes about this, because there are health benefits. And that's likely one of the things that first attracts many people to tea. That or peer pressure. For example, you live in a tea-drinking culture, and you simply want to fit in. Sounds like an above-average culture to me.

But the thing that sticks in my craw is the ridiculously over-the-top claims that are made. 'This tea will not just cure your inoperable cancer, but miraculously make your mother-in-law adore you'. Although those are exaggerations, the things I regularly read that tea can cure or prevent are wildly speculative.

Let me just say again: I know tea drinking can be good for you. Some of the things can be empirically proven, and the others are written in a way that you can't exactly disprove them. 'This tea might very well make all your dreams come true'. That sort of thing.

So imagine my delight when I found a list of the medical benefits of tea, while reading Alan & Iris MacFarlane's The Empire of Tea recently. Translated from a Chinese source by Member of Parliament T. Povey in 1686, here are all of the things this magical elixir that we call tea can do for you:

  1. It purifyes the Bloud of that which is grosse and Heavy.
  2. It Vanquisheth heavy Dreames.
  3. It Easeth the brain of heavy Damps.
  4. Easeth and cureth giddinesse and Paines in the Heade. 
  5. Prevents the Dropsie.
  6. Drieth Moist humours in the Heade.
  7. Consumes Rawnesse.
  8. Opens Obstructions.
  9. Cleares the Sight.
  10. Clenseth and Purifieth adults humours and a hot Liver.
  11. Purifieth defects of the Bladder and Kiddneys.
  12. Vanquisheth Superfluous Sleep.
  13. Drives away dissines, makes one Nimble and Valient. 
  14. Encourageth the heart and Drives away feare. 
  15. Drives away all Paines of the Collick which proceed from Wind.
  16. Strengthens the Inward parts and Prevents Consumptions.
  17. Strengthens the Memory.
  18. Sharpens the Will and Quickens the Understanding.
  19. Purges Safely the Gaul.
  20. Strengthens the use of due benevolence.
Wow. Maybe I was wrong about this tea stuff. All that sounds wonderful. If one drinks tea, he'll have no medical-related problems again. Right?

Let's start with number 1: This is good, right? Who doesn't want purified blood? Is blood gross and heavy? Well, I suppose it is. I haven't weighed mine. Not lately, anyway.

2. Vanquishing heavy dreams is good. No-one wants heavy dreams. Just remember: have a little tea right before bed, and you'll have only fluffy and light dreams. Not too much, though. One thing drinking a lot of tea will undoubtedly do for you is make you need to make frequent trips to the toilet.

3. I have no idea about this one. Is your brain weighed down by over-sized Damps? What on earth is a Damp? Can't imagine that it's all that good. 

4. This one says it takes away headaches, which is good, but do you really want to be cured of being giddy? I'm not sure I want it eased. I'm so rarely giddy. I want it to last as long as possible.

5. Dropsy? I had to do a search to find out what this might be, and it appears it's only something which afflicts fish. Here: if your fish have come down with it, you can go to Dealing With Dropsy to solve all your Dropsy-related problems. If you're a human with Dropsy, you need only drink tea.

6. What is it with people and their moist heads? Really. Were earlier people so dehydrated? I'm glad tea will solve that. Thank you, tea.

7. This one is most appreciated. Rawness needs to be consumed. Cooking things is over-rated. We should all really embrace the consumption of raw things. Or rawness in general.

8. The way I see it, obstructions are begging to be opened. It's the natural order of things. It is, isn't it? You build an obstruction, and something or someone is going to do his damnedest to break it down. In this case, that thing will be the power of tea.

9. Tea will make blind people see once more? That's good news, isn't it?

10-11. What's an adult humour? And a hot liver? They don't sound good. The same goes for defects of the bladder and kidneys.

12. I don't think I want my superfluous sleep vanquished. I get very little of that. I'd like more, actually.

13. Nimble and valiant...and no longer dizzy. This'll be good news for some dizzy people I know. If any of you want a bit more nobility and/or valiance in your life, you might consider drinking more tea.

14. If you drink tea, you'll no longer be afraid. Those fears will be driven away, if they've not been driven away already. Enjoy a fearless life from here on out.

15. Ok, the wind-produced colic? They're talking about flatulence here. Maybe I'm not drinking enough tea. I drink a lot of tea, but this affliction has yet to have been cleared up. One can still hope, right?

16. Inward parts...wait a minute. This one could be taken so many ways. I think my inward parts are plenty strong, but because there's mention of consumption...well, I suppose it means something different. I saw La Boheme. I wouldn't want to have anything to do with the consumption. 

17. Tea does a lot of things, but memory strengthening isn't one of them. At least not in my case. Maybe I'm drinking the wrong tea.

18. My will is rather sharp, but I wouldn't mind a bit quicker understanding. This is like the memory improvement. It's not getting better because of tea drinking. If anything age has slowed my understanding.

19. My mother had Gall Bladder surgery when I was a little boy, and from what she said, it hurt like hell. Just think: if she'd drunk a lot more tea, no need for surgery. At this point, you're probably relieved that I have nothing to do with the medical profession. 

20. Finally, my very favourite one. And I quote: 'Strengthens the use of due benevolence'. I like to parse sentences, and this is a wonderful opportunity. We're not talking about improving all benevolence. Only the earned sort. The 'due' benevolence. That means if I deem you don't deserve it, my benevolence for you is non-existent. Nada. Niente.

So, what have we learned here? That tea will cure everything...all of it. What I was talking about at the beginning of this post was misguided. The truth is that any time someone touts the health benefits of tea, you should believe them whole-heartedly. Dreams coming true and all.

You can tell them I said so.

Monday, 5 March 2012

tea drunk at Laifufu

Back in the middle of December of 2010, I excitedly wrote about Oolong Nirvana on the next street over. I knew it was something special. Not only was the tea exquisite, but the way the tea shop was being run was impressive. So how do I explain how rarely I go there?

Pei-Jen Müller-Lierheim is an Oolong tea seller, who's clearly passionate about her specialty. She travels regularly back to Taiwan for the freshest most delicious Taiwanese Oolong. She has other tea in her shop and is happy to sell you a Darjeeling or Earl Grey, but I've not even mentioned those teas when I'm there. It'd be somehow unseemly. I'll get to more of that later.

Here's the thing: a friend that I'd only known online (through Tea Trade, no less) was coming to Munich, and the first place that came to mind was Laifufu. Here's what Ya-Ya had to say about our tea session there: Looking for tea in Munich? He does a nice job of going through the line-up of tea we had, so please click on the link and see his take on it.

Rather than writing out the particular tea names on a notepad, I chose to mention each one on twitter as we drank it. Here's how it all got underway:

Drinking high-mountain Oolong at a Taiwanese shop (Lai fu fu) with friends I met through @teatrade.

— @lahikmajoe March 3, 2012

Started with a Jinxuan Oolong & now going more highly-oxidised...

— @lahikmajoe March 3, 2012

And now a Wenshan Pauchung. Much different...I doubt Mao would've liked this one @larwe.

— @lahikmajoe March 3, 2012

We had a nice Tie Guan Yin & have moved on to a Taiwanese black tea called Mi xing.

— @lahikmajoe March 3, 2012

Enough tea drinking...time to take the dogs to the park.

— @lahikmajoe March 3, 2012

Now, I'd like to say a few things about the tea we were drinking, but then I want to make a personal appeal that you support your local tea establishment.

The Jin Xuan Oolong was lightly-oxidised and the leaves smelled quite floral as you'd expect. The still-warm snifter smelled the same, but Ya-Ya noticed that as it cooled it smelled like coconut. This cooled cup scent was only noticeable after one infusion, but it was very strong. This first Oolong didn't last particularly long, but then she broke out the top-shelf stuff. It was a lightly-oxidised Oolong, but this time it was a Bao Zhong Oolong from 1978. That's right - a tea that's been stored for thirty-four years. It was so smooth and silky going down. From my perspective, it was somehow like a mix between an Oolong with a hint of Pu-erh. And the cups kept coming and coming.

While we were drinking it, Pei-Jen offhandedly mentioned that her daily tea was typically a more highly-oxidised Oolong. We politely steered the conversation more toward that. We wanted to know more about exactly what she meant when she said 'more highly-oxidised Oolong'. That's where the Tie Guan Yin came in, and here's where I fear I might've offended her. Not a lot, but a bit.

I'd never seen a Tie Guan Yin whose leaves looked and smelled so similar to a high quality Darjeeling. It was such an eerie similarity that I said exactly that. As the words came out of my mouth, she nearly recoiled in horror. As if I'd disparaged her exquisite tea. Now, I'm sure she'd assure you that she has nothing against high mountain Indian tea, but I saw that look in her eyes.

Finally, we had the Taiwanese black tea, and I have to say this was the perfect way to wrap things up. The 'Mi' in Mi xing apparently means honey in Chinese, so I was not at all surprised for there to be a honey-dripped sweetness to this delectable tea. By this point, we were all hopelessly tea drunk.

The friends that Ya-Ya had invited along had been, up to then, less than impressed with other local tea shop choices, so they were quite complimentary. The nicest thing about that is that they're locals...up until now my tea drinking community has been mostly on-line. It looks like if I do a tea tasting at mine, or plan to go tea drinking with friends in the city that Michael and Emily might become regular partakers. I certainly hope so.

Because Ya-Ya is a tea seller, and we talked with Pei-Jen about her shop specifically and the tea business in general, there was quite a bit of philosophical discussion about what circumstances make a tea shop/tearoom  succeed. The saddest thing for an owner who sees happy customers leave his shop is when they don't come back to the shop for months or even years at a time. I can say how much I love my local tearoom all I want, but if I want that place to have a shot at succeeding, I need to at least go there and talk about it. It's so obvious that under normal circumstances I'd not even mention it.

But here's a shop I truly love. I delight in knowing that Pei-Jen is around the corner with exquisite top-shelf Oolongs. So why aren't I going there more often? It's an excellent question.

You're going to hear me talking more about this shop and other local Munich tea-related places. And if you're coming to Bavaria and want to experience some above-average tea, let me know. Just be prepared to get tea drunk.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Løv Organic from the people who brought you Kusmi Tea

One of the first things I found a few weeks ago at the Bio Messe in Nürnberg was Løv Organic. Let me first say that this company knows a thing or two about presentation. The colours are beautiful, and the design is flawless. I spent quite a bit of time after the event pondering how important good marketing and branding are to a successful tea company.

Let's start out by talking about who's behind all of this. The press release begins with, 'Sylvain Orebi introduces Kusmi Tea's little sister Løv Organic, the organic tea that makes everyday life more beautiful.' I'm going to do my very best to not poke a bit of fun at that. Who doesn't want everyday life to me more beautiful? I'm not going to get in the way of you beautifying your everyday life. No way. Not me.

You know who Sylvain Orebi is, right? I first learned about him from Xavier's Teaconomics blog when he wrote An interview with Kusmi where he translated a radio interview with the owner of Kusmi Tea. Here's what he said about Løv Organic in that interview:
 You also created a new brand called Løv Organic. Could you tell us a bit more about it?
I created new blends for Kusmi and one day, I decided to listen to the people who keep on asking me for organic teas, not so much in France but rather in Scandinavia, Germany and the United States. 
We went for a new brand because a brand is organic or not but it can’t be both.
For the same reason, even if both brands are distributed via mostly the same channels, there is now a Løv Organic shop in Paris.
Here's the website where you can see the selection of teas and the everyday life more beautiful schtick for yourself  Løv Organic.                                         

So here's several of the samples I tried in Nürnberg. The one they call Rose is actually pretty good. It's Chinese black tea (they don't say what sort) 'delicately scented with rose blossoms.' I've written about tea with roses in it before (What's lahikmajoe drinking?), and it'll probably surprise you that I like this sort of thing. It's not an everyday thing for me, but as a dessert tea, it's not bad at all.

I'm not normally a fan of Earl Grey, but this one was quite good. The Bergamot oil was unusually subtle. If Earl Grey's your thing, you'll probably like this one. Unless you really love an overwhelming smell/taste of Bergamot oil. In which case...what's wrong with you? What actually surprised me the most was that the herbal blends I tried were quite tasty. These are definitely not something I'd go out of my way for. The only loose-leaf blend of theirs that I tried  was what they called Løv is Good. They describe it as, 'The wonderful spice blend helps you to stay on top form. Cinnamon and ginger, both rich in antioxidants, are well-known for their anti-ageing properties. Liquorice and aniseed give the blend its bittersweet edge.' Look,

I know this is a tea blog, and some of you are going to rattle your sabres about how this doesn't belong. This company actually goes out of it's way to refer to this as a blend. And their section on 'Classic Teas' is full of Camelia Sinensis goodness.

There is the little matter of the cloth tea bags. I have no idea how much better they are than paper tea bags, but they couldn't be worse. They're novel...I can definitely say that.

I'm still thinking of what I think of the presentation that they offer with this brand. My inclination when I first see such beautiful marketing is to slag off the tea. They must be hiding something.

But see, that doesn't have to be the case. The packaging is beautiful and the tea tastes wonderful. Some tea companies simply don't put a lot of thought into this. Løv Organic does.