Sunday, February 28, 2010

Easy as 1-2-3

From the teachings of Paichang, a Chinese Zen master ...

The best state of mind in which to drink tea is one of deep meditation. The second best is while looking at a beautiful landscape or listening to music. The third best is during stimulating conversation. In all cases it is necessary to aspire towards a quiet and tranquil frame of mind.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

'Some sort of commodity called for on a daily basis'

We recently got hooked on "Cranford," a BBC miniseries about a small English town in the 1840s, full of gossips and hijinks and very handsome young doctors. I was lead to it by a friend who (POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT) let me know that it winds up with Miss Matty (Dame Judi Dench) making ends meet by opening a tea shop in her home. Which she decides to do in this scene, declaring her purpose triumphantly ...

"I never did like the notion that the world is round. ... It makes me feel so giddy."

Love it!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The equivalent of an afternoon nap

A new study announced this week says taking a midday nap greatly improves cognitive function and learning ability. These studies come out frequently, causing some of us to pine for kindergarten's cots and cookies and mandatory afternoon naps. This study, of course, is talking about a 90-minute nap. At noon. Do you have time for that?

But thanks to an occasionally kept new year's resolution (and a vow to give up not doing this for Lent), I'm learning — that is, remembering — the difference a simple midday break makes. I'm in a job in which it's alarmingly easy to sit at my desk in the morning and not really get up, or at least snap out of it, until nightfall. I eat lunch al desko, and I too frequently take my afternoon tea while pushing ahead. I wind up stiff and sore and sometimes cranky. This is not conducive to the cultivation of tea mind.

Tea mind comes from sitting, from not doing. Tea mind comes when you take a break, when you stop focusing, when you remember you're one human being on a big planet. Even if I eat my rice and veggies at my desk, as I did today, I'm finding it more and more important to stop in the afternoon for a tea break and reboot. (In old Mac parlance, I'm "rebuilding my desktop.") Tea is the means, but tea is also the end. Just getting the cup — away from the office, in a shop, in the building next door, on the sidewalk, anywhere else — and sitting. Just sit. Just sit. Just sip. Check email, then put away the phone. Watch the light, or close your eyes. Listen to the sounds, let them flow around you. The mind is excited and runs around like a dog newly sprung from its crate, but eventually it settles. Eventually you relax.

I like to sit and relax in a public space, somewhere people are walking by, talking, milling about. Meditation in a quiet room is fine, often desired, but I find long-term benefits in learning to let go amid activity. The Zen monk Hakuin promoted this idea, saying meditation in the midst of distractions was better than meditating in quiet solitude. Hopefully then we take those lessons of peace amid chaos into our chaotic lives. I find tea to be an effective implement in this practice. As life scurries around me, I sip. I taste. I focus, and sip again. I find tea mind by finding the tea. Then I try to stay there. It often doesn't last long, once I get up and return to the working world. But the moments of peace are getting longer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Monday, February 22, 2010

I'll brew what he's brewing

Old movie makes for classic parody in the latest PG Tips ad ...

And elsewhere in the tea TV commercialsphere, check out this Red Bull ad that slanders our fair drink's good name ...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tea in the year 2525

This curious lil' demo is described on Vimeo as, "A film produced by Keiichi Matsuda for his final year Masters in Architecture, part of a larger project about the social and architectural consequences of new media and augmented reality." Whatever that means. It's a trippy glimpse at the future possibilities for being completely enveloped in technology. But we've got to make sure the computer, unlike it does here, tells you put the milk in first ...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tuesday tea tunes: Indeed, why not?

Here's another wintry teatime tune, and a helluva ’60s throwback ...

Monday, February 15, 2010

The chai of wine

President's Day — that's a holiday, really? I never remember that I'm off work to honor our leaders until the Friday before. So we never make plans for the long weekend, we just relish the sweet surprise of an extra day. Which is nice considering (a) it usually falls near Valentine's Day, (b) our anniversary is two days before that and (c) it's February in Chicago and good for hibernating at home. Which also means a few pots of tea will be poured. And a few cocktails. One of our favorite wintertime treats actually marries the two tastes.

It's called glogg, aka mulled wine, or spiced wine. The spouse is of Swedish decent, so when the goblet is raised here, we call for glogg. This weekend, in fact, we enjoyed a bottle of Vin Glögg from the nearby Glunz Family Winery in Illinois. It's beautiful, smooth stuff with a base of red wine and supplemented with port (!), citrus oils, nut oils, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon. Does that mix of spices sound familiar, tea lovers? That's why I call it "chai wine."

In fact, when I've made my own glogg before, I add black tea It really rounds out the flavor and gives the brew a bit of heft. Here's my time-worn recipe I have scrawled in my bar book (alas, unattributed):

1 bottle or merlot or cabarnet
1 cup orange juice
zest of lemon and orange
1 cinnamon stick
5 whole cloves
1/2 cup of brown sugar
2 tea bags (a basic orange pekoe will do)

Add everything except the tea to a saucepan. Simmer about 10 minutes (let it steam, but don't boil it). Remove the pan from the heat and drop in the tea bags. Steep 5-10 minutes. Strain and serve.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Afternoon tea 'tween pavement and stars

I'll be in London later this year on a tea-tasting trek, and you can bet I'll be angling for this particular afternoon tea service ... on the roof of Westminster Abbey!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

'I am a most happy man'

From a lovely little trifle, Wildflower Tea by Ethel Pochocki:

He brewed his tea in a blue china pot, poured it into a chipped white cup with forget-me-nots on the handle, and dropped in a dollop of honey and cream. He sat by the window, cup in hand, watching the first snow fall.
"I am," he sighed deeply, "contented as a clam. I am a most happy man."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pouring the first 'My Favorite Cup'

Here's a look at an early take on a new show — for TV? for online? it's not quite clear — called "My Favorite Cup." Produced like a news magazine, it features a few stories and interviews about coffee and tea. We're not dealing with an overly quality effort here, and the two hosts are exactly the kind of people I personally would never want to sit down and have tea with, but here's hoping it turns into something cool on the Fine Living network or something.

This clip shows the show's intro and the first feature, about how to properly store tea:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Using chai throughout the kitchen

Another winter walk this weekend with a mug of chai in hand. How I love it. But in addition to drinking the stuff — bought or blended at home, with hot milk and honey — I enjoy applying the spicy flavors throughout the kitchen. Some things I've tried and tinkered with:

• The chai syrup recipe I posted a while back is fabulous for mixing up a quick serving, but it's also scrumpdillyicious over ice cream.

• A neighbor of ours adds chai powder or mix to his pancake batter. I also recommend this recipe for Oatmeal-Chai Buttermilk Pancakes.

• By now you know my love of vodka infusions, and the chai liqueur I made last fall has been a delicious dessert treat and nightcap all winter.

• Chai makes a great poaching liquid for fruits, especially pears.

• I've even used it to deglaze a pan or two when sauteeing onions, when the spice and the carmelizing might be perfect together.

• Speaking of savory recipes: Chai makes a lovely brine for meats, too, a la this Chai-Brined Pork Tenderloin we enjoyed last night (alas, without the apple chutney). Cooking Light magazine has been a good friend for many years; their recipe for Chai-Spiced Winter Squash Puree is awesome, too, over pasta or by itself.

• Over the holidays, we also made shortbread rounds spiced lightly with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and pepper. No actual tea, but we called it chai shortbread, and in addition to dessert uses it sure tasted good with a cup o' chai, too.

Tuesday tea tunes: 'There's nothing wrong, and the kettle's on'

Ah, the underappreciated Damned ...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Green tea snow ice cream and more

It's a weird winter when my native Oklahoma has had significantly more snow than my current Chicago home. But we're finally due a big dump tonight, and my kettle's at the ready. Forget snowmen: it's time to get out there and make a snow pot!

Actually, if the snow on your outdoor tabletops or lawn is clean enough, make some snow ice cream. There are hundreds of different ways to do this. This is the one we've tried that actually gets some decent results (though you'll need to eat it quickly, as the snow melts easily): Beat a pint of whipping cream till it firms up, then stir in a can of condensed milk, a spoon or two of vanilla extract and sugar to taste (1/4-1/2 cup?). This being a tea blog, of course, when I tried this out last winter I added a scoop of matcha green tea powder. Fold in fresh snow — until it achieves a thick, creamier consistency. Voila!

About those tabletops, we might recommend catching freshly fallen stuff instead. Before or during le deluge, set out a nice big mixing bowl or a wide pan.

If you want to make actual ice cream flavored with green tea, well, then this is yet another gleeful opportunity to link to this bizarre video in which a dog explains how to do just that.

Or simply heap some snow in your cup or kettle and make tea. Arctic naturalists and Himalayan hikers do it all the time. Here's an outdoorsy video demonstration (chopping your own wood is, thankfully, optional...):

The winter season was ideal for making tea. With snow easily accessible, a hearty scoop with a stone pot placed atop a fire would melt the snow, and then boil the water up to the proper temperature. Snow water had a very pure and crisp taste, so Mithos & Tuna wanted to enjoy it as much as they could. This was possibly their last day together for some time, so they felt that she could be a little generous with their tea consumption.
— from Fire Emblem: The Rune of Shadows

Of note: Snow tea is an actual tisane once common in China. It's not actual tea but a rare herb, heralded for lowering blood pressure. But the snow tea herb, it seems, is endangered due to overharvesting. This "red snow tea" certainly looks absolutely delicious (now that's why you keep some glass teaware in the cubby!), but let's wait and see if this delicacy comes back before contributing to its decline.

Instead, try Teavana's Snow Geisha white tea — white tea blended with sour cherries and cranberries. Delish.

Also, dig these "snow tea cups"! Nice shape, and the glaze looks like they were fashioned from new-fallen snow. (With matching pot.)

'The Mentalist' is a milk-first kinda guy

We love "The Mentalist" in our house, and not just because the title character is always drinking tea ("Ah, tea! Lovely"). But that certainly helps.

Here's a clip of our favorite brazen blondie, from the episode "Bloodshot," in which he is made temporarily blind and has to rely on his CBI co-workers to make his tea, which they can't seem to do quite right ...

Plus, in the first season finale, a tea cup just might be the clue to the identity of the Red John killer, which might actually be a Red Jane ...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A fetish for tea?

I'm reading a new tea book: For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History (due for publication next month, possibly with a different subtitle). It's the story of Robert Fortune's premeditated theft of China's tea industry and his transplantation of it into India for the British empire. This beverage we love so much flourished as a commercial commodity as the result of unabashed corporate espionage.

This passage struck me ...
It is perhaps no wonder that in such a turbulent time as the Industrial Revolution, gardening became a national obsession in Britain. Patience and time were slowly being eroded across the country as technology brought a new immediacy to everyday life. Where a length of cloth, a blanket, or some bedding once took long evenings by firelight to create, countless yards of fabric were now spun each day in the mills of Liverpool and Manchester. Where a trip across counties was once a marathon involving several coaches, it was now a single short ride away by train. Candlelight gave way to gaslight, wind power to steam; the world grew ever more mechanized and reliable. The vicissitudes of weather were becoming things of the past, and as natural processes faded from view, they began to be fetishized.

The emphasis there is mine. I find it almost quaint that in an era of bullet trains, iPads, DVRs and (soon) space tourism that writers still reflect on the "turbulent time" of the Industrial Revolution. But in our own technologically advanced era, this observation made me ask myself: Am I a fetishist? Is that what we tea bloggers and aficionados are doing — clinging to something pastoral and natural in the face of factory food and multitasking?

Pretty much, I guess. What draws me to the tea experience is that it's a counterbalance to my daily life. My life is fast; tea is slow. I just never looked at it this way. A fetishist. Giggle.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tuesday tea tunes: Study tea instead

The country remains mired in two wars abroad, and the story out of yesterday's Oscars nominations is that two films about war are the leading contenders. So perhaps it's time to listen again to Joni Mitchell's tea-leaf reading. Good winter song, too, with the mention of shoveling the walk ...