Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Tuesday tea tune: Funkadelic new year

A cool, funky soul groove for your New Year's party — out and about, or snug at home — from French producer Chris Joss, "Drink Me Hot":

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas tea tune: Jesus drank tea

Merry Christmas, tea folk!

As Christmas Eve falls on this lovely Tuesday, be sure to check out today's Tuesday tea tune: "Baby Jesus" by a fine Brit band, Kula Shaker. A sweet slice of early Moody Blues-ish, narrated psychedelia, the chorus of this track sings the praises of Jesus as "a real cool man" who not only showed up to parties and turned the water into wine but was a man of true character because "he probably drank tea"!

Click here to listen, or right/control-click to download. (Read more)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Tasting Thailand teas

The increasing popularity of tea is propagating the plant in more and more places, and one of the latest areas to nurture and expand a tea industry is Thailand. (Not to be confused with "Thai tea," a sweetened, sometimes spiced, drink usually made from Ceylon teas.)

At a recent local tea event, I was given several samples from Daokrajai, a company producing organic tea on a 550-acre estate in northern Thailand. Two of their blends are worth noting.

First, their red tea is really red. It's 85 percent red (black) tea, 15 percent rosella, a variety of hibiscus common in Thailand. When I opt for herbal teas, I most often look to something with hibiscus in it, as I find it adds a heft often missing from typically dainty herbals. I've actually suspected that a mixture of hibiscus and regular tea might work; after drinking this oddity I can say, it actually does. The tangy fruit flavor of the hibiscus, the razor's edge of bitter and tannin in the tea — it's like mixing berries with chocolate. There's a balance, but it's kind of a tough combo to crack. Even the Daokrajai site admits it's "a confusing combination for the tongue to decipher, making you concentrate on the flavours more intently." The hibiscus came on strong in my sample, as if the ratio was greater than 15 percent, and the hibiscus left a tell-tale red ring at the rim of my cup. This would be a great foil for a mild dessert.

The second sample I'm still trying to get my head around — an herbal called Jiao Gu Lan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum). This plant — a trailing vine — is a common folk remedy in Asia, allegedly with some serious antioxidants. It's one of the strangest flavors I've encountered. The liquor in the cup (a ghastly jaundiced grey) has a soapy odor, and the brewed leaves are large with jagged edges, looking remarkably like real tea. The taste is sharp and surprising, at once bitter but with a sweet edge, as if it was a cup of bitter tea from the bottom of the pot newly sweetened with, say, some stevia. The bitterness camps out right on the tip of the tongue, doing battle between hints of banana, tin, and grass. Folk medicine is the only context in which I could imagine this.

Another heralded Thailand tea estate is Suwirun; see some stunning photos from that plantation here.

Read more about tea in Thailand here (pdf).

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Color correction

For those who take their tea with milk, how carefully do you measure the tea and dairy? Are you eyeballing the ratio of the second ingredient (don't reignite the milk-first debate here, please) and getting inconsistent cups?

Here's a helpful tool for getting the proportions just right: the My Cuppa Tea mug, a white mug with color bands printed on the inside of the rim corresponding to various strengths of milky tea. Pour in the milk until the color of the brew matches the Pantone-like shade of your choice, and you'll have a relatively uniform cup each time.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tuesday tea tunes: Hellish

From another folksy Lilith, Melissa Warner, here's a song putting forth the preposterous notion that "there's no tea in heaven." Dahling — tea is heaven!

Nothing embeddable, so click here to have a listen.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monthly clubs, and Tea Horse

Years ago I joined a wine club (through a then-trendy magazine that, go figure, still exists), a monthly subscription service that delivered two choice bottles of California reds to my doorstep in a particularly dry Midwest wine desert. I thus learned about wine in the best way possible — by drinking varieties I otherwise would not find or think to buy. The same lesson applies to tea, and may be even more applicable. If you're going to sample teas, you want to sample good teas, smartly selected. A monthly club can be just the ticket.

Many good clubs are out there — Golden Moon runs a good one, with special attention to seasonal flavors; Teavana has a few, depending on whether you love or scorn Teavana; 52 Teas used to run a weekly service for comparable pricing, though it often included ridiculous flavored blends like chocolate-and-bacon pu-erh; or I've heard praise of the top-drawer Teance clubs.

Recently, I was sent some samples from a new subscription service, Tea Horse. The British company, named for the famed overland route through Asia, ships monthly taster boxes containing four teas. The kicker: many of the teas are selected with guidance from Tim Clifton, a longtime tea expert in the UK and a regular leader of tea classes alongside Jane Pettigrew.

The samples I received were pretty good; I'll zero in on two. The first-flush Darjeeling, from the remote Jungpana estate, remains an impressive traditional tea. I tasted this some weeks ago when it was still fresh (apologies for the writing delay), and it's remarkable how strong the aroma comes on in the cup — a surprise for such an early tea. The musky taste barrels on, too, with the confidence and strength of a second-flush. The packet suggests a nuttiness, which I didn't get; the floral notes, though, yes, very — rosy, but not (ironically) a tea rose or something similarly sweet. The floral notes really mellowed in the pot, too, so that the last couple of cups were like sipping from the rim of a honeysuckle blossom. A fine tea.

Readers here may know I'm a fool for Keemun, so the Tea Horse Mao Feng merely faced a tough tongue to impress. Its flavor is strong but hollow, lacking the subtle wisps of smoke and/or spice I'm used to. But it's a definite two-stage rocket — a Darjeeling musk at the end, tying off some initial hints of cocoa and fruit (not citrus, but something fleshy, like a peach or a mango). Handsome enough.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Drink to me

Paul McCartney has a new record out this week, simply titled "New." Mark Guarino, a great critic who took my post at the Chicago Sun-Times, says the new tunes reinforce Paul's sometimes unheralded tradition as an artist who "has quietly pushed the boundaries one would not expect from rock royalty who might otherwise opt for reeling in the years."

Really, I'd just been looking for an excuse to post this photo of Macca mugging with a sad mug of road tea.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tuesday tea tunes: 'Red, white, black or green

I'm reprimanding myself for not including this song in the lineup much earlier, given that the singer is a treasured but wayward friend and the cover of the album from whence it comes was designed by my partner. The band is the Mudville Project, an erstwhile alt-country band from Tulsa led by Greg Klaus, and the song is "The Tea," a slow, moody rumination on a steeping life.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Just a spoonful

For those of you who take it sweet, a bit of dance ...

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday tea tunes: Peace out!

Sept. 21 is World Peace Day (or International Day of Peace), a holiday observed by all United Nations member states honoring the absence of war and violence. Too bad (a) we're still at war and that (b) every day isn't World Peace Day.

Here's a song expressing something of that sentiment, a goofy but poignant protest song of sorts by an old Israeli band called, of course, Teapacks:

(Why the name Teapacks? Singer Kobi Oz explained in a Q&A: "We were originally called Tippex, as in wipeout fluid, because we are trying to wipe out differences between people. We are combining together different kinds of Israel, like Arab Jew Israel with East European kind of Israel. But we found out there are students that are sniffing this fluid and it caused brain damage so we changed our name to Teapacks. We didn't want to take responsibility for this." We're left to assume that snorting tea is a better option. I won't argue.)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday tea TV: Purple tea

Within the last few years, farmers in Kenya have wagered on a new varietal of tea — purple tea — with allegedly greater medicinal value and useful seed oil. The tasting notes are beginning to come in, and here's a TV news feature summing up the whole thing:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Good Monday morning!!

(Long live Ronny Elliott!)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Barry's loose leaf Gold Blend, at last

San Diego's Old Town neighborhood is a touristy bastion, crammed with Mexican restaurants and trinket shops hawking ponchos and sombreros. It's the least likely place on the coast, perhaps, to find good tea. Yet that's exactly why I went.

I'd run out of Barry's, you see. Hadn't had any since we moved. Despite being a center of gravity for local Hispanic culture, smack in the middle of the neighborhood is the Irish Import Shop. (Tea lore lovers might enjoy that the shop is even located on Harney Street.) I dashed in, spotted the goods in the back — shelves of Heinz beans and bottles of Goodall's of Dublin, past the "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" T-shirts and racks of shamrock pendants and pennants — and grabbed boxes of Gold Blend. As I approached the counter, clutching the boxes to my breast and with surely a look of relief on my face, the proprietor looked at me and said, "Oh, you were on a mission, weren't you?"

I'd always enjoyed Barry's — Ireland's stout standard, "a real broth of a brew" — in bags, because that's all I've found in the off-isle aisles. This shop had some loose leaf, also in the Gold Blend, a dark grainy Assam stuff that's turned out to be splendid if a bit easy to over-brew. Mornings (and my oatmeal) are back to normal.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Tea at the (old) boat show

Some tall ships were in San Diego over the Labor Day holiday, in addition to the handsome handful regularly moored on the Embarcadero. We toured several of the boats, many of which had some interesting tea artifacts on board. I snapped a bunch of photos ...

^^^ Aboard the HMS Surprise — a replica of an 18th-century British warship (and the boat used in the fine film "Master and Commander") — this display shows food and drink spread on a floating table, one suspended from ropes in order for it to remain relatively level. In the foreground is a tea pot with a single wooden handle, and I was intrigued by the rough canvas cozy wrapping it up.

^^^ The Star of India was built in 1863, about to celebrate 150 years afloat, and has a storied history hauling workers, immigrants and cargo around the world. It's permanently moored in San Diego, and its on-board cabins are full of requisite tea set displays like those above, each of which I wanted to snatch. Though it once transported a lot of salmon from Alaska canneries, any tea it might have carried during its early runs through the southern Pacific hardly qualified it as a clipper. Still, a prop tea crate is displayed in the hold.

^^^ Also surfaced along the Embarcadero is the B-39, a Soviet submarine built in the ’60s. It's a claustrophobe's nightmare — a long stuffy tube crammed with pipes, valves and all manner of things to knock your noggin against. Between the torpedoes and radio equipment rooms is a closet galley where I at least spied this tea kettle. At least the officers and crew could sip a cup of stout Russian Caravan with their washtub full of stew.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tuesday tea TV: 'You would'

For all you back at your labors today after a splendid Labor Day weekend, here's a clip from "The Office" about the totally true fact that if you like tea then, you know, you're gay ...

Friday, August 30, 2013

'The Daily Tea'

Will be glad to have Jon Stewart back on "The Daily Show" next Tuesday, but John Oliver's summer run has been fun — and, of course, tempered by the occasional tea.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Blomus Sencha Teapot

Wired mag spotlighted this sleek beauty this month, and I covet it despite the steep price tag. Given my propensity for letting the pot sit a while — thus growing cold and bitter — the removable basket and the tea light would be spiffy. Donations accepted.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tuesday tea tunes: Deep Freeze, hot tea

Here's a band with a name as absurdist as most of its songs: the Deep Freeze Mice. An underground persistence throughout the ’80s new wave, this quartet produced 10 albums of self-consciously wiggy but still musically sound pop — a more daffy version of Monochrome Set, a more centrist prelude to the Frogs. Click here for a live run through "I Like Digestive Biscuits in My Coffee," the opening salvo of their 1981 album "Teenage Head in My Refrigerator." Fear not, the line following the title is: "I hear some people dip them in their tea ..."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

China tea, by Neal Stephenson

As a thesis-writing diversion, I have finally gotten around to delving into Neal Stephenson's latest novel, Reamde. A longtime fan of Stephenson's speculative fiction, I've had it on my nightstand for nearly a year waiting for the right moment. This month was definitely that.

Reamde is a surprisingly white-knuckle techno-thriller, the first part of which involves several hackers kidnapped and dropped into some wild hijinks in Xiamen, China. So there are some tea moments worth mentioning. For instance, some international terrorists stop to have tea at one point, a ritual that "involved a lot of spillage" and employed a riot shield as a tea tray. One character, Yuxia, is a Chinese woman inadvertently mixed up in the intrigue. She is introduced by way of the leaf:

And then suddenly this woman had been in front of her, blue boots planted, smiling confidently, and striking up a conversation inn oddly colloquial English. And after a minute or two she had produced this huge bolus of green tea, seemingly from nowhere, and told Zula a story about it. How she and her people ... lived way up in the mountains of western Fujian. They had been chased up there a zillion years ago and lived in forts on misty mountaintops. Consequently, no one was upstream of them — the water ran clean from the sky, there was no industrial runoff contaminating their soil, and there never would be. Blue Boots had gone on to enumerate several other virtues of the place and to explain how these superlative qualities had been impregnated into the tea leaves at the molecular level and could be transferred into the bodies, minds, and souls of people condemned to live in not-so-blessed realms simply by drinking vast quantities of said tea.

Stephenson's a mind-expander. Every title of his is recommended, though chronological order has served me well.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Teaku No. 16

From a particularly beautiful recent San Diego evening ...

Hojicha and fog
over rims of mountains, cups
— this is the city?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Tuesday tea tunes: 'Cocaine'

Rock legend J.J. Cale passed away this summer — just a mile from where I now live in San Diego. I delivered my eulogy already, but the impact of the mystery man deserves further study. His laid-back music ain't bad tea-drinkin' music — and here's the Tea Drinkers Band (a covers group in, uh, Serbia) doing Cale's most notorious tune ...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Le Creuset mugs!

Do you have or covet a favorite piece of Le Creuset bakeware? Silly question. To the point: Did you know they made mugs, too?

Pick out a favorite color — or one that matches your French Oven — and sip your tea with the same high-quality standards as the company's kitchen stuff. Speaking of cleaning tea stains — with this beautiful enamel you shouldn't have to.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Scrubba, scrubba, scrubba

Our new house is cursed with a porcelain kitchen sink, and I've lived most of my life with the glory of stainless steel. So I'm scrubbing a lot. While I was greasing my elbow this week, I thought I should share about Bar Keepers Friend.

I write a fair amount about tea-related cocktails on this blog, sure, and one of the best tips I ever got about keeping my teaware clean was from a bartender. Actually, he recommended Bar Keepers Friend for my stainless cookware — and it's a wonder on that, cleaning and polishing like a dream! — but I began using it throughout the kitchen with great results. BKF is similar to Comet but without the scary chemicals; another great cleanser is Bon Ami. I've used baking soda as well as salt with a lemon, which work fine — I haven't tried vinegar, though I love this lazier related method involving wine! — but when I've neglected a pot for some time and need the big guns to spiff her up, I find Bar Keepers Friend indispensable — and, importantly, soft enough without scratching. Rinse well!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tuesday tea tunes: Do the reggay!

Summer always finds me turning to my reggae cache, which has gotten bigger than I expected. Here's a languid tea tune from the tea-wary islands: Dillinger's "Cup of Tea" ...

Friday, August 9, 2013

Keemun, Obi Wan Kenobi. It's our only hope.

My research into virtual performance has begun exploring some of the cutting-edge technology that may soon astound.

Much of the performance spectacles we've seen in recent years — from the Tupac resurrection at last year's Coachella to Hatsune Miku and the other digital idol singers in Japan — are often reported as being holograms, but they're not. They're two-dimensional projections made to simulate 3-D, actually using an upgraded theater trick from the 19th century.

Three-dimensional projection into real space, though, is creeping its way into reality. There are numerous projects in the works now to generate 3-D images, say, dancing on top of your iPad or in the middle of your dining table. The video below — a quickie, just 12 seconds — shows a demonstration of the latter. It's a tiny teapot, projected in 3-D so you can see — as the camera moves around it — the whole object from all sides, including real shadows.

We're gonna see that Princess Leia hologram tech before we die, by gum.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bear, boat, tea

I'm loving the naturalistic artwork of Lieke van der Vorst, a young artist from the Netherlands. In a cut-out and block-print style, she depicts wondrous scenes often involving forest animals in some communion or activity with humans, often children. Her site is a delight to page through, including samples of her work and photos from her earthy but stylish realm.

She uses the bear a lot, often shown as if it were an imaginary friend, and of course I'm drawn to this scene of a young woman having tea with the bear — on a boat, of course.

Somehow it took me back to one of my favorite novels of all time: The Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor, an elegantly written tale of a complicated bear who plays jazz saxophone — some of the best writing about music ever.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tuesday tea tunes: Vaporwave

On my main blog, I recently wrote about a new (to me) subgenre of music called vaporwave — a bittersweet concoction often entirely comprised of reconstituted parts from commercial music sources. It plays like a pleasant ad soundtrack, or mellifluous mall music. The experience is usually better than that sounds.

Anyway, one of the vaporwave artists I ran across is called Pen15Club, and here's a series of his/her sounds, an album of sorts titled "Tea Time" and including the appetizing tracks "Tea Time," "Coffee Cake," "Milk," "A Cube of Artificial Sweetener," etc.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Tea and whiskey highball

In cooler months, my transition from afternoon into evening occasionally goes like this. As afternoon tea wanes, I return to the last dregs of work that must be tended, and the black tea in my cup or certainly that remaining in the pot loses its heat. Finishing my labors, I take the tepid or cold cup to the bar and splash some whiskey or bourbon into it. Then I start thinking about a real cocktail and dinner.

The marriage of tea and whiskey cleans up good, as my dad used to say, and isn't seasonal. Chow offers up a superb recipe for a Tea and Whiskey highball that I tried this weekend. It's basically a well-blended twist on a julep and a sour. Given the cool-down and the syrup prep, it takes some advance planning — but it's worth it.

The details suggest using Lapsang Souchong — using nothing but that might take the smoke a little far, though I recommend adding at least a pinch of it to a good black tea (my beloved Keemun worked swimmingly).

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The teapot speaks

Spotted. Adored. Reblogged.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tuesday tea TV: Naked tea

As a brow-furrowed aspiring writer, while a teenager I inevitably found my way to William Burroughs. My relationship with his prose has remained problematic and challenging. I regret having lived so many years within driving distance of Lawrence, Kan., and never making the pilgrimage to his place.

So this caught my eye recently. Many moons ago, the BBC made a good documentary about Burroughs, called "Arena" (watch the whole thing here). Now over at the BBC's Space site, there's a reel of unused footage showing Burroughs in England stopping by for tea with Francis Bacon (the ’60s painter, not the 16th-century statesman). Bacon serves up tea from his drab little kitchen, making it extra strong per Burroughs' taste and adding a bit of milk before the two begin talking about Tangier.

Watch the reel here. Warning: Just be patient. It's a dumb, overly designed web site. You may click through and get the video right away, or you may have to press the elevator button No. 4 and wait for a silly image map to load (the graphics, and their loading speeds, are akin to playing "Myst" on a 1990s Macintosh Performa), then click on the Francis Bacon tea cup. You can watch, but you can't stop, start, pause, share or embed the resulting video. Sigh.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

'T for Texas, tea for Trinity'

Food writer Mark Brown recently shared this missive with me. Mark publishes Argentfork, a spiffy and insightful occasional food ’zine, and his new book, My Mother Is a Chicken, is out now and highly recommended. Mark is a longtime friend and former editor of mine, and part of our bond exists in the way we both approach and write about food and drink — from a highly subjective New Journalism perspective (narrative, literary, occasionally gonzo) rather than mere objectivity and lists of ingredients.

The following is a preview of an upcoming Argentfork piece, in which Mark mixes the Holy Spirit, Morrissey and stately Buck Mulligan within a simple cup of tea:

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me,” said C.S. Lewis, a man prone to saying memorable things. I, too, like my tea (and my books) when time and circumstance allow for it. I like it at 4 o’clock, tea time, because by then it’s too late for coffee and too early for wine. Tea, then, is a bridge over troubled waters.

Lewis, in Mere Christianity, wades carefully into the sticky wicket of the Trinity, the doctrine that puts God in a threes company. To see an Oxford scholar wrestle with the concept (or at least how to explain his grappling) offers me strange assurance. “And now, for a few minutes,” Lewis writes, “I must ask you to follow rather carefully.”

He then heads off on a very heady theory that it was God who desired not our allegiance but our love, Christ who came to prove the point, and the Holy Spirit that (to me, it is still a that) inspired the soon-to-be-martyrs long after Christ physically left them, at the behest of God. Lewis refers to this Spirit “rising up in us.” The body is the vessel for the Spirit, but it takes more than flesh and blood for the body to become suited to the task of conveyance.

Lewis uses a cube to make his point: It takes a line, then lines, to make a square, and more lines to make a cube. You can’t simply begin with a cube, yet its far less inspiring to imagine a line without also seeing a square and at least envisioning a cube. Thinking out of the box about a box, as it were.

But cubes leave me rather empty, and my mind kept wondering back to Lewis’ tea comment. I thought, if you could make the cup large enough, you could almost imagine the Trinity in a cup of tea. After all, what did I really know about tea other than it grew on trees, and of milk than it came from mammals, and of sugar that it be from cane. (Or, for you honeyed lot, flowers and bees.)

As always, from the outset of such treks, I knew very little.

Tea blossoms in the poorer parts of the world—along the equator, like coffee and chocolate—and stains the cups of empires. It grows at high elevations, and the trees themselves would grow to great heights if left alone. Instead, they are trimmed waist high to allow for easier cultivation. The higher the elevation, the slower the growing season and the more mature the flavor of the leaf.

After tea is picked, it is set aside to ferment. As the leaves die and the chlorophyll fades, rich tannins emerge. Thankfully, somebody somewhere sometime had the foresight to pour water onto the shriveled stuff. Bracing, somewhat bitter, the definition of astringent, tea is a flavor too easily assumed, particularly to a mouth (like mine) raised on iced tea. It is a mouth-filling flavor, capable of impacting memory. Tea is the miracle leaf that, when steeped, unlocks secret passages.

You could stop there, but most do not. The English, for instance. They gave us the time—4 in the afternoon—and the ritual, of drinking tea with cakes and crumpets and other sweet things. In fact, “tea” now stands as much for the meal consumed around it. From English director Mike Leigh’s All or Nothing, another classic Leigh take on family dysfunction:

What’s for tea?
Chicken and vegetable pies.
Want a biscuit?
You all right?

Mostly, though, I think of the English as the brilliant ones who mixed in the milk and sugar. I can barely imagine tea without it, in spite of how blasphemous this must sound to some. But remember, this is my metaphor. Or, as Lewis wrote apologetically, “I am doing the best I can.”

I’ll still drink iced tea on occasion, and it offers its own reward. With the heat of late spring pouring on, I drank a very refreshing iced Irish breakfast tea at Chimera. But iced is not tea-tea, only a nice alternative to soda. Which leads us naturally to sugar.

I use about two cubes per cup, though I don’t use cubes. I just eyeball it. Strangely, when I spoon, I picture the sugar that used to silt in the bottom of my cereal bowl. Spooning sugar is such child’s play. I found some sugar cubes in a box in the cupboard and couldn’t remember where they’d come from, meaning, why I’d bought them. I dip my sugar from a container where is buried, somewhere in the midst, a whole vanilla bean.

Sugar could seem an indulgence in tea, or an essential. It’s not natural that one would sugar tea, but time has married the two elements. For the same reasons my mouth craves dessert after meat and salad, it requires a sugared, if not sugary, tea. You could leave well enough alone, but you’d be missing the moment that ordains when tea and sugar meet. The sugar melts into the freshly brewed tea, and the two rally into one.

Sugar acts in sweet relief to the astringent raw product, filing its edges while deepening its flavor. Sugar sweetens the pot. Or better, honey, itself no mean miracle.

Milk appears to do little more than whiten the brown-black beverage, but there is more at work than meets the eye. The milk stream cuts to the cup’s bottom where it circles back, rising up to at first cloud the drink—in smaller versions of cumulonimbus, I have noticed—but in time to envelope it. From the darkness emerges a new tone, a warm, familiar color you learn by repetition. (In time, you recognize the flavor, with your eyes; that is, without tasting.) In the mouth, the once-bitter brew — even caustic to some tongues — takes on another flavor, a newer profile. The milk has a way of enriching the tea and fortifying it, adding a new nature but playing subservient to the origin that begat all of this steeping and stirring and sipping.

That is to say, it is still tea, in taste and substance and effect, and yet the milk and sugar have embellished its raw power with a genuinely tasty, mysteriously inspired savor. As if the three were conceived to be taken together, or at least function better than when apart. I stopped eating raw sugar as a child, and I won’t drink a glass of milk to save me. But, in tea, they soothe me.

Visually, if not precisely, the tea and milk emulsify, not as solidly as oil and vinegar but at least as visually. You pour the milk and it disappears for a second before emerging in a roiling cloud—a tempest in a teacup, but not. A little stir and there you have it: The eye now sees one. “Emulsify” is from the Latin emulsus: “to milk out.”

Morrissey, a man used to serenading his admirers even as they peel the clothes from his body, believes in the calming effects of tea, to the tune of four pots a day.

“I absolutely never get sick of drinking tea,” he told an interviewer with KROQ way back when. “It’s a psychological thing really, it’s just very composing and makes me relax.”

In those days — Your Arsenal-era, about — it used not to be tea without milk. Morrissey was adamant on this point. “You have to use real milk, you can’t use the UHT fake stuff. You have to use proper milk.” Over the years, Moz seems to have softened his stance. In a recent BBC interview with Victoria Wood, he drank a very weak Ceylon in his cup, and minus the milk. But his ideas on tea remain stout. “I think it was very British, and part of the British resolve and the reason why Hitler really couldn’t get us was because of tea, and nothing else.”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Learning by osmosis

"Mountain water is best," wrote Lu Yu in his still-prized, eighth-century advice for preparing a proper pot of tea. Would that I could dip my ladle into a clear stream, but I was not born into an age (or at least an altitude) where that would be advisable pretty much anywhere on the planet. At home, we must filter out the various age-old natural contaminants and industrial-age pollutants.

Throughout my tea life thus far I've relied on basic filters, mostly of the Brita brand. However, some kind of karma coupon was cashed in recently, and I've moved into a new house equipped with a reverse-osmosis system right there under the kitchen sink.

Safe to say, my tea experience with the super-fine-filtered H20 thus far (good info and diagrams here) has been transformative — both good and bad. I don't claim to know much about the chemistry of tea and water, but experience has taught me that the level of minerals in the source liquid directly affects the taste, color and often odor in the cup. This five-stage filtration I've got now produces a kettle full of water that is seriously free of stray solids. Whereas a Brita filter screens out most visible solids, chlorine and some aromas, reverse osmosis extracts pretty much all minerals from the water.

That's been great for light teas. The herbals and white teas I've brewed here thus far have been nicely flavorful — standing on their own, with a richer mouth feel and no water minerals getting in the way. Greens have been mixed, though many are coming up a bit flat, and black teas swing between the extremes. My morning cup of Rishi China Breakfast is lighter and brighter than ever — a surprisingly good thing, given my penchant for inky-black tea — but my beloved keemuns have wilted without the mineral content, which I'm assuming assists in the spiking of its spicy flavors.

I have not retired my countertop Brita pitcher.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tuesday tea tunes: 'It's All Too Much'

This article likely resonates with any tea lover who's been a bit overwhelmed by the abundance of choices offered by some tea companies. Samovar founder Jesse Jacobs waxes critical of the affordances peculiar to American consumerism. With so much available to us — on tea shelves and elsewhere — we waste energy and focus making trivial decisions. Securing something we like, or at least can live with, creates a habit, which we then cling to with desperate pride. More to the point, I'm often suspect of tea companies that hawk hundreds of varieties and blends instead of a few things they do really well. Quality vs. quantity, etc.

Joe Jackson wrote a song about this very double-edged blade: "It's All Too Much" ...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Truth in advertising

I never weary of this image, nor of its many variations. Plus, c'mon: tea at the beach! Happy summer ...

Friday, July 19, 2013

Tea's built-in breather

A knowledgeable tea blogger, whose work I read and admire, recently offered a clever post suggesting "8 Things to Do While Your Tea Is Steeping" — check the weather, fold some laundry, decide on dinner, etc. The central question: "How do you make the time pass more quickly while your tea steeps?"

I'd like to throw in another perspective — a ninth suggestion, perhaps, which I contend trumps all others:

Do nothing at all.

If you find yourself fidgety and in need of distraction in the mere two to three minutes during the magical marriage of tea leaves and water, then you really do need a cup of tea. Not for the relaxation that may come from its actual consumption — the warmth, the theanine — but from the lessons that come in the simple act of being still. These moments are a gift, a blessing. They bracket a little bit of peace within the rest of your day. Don't schedule them, seize them. Stand, sit, stare into space.

Hearken back to this splendid post, a wise instruction manual called "How to sit in a chair and drink tea" (which I celebrated earlier), and its crucial observation about the steeping moment: "You will now confront one of modern society’s ever-present dangers, which is the risk of distraction we face whenever nothing interesting happens for a few minutes."

Let nothing interesting happen. Let absolutely nothing happen. Modern life is too much happening. The tea is happening, and that's enough.

From my favorite Kafka aphorism:

Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Teaku No. 15

My new favorite phrase
is 'marine layer.'
Ocean mist like teacup steam.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tuesday tea TV: Comprising coffee

The following video made the rounds in various social-media hand-offs last week. It's from Wired — one of their occasional, interesting analyses of the component parts of everyday stuff. This animated video takes a quick tour through the contents of a cup of coffee ...

What's inside your cup of tea?

Sidestepping the usual mish-mash of hawked health benefits and the seemingly endless discussion of caffeine content, here's one fairly good answer.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The power of the powder

We recently moved across the country, which meant several days shacking up with hospitable, patient family and friends as well as crummy lil' motels. (I once wrote a song called "The Couch Tour," and here we were decades later embodying it.) Translation: My tea regimen was a mess. I'll spare you the kvetching about the perils of in-room coffee makers, friends who don't have kettles, and bloody Lipton bags.

But I'll share a tip I thought I'd shared here before: Rishi's on-the-go matcha and sencha.

I first encountered these through some samples, which proved valuable additives to my music-festival kit bag. As a pop music critic, packing for a three-day fest such as Lollapalooza or the great Pitchfork Music Festival (both in Chicago — the latter occurs this coming weekend with a lively lineup) involved planning for hydration and energy. While a cup of hot tea could be had at Pitchfork and was refreshing even in the scorching summer heat, tea products often are in short supply at such events (though Sweet Leaf has been a frequent Lolla sponsor). But what can you find everywhere at a festival grounds? Bottled water.

Enter Rishi's clever product. Their portable packets of matcha and of powdered sencha tea are midday life savers in such conditions. Pop a bottle of water, take a sip (to free up a little room), empty the small packet of tea powder into the bottle, shake like a MF. Presto — a cool bottle of energizing, invigorating and hydrating tea! Useful in a pinch throughout our moving experience, but invaluable for outdoors afternoons and events.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The episode of the madeleine

Happy birthday, Marcel Proust, whose In Search of Lost Time (or The Remembrance of Things Past, if you must) remains the ultimate novel with tea as the plot's central catalyst.

I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory — this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tuesday tea tunes: What happened to you?

Posting this one today obviously not because it's a "winter's day," as the song describes, but for a few other reasons. First, I find myself in the occasional "deserted seaside cafe" now that I've relocated to San Diego. Also, I should be working on a rather sizable research project, yet I find myself doing little more than what Donovan's doing here, sitting and dreaming. Third: tomorrow is Proust's birthday, and here's a tune pretty much all about "a cup of rich brown memories." Here's "Teas" by Donovan ...

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Do as he say

If the stranger say unto thee
That he thristeth
Give him a cup of Tea.
— Confucius

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Civil War made us coffee drinkers

Tea, we know, helped set the American revolution boiling when, in December 1773, as John Adams wrote in his diary, "3 Cargoes of Bohea Tea were emptied into the Sea." He continued, emphasizing the significance of the disobedience: "This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have important Consequences."

Politically, it certainly did. It inspired Jefferson to start writing A Summary View of the Rights of British America, opening a deluge of written grievances and statements of colonial rights reaching its peak in the writings of Thomas Paine and Jefferson's eventual declarative statement.

With tea as a flashpoint for taxation protests, colonists boycotted the beverage — and many of them learned to do without, which may have significantly stunted tea's place in American culture. Even after the War of Independence, tea consumption declined. "The Americans love it very much," Frederika Charlotte Riedesel wrote in her diary, "but they had resolved to drink it no longer, as the famous duty on the tea had occasioned the war."

A document I found recently explains in its title how this became something of an irreversible trend: "Civil War Soldiers Made Coffee America's Drink" by By Fredric C. Lynch.

Eugene Goodwin's Civil War infantry diary mentions both tea and coffee as options in the rations, "which consists of two crackers and a little piece of meat and a pint of tea or coffee for a meal."

Lynch's study starts in 1832, when President Jackson ordered coffee and sugar added to daily soldier rations and follows an interesting course through coffee's winning properties during wartime — including an army cook named William McKinley, later elected president, and the monument built to honor not his political service but his front-line coffee service — and the habit the soldiers took back home with them.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tuesday Tea Tunes: The other side of history

For our annual reflection on tea's role in the birth of this nation, please to enjoy this narrative tale of the "Boston Tea Party" from Scottish rockers the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, circa mid-’70s.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tea report from Morocco

Dear friends Mitch & Tanya recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary with an excursion through Morocco. I asked about any tea encounters, and Tanya provided this report:

The time: After breakfast. After lunch. After dinner. After you bought something from them. Before you bought something from them to entice you to buy ...

The flavors: The base was a bitter tea, but I never had any without fresh mint. They always asked if I wanted mint and I never declined it. After one meal we had in Essaouira, the tea was flavored with cinnamon, orange, mint and rose. It was lovely.

The delivery: On a silver tray.

The pots: Always the silver, fluted, Victorian-esque type like the kind you see in this photo I took [the photo above, from Tanya's exquisite photo blog] Never once did they use a purely functional or simple Japanese-type pot. And never clay or plastic pots. Always some kind of metal, always silver in color.

The tea receptacles: Cute little glasses, about 3 inches tall and 2 inches wide. They were generally indented in some fashion near the top, almost like a votive candle holder. The glasses were clear and not adorned in any way.

The process: HOT water, tea, fresh, unground flavorings floating right in the pot. No bags or screens. The local (it was always the local) would pour the tea from the pot WAY high into a glass — the stream of tea was usually 10 inches to a foot. Then he would pour that back in the pot. Then he would pour the tea from WAY high again into the same glass, and then back in the pot again. This happened four, sometimes five times before actually serving. We assumed this process was to (1) cool the tea and (2) mix the flavors. I was always the first to get one. They poured the tea to the aforementioned groove and hand me my glass of fucking. hot. tea. Presumably the tea steeped for a while before delivery.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tuesday Tea TV: 'The Tea Chronicles'

One of my favorite online personalities for years has been Charlie McDonnell, the cutie video blogger behind Charlieissocoollike. He and some mates have recently unveiled a short film, starring Charlie and featuring tea as its unsettling plot point. It's like a PG Tips commercial directed by M. Night Shyamalan (but, you know, satisfying in the end). "I'll bet you put the milk in first, too, didn't you? You monster!" Charlie cries.

Watch the full 10-minute reel here:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Drinking the days away

You've seen this beautiful design, I hope. It's a calendar — and each "page" pulled is actually a square of compressed tea you can drop right into your morning cup.

Knowing me, I'd cut out the middle man and slip them right onto my tongue, like a Listerine strip.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Jinkies! My glasses!

If you're reading this blog, chances are good you're doing so through corrective lenses. Possibly up to three-quarters of the population wear glasses, contacts, monocles — something to bring the ascenders and descenders into focus. My own glasses, I've found, are the key to moments of mindfulness.

It's simple, really: I take ’em off. During at least the first few moments of tea (alone), I remove my glasses. This leaves me pretty blind — the red blur over there is the pot, and I can usually line up the emerging brown liquid with the white blur — but, more importantly, it means I can't read, I can't focus on things out the window, I can't rely on the pair of organs that dominate our experience. The world Out There is less accessible. So I sit, turn inward, think. I have little choice. Perhaps my other senses heighten a tad, but I am mindful of the moment.

A weakness becomes a strength.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tuesday Tea Tunes/TV: #teaspora

Here's a video that's every kind of cool — plus it's a lovely song.

For her newest tune, "Tea Song," Irish singer-songwriter Róisín O crowdsourced footage for the video, asking people to send in clips of themselves drinking tea. But not just any people — the request was made to Irish expatriates living around the world. It's a phenomenon referred to (and hashtagged) as the "teaspora."

"It’s crazy to think that, after growing up in the Celtic Tiger, so many of our close friends are now living and working abroad," she said. "That’s why we felt this idea for 'Tea Song' could be cool and a nice way to get back in touch with friends and family we haven’t seen in a while, and at the same time get in touch with fans abroad. And also share our mutual love for tea; it brings us closer as a nation!"

Monday, June 17, 2013

'A pinch for the pot'

Somewhere in the mists of my tea education, such that it ever was, I picked up the mannerism of adding whatever correct and required measure of tea to the pot — and adding a pinch. It had to be my mother saying this: "A pinch for the pot."

I've tried with little luck to find some origin for that expression, if it is indeed ever spoken outside my particular parlor. My only discoveries have been in late-19th century novels. Elias Power by John M. Bamford (1884) describes a "good lady" warming a teapot, adding "a pinch for each guest" and then "an extra pinch for the pot."

That squares basically with James Norwood Pratt. A seer of teaism, I asked him about this phrase. He hadn't heard it as "pinch," but said, "What I grew up hearing repeated is the hoary old 'a teaspoon per cup and one for the pot.' Both expressions are beyond tracing, no doubt, but I'll bet the pinch antedates the teaspoon."

My favorite reference though, is this passage from Frederic Morell Holmes' Faith's Father: A Story of Child-Life in London Bye-Ways (love those antediluvian titles!), because it describes the winking pleasure — the "low voice," as if doing something slightly naughty — with which I seem to have adopted this aspect of the teatime performance:

In course of time, however, he reappeared, bearing with him an old battered tin canister, out of which he ladled, with the greatest deliberation, two spoonfuls of tea, following them with a little "pinch for the pot," as he observed with a low voice. It was indeed quite a sight to see him cast in that last little pinch. He did it with such an aspect of extreme benevolence and generosity, as though he were exhibiting to the world a vastly magnanimous action, and was being cheered on by the spectators. Having done this, he closed up the canister with the usual difficulty experienced in making the lids of those articles fit on properly, and once more attempted his perilous passage across the floor.

I shall strive to restore this behavior prior to every pour.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


London's Daily Mail recently published a piece about the city's Volupte Lounge, which offers afternoon tea amid a burlesque show. They write: "Dancers dressed in traditional 1920s style corseted costumes perform while you enjoy your tea, teasing with the seductive style of dance which involves slowly stripping off items of clothing."

Here's my report from visiting the place a few years ago. I'm rather amazed they're still doing this, though I recall the place being packed to the rafters with, of all customers, bridal parties.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tea at Downton Abbey

All these months later, poor Dan Stevens is still apologizing for his character's deathly exit from the popular BBC series "Downton Abbey." In some of my catch-up reading recently, I came across an exclusive interview with Lady Carnarvon, the current resident at Highclere Castle (real-life stand-in for Downton Abbey) in the Coffee & Tea Newsletter.

In it, Lady Carnarvon describes the afternoon tea still presented at the castle (which now is a busy tourist attraction) and outlines the menu (egg and cress sandwiches, scones, jam, the works, plus a Victoria sponge cake), serving Earl Grey and breakfast blends. Answering a question about how afternoon tea has evolved over time, the lady says, "Not at Highclere," where the tea traditions have "stayed much the same, although we don't have tea in the Drawing room ever, tea is taken in the Salon or sometimes in the Music Room." She reiterates this again later in the Q&A: "Teatime has stayed the same, no special traditions."

For your summer garden party, Adagio has, of course, crafted a Dowager Countess blend, described as "stately and floral with a bit of smokiness for contrast. An elegant cup for an elegant lady/fearsome matriarch."

Remember, it would be a pity to waste a good pudding. #wordstoliveby

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tuesday Tea TV: Harry Connick Jr. in a tutu

A friend recently made me aware of an occasional segment on the "Ellen" show, in which two little girls with frightful British accents sit down to tea with whatever incongruous celebrity guest happens to be handy. It's pretty cloying — and I tend to steer away from anything that highlights the tea experience as the provenance of girls — though this episode featuring singer Harry Connick Jr. is amusing and amusingly awkward.

"I'm surprised at how comfortable I feel," Connick says as he dons a tiara and pink tutu.

The girls mention Connick's recent appearance on "American Idol," where he appeared as a mentor to the shrill harpies that pass for talent on that show. Talk about awkward and amusing — Connick was clearly driven to near madness as he tried to impress upon the warblers the value of the American songbook and that the songs are actually about something greater than however many notes you can cram into one syllable.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

From the kettle to the dog bowl

Rufus, our big white Muppet of a dog, usually joins me for tea. For the company, anyway. He curls up in his chair opposite me, and I confess I've wished sometimes that he could share a cup.

Make no mistake, giving regular tea to a dog would not be a great idea. Canine heart rates are high as it is. The last thing you'd want to do is hop up a dog on caffeine, which isn't great for dogs (neither is milk or sugar).

One tea company, California Tea House, has manifested this thought in an actual product: Machu's Blend, Tea for Dogs. They claim:

After consulting with numerous veterinarians, and compiling research on herbal treatments for canines, we put our tea blending skills to work for our canine companion. Machu's Blend tea for dogs is a once-a-day herbal tea comprised of Chamomile, Ginger Root, Fennel Seed, Skullcap and Calendula that not only promotes healthy skin and coat for your dog, but also lowers stress and aids digestion of dry dog food, easing the stomach and reducing gas. In addition, Machu's Blend is great for the prevention of bloat and treating dogs that suffer from seizures as well as motion sickness caused by car rides.

Beyond that, there's an additional whole line of herbal teas for dogs called Woof and Brew — five different blends allegedly perfect for pooches.

I still wouldn't recommend it, but there it is.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

May days

Today happens to be the fifth day of the fifth month
I'll wear the straw sandals with blue-eyed cords I was given as they allude to ayame-gusa.
— Basho

Friday, May 3, 2013

Hey, you, get offa my cloud

Heaven, n'est-ce pas?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Goin' underground

A man sets up a blog to write about one of his personal passions, he hopes nights like these come along every so often. They do. The photo above is that of a cluster of fellow Chicago tea junkies, in the basement stock room of a fine Chicago tea shop, cupping teas some had been wanting to share or show off. If the first rule of Underground Tea Club is not to blog about Underground Tea Club, I'm in trouble.

I myself am a bit underground these days. Teasquared is not dead, but it is cooling for a while. I'm deep into data collection for my master's thesis — I've really taken to a lemony rooibos to keep me going at night without the caffeine — and as soon as all this work blows over in the next few weeks, I'll have something of a life again and will heat this blog back to boiling. Till then, please bear with me. Posts will be sporadic. But this fall I'll have news and a whole new outlook, literally.

Share some weak tea with Morrissey

I've written about Morrissey recently — I interviewed him last fall, at the end of which he answered a nagging tea question — and here's another bit, a fun one.

The second half of "Victoria Wood's Nice Cup of Tea," a recent two-part special on the BBC, the British comic shares a cup with Morrissey in Manhattan, talking tea (he travels with an Italian pot, drinks weak Ceylon daily) and, in this clip, suffering through easily the most awkward gift exchange ever ...

Friday, February 15, 2013

A cuppa veggies?

Check this out: Numi Organic Tea introduces a new line today — Savory Teas. It's quite a large line of blends using black tea, spices and (here ya go) veggies. A press release hawks them for a variety of occasions: "They can be a satisfying, low-calorie snack alternative, a great complement to a light lunch, a delicious brew for cooking rice or noodles, a comforting cup when a cold or flu strikes, a pick-me-up on a hike or camping trip, an easy-to-prepare mood booster at work or on the road, or a perfect pairing to cheese and crackers." Well, I certainly boil rice in leftover tea all the time ...

I'm intrigued!

Here's the lineup:

Tomato Mint
This bright Mediterranean infusion is reminiscent of the sweet savory scent of stuffed grape leaves (dolmas). The combination of ripe tomatoes, mint leaves, decaf black tea, a touch of cinnamon and lemon peel makes for a zesty, mouthwatering cup.

Spinach Chive
Layers of steamed spinach greens give way to the mouthwatering fullness of this savory brew. The citrus notes of Numi’s Dry Desert Lime tickle the roof of your mouth as coriander teases your taste buds. Dill, chive and decaf green tea are the perfect finish to this well-rounded, yet complex, blend.

Fennel Spice
Coaxed by the soothing scents of freshly cut fennel, this crisp concoction will transport you to the enchanting European countryside. The soaring flavors of sweet licorice envelop the earthy fullness of celery root while slivers of orange peel and decaf green tea delight the palate.

Carrot Curry
Be transported to the heart of India with the rich exotic flavors of curry, turmeric and ginger. Kissed by sweet carrots and bright cilantro, the earthy, vegetal and piquant notes are marvelously woven together into this full-bodied blend.

Broccoli Cilantro
As pungent aromas lure you into this abundant garden, the hearty flavors of broccoli, celery leaves and cilantro capture your palate. Turmeric and decaf green tea deliver a peppery roundness. Come home and relax to a cup of Broccoli Cilantro’s sweet lingering taste.

Beet Cabbage
A bright crimson hue welcomes you into delightful scents of clove. This smooth buttery blend is rooted with beets and cabbage and delicately spiced with mustard seed and coriander. The finish is accented by sweet notes of apple and decaf black tea.

Garden Sampler
A cornucopia of vegetables herbs and spices await you, ready to nourish and warm you from the inside. This Garden Sampler holds a variety of our delicious and satisfying Savory Teas. The box contains two bags of each of the new flavors: Tomato Mint, Carrot Curry, Fennel Spice, Spinach Chive, Beet Cabbage and Broccoli Cilantro.

Whaddya think?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tuesday tea TV: Creep-tastic ad

Warning: The video posted here is uber-creepy. I've watched it the one time. I won't be watching it again. I'm not a spooky movie kinda guy, and I hate clowns. But ... but ... it's so weird, and so cool, and a really different and interesting way to advertise tea. Don'tcha think?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Yes, let's

Just sharing this photo, which was Facebooked by a couple of friends who've just relocated to Leeds, UK. I couldn't help giggle more than I probably should have at the box of Yorkshire Tea in the background.

I came for the "160 bags for the price of 80"; I stayed for the fabulous slogan: "Let's have a proper brew." Henceforth, I shall begin each teatime with that gentle but insistent prelude.

Friday, January 18, 2013

White tea riot

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Look at the birds up in the trees!

Saw this over at fair-trade-minded shop Ten Thousand Villages: a beautiful tea tray hand-painted by Peruvian artists. Birds in the tree, sunny warm colors, all on reverse-painted glass. Stylish, handy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday Tea TV: Tea on the lawn

Occasional flashbacks to my ’80s youth — a recent one took me back to "The Young Ones" and their dreadful tea parties on the lawn ...

Alas, I can't locate video of the clip I was really thinking of, when Neil kills the kettle and Vyvyan says, "Oh, no! That means we'll have to have raw tea again!" — as he proceeds to chew on a dry tea bag.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Tea ceremony can be of yore or yours

We use the word "ceremony" a lot in tea doings.

Every tea culture has one. Japanese chado, on any occasion, is peaceful and reverent, a conduit for meanings both profoundly universal and deeply personal. Chinese gongfu is fluid, skillful, utilitarian. Korean tarye is natural and relaxed. Outside of Asia, English afternoon tea is a certain celebration of civility.

These are each ritual in aspect, bearing out in some form the etymology of the word "ceremony," from the Latin meaning "holiness, sacredness; awe; reverent rite." But even the street culture of Burma, the mint tea cafes of north Africa, the mandated cups for visitors and buyers throughout southern Asia and the Middle East — tea throughout the world manages to express itself through ceremonial gestures and symbols. What is the Russian samovar if not an altar, a baptismal font?

At your table, together or alone, tea traditions can be maintained — or born. Learn the old ways, carry them on, forge the links. But also experiment, incorporate, transcend.

Friday, January 11, 2013

En garde! The art of tea dueling

I forget what lead to my brief flirtation with steampunk — I think I backed into the subculture while reading Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle trilogy — but a friend recently asked me if I was aware of tea dueling. It's a steampunk thing, and it beats pistols at fifty paces.

In a tea duel, the duelists sit across a table from each other. Each is armed with a cup of hot tea and a tea biscuit (butter cookie, what have you). Refereed by the Tiffin Master (or Mistress), the duelists dunk their biscuit into the tea for a count of five seconds, at which point the biscuit is removed. The duelist who waits the longest before eating the biscuit — without having lost any soggy crumbs or saturated pieces to the tea — wins. Victory is described as a "nom," and it's harder than it might seem.

Nerdy, but civilized. Complete rules can be found here in the "Articles of the Honourable Association of Tea Duellists" (sic).

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Make tea, sit: a manual

This blog post, "How to sit in a chair and drink tea," is every kind of awesome. It's a long read, but it ably captures the mindfulness required — well, you know — in every step within the simple act of doing just what the title says.

"Run water into the kettle, feeling its growing weight, and take a moment to smile at your fortune if you did not have to leave the house to do so." So true.

"You will now confront one of modern society’s ever-present dangers, which is the risk of distraction we face whenever nothing interesting happens for a few minutes." Preach it.

"The tea will take a few more minutes. Good! Those minutes are a little present, just for you, only because you welcome them." Amen, brother.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tuesday tea tunes: Outside the box

If you've ever described a cup of tea as pure poetry, here some young musicians pushing that notion to the extreme — with an improvised song based on the words from a box of organic black tea ...

Monday, January 7, 2013

The ups and downs of tea science

As a curious person by nature, one of the fun parts about being enrolled in a university is having access to research libraries. Nearly any paper published in an academic journal is usually a couple of clicks away. You'd be amazed — at least I was recently — at the amount of research still going on into the continuing mystery of tea. Just in the last year, papers have included "Chemistry and Pharmacology of Caffeine in Different Types of Tea Leaves," "The Chemistry and Biotransformation of Tea Constituents" and "Flavour Chemistry of Mate and Some Common Herbal Teas."

But chemist Matthew Harbowy, who's focused a lot of his own work on tea and caffeine, has taken to Quora (a question-and-answer service with massively greater credibility than most "answers" sites) in recent months to bring a lot of this kind of research out from behind academy walls.

For instance, Harbowy tackles a question I've heard debated almost as often as the great milk-first debate: "Does bouncing your tea bag actually do anything substantial?" After discussing the Noyes-Whitney equation, the hydrophobic barrier and several experiments, he concludes: "Within statistical error, under almost all testing conditions, I cannot find a difference between dunking and not dunking under controlled circumstances, so do it how you want."

Also see his answers to "Does green tea have more caffeine than black tea?" and "How much caffeine is there in jasmine tea?" He's also a contributor to the scholarly collection Caffeine.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Natural look, natural feel

New favorite home-decor source: Leif, a supplier of artistic living accessories and tabletop pieces hewn from natural materials and designed to look that way.

Dig these cups — this one (pictured) is called Brushed Snow and is made in Japan. Other cups in this same shape are wrapped with wood grain, or real cedar for the sake cups. They also have some beautiful, ghostly glazed tea bowls. Best part: great prices.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

New Year hibernation

When New Year week is over, people are likely to be sitting around the fireside to enjoy a kind of hibernation, making and drinking tea all alone. They do not mind having no guest. Their own favorite scroll in the alcove, a single flower, a kettle put on for themselves, a Korean salt-dish teabowl of their liking or the warmth of an oo-zutsu (large tube) teabowl — all are enjoyable. If perchance, a tea friend of their unexpectedly visits them, it must be doubly joyful. — Sasaki Sanmi

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Tatezome new year's tea ceremony returns

Hey, locals: Each January, Urasenke Chicago presents a New Year's tea ceremony (Tatezome) and hosts a nice luncheon afterward at the Japan Information Center. I attended and wrote about it a few years ago, enjoyed a rewarding afternoon and met some lovely folks.

The next one is scheduled for Jan. 26, and here's a video of last year's ceremony ...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Tuesday tea tunes: Little anchors

Here's hoping all your holiday travels were safe — and not as wobbly as the planes in this video — and that you, in this new year, "Stay Grounded" like British indie-folk singer Tom Williams does with tea and toast ...

Tea people and the new year

The new year comes with the vanguard of the first streak of daylight accompanied by the burnished dawn wind, in a stately and majestic way. The new year is decked out awe-inspiringly, faultless and graceful. Tea people are pious, serious and peaceful as they welcome it. A new year brings out the gift of myth, classicality and delight. Tea people receive them with admiration, nostalgia and ecstasy. As everything is full of celebration, gratitude and joy, tea people are busy but happy.
— Sasaki Sanmi