Friday, July 31, 2009

John Barleycorn must steep

A colleague of mine — Jeff, a musician, sci-fi fan and all-around swell person — recently reminisced about his days in Long Beach, where he enjoyed genmaicha tea at a "mom 'n' pop Japanese bento shop" he frequented. Another beverage he discovered there: mugicha, or barley tea. Not actual tea, of course, this is an infusion of roasted barley — much like the toasted brown rice in the genmaicha.

Sounds intriguing. Anyone else tried it?

Jeff says: "If a barley tea doesn't break any tea guru rules you have, the mugicha is a great summertime tea - especially chilled out of the refrigerator (I prefer it with no ice cubes). Strong, dark flavor but not harsh or overly bitter. It's also ideal for serving people who get headaches from caffeine (the ones with whom you can't share the genmaicha)." I've also heard it's pretty good with rum ...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pour a Potter tea

"Well, Harry's got a wonky sort of cross -- that's trials and suffering. But this here could be the sun -- that's happiness. So you're going to suffer but you're going to be happy about it."
—Ron Weasley reading Harry Potter's tea leaves

Daniel Radcliffe, the hottie star of the "Harry Potter" flicks, is a tea drinker — out of desperation. Seems he's turned to tea to help kick his smoking habit. He carries a notebook with him on the set, in which he writes down the names of the production staff and their drink choices. Then he makes them tea to order.

There's a tea party invite I'd like to wrangle.

Apparently, this began after the filming of the current movie, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." On the set, crew and his fellow actors complained of Radcliffe's smoking. "Every time they call 'cut,' he lights up. It's disgusting," one source said. Taking heed of warnings from family and friends, Radcliffee is attempting to kick his pack-a-day habit and focusing on tea during the production of the next film, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." (Maybe he requires a cuppa as a temperance measure, given the impressive amount of drinking the kids at Hogwarts seem to do in the latest film.)

I wonder if he can read his own leaves yet ...

For whatever it's worth, here's an interesting use of typography in a YouTube video featuring a snippet from the chapter "Talons and Tea Leaves":

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

'Yes. I feel better already.'

I'm reading another mystery novel — with another unusual setting. The Convict's Sword, by I.J. Parker, is part of a series of detective stories set in 11th-century Japan. Just one of those curiosities I picked up on a whim and became engrossed in. I was not surprised when the first mention of tea appeared, and I'm mildly intrigued by this preparation:

Seimei brought the tea. He handed Akitada a small cup of steaming greenish liquid. "It's a special blend. I added some orange zest and a little honey and a few other good things to restore your spirit and soothe your empty belly." Akitada was touched. Seimei, like the others, had never shown him anything less than love and support. He tasted. "Excellent." He emptied the cup. "Yes. I feel better already."

Tuesday tea tunes: Very twee, very me

It's Paul. Stirring a pretend cup of tea. And beaming it to space. C'mon!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Kettle on, kettle off

Because there are no new ideas in Hollywood: they just started shooting a "Karate Kid" remake, with Jackie Chan and Jaden (son of Will) Smith. Here's a bit of tea ceremony lore from "Karate Kid 2":

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tasting: Himalayan teas

The tasting last night that produced the trembling ramble below was a fine sampling of Himalayan teas — from eastern Nepal and the fringes of Darjeeling — at Tea Gschwendner's flagship Chicago shop. Tea sommelier (c'mon, how great a gig is that?) Sam Ritchey led us through the foothills, which he visited a few months ago, when the tea we were drinking was just being plucked from the bushes.

Of the slew of first- and second-flush teas he trotted out, three accomplished some surprising kicking of my ass:

Manjhee Valley — We'd tried a couple of first-flush Darjeelings that weren't bad — one of which, the Soom, had a pretty sly cool, minty grin on its face — but they were opening acts for this lil' world-music band. Crazy-light, almost green in the cup, it slips in on buttery skates and then throws bunches of flowers — orangey, peachy flowers — at you. By the time it finishes, it tastes like the pavement smells after a light summer rain. Complex and full with a big ol' body.

Sikkim Temi — A new addition to their collection, this second-flush beauty got the loudest oohs and ahhs in our tasting group of eight. Begging their pardon, this certainly promises a rose garden: big, sturdy floral tastes come at you like kudzu, then a bone-dry finish. Quite unique.

Meghalaya Lakyrsiew — Possibly the most unique and surprising tea I've tasted in a couple of years, this second-flusher was served with chocolate at the end — which was either brilliant or redundant. It's like a cup of chocolate tea. Really buttery and spicy on the nose and first taste, then big, dark cocoa flavors, all packed into a charcoal briquet. Three or four distinct waves of flavors, an they mellow and blend as the cup cools a bit. This was snappy, sultry, maybe even a little naughty.

I left with a hundred grams of the Manjhee Valley, plus my ol' stand-by, the TG China Keemun. And, truly, I had a helluva time getting to sleep.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Recreational chemistry

Nine cups, and I'm buzzing. I'm vibrating — like the girl in the Robyn Hitchcock song, cross-legged on the bed, multifoliated. Just back from a tea tasting, a good one, so good I finished nearly all the samples. At 9 p.m. Oops.

A while back I read something, which now of course I can't find, about "tea mind." Not the Lu Tong poem, but another blogger discussing the moment when — usually at the fifth cup — he transcends a bit. It's that T-spot, when the theanines hit their mark and you're both hyper-alert and relaxed at the same time. It's the reason we've been sipping this stimulant for centuries.

Lu Tong goes all the way to seven before offering a warning, though the smelly pits aren't exactly the direst of circumstances I could imagine following a link to the heavens. Here's his verse:

The first bowl of tea moistens my throat,
the second breaks my loneliness, and
the third bowl racks my brains, bringing to light the texts of 5,000 volumes.
The fourth induces perspiration whereby all ills evaporate through my pores.
The fifth makes my muscles and bones feel light, and
the sixth links me to celestials.
Be careful when drinking the seventh bowl,
as it makes you feel as if a cool breeze were coming from your armpits.

I'm pretty sensitive to caffeine. I enjoyed a really good cup of coffee a few weeks ago, the first java I'd had in aeons. Then I remembered why I don't drink coffee anymore. Jitters turned into some kind of palpitations on the train home. It takes about 80 cups to kill a man, but just the one nearly turned me into Franklin Hart ("How did he die?" "Too much coffee ...").

The rain never really arrived, it's steamy out. I've got a breeze from my arms, but it ain't cool. I'll be lucky to get to sleep. And O! the irony: Woody Allen's "Sleeper" is on the DVR. Perfectamundo.

Teaku No. 1

drumming my fingers
waiting for the tea tasting
— flash! crack of thunder

All we are saying is give teas a chance

Photo from Tea Appreciation Society

Love this. I'm on the prowl for new T-shirts, having discovered a deep loathing for the 947 black concert T's clogging my drawers. (I recently picked up Chris Hardwick's first offering in this dept.: "Nice Tweets!") And now this from the Tea Appreciation Society. Because, really, would we have all this fighting if we all had tea once a day? (Well, OK, you're right, China hasn't been perfectly peaceful for a couple of millennia ...)

The tea-shirt is available here — or they got Billy Bragg to sign one, which they're auctioning here. Rule Britannia!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

You can't even taste the bacteria!

"I have spent the past years developing newer and better food additives. I guess I missed a lot." — Clark W. Griswold

Indeed, and just as you might admire Clark's greenwalls, you can now admire green teas and more with a brand new additive! Flavonoids, after all, are sooooo 2007. And theanine is totally last year's BFD. Today, Red Mango — a growing brand of yogurt — announced a new line of bottled teas with (drum roll please) added probiotics.

These are, of course, biotics who've gone pro. In this case, that means the three flavors of Red Mango teas — Lemonocity (Lemonade Green Tea), Mysteaque (Vanilla Black Tea) and Fanteasia (Wildberry Hibiscus Tea) — will not just contain all the natural goodness of the tea plant, they'll also contain GanedenBC30, "a patented strain of probiotic shown to help support the immune system and regulate the digestive system." So you know when you have the flu or some sort of gut ailment and the doctors (or your mother) tell you to eat yogurt to replace the "good bacteria" in your intestines? That's what this is. It's like drinking yogurt, only it's no doubt a significantly more pleasurable experience than "drinkable yogurt," one of the 21st century's Top 10 Worst Food Ideas.

Me, I'll stick with yogurt on my granola in the mornings. And a hearty cup of assam.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hot tea in the summertime

I hesitate to even wade into this debate, but it is July — when I'm asked this question at least once or twice a week: How can you stand to drink hot tea in the heat of summer?

Because I like hot tea. That's really the only answer. I have cited indistinct evidence before about people in India drinking hot tea in the scorching heat because it makes them sweat and thus cools them down, all the while knowing that's really bunk (the cool-down from the perspiration is true, it just isn't enough to counteract the heat from the tea and the revved up metabolism, etc.). Keeping my thermostat at 90 degrees would make me sweat, too, of course. So there goes that logic. In reality, we prefer hot drinks in winter and iced tea in summer for sensory reasons rather than dictates of body temperature, and ultimately the temperature of the drink doesn't matter that much. The important thing is to drink anything at all — to stay hydrated.

Still, I love this article about the success of tea shops in, of all places, Phoenix. I lived there once — for a summer. One day it hit 124 degrees, and a local chef tried and succeeded in frying an egg on the sidewalk. But, like most shops, they sell a lot of hot tea in the mornings and iced tea in the afternoons throughout those dismal summers. It's not as if this plant we love so much comes from Siberia. They love it there, with their gorgeous samovars and all, they just can't grow it. Tea comes from India and China and Kenya and ... you know, hot spots.

Tuesday tea tunes: Really? Oh, really?

Can you believe Madness has just released a new album? Put some Metamucil in my tea, please ...

Time For Tea - Madness

Monday, July 20, 2009

In your cups

Apropos of very little: Came across this photo taken last year during a Disneyland visit — ye olde tea cups ride, courtesy of the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. I still haven't decided if this looks alluring or terrifying ...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Make tea videos, go to college

It's OK, dude. You're adorable, we're glad you're on our side now.

This is one of many entries already posted at YouTube for the Calm-a-Sutra scholarhsip competition, courtesy of the Tea Council. You make a short video — in which you somehow slip in a fact or two about tea's health benefits — and the winning pick gets $15,000 for school. The deadline's been extended until Aug. 2 (and you know what extended contest deadlines mean ... not enough entries!), so flick out the Flip cam and brew up some funny.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tasting a hibernating tea

I'm always game for tasting anything that's been aged in a cave for half a century — intentionally. So I'm excited about the recently announced Tea Extravaganza 2009 event here at Chicago's Drake Hotel next month. It's two days of tea tastings, including a great green (Cha Wang Tai Ping Hou Kui / Tea King Monkey Chief), an intriguing oolong (Dong Fang Mei Ren) and a rare, collectible pu-erh: a 1949 Cave-Aged Private Reserve Pu-erh that sells for $400 an ounce. Two-day tickets for the event are just half that.

There's lunch the first day (Aug. 10) and afternoon tea the second (Aug. 11), so come rub elbows with the camellierati.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Obamas' Russian tea tour

Last week, during his visit to Russia, President Obama sat down with Vladimir Putin on the Russian prime minister's terrace for tea, complete with a big Russian samovar. The menu included eggs with caviar and sour cream, quail-stuffed dumplings and pancakes with cranberry sauce. Dig the thuggish former KGB spy here sipping from a dainty floral cup ...

Early in the week, Michelle Obama and the first daughters had an informal tour of the Kremlin, where they had tea in the Winter Garden.

How badly would you love to taste the quality and robust tea served in those Russian halls of power?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Coffee? Tea? Me?

"Girl holding tea pot and cup on tray" by Edward Penfield (1866-1925), from the Cabinet of American Illustration (Library of Congress).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thinking outside the cup

Here we are, yakking about tea because we love to drink it. But there are other things we can do with tea besides drinking it. This nifty list (via Bigelow) runs down 20 non-drinking uses for tea. I can attest to a few of them:
  • The razor burn thing? Works. Found that out one morning nursing some scrapes over breakfast. I thought, hmmm, helps puffy eyes and all that, and there's a cold wet tea bag on the table. Used it as a cold compress, and the razor-burned skin went ahhhhhhh.
  • I've used tea in composting before, too. It's good green material. This is different, of course, from compost tea.
  • Deviled eggs are pretty wicked looking when boiled in tea, then cooled in cracked shells. I've had them come out looking like marble, or tweed.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

'The Art of Tea' exhibit in L.A.

ABC News tonight reported that airlines are having big sales right now to try and fill their empty planes during the recession. It's a good time for a trip, and here's one I'd like to take: The Fowler Museum at UCLA has scheduled an exhibit called "Steeped in History: The Art of Tea," starting Aug. 16 and running through Nov. 29. The exhibit summary:
"Explore the cultural and historical significance of tea- after water, the world's most consumed beverage-through a magnificent and wide-ranging survey of visual art. Chinese paintings; Japanese screens, ceramics, and prints; rare English and Colonial American paintings; photographs and historical documents; tea-serving paraphernalia from around the globe; and much more, all tell the fascinating history of tea drinking. The subjects of the exhibition range from tea's mythic origins in the hills of South China through its enormous significance in Japan, its introduction in Europe by Dutch traders around 1610, its role in colonial American life beyond the clichés of the Boston Tea Party, and finally to its expanding importance as a global commodity at the height of the British Empire"
Race ya!

You're once, twice, three times our family

The book Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, has become quite a hit, both as a best seller and in the authors' efforts to fund schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The tea culture there is embedded deep into the social structures there, as this passage explains the title:
The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die. You must make time to share three cups of tea.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


The self-proclaimed King of Pop, Michael Jackson, is being celebrated today in a jam-packed memorial service in L.A. We at teasquared were always fair-weather fans of Michael. He never sounded happier nor more himself than he did on the exuberant album "Off the Wall." After that, he had his moments, but he talked a better game than he played. It was sad watching him disintegrate, literally and figuratively.

How can we possibly connect this subject to tea, I hear you cry? Earlier this year, as yet another sell-off to help pay the bills, Jackson auctioned off some of his collectibles from Neverland. That lot included the following tea kettle, designed like a train engine, complete with moving wheels. It was listed between $100 and $200, and I can't find a record of whether or not it sold ...

Tuesday tea tunes: Fiery kettles

Bitter Tea - The Fiery Furnaces

Sunday, July 5, 2009

All hail the Royal Emperor of Teatime

Just a photo of my newest teapot. I plucked it from the shelves of a Persian grocery in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood. It's the kind of place that would either thrill or frighten you. For me: both. Cheap trinkets up front, and a lot of Iranian music CDs. But in back ... miles of aisles of tea, much of it boxed and on shelves, still more of it lying in big plastic bins, poorly marked. I scooped out some "black tea with cardamom" (which was fabulous after a recent Moroccan feast at home) as well as some "green tea with lemongrass" (a surprising summer refreshment). The pot I had to take, too. It's cheaply made, but simply attractive. And, c'mon, it's got a handpainted portrait of a cheerful looking fellow with medals and a moustache. Daniel immediately named him the Royal Emperor of Teatime, and so he shall remain ...

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Pouring through the history of the world

Started a new book this weekend, one of my purchases from The Green Teaist. It's a plainly written, very matter-of-fact account of The True History of Tea by Victor H. Mair and Erling Hoh. Just thought I'd share the second graf in the book, since it's a nice way of connecting the tea in our cup (or, in this case, the harbor — happy Independence Day, American readers!) to its massive cultural, political and commercial background in one fell swoop:

The tea that filled Boston Harbor on that historic night had been picked at dawn in the hinterlands of the Fujian province of China, withered, tossed, oxidized, fired, rolled, packed in wooden chests lined with lead, carried by coolies shod in grass sandals, tasted and haggled over by plump merchants, journeyed four months in the damp storage of an East Indiaman round the Cape of Good Hope to London, broken, warehoused, and then reloaded by stevedores for the final fateful voyage across the Atlantic. From its humble origins in the Himalayan foothills of Southwest Asia, the salubrious tea plant has been traded by humans to every nook and cranny of the globe, and adopted by every people under the sun. Long before igniting the American War of Independence, it abetted the poets of China in their greatest achievements. It has burrowed itself to the core of the Japanese soul, solaced many a weary Tibetan yak herder, fueled the midnight cogitations of Britain's great inventors, and offered untold numbers of Russian peasants a path to sobriety. Through the centuries, it has provided a safe, stimulating beveragethat played a crucial role in reducing human epidemics and making habitation in crowded, bustling cities possible. In the modern world, it marks the day's rhythm for hundreds of millions of people, from the Koryaks of the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia to the Samburu pastoralists of northern Kenya.

And me — a cup at mid-morning, a cup around 4. At least. Every picture tells a story, baby, and so does every cup.

Friday, July 3, 2009

To have tea or not to have tea

Photo from The Mirror

A British ice cream company just sponsored a poll in Britain to determine what are that country's greatest national treasures. William Shakespeare came in at No. 1, followed by Buckingham Palace and fish-and-chips.

At No. 6: A cup of tea. Tea is bigger than the Beatles (who were No. 7)!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Moby's tea shop got a little too hot

Moby's new album, "Wait for Me," is out this week — and, whew!, it doesn't suck. But here's a factoid I noticed in a Moby article somewhere: dude owns a tea company.

It's called Teany Tea — a veggie/vegan-friendly teahouse in NYC's Lower East Side. He opened it in 2002 with ex-girlfriend Kelly Tisdale. According to another article, the two were looking for something to cure their hangover headaches and decided a comfy tea shop would be just the thing. They even have a line of bottled iced teas with flavors such as Green Tea With Ginseng, Vanilla Berry Hibiscus and Herbal Citrus Cooler. The slogan: "100 percent natural, 100 percent nice."

It figures I'd discover this right now — since the place was destroyed in a fire just a couple of weeks ago. The Teany site currently displays only this undated message: "Sorry! the teany cafe and the teany web store are temporariliy closed due to a small fire in the restaurant." Moby's blog reports: "Apparently Kelly is working hard to repair it and get it re-opened. So there’s a good chance that Teany will re-open at some point in the next month or two."