Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tuesday tea tunes: Free to be tea and me

Thanks to Maggie B. for this Tuesday tea tune recommendation! I'm loving the old-school, dawn-of-disco soul groove this woman's got going on. I love her voice, too, though I'm mystified by how she's using tea as a metaphor. The lyrics build a definite message of personal freedom — "I can't fit inside that box that you put me in" and "Let me keep my right to do it my way" — before hitting this chorus (as best I can make out):

You tried that, now give it back
’cause this is the tea for me
C'mon and just let us be free

Readers, any suggestions as to what Choklate means by that?

Monday, April 26, 2010

'The fragrant breath of tea'

I'm told this is an "oft-quoted" passage, but it's new to me and I love it. From Agnes Repplier's 1933 book To Think of Tea! (now that's a great exclamation point), discussing the appeal of tea as it becoming an institution in the British empire around the time Queen Anne switched from her morning ale to a cuppa:

Tea had come as a deliverer to a land that called for deliverance; a land of beef and ale, of heavy eating and abundant drunkenness; of gray skies and harsh winds; of strong-nerved, stout-purposed, slow-thinking men and women. Above all, a land of sheltered homes and warm firesides — firesides that were waiting, waiting for the bubbling kettle and the fragrant breath of tea.

I'm continually fascinated by the tale of tea. In every chapter, in everyone's books, the spread of tea always seems so ... inevitable.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

iTea app helps me cool down

Thanks to Martin Zöllner who brought to my attention his new mobile app, iTea. It's a full-scale tea timer, handy and useful like many other tea timers available. But it's got one unique feature I really like. Not only can it time the brewing of your tea — it times the cooling down of your water.

For instance, got a nice Japanese bancha tea you'd like to steep at 176 degrees? You could stare at a thermometer, or you could boil your water and set the iTea for the amount you've got (0.2, 0.5 or 1 liters), and it counts down the estimated time for the water, off the stove, to cool down to that approximate temperature. Then use the same app to time the steep the tea, complete with a slider tool to select how mild or strong you prefer your brew.

The cool-down calculations are approximations, of course, but it's darn handy to have an alarm for even a best guess. Can't tell you how many times I've gotten distracted in the kitchen, only to find that my water got too cool.

Available for iPhone: iTea Lite (free, 11 teas), iTea ($0.99, 75 teas) and iTea HD (for the iPad).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I think we're gonna need a bigger cup ...

Two things I love: tea and great design. Argentina designer Pablo Matteoda won a prize for this design, the Sharky tea infuser — a tea basket underneath a floating dorsal fin. Ingenious.

Writes Matteoda: "INFUSION means to extract certain properties from an soluble ingredient such as tea leaves, herbs or fruit by soaking in liquid (water) until it gets saturated. So we can say that a infuser is the in charged of make this happen. This is a ludic point of view about the color given off from the phenomenon, which makes more interesting the waiting of the whole process."

He claims it will be manufactured soon and available for sale here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tuesday tea tunes: Staggering jazz

Bad blogger. Life has intervened, and I haven't posted all wekk. Returning to duty shortly.

Meanwhile, here's a tune for my own D, who now enjoys tea with me ...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Friday, April 9, 2010

Book report: The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook

Oh, dear. Another tea book, full of the same history, the same Tea 101 info, the same artfully calming and colorless photography on the cover. Tea books are developing a template, right? Cover photo: Asian tea service. First chapter: The story of those ancient tea leaves that allegedly fell into a pot of hot water. Middle of the book: Careful, just-shy-of-condescending advice on how to make tea. Near the end: Recipes, darlin'!

But that's not at all what The Tea Enthusiast's Handbook is. How could it be? It's written by Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss, who've already broken that mold with their supreme summation of this beverage's backstory in The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide. I've had that book for a couple of years now, and I'm still absorbing it all. No, this new title is a slim, portable companion. It's beautifully printed on fine paper, and it's exactly what it says it is: a handbook.

That's a rare offering, really. So many tea books seem to think they're handy, but they're either actually a coffee-table book (tea-table?) or merely self-indulgent (i.e. look, here — golly do I ever know a lot about tea!). Heiss-squared offers a true guide, a book that's actually nice to keep handy. I have a shelf of tea books in the sunroom, but this one's going into the tea cabinet in the kitchen.

The usefulness comes from the Heisses getting right down to business. They don't waste time with a history of tea; in the first chapter, they're explaining terroir and how it relates to what's about to be poured into your cup. As tea allegedly becomes the new wine (shudder), several tea enthusiasts have dug up that word as it's traditionally applied to the vineyard, but here we get a serious discussion of how it applies to the terraced mountainside. That's the appetizer, along with some basic component information, before getting to the bulk of the book: six chapters detailing "The Six Classes of Tea" — green, yellow, white, oolong, black and pu-erh. Each section discusses styles of the tea, flavor characteristics, a gallery of most common types, and then we get some useful (trust me) historical and cultural information. (And, having enjoyed yellow tea on sadly few rare occasions, I'm thrilled the Heisses maintain its authority in this little book as they did in The Story of Tea.)

At the end, there are storage tips and a helpful glossary. It's a neat, tidy little package, and its utilitarian value cannot be overstated. Highly recommended.


Cool images here of letters and words made with tea leaves, and more here (with a gif showing time-lapse assembly)>

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Homemade teas for Mother's Day

Pardon me for shilling my own publication, but the Sun-Times today ran a feature about a nifty craft project (and I don't use those three words together very often, believe me). It's pitched as something you can make your matriarch for Mother's Day: a box of homemade teas and tea bags.

It's a cute idea — coffee filters spooned full of homemade blended teas, cinched up, lined in a special box ...

I almost feel crafty enough to try it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

@twettle: Your water is ready!

OK, I know I just posted this morning about my desire for a camping Kelly Kettle. But scratch that. My next kettle (says the tweeting tea blogger) will most assuredly be the Twettle.

That's right. A tweeting tea kettle.

According to Gizmodo: "This smartly-designed kettle, which tweets via Wi-Fi, will alert you when it's boiling. Designed by Ben Perman and Murat Multu, it also records details on how many times it boils each week, and just how much water you've boiled up."

But wait — it doesn't exist yet! "The designers are looking for an investment of $500,000 to get the $115 kettles onto the production line."

If this sounds too hilarious to be true, please to enjoy the lengthy explanation by Multu of how such a wacky idea came into their heads. A clue: It started in a vodka bar!
(thanks, Misha!)

Green for this cool Kelly Kettle

The return of warm weather has stirred up a hankerin' to plunge into the wild on a camping trip. Or at least a backyard barbecue. The following gadget would work well on either occasion, though it's really made for the former.

Kelly Kettles are cleverly constructed devices for quickly boiling water with available fuel (twigs, leaves, etc.). It's a double-walled cylindrical kettle, built around its own fire stand and chimney. Boils water for outdoor tea (or soup) quickly and conveniently, so even in the deepest, remotest terrain you can still have your morning and/or afternoon cuppa.

Here's a video showing it in action ...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Tuesday tea tunes: iBud

We raise our cups this week to the new iPad, with this light jazz tune, "Apple Tea," by the group Apple Tea!

Monday, April 5, 2010

'O Tea!'

Another free-book find via the iPad's iBooks is The Little Tea Book by some dandy named Arthur Gray, who contributed this poem in his collection of tea trivia:

In the drama of the past
Thou art featured in the cast;
(O Tea!)
And thou hast played thy part
With never a change of heart,
(O Tea!)
For 'mid all the ding and dong
Waits a welcome—soothing song,
For fragrant Hyson and Oolong.
. . .
A song of peace, through all the years,
Of fireside fancies, devoid of fears,
Of mothers' talks and mothers' lays,
Of grandmothers' comforts—quiet ways.
Of gossip, perhaps—still and yet—
What of Johnson? Would we forget
The pictured cup; those merry times,
When round the board, with ready rhymes
Waller, Dryden, and Addison—Young,
Grave Pope to Gay, when Cowper sung?
Sydney Smith, too; gentle Lamb brew,
Tennyson, Dickens, Doctor Holmes knew.
The cup that cheered, those sober souls,
And tiny tea-trays, samovars, and bowls.
. . .
So here's a toast to the queen of plants,
The queen of plants—Bohea!
Good wife, ring for your maiden aunts,
We'll all have cups of tea.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Taking what's Meinl

Just a photo of our table as we languished Saturday afternoon inside Julius Meinl. I love a place that serves great tea, of course, but also one that serves breakfast until 3 p.m. They do these baked eggs .... hmmm, boy! And crepes filled with Nutella, zowee! Their Yunnan tea (front and center), too, is tippy and lively. (Not pictured: Sean, Nancy, Daniel and Sophie. This is so typical; I have a splendid afternoon with splendid people, and I photograph the tea.)

Teatime with the new iPad

After spending a weekend with our new iPad, returning to this MacBook laptop to blog seems so clunky and quaint.

I can say one thing immediately about the iPad: It's a wonderful reader. I have never had the slightest interest interest in a Kindle (really? it's the 21st century and you had no intention of a color screen?), and I look forward to watching those wither and crumble in the weeks ahead. While my spouse has spent the weekend loading fun apps and games onto the iPad, and watching video (fantastic!), my moments with it — to my complete surprise, really — have been spent reading. The iBooks feature is glorious. The display is crisp and clear. The navigation is simple, the page-turning function lifelike and intuitive. The battery life seems interminable. The best part, to me, is that the iBooks store is easy to use (like iTunes) and is already filled to the gills with free books. You'd be amazed how much great literature is free — from Dickens to Joyce to Twain, from The Art of War to The Prince — including several intriguing old texts about tea.

My favorite free tea book thus far is Tea Leaves: Being a collection of letters and documents relating to the shipment of TEA to the American colonies in the year 1773, by Francis S. Drake. It's loaded with details of the tea boycott that lead up to Boston's infamous tea party. And, frankly, it's easier to hold an iPad and flick the pages with the pinky sticking out from my teacup than it is to hold and navigate a real book. So here's to more iTea with the iPad.

Can't wait for my favorite iPhone tea apps to update for the bigger, brighter iPad!

It also doubles as a marvelous tea tray ...

Oh, and don't miss this nifty new tea gadget for the iPad. (Whether you intend to buy one, be sure to click on the "pre-order" button for full details...)