Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday tea TV: 'Tea and cake or death!'

Comedian Eddie Izzard draws the line of jihad ...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Salty, milky Mongolian tea, with music

A lovely Chicago indie-pop band, Canasta, went on a serious world tour earlier this year — to Mongolia, part of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Arts Envoy Program. In the dead of winter, they suited up and hauled their gear halfway around the planet to this remote republic, where the ancient tea trade once thrived.

Mongolia, in fact, has a contentious relationship with tea. The Mongols conquered China in the 13th and 14th centuries, but they lost control after the death of the great warrior-unifier Ghengis Khan. For the next two hundred years, the Mongols were cut out of the tea trade (which the Chinese then facilitated chiefly for as a currency for the purchase of horses) until tea seeped back in during the 16th century. When we talk about tea in this context, we're talking mostly brick tea, usually chipped and brewed in a mixture of butter and milk.

The members of Canasta — engaging young, urban musicians — encountered the remnants of that tea culture on their February excursion.

"They serve this hot, salty, milky tea," said singer-bassist Matt Priest during our recent interview. "I never quite got used to it."

"I liked the buttery one," said singer-violinist Elizabeth Lindau (pictured, enjoying it). "The other one just tastes like salty milk."

"It's cool that wherever you go, they serve you tea right away," Priest added. "You walk into your room, and even though the room was incredibly spartan and the shower was dangerous, still there'd be some hot tea waiting for you."

The one native beverage the Canasta folks did savor was seabuckthorn juice, the pressings from an orange berry complete with crunchy edible seeds.

Canasta celebrates its 10th anniversary in concert June 2 in Chicago. Their latest album, 2010's "The Fakeout, the Tease, and the Breather," is delightful.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tea ceremony: Energy, replication and membranes

Fascinating column in the New Statesman (thanks, Kevin!) considers the structure of human society by, first, applying a very extended metaphor — comparing human civilization and culture to the simple complexity of a biological cell — and then using four cultural institutions as examples of the hypothesis.

One of the examples is the Japanese tea ceremony. The writer marvels at its survival over many centuries, wondering aloud and in context:

A quick glance at biology invites us to ask the following question: why hasn't the Japanese tea ceremony become extinct? What has sustained it over so many centuries? The system must in some sense keep reproducing itself, ensuring a supply of new officiants to serve as hosts and new participants to serve as guests, and maintaining and replacing all the exquisite equipment used. It requires a lot of energy to keep going. What is its metabolism and how does it work?
After analyzing the tea ceremony's component parts, its history, its system and support, a curious conclusion:

It may, like university education, be helping both society and the individual in all manner of ways. It may be nurturing the arts, instilling virtues, preserving knowledge and wisdom, stabilising the mores of society - or it may have had, but lost, these roles over time. It may survive today as a sort of self-perpetuating parasitical growth that reproduces itself because it can. It seems on the face of it, however, to be a benign - mutualist, not parasitic - element of society.
Read it here, over a good cup of sencha.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday tea TV: Snape eyes

Actor Alan Rickman brings nothing to the screen if not gravitas. In this video — a curious production idea, with brilliant results — Rickman makes a cup of tea. The catch: he does it in super slow-motion. I challenge you to watch all eight-and-a-half minutes of this. Be warned: tea apparently makes Alan a bit ... edgy.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Charting the processes of tea types

I can't believe I've never run across something like this before. I've read a thousand explanations of the differing steps applied to the production of tea's various types — white is hardly processed at all, green a little more, oolong after that and so on — but I've never encountered a simple chart showing the differences. Damn handy, and it was recently drafted and posted by Chicago Tea Garden owner and World of Tea blogger Tony Gebely. The type is tiny; click for a larger image ...

Read more about it here.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sigh. Waiting for the budget line of tea trunks ...

I've written before about my growing fascination with tea cases and trunks. I wonder why these creations call to me. Perhaps I admire the sense of orderliness, everything in its right place. Most likely I simply covet the lifestyle that would require such a thing — traveling the world, with tea in tow.

So here's another beauty — from Louis Vuitton, of course, which recently opened a shop in Taiwan (in Taipei 101, the second-tallest building in the world). On that occasion, they unveiled some new trunks, including this handsome, slim set, which comes in orange, red or green and contains a customized Chinese tea set from Hsiao Fan Pottery Art.

Enjoy gazing upon it. During the preview at the new shop, the new trunks sold for millions apiece. You break it, you buy it.

Also, the LV website has a lovely short video posted, "The Art of a Tea Ceremony," which you can watch here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: 'Sahara' redux

I've posted "Tea in the Sahara" by the Police before, but this version got to me. It's Police guitarist Andy Summers, in a solo show at the wonderful Park West venue here in Chicago back in 1987. The singer is Canada's Nan Vernon. Good stuff ...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Seeking to Finnish this tea

My fingers are crossed, but I know better.

Robert's Coffee, a Scandinavian chain, has posted a note at the entrance to its website claiming that a site rebuild is under way. I'm hopeful that means some fancy new international sales option will become available. Hoping hard.

We visited Helsinki a couple of years ago, and the coffee chain's Sir Robert's Blend — a Keemun-heavy mix — remains one of the best afternoon teas I've ever enjoyed. The catch: Robert's doesn't sell outside of the far-north countries in which they have shops. No website orders, no nothin'. Maddening, and my account of that blend's greatness increases in magnitude the longer I am denied some more. Sigh.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Japan goes Gaga over Lady's tea cup

If you were in the wealthiest 1 percent, what crazy celebrity trinkets would you bid on at auctions?

Someone this week paid $75,137.50 for a tea cup. Three months after the tsunami last year in Japan, pop star Lady Gaga was seen on Japanese TV sipping from this tea cup. The final sale includes the cup — which has "We pray for Japan" inscribed on its side in Japanese — complete with the Lady's lipstick marks

That was the second-highest bid at the auction. The most expensive sale was $137,900 for a crystal piano used by Yoshiki from the popular prog-metal band Japan X. (They're great. I interviewed Yoshiki once, and saw them at Lollapalooza.)

Proceeds from the auction benefit the Tomodachi Arts Fellowship Program, which helps Japanese art students study in the United States.

Continue: Did I leave this thing on?

I walked off and left the blog running.

Forgive me, I meant to stay away a week and left for six. Crazy busy, yadda yadda. This graduate school thing is great, except when you also work full-time. Last week — the semester's glorious finale — was a definite hell week but only slightly more insane than the previous 15. Suffice to say, first year of a master's is complete, and I'm coming up for air again.

Thank God for the tea. I said that most mornings, afternoons and nights as I studied and wrote. Not only does tea keep me alert and focused, it also serves another crucial function: If it weren't for the tea-fueled toilet breaks, I'd have gone far too many hours without so much as rising from the chair or un-hunching over the computer.

Things I've written about during the last nine months of graduate communication study: the protest music of Occupy (or lack thereof), depictions of economics in dystopian science fiction, the effect of audio dilation on speech comprehension in a driving simulator study, the history of autoethnography, the birth of language, the coming computing singularity, the BioMuse feedback music system, Woody Guthrie's para-social relationship with his radio audience, comparing the history of media studies to the oracle of the Tao te Ching, McLuhan McLuhan McLuhan, and my developing claim that all music is now background music.

So, I'm back. For whate'er 'tis worth. Today's tea tunes has nothing to do with tea, but c'mon, I gotta ...