Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tuesday tea tunes: Anytime, downtown

I've been waiting to drop this tune on you. It's New Year's, we're thinking about time, and tea ... and Petula Clark is here to say, relax, "anytime is tea time now"! She covers everything I love about tea: Making good friends, enjoying a cuppa and drinking to your health. Here's to 2010!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Visions of sugar lumps dancing in our heads

San-tea Claus stops for a cup of tea in S.C. (via the Independent Mail)

Everyone is safe and sound, I learned over several cups of tea. Mom made it to my sister's before the blizzard hit. The Oklahoma clan survived the snow and made plenty of merry. Cynthia's here, Chris is there, Joyce might come next week instead. We sent a catered feast to Vicki since her no-good kids wouldn't. Dan's TV went out, but he's found a way to watch the games. Daniel and I stayed put (ahhh) and kept the fireplace roaring. We're all fed (I made a killer cassoulet last night, ahem) and sheltered (Dave and Dan in the new house!) and mostly employed and thank goodness for all of that.

Friends and loved ones know me well: great tea and a pile of tea ware surrounded our Christmas tree (a new purple yixing pot!). Daniel and I braved the cold Christmas Eve rain for a lovely afternoon tea at the Peninsula (lovely, but still to my surprise not as good as the Drake or the Four Seasons). I'm drinking Dave's hearty China Breakfast this afternoon at work (yes, a Christmas shift). Tomorrow morning: Singapore Breakfast and pain perdu.

Life is good, life is grand, better still with tea in hand. Happy Christmas, tea lovers! Enjoy your cup, and enjoy your company. I leave you with this link to Tom Hegg's "A Cup of Christmas Tea" — a tad cloying, sure, but still a fine festive philosophy, especially for secretly sentimental old bastards like me. In fact, here's what seems to be the author himself reading his work:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tuesday tea tunes: Happy Christmas to all!

"Tea at the Night of Christmas," by Hyakkoku Hajime and from the soundtrack to a short-lived Japanese anime show earlier this year called "K-On!"

And to all a good cuppa ...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Tea overboard!

In November 1773, three British ships arrived in Boston harbor. They carried, among other items, 342 chests of tea. Though Bostonians loved their tea just about as much as any Brit, they refused to allow the cargo to be unloaded in an effort to protest the king's tax on imported tea (and there wasn't, and still really isn't, any other kind here in the States).

The resulting "Boston Tea Party" is now a well-known pivot point in the American revolution. Since it took place 236 years ago tonight, here's a different report on the events from John Andrews, a selectman of Boston, who wrote this account to a relative (from Eyewitness to America). He reports that he heard "such prodigious shouts' while he was "drinking tea at home," and went to investigate ...

They mustered, I'm told, upon Fort Hill to the number of about two hundred and proceeded, two by two, to Griffin's wharf, where Hall, Bruce and Coffin lay, each with 114 chests of the ill-fated article on board; the two fomier with only that article, but ye latter arriv'd at ye wharf only ye day before, was freighted with a large quantity of other goods, which they took the greatest care not to injure in the
least; and before nine o'clock in ye evening every chest from on board the three vessels was knocked to pieces and flung over ye sides.

They say the actors were Indians from Narragansett. Whether they were or not, to a transient observer they appear'd as such, being clothed in Blankets with the heads muffled and copper color'd countenances, being each arm'd with a hatchet or axe and pair pistols; nor was their dialect different from what I conceived these genuises to speak, as their Jargon was unintellible to all but themselves.

Not the least insult was offered to any persons, save one Captain Conner, a letter of horses in this place, not many years since remov'd from dear Ireland, who had ript up the lining of his coat and waist coat under the arms, and watching his opportunity had nearly fill'd 'em with tea, but being detected was handled pretty roughly. They not only stripp'd him of his clothes, but gave him a coat of mud, with a severe bruising into the bargain; and nothing but their utter aversion to make any disturbance prevented his being tar'd and feather'd.

One day, when my mother and I resume our genealogical research, I hope to look into whether we are in any way related to this Captain Conner. I can't help but feel pity for the man. Here he was, dragged down to the wharf for all this rabble rousing, and he thought, "Geez, what a waste of good tea!" So he stuffed some in his pockets. They caught him and beat the hell out of him. Hey, he was cheating the king out of his taxes, too!

Tea infiltrates your holiday treats

It’s sad to watch snow struggle to be snow. It’s been doing that all day — trying to fall as snow, but barely eking out a crystal. Just rain, really. Still, I’m in uber-holiday cozy snuggle hibernate mode. (And it’s looking like we’ll have a white Christmas!) My partner reaches for hot chocolate in this mode. I’m reaching for tea. Believe it or not, there’s common ground here.

One of my favorite sites, Lifehacker, shared this suggestion: using teas to flavor hot chocolate. Like a little mint in your cocoa? Toss in a Celestial Seasonings bag o’ mint. Do you usually add a little vanilla extract? Try infusing a vanilla tea with the choc. These folks even tried “less obvious choices like Earl Grey.”

I’m also ready for egg nog, by gum. Bigelow has a nog-flavored tea (read: tea ‘n’ nutmeg); I find it a bit noxious, but a friend says it’s great infused with almond milk. A good chai, or the lip-smackin’ Singapore Breakfast, goes well with a goblet of egg nog, or perhaps some eggnog bread. Me, I’ve been known to whip up some egg nog scones. Delish …

The recipe: Mix 3 cups flour, ¼ cup sugar, 2 ts baking powder, 1 ts baking soda, ½ ts salt and a pinch of nutmeg in a large bowl. Cut in ¾ cup of chopped butter (got a pastry knife? or use two knives) till it looks and feels like cornmeal. Make a well and pour in a cup of eggnog. Stir with a fork till the dough pulls away from the bowl. Divide into two balls, pat ‘em with flour, flatten ‘em into thick discs and cut into wedges. The wedges go onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Before firing them, you can brush the tops with a couple tablespoons of milk, then sprinkle with sugar and/or cinnamon. Bake at 425 degrees for about 12 minutes, till they lightly brown on top. Eat and be jolly.

So good you'll wanna be caned

Fresh off a jet from Singapore, a co-worker just tossed me a canister of TWG's Singapore Breakfast blended tea. And I am loving it.

A couple of months ago, I'd read this story about the founders of TWG, in which Singapore Breakfast is used as the hallmark of the company's global success. TWG aims for a pretty high-end market (Singapore Breakfast, for instance, is most easily found on transoceanic flights and the Singapore Four Seasons Hotel, as well as through Harrods), but I've enjoyed a few of their blends before, notably their Rum tea and Christmas Lights tea. Singapore Breakfast, however, tackles something I'd only theorized about: mixing black and green teas.

The result is almost a chai — an even offering of nice curly black leaves, flat sencha-like green leaves, plus spices (including some nice chunks of orange rind) and a ton of vanilla. For that many ingredients, it's not a multi-layered experience. But it is fairly tasty (random note: it's divine with gingerbread cookies) and I'm squirreling it away for Christmas morning,
for sure.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A local confab, and the path to the middle way

Here's the thing about tea (one of a thousand): You meet such nice people.

Last weekend, three other Chicago-based tea bloggers — Lainie, Steven and Tony — graciously included me in an afternoon confab. Just four tea lovers sharing a few pinches of kick-ass and some scoops of OMG. The table was strewn with food and cups and packages and tea ware. We drank some great tea. I made note of the Antlers twig tea from Pearl (full-bodied infusion from the stems, still getting better by the third infusion), the Lu Shan Yun Wu green tea from Dream About Tea (vibrant green tea with zest and go-get-'em) and a Song Zhong Shan No. 4 from Tea Habitat, the kind of tea that makes you realize how deep this rabbit hole really goes.

Then there were the eye-openers from Tony, he of the soon-to-be-launched Chicago Tea Garden company. The lucky son-of-a-what was fresh back from an excursion in and around San Francisco, hoisting teacups with people like David Lee Hoffman (as well as Les Blank, who made the documentary about him) and others. The guy brings out what looks like a rotten pumpkin left over from Halloween — a small, black gourd with fat ribs and a hole on the top. It's a pummelo fruit — or it was 15 years ago, when it was hollowed out and jammed full of pu-erh. Now the tea is scraped out with a chisel, and the resulting dirt (really, it looked like compost ... and I suppose it actually is) was funneled into a pot. The brew: like drinking fresh rainwater runoff from holy ground — holy ground with an orange grove.

Good stuff, yum yum. Worth mentioning, I suppose, by a still-starry-eyed tea novice like myself. I don't want to ruin the relaxing get-together by writing about it each time it should occur. But I left thinking: here are three experienced, extremely knowledgeable tea lovers, each of them talented tea reviewers. We were gathered in the name of tea, and we can each talk about tea in our own ways. We do. My way, I hope, will be to write about something slightly more than what's cupped, if that's possible. I love tea, but I love even more what happens in the presence of tea. Because of it, as an excuse for it, in spite of it, who knows — on Saturday I simply enjoyed meeting three interesting people and indulging in treats and conversation on a wintry afternoon, probably more than the taste of the tea itself (though even attempting to slice the experience into matters of degrees strays from what I'm after in this tea-blogging experiment). There's the experience of the senses, but — fantastic as that can be — that's not enough to explain the magic of this beverage and its humble conquering of the world, of humanity, one person at a time. There are personal and social phenomena wafting from each pot like wisps of dream steam, and that's what I'm after. I don't mean to go guru on you. I'm not meditating on the spirituality of tea. I'm after the humanity of it. I'm steering for the middle way, as it were. I just want to enjoy the moments, tea moments. And notice them. Maybe celebrate them, but at the very least be thankful.

Just some thoughts on what the hell I'm doing here. At least I'm trying to figure that out ...

'Ode to Tea'

On the peaks of Mount Ling,
a wondrous thing is gathered:
It is tea.
Every valley and hill is luxuriously covered
with this wealth of the Earth,
blessed with the sweet spirit of Heaven.
In the month of the harvest moon,
the farmers get little rest.
Couples at the same task, searching and picking.
Take water from the flowing river Min,
drawn from its pure currents.
Select vessels and choose ceramics
produced from Eastern Ou.
Emulate the example of Duke Liu:
Serve tea with a gourd ladle;
In only this way can one begin to perfect
thick froth, afloat with the splendor of the brew:
Lustrous like piling snow,
resplendent like the spring fluorescence.
— Tu Yu (4th century)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday tea tunes: The talking horn

Not a Christmas song, though it was on a Christmas collection. And it's kinda festive.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Green tea espresso?!

I am so not L.A. But there we were last week, seeing some shows and visiting friends — and escaping Chicago’s first round of wintry slush. The city of angels isn’t exactly known for tea (not as much as the bay to the north, anyway), and this unfortunately wasn’t a tea excursion for me. To my everlasting dismay, our arrival was scheduled a few days after the close of the “Art of Tea” exhibit at UCLA’s Fowler Museum.

Nonetheless, I did enjoy some playful tea creations at Urth Caffe near our suite in West Hollywood. Allegedly a celeb-spotting site, alas we saw no stars. But I loved a pumpkin chai my beloved ordered me one morning — I keep expecting to loathe the pumpkin flavor with the tea, and I keep loving it — and I found the perfect respite the next afternoon as twilight came on with a cup of “green tea espresso.” While not quite the “revelation” I’d heard about — it’s just thickly brewed and steamed matcha tea — it’s a great way to offer crossover appeal. And, frankly, few places that actually use matcha powder use it very well. Urth’s “espresso” was well mixed and had a light froth that was both unusual and appreciated. It also came with two nibbly matcha-sesame cookies.

Finally, given this week’s music-embed debacle in the wake of the Myspace takeover of Imeem (gee, thanks for the warning before you up and destroyed all our Imeem links and playlists, Myspace jackasses), let’s close with a song from (appropriately?) the Lala service, the only song that for me adequately sums up my L.A. experiences …

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Myspace still exists?

Sigh. Myspace has purchased Imeem, the music service I use for embedding songs and song clips for the Tuesday Tea Tunes. Since that occurred early this week, every Imeem embed I've ever posted has gone haywire and become unusable. Please bear with me until I figure out how to fix this under the new management. Ugh.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Teaku No. 6

holiday teacups —
snowmen designed for display,
form over function

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Kiss me, kiss me, Kusmi

I'm not shy about confessing: I like the occasional cup of tea you can stand a spoon in. I found my way to tea from coffee, like many Americans, and in order to make the transition, by God, it had to be strong effing tea. Black like coffee. Bracing like coffee. The kind of strong stuff that, as my dad would have said, puts hair on your chest (regardless of gender).

So I started with a lot of Russian blends. I still love an overbrewed mug o' Russian Caravan (a storied blend of oolongs, keemun and lapsang souchong). I'd give anything to own a real samovar, so I could spend whole days pulling from the same thick pot, or at least firing it up for parties. Anyone have a line on an affordable one?

Anyway, here's a gift idea for the holiday: The next tea brand that seems to be all the rage with the jet set is Kusmi Tea, a French supplier finally making serious inroads stateside. Given the company's history, they have a hearty line of Russian blends, currently spotlighted for the Christmas shopping season. I'm a sucker for their Samovar blend, which re-creates the caravan with a little extra camel power, and the Troika blend (black teas from China, Ceylon and India, flavored with multiple citrus, including bergamot) is a stand-out for the orange tea lover. Their Christmas tea is a spicy dream, too — it's got this cozy attitude that stops short of being just another chai. Makes me want to curl up and re-read the madcap misadventures of Raskolnikov (like this tea passage!).

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tea as 'divine service'

From W. Somerset Maugham's short story "The Creative Impulse" ...
Mrs. Albert Forrester, confident in the judgment of posterity, could afford to be disinterested. With these elements then it is no wonder that she had succeeded in creating something as near the French salon of the eighteenth century as our barbarous nation has ever reached. To be invited to "eat a bun and drink a cup of tea on Tuesday" was a privilege that few failed to recognize; and when you sat on your Chippendale chair in the discreetly lit but austere room, you could not but feel that you were living literary history. The American ambassador once said to Mrs. Albert Forrester:

"A cup of tea with you, Mrs. Forrester, is one of the richest intellectual treats which it has ever been my lot to enjoy."

It was indeed on occasion a trifle overbearing. ... For my part I found it prudent to fortify myself with a cocktail or two before I exposed myself to the rarefied atmosphere of her society. Indeed, I very nearly found myself for ever excluded from it, for one afternoon, presenting myself at the door, instead of asking the maid who opened it: Is Mrs. Albert Forrester at home?" I asked: "Is there Divine Service to-day?"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Several inches of fresh powder

A friend of a friend owns and operates a lovely gelato spot here in Chicago (they have a yummy Chinese Green Tea flavor, and I even crave the Turkish Roast Coffee), and she threw me a couple of samples from the coffee and tea vendor they use. The company is Big Train, supplying restaurants and coffee houses with powdered drink mixes. It's a weird thing pouring powder into a tea mug and filling with hot water. It's a weird taste, too.

The Matcha Mist, for instance, can be prepared two different ways. As mentioned: powder in mug, fill with boiling water, stir. Not recommended. Looks like Swiss Miss, tastes like Swiss Miss. The other option is to pour milk into a blender, add the powder mix, add ice and blend. Not bad. The mix is basically matcha powder, powdered milk and powdered sugar, but it makes a nice smoothie-shake. (I also tried the Khoi-Na rooibos mix, which managed to squeeze out a decent honeyed flavor, both hot and cold.)

Still, it's easy to make this yourself: Into a blender (I love my Rocket Blender for quick, easy individual smoothies), add milk and/or yogurt (yogurt adds body, plus you can use complimentary flavors from fruit to vanilla) and some ice cubes. For fun, add fruit if you want, or a flavored syrup. Blend it, then add the matcha powder toward the end. (For maximum blending, whisk 1/2 teaspoon of matcha with a couple of ounces of hot-not-boiling water, then add that to the mix.)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Drink it straight, or in tea

What I wouldn't give to write about music as well as Richard Goldstein did in the ’60s and ’70s. I'm reading Goldstein's Greatest Hits right now (thank you, Topher), and much of it bowls me over. He writes the way I try to: slightly indirect, colorful, experiential, impressively balanced between traditional reporting and the put-yourself-in-the-story gonzo revolution.

Anyway, I loved this bit of color from his piece on Janis Joplin, "Next Year in San Francisco" (Village Voice, ’68):

But Janis stalks around the tiny room, her fingers drumming against a tabletop. She sips hot tea from a Styrofoam cup. She talks in gasps, and between sentences, she belts a swig of Southern Comfort, her trademark. Tonight, a knowing admirer has graced her dressing room with a fifth, in lieu of flowers. “I don’t drink anything on the rocks,” she explains. “Cold is bad for my throat. So, it’s always straight or in tea. Tastes like orange petals in tea. I usually get about a pint and a half down me, when I’m performing. Any more, I start to nod out.”

Tuesday tea tunes: 'I will not forget this time'

This one's another stretch, maybe a tea song in title only. But the refrain hits me in my tea cozy: "I will not forget these days / I will not forget this time." Tea moments, indeed.