Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday tea tunes: Sweet baby jelly

"Jenny put the kettle on ..." Never a big fan of James Taylor, this is a pretty priceless performance of "Jellyman Kelly" from an old "Sesame Street," complete with spirited children more than making up for JT's lack of energy. And at least we don't have to censor any cleavage here ...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Some fresh Holyfield ear with your scone, Mr. Tyson?

Why? This video doesn't answer that question, but it is an amusing moment with someone I wouldn't expect to enjoy tea time with: boxer Mike Tyson. "Earl Grey sucks," he declares ...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Over the moon for equinox and Chinese festival

Last night, I stepped outside late for a breath of air. Great night for it: room temperature, a friendly breeze, the city seemed loose-limbed and comfy. I'd been sipping pu-erh while working. I was in tea mind.

The moon is something I try not to take for granted, and last night it wouldn't let me. The air must have been unusually clear, because even through the heart of Chicago's light pollution I've never seen such a crisp, bright round glow. With my naked eyes, I could make out more features than I'm used to. It hung proudly in the sky, just to the southeast, and shone forth the very definition of radiance. Arresting, tracks-halting, gasp-worthy. And directly below it, like a diamond pendant, hung Jupiter. Crown jewels laid out on indigo velvet.

I didn't know till this morning that what I was looking at had a slight astronomical significance. It was a "super harvest moon." Summer ended and autumn began shortly after I stepped outside, at 10:09 p.m. Central. A full moon, particularly a harvest moon, rarely occurs on the equinox — thus the "super" additive. The position helps make the moon brighter, bolder. (Some photos here.)

I was, however, aware that yesterday was the Mid-Autumn Festival on the Chinese lunar calendar — also called the Moon Festival. The central sweet treat offered in China and Vietnam for this festival is the mooncake, a round, fluted pastry filled with a lotus-seed paste (easy recipe here). I was served these once with gongfu, but at a much different time of year. Next year, I'll plan ahead, "super" or not.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Watch the 'Tea Mavericks' panel discussion

I finally caught up with this interesting tea event, a discussion with five "tea mavericks," held last week at Samovar in San Francisco. The folks are Rishi Tea CEO Joshua Kaiser, noted tea writer James Norwood Pratt, Numi Tea CEO Ahmed Rahim, the leader of info-sharing website Digg, Kevin Rose, and tea source expert David Lee Hoffman, with Samovar founder Jesse Jacobs. It's about an hour, and you can watch here ...

Tea Mavericks of America from jesse jacobs on Vimeo.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tuesday tea tunes: Return of the lung ching

OK, let's return to our Tuesday tunes, via YouTube until something better and embeddable comes along.

Erykah Badu's "On and On" — in which she sings: "I'm feelin' kind of hungry ’cause my high is comin' down / Don't feed me yours ’cause your food does not endure / I think I need a cup of tea ..."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tea smokin' in Carolina, and Lady Grey's drunk

Catching up on some magazines — found a couple of interesting features:

Food & Wine's Sept. issue has a profile of North Carolina chef Andrea Reusing. The writer launches the piece mentioning that he first heard of her when a restaurant co-worker asked him, "Have you heard about the woman in Chapel Hill smoking chicken over tea?" Loved by celebrities and rock stars as well as lucky locals, her restaurant, Lantern, is revered worldwide despite its relatively remote location. For her "legendary tea-smoked chicken," Reusing brines the birds in a spicy mixture, then uses a combo of rice, tea, spices and chile to smoke with. The full recipe is here. (The magazine previously interviewed her here. My Earl Grey-smoked pork roast meal, plus other tea foods, is here.)

Martha Stewart's Everyday Food mag (I'm not always crazy about her, but this is a nifty little monthly book full of some great simple recipes) this month had a recipe for a sweet tea cocktail — a mini-infusion, of sorts. The Spiked Berry is simply: Combine a cup of sliced strawberries, a cup of vodka and a bag of Lady Grey tea. Steep it an hour. In a pitcher, stir together a quarter cup of powdered sugar with a cup of fresh lemon juice. Toss the tea bag and pour the vodka mix into the pitcher. Yum.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Faithful tea folks, life-changing tea moments

Just want to share a couple of beautiful posts from fellow tea bloggers for your hump day morning.

In the first, Diane at T Ching recalls a faithful tea customer in "George Wednesdays." It's a touching tale of personal connection and those meaningful relationships that sneak up on us, which we then ruminate over during meditative steeps.

In the other, the blogger at New York's Mandarin Tea Room shares a beautiful tale of a tea epiphany, titled "Why Do I Use Tea to Meditate?" The answer to that question is a bit of a stretch, but the tea moment described is poignant and moving — simple and natural, as a tea moment should be. "Try to remember this feeling," says the muse in this tale. "This tea moment, you will never forget it."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Teapots hanging in the family tree

My mother recently moved and, as aging mothers do, pared down her belongings. My father, before he died, lived in constant preparation for this event. Closets were always being cleaned (and then refilled), piles always being made. Every visit home would end with, "Do you want to take that ____?" or "Come on out in the garage, there's some stuff you should go through before it gets hauled off." He'd be impressed by Mom's relatively Buddhist trimming down of material possessions.

Part of that process, you may have experienced, involves making sure the stuff with family history — and stories attached — is passed out among the children. I'm eager to share my wares: She handed off two beautiful tea sets from her side of the clan. There's this set, from which I'm drinking keemun right now as I write ...

I know nothing about china, patterns or the intricate histories thereof. Nor does my mother, who remembers very little about the set, which belonged to my great-grandmother. "I don't even remember anyone using it," she says. Always a sucker for early 20th-century design, I love the modern lines and adult baby-blue of this china. I have been able to confirm that it's made by the Noritake company in Japan, manufactured between 1914 and 1921. The cup (there's just the one) is so light and thin I feared it would crumble in my hand as I cleaned it. Great to drink from, though. Here's to you, great-granmamma, wherever you are.

The other treasure is this silver service ...

This was grandmother's. By contrast, this was "used all the time." Mom says: "Mother always was having her little lady friends over. She entertained a lot, and poured tea with this." It's a splendid silver pot — I'm beginning to understand why wealthy Brits insist silver is the best vessel for tea — with a sugar bowl and creamer. Very well-to-do, ahem.

Another random bit of family history came to me this week from my dad's sister: "You may not know this bit of family trivia, but your great grandmother, when she came to America as John's wife, was unable to bring much with her. She did however bring a tea pot and teaspoons and some linen napkins. I'm sure she was horrified when she saw the Nebraska home where she was supposed to live and raise a family. Probably having things from England helped her to adjust."

Hey, I'm just glad to know I'm descended from people who, when evaluating which material goods really matter, include the teapot.

Monday, September 13, 2010

New liqueurs for tea cocktails from Koval

This weekend we toured Chicago's new Koval Distillery, a craft still on the North Side. They make organic (and kosher!) spirits from a variety of grains, including wheat and oats but also spelt and millet. They make five different white whiskeys — clear, not aged, basically legal moonshine — from the different grains. Most of them are sharp and subtly flavorful, but in our tasting the Raksi Millet whiskey was the stand-out, the only one with any real smoothness and nutty flavor.

My reason for going, though, was to investigate the liqueurs. Koval makes five: rose hip, chrysanthemum honey, jasmine, ginger and coffee. These are unusual liqueur flavors and, as you might imagine, they are ideal for tea cocktails. We tasted the first three of those. Two were quite good — the rose hip utterly surprising, sweet and jammy and clean, and the jasmine really enchanting, with just the right floral notes. The chrysanthemum honey was unfortunately cloying, all honey and no blossoms. Pour the jasmine over ice with some Zen green tea liqueur and you've got one little piece of heaven, the perfect aperetif on either side of an Asian meal. The Koval site also has a recipe for Tea Koval, a simple cocktail of Earl Grey with the rose hip liqueur.

Koval distributes to Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, and Tennessee, plus these national online sellers.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Adding some sparkle to everyday iced tea

It's already chilly in Chicago. This morning had a definite autumnal bite, and after walking the dog the flip-flops were put away for the season. So, drat, I meant to write about this while the weather was still a bit steamy ...

One of the things we encountered on our European travels early this summer was sparkling iced tea. In the vast majority of cafes we visited, when one of our companions, Richard, asked for iced tea, he was served a bottle of sparkling, usually a Lipton variety.

Richard, it's important to note, likes nearly all of his liquids to be as sparkling as his personality. At home, in fact, he possesses his own carbonation system, with which he adds bubbles to his drinking water. It's pretty marvelous: a faucet, a Brita filter and a SodaStream Penguin Water Carbonator — no more wasting money and glass buying Pellegrino or Perrier. Richard "penguinizes" everything he can, so when we returned home, of course (and at my urging), he tried penguinizing his own tea.

It's tricky and messy experimentation, as most liquids refuse the carbonation if they already have something else dissolved in them. Richard found it easier to brew the tea separately, and strongly, then add the sparkled water. Here's his conclusion:
  1. Prepare steeped tea, 3x strength; chill.
  2. Prepare simple syrup [Water and Sugar, 1:1]; chill.
  3. Place about 1T of syrup in a highball; add squeezed quarter of lemon wedge; fill 1/3 full with strong tea; and top with penguinated water.

As for buying it bottled, I still haven't located sparkling iced tea in any U.S. stores yet, though Lipton says varieties like this green tea with berry flavors is in stores (and was just launched last year). But given that it's just another bottled drink that's mostly high fructose corn syrup, I haven't looked that hard. Nestea and Lipton both have sparkling varieties throughout Germany and some of northern Europe.

p.s. Here's a great recipe for homemade sparkling tea with lemon, cucumber and mint!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sweet folks and sweet treats at the Drake

Daniel enjoys his tea, during a recent birthday celebration
at Chicago's Drake Hotel. Thanks to everyone who joined us!