Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ask not for which desire the bell tolls

In Japan, New Year's Eve traditions include the ringing of temple bells 108 times each, symbolizing the exorcism of the 108 earthly desires for the hew year.

The onoe-gama is a kettle shaped like a Korean bell, used to serve tea and symbolize this calendar-ending, bell-ringing purification during the New Year's tea ceremony, joya-gama.

A pure, happy new year to you all!

Smashing Pumpkins leader opening tea house

Billy Corgan continues to lead the Smashing Pumpkins -- their recent Chicago visit made my list of best '11 concerts -- but he's diversifying. In addition to launching his own pro wrestling group (auditions coming up Jan. 12, for those who want to get their pile driving on), Corgan this week announced he's opening a "1930s Chinese-style tea house" in a suburb north of Chicago.

As the Sun-Times reports, Corgan's a partner in the business and apparently the one selecting the teas. "The tea menu will tout flavors and aromas from around the world, from greens to organics and exotics," according to the report.

"It's a little bit of a salon vibe, not modern at all. Very old school," Corgan told another site. "What we're going for is that Chinese-French style."

Fellow bald-pate musician Moby partnered in a tea house, TeaNY, nearly a decade ago. It reopened last year after a small fire.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Happy new year

We'll end 2011's weekly music feature here with one of my occasional thematic stretches. The Walkmen are a favorite band of mine. I've written about them here and there. Having been born out of another band that kicked my ass once upon a time, Jonathan Fire*Eater, they continued their vintage 1960s-garage sounds and have been a pillar of great indie-rock for years. I wish you a happy new year with the Walkmen's hopeful "In the New Year," which has little to do with our purpose here — except that it was partially recorded at England's Sweet Tea Studios ...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Real tea, imitation vanilla

Just a curious factoid: I had to rush to the corner convenience store for some vanilla extract during a fit of holiday baking. Imitation extract was only available. While the real stuff contains oils extracted from vanilla beans in an alcohol solution, the fake stuff substitutes the synthetic and more cheaply available "vanillin." To round out the flavor profile, though, I notice the ingredients also include "extractives of tea."

And, you know, a teaspoonful in a mug of some holiday blend ain't half bad.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Christmas to a tea

This group of traditional Irish musicians called Dun Mor delivers an undulating pipe medley, "Christmas Eve / The Cup of Tea." Happy Christmas to all this weekend!

Christmas eve The cup of tea by Massimo Cerra

Friday, December 16, 2011

Holiday breakfast everyone's sure to Finnish

Looking for a new recipe for the holiday mornings?

I have been indulging in this breakfast delight all year long, and I've just about got it perfected. Over the years I've tried different versions of a Finnish pancake — a suomalainen pannukakku, a big poofy oven-baked, custard-like creation made simply of eggs, milk, flour and sugar. I finally found one I can work with, from Sunset magazine.

Theirs uses honey and lemon zest to brighten it up, and fresh berries in the mix — raspberries inside, strawberries on top. Don't know about you, but the process of pureeing and then straining (and straining, and straining...) the raspberries to get the seeds out is more of a pain than I'd like in the mornings; thus, I often toss in plump blueberries instead (as pictured, above).

Be sure to let it rise and brown the edges; it'll settle down out of the oven. It's a killer breakfast, and works equally well with a stout black or a floral white tea.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: I'm dreaming of a 'White Tea'

This spare electronic dance groove is full of white noise, like a white wintry day. It's "White Tea" from DJ HxH ...

WhiteTea by HxH

Monday, December 12, 2011

Teaku No. 14

No umbrella,
tea cup forward,
defying the cold autumn rain.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Toddy with tea (cough, cough)

I sound like a goose (honk, honk) running late for the trek southward. It's three in the afternoon and I'm still in bed, in nightshirt and robe, surrounded by tissues, Advil, a pot of tea (of course), three quilts and a very cozy cat.

This stubborn head cold began a couple of days ago as a scratchy throat. Just recently, I'd read a blurb in Time Out magazine about some trendy bars in town serving up creative hot toddies, and I thought: that's the ticket! So I set to perfecting my recipe. Medicinal purposes, you understand.

It's quite restorative, though. The basics of a toddy: whiskey, honey, lemon, spice and hot water. In my book, there's absolutely no sense in using plain hot water; you want flavor, you want spice, so use tea. Black tea goes well with the whiskey — into a mug balanced to taste and tolerance, plus juice from half a lemon, a hefty squeeze of honey, and I add some ground spices (cinnamon and ginger), though whole would be fine if you can let them steep a bit (perhaps in the tea).

The origin of the toddy itself may have a connection to tea:

No one knows who created this drink or who named it. Some believe that since there was a lot of trade with Great Britain and India at this time that the name might have come from an Indian beverage named toddy, which is created from fermenting palm tree sap. Others believe that the name came from Allan Ramsay’s 1721 poem, The Morning Interview, in which Ramsay refers to the water used for a tea party as coming from Todian Spring (which was also called Tod’s well). As Todian Spring is the water supply for Edinburgh and as hot water is one of the most important ingredients in a hot toddy, it’s possible this is where our beloved warm libation acquired its name.

Either way, it's been wonderful on the throat. Given that ethanol evaporates around 180 F, you can control the alcohol content by aiming your liquid temperature higher or lower, but keeping the alcohol in helps you relax. Nyquil's full of it, after all.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Time for 'Christmas Tea'

'Tis the season now! French "electro-swing" singer-songwriter Dimie Cat offers up this fine, jaunty tune, "Christmas Tea," complete with stop-motion video (alas, no Rudolph) ...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Creative tea infusers galore

I posted about the tipping teacup as a means to eliminate tea balls and other infusers. But a lot of folks really enjoy these tools. They're available in a variety of creative designs and, hey, anything that encourages loose tea brewing over tea bags is a good thing, right?

Here's a thorough list of "35 Most Creative Tea Infusers," including several I've dropped here before (the robot, the yellow submarine), and cool new finds like this handy, portable tea stick ...

Good ideas for the tea lover on your gift list?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The tipping point for a teacup

Dig this nifty design — a tipping tea cup, in which you can brew the tea and separate the leaves within the same vessel (thus eliminating balls, bags and other infusers):

Available here, for $20.

It's the same basic idea behind my favorite teapot, the "castle cairn" tilting style.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tea company created world's first business computer

Go figure, the computing revolution started at a tea company.

A recent story from the UK Telegraph looks back at the history of LEO, the world's first business computer — which came from a perhaps unlikely source: "Today computing breakthroughs are made by highly-specialised technology firms, but LEO was created by J Lyons and Co, operator of tea shops, manufacturer of biscuits and founder of the Wimpy burger chain."

LEO (Lyons Electronic Office) was a series of large cabinets of vacuum tubes and circuits, which took up 5,000 square feet of office space. Its job was to calculate bakery distribution and eventually tea production. It also stole the jobs of hundreds of clerks, who previously did this work by hand.

Interesting to think of as you read this on a computer that fits in your lap, if not your palm. Science is wonderful.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Yes we Can

One of the best albums of all time, "Tago Mago" from Germany's acclaimed band Can, concludes on a psychedelic note with singer Suzuki's muttering/singing and beverage ambivalence. He just needs the caffeine on "Bring Me Coffee or Tea" ...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Blue tea for a blue day

He busied with the tea, this time scooping out a handful of blue-green pebbles which he showed to me. "Blue tea," he said. "Oolong pebbles that have been only half-fermented before drying. Beautiful, are they not? Like precious stones not yet cut." He dropped them into the warmed pot and covered them over with hot water. After a few moments, he poured out the steeped tea with a flourish. I sipped, feeling the tension of the past few days unfurl within me. It was a lovely ritual, graceful and delicate, and it embraced all I had come to like best about the East.
— from Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The two-mug method on Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, American tea lovers! May your turkey-day tea experiences be oh-so much better and more refined than this guy's ...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Slow jam and toast

Enjoy this slick seasonal groove, "Autumn Tea Party," courtesy of Timo Camillo, a Russian DJ whose production company is even called TeaDrops Music ...

Timo Camillo - Autumn Tea Party (Replika Remix) by replika

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

'Siri, some tea, please.'

Siri, the new digital "personal assistant" feature on the iPhone 4S, is remarkably helpful. But she can't make tea. Yet.

That hasn't stopped people from trying. One user simply requested, "Siri, make tea." The response was initially hopeful: "Right away sir. All contacts beginning with 's' deleted. Will there be anything else?"

Of course, a large number of people have tried, "Siri, tea, Earl Grey, hot." The result is usually, "Sorry, I can't look for restaurants in Japan" or other locales. Siri is no Enterprise replicator.

On the up side, Siri apparently gives great advice on where to hide a dead body. So there's that.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Coffee or green tea?

The album from Spain's Cafevintage Quartet is called "Dark Roast," but (in addition to a nice cover of Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island") it includes this song, "Green Tea," a smooth slice of electric piano jazz ...

Green Tea by Cafevintage Quartet

Monday, November 14, 2011

Everyone has their moment of discovery, dude

Morning, glorious morning. Rarely do I wake up so refreshed, so I hit the bricks — first, with Rufus, to read his his pee-mail, then on my own to the teahouse. Just a few moments of reverie and reading — reading for pleasure, a rarity for me these grad-school days — before the day's demands begin in earnest.

Next to me, at the window counter as I nibbled, two dudes. I shouldn't generalize but if I had to guess, let's say, I'd feel safe assuming that fraternal rituals were in their near past or future, and that the previous night's entertainment had involved "Animal House" quantities of beer. Ballcap Dude was so bleary that Specs Dude apparently had ordered for him.

Ballcap Dude: "This coffee is, like, really good."

Specs Dude: "Not coffee, dude. Chai."

Ballcap Dude: (a beat, then squinting into his cup, perplexed) "Chai? What's chai?"

Specs Dude: "Tea, mixed up with milk and spices. Good for you."

Ballcap Dude: (brow still furrowed, but loosening) "Tea."

Specs Dude: "You said you like it. Just drink it."

Ballcap Dude sipped again from his stained cup, and his face finally relaxed. You could see the wheels of revelation and epiphany whirring away underneath the hat, and finally he said — slowly, more to hear himself declare it than for anyone else's benefit:

"I ... like ... tea."

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why, yes, I did!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Tears of the Buddha

"I like six cups / not just one or two..." So sings fiddler A.C. Bushnell in this laid-back performance of his "Tea Song" ...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Afternoon tea piping hot amid austerity

The Economist reports this week that, even in the face of Britain's own austerity measures, one thing hasn't seen a decline — and, in fact, has seen a bit of a boost: afternoon tea.

Despite the many reports that come in periodically about the decline of tea drinking in the evermore Americanized (i.e., coffee swilling) motherland — I recently linked to yet another one here — this business article reports that tea time at the Palm Court in London's famed Ritz is "thriving," and adds:

Since 2004, the Ritz has served “afternoon” tea from 11.30am to 7.30pm; it hosts nearly 150,000 people a year. Saturday slots at the Savoy are booked up three months in advance. The Berkeley hotel in Knightsbridge changes its tea menu (cakes and other goodies are typically part of the package) every six months: recent offerings have included a “Valentino clutch cake” and a “Dolce & Gabbana éclair”. The economic doldrums have not hit demand; they may even have enhanced it.

Glad to hear it (even though I was not really bowled over by the Ritz experience on my London tea trip last year), though instead of bolstering the parlors of the wealthiest 1 percent I'd rather see greater growth of access to tea among the other 99.

Occupy the Tearoom, anyone?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A pot for remembering the dead

I drank some spicy chai while handing out Halloween candy last night. You?

The ghoulish fun isn't over, though. Tonight, as All Saints Day transitions to All Souls Day, heralding the celebration of the Day of the Dead — and I'm really wishing I had this stunning tea pot to celebrate with ...

Tuesday tea tunes: Take me your tea leader

This week's thematic stretch is ... a band called the Tea Cozies, doing a song called "Dead Man's Sister." Because today is the Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead. See? Huh? Right? Come for the melancholy garage-rock, stay for the incredible production values in this video, including flying saucers and laser beams...

Monday, October 31, 2011

'It's alive! ... And it wants a cuppa!'

For Halloween today, Bigelow Tea reflects on the tea habits of Boris Karloff, the actor who portrayed Frankenstein's monster in the first films of that classic series. They've got some other wonderfully incongruous photos — the one above is Karloff with tea and toast on the set of "Son of Frankenstein," 1939 — in the post here.

Also check out this one, of Karloff demurely taking tea in the studio makeup room. And this one sipping tea with co-star Colin Clive.

In fact, as Gregory Mank reveals in his book Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff: The Expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration, Karloff's insistence on breaking for tea annoyed some of his co-workers — including Bela Lugosi.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A well-steeped new 'Book of Tea'

I have as many copies of The Book of Tea as I do the Tao Te Ching, which is saying something. My favorite of the former is a tiny pocket version, which has been a handy companion on the train or waiting in various queues. It's always a great read because really, as James Norwood Pratt quotes an acquaintance in a review of a new edition, "The Book of Tea is not about tea."

Pratt reviews the new Benjamin Press edition of the book in the current issue of Tea Time magazine. I recently saw a copy myself, and it's a fine book not only on its century-old merits but mostly because of the introduction by noted tea writer Bruce Richardson.

Richardson provides more biographical detail on The Book of Tea's author, Okakura Kakuzo, than I've seen before, and artfully links his life story as a mediator of East-West cultures to the overall opening of the East at the end of the 19th century. The scholarship is impressive, including crucial details of the Japanese exhibits at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The picture that emerges of this Japanese son trying to explain his culture to Americans is poignant and moving. It deepends the experience of reading his text on tea — and everything else it's about.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

'The Big Tea Theory'

It's Thursday, which means it's "Big Bang Theory" night! Hopefully Sheldon will be offering friends a cup of tea.

Because that's what he does when friends are feeling blue ...

And it's not optional ...

Watch here (embedding forbidden).

Sometimes, he needs some, too ...

Watch here (embedding forbidden).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: What about iced?

As the All-Music Guide correctly states, "Dodgy never was taken seriously." This daft Britpop sideshow did, however, deliver this decent enough track stating the obvious: "There's nothing worse than cold tea..."

Monday, October 24, 2011

Links: Wolverine! Old folks! Argo Tea! Energy!

Some recent tea news links ...

— The UK doesn't have its own branch of America's new Tea Party, but one city council has had to cool off a brewing controversy over tea and budget cutting. According to this story, the Liberal Democrats in East Sussex demanded that the complimentary tea and cookies served at council meetings be scrapped because of the 600-pound annual expense. That got some residents boiling mad.

— It's highly likely that the people in the above story are all old, because Britons under 25 don't care so much about tea anymore.

— Actor Hugh Jackman has opened his own shop, the Laughing Man Coffee & Tea, in New York City. Proceeds from the shop benefit his Laughing Man charity.

— The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel published a good feature about the Bigelow tea plantation in South Carolina, including great photos and some intriguing recipes.

— And Time magazine profiled Chicago-based business Argo Tea!

— And this is not specifically tea-related, but here's an inspiring article from Tiny Buddha about "How to Accomplish Anything (by) Leveraging Collective Energy." A few salient points on this list got me through midterms. Word.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Autumn reflection

Another autumn!
Young chestnuts just keep smiling
even though they are astringent inside.
This is no different from me.
— Tameie

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Trippy tea

Tuneful bit of retro guitar pop from Liverpool's Shack (Noel Gallagher loves 'em!), about a lodger who spikes the singer's "Cup of Tea" ...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Census: tea on the rise, coffee down

Would you like a little data with your tea?

The U.S. Census Bureau has released its 2012 Statistical Abstract, a fascinating round-up of tables and figures from numerous government agencies relating to a wide variety of facets of American life.

A New York Times story about the report mentions one of its findings: "People drank more tea and less coffee..."

When digging into the "Food Consumption and Nutrition" pages, we see specifically what that means. Annual per capita consumption of tea rose steadily from 6.9 gallons (ha, I can do that in a week or two) in 1990 to 9 gallons in 2009. Coffee, meanwhile, slipped from 26.8 to 23.3, respectively. Take that, Starbucks.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Leaves not of grass

"Autumn Leaves" is a popular standard, and even though Johnny Mercer's take on the lyrics refer to the gold and red delights now showing up on trees around town, we can at least pretend for a moment that it refers to our tea leaves. Here's a cool instrumental version of the song to help — featuring the fluid pianist Bill Evans and his trio:

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Geek stuff round-up: 'Star Trek,' robots and physics

A cluster of nifty tea accessories has collected in my in-box and bookmarks, results from semi-regular surfing for new, cool stuff. Here are some of my favorites:

Picard's tea cup
Over at Make, someone has posted three-dimensional models of the tea cup magically replicated for Capt. Jean-luc Picard in the series "Star Trek: The Next Generation." If you "make it so," it comes out like this ...

Robot infuser
On a perhaps related sci-fi note, a crafty artisan created these cute robot tea infusers, available here (update: actually, no, they're sold out for now, but you can contact the artist to request more). Yes, those arms are adjustable.

Beverage braces
I can't imagine who, other than stunt pilots and acrobats, might require this cup holder, but here 'tis nonetheless. Watch this video for a demonstration of centrifugal force as well as a crazy, no-spill tea/coffee gadget for those literally on the move ...

Extra, extra
The New York Times had a brief piece recently about Barbara Barry, an L.A. interior designer who's into tea and has created a couple of her own blends. Along the way, she mentions some intriguing accessories, including the fantastic strainer (she's holding it in the photo — it'll take a second look, believe me) as well as spoons, porcelain sets and Japanese tea ware.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Tea and conversation

This hip-hop duo from the Pacific Northwest, Blue Scholars, doesn't directly mention tea in these rhymes, beyond the title ("Evening Chai"), but their conversational flow feels like the kind of animated discussion you can have over a cup of evening tea ...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A fine excuse to enjoy espresso again

Today is National Coffee Day, and I'm not a bigot. I have catholic tastes. I am large, I consume multitudes. This afternoon, I did something I haven't done within my searchable memory: I drank some coffee.

Once upon a time, this wasn't so unusual. Coffee was my first stimulant as a young fool. Many a Sunday mornin' have come down with a cup o' joe. I enjoy coffee with dessert, especially. The bitter vs. sweet — happy warfare for the territory of my tongue.

I made a bean-line to Stella, a shop in my 'hood where I often retreat for afternoon laptop labors. They have a decent tea selection, and they know how to steep. But everyone else comes for the espresso, and if I'm going to join them for coffee then I want to taste coffee. Also, why volumize the experience with more water and milk? I ordered a shot.

Anything served in tiny glasses has my attention. I have racks of cordials here at home for the port, the sherry, the grappa, the homemade limoncello, and there are a couple of wee stemmed shot glasses in the freezer with the aquavit. Would that tea could be concentrated down to such a form — though I actually enjoyed some matcha once in a Los Angeles tea shop that billed it as "green tea espresso."

I'd forgotten two things about real espresso. One, the joy of crema. No dairy products required, just expert preparation to deliver that little cap of textural bliss on top. Second, the jagged experience of caffeine without tea's theanine. What a trip — the imbalance, the rush of yin, the feeling of being all jacked up and nowhere to flow. My body was alive, but my mind was still weary. No fair.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

'Modern Marvels' episode about tea

Last week I watched an episode of "Modern Marvels," a series on the History channel that promotes industrial boosterism by examining the various whizz-bang technical creations behind modern manufacturing and consumption.

The episode on tea is interesting — and eye-opening — for its footage of several tea factories, from Bigelow's U.S. factory to the Celestial Seasonings sinus-clearing mint room. The clip below (the full episode used to be on Hulu but has now expired) shows the Charleston facility — its conveyor belts, its shredders, all kinds of whirring blades and spiraling screws that'll make you appreciate the hand-rolled stuff. Interesting, though, to peer behind the curtain a bit ...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Iron & Tea

If we're getting autumnal, there are few artists who do that better than Iron & Wine, here singing "Her Tea Leaves" about the end of summer — "When autumn comes, she’ll be there / jasmine still in her hair / her tea leaves dry by the sea."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Teapots by the pound

Baskets full of teapots for sale at a weekend public market
in my neighborhood. Teapots by the bushel!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Real poetry about tea!

Normally, I'm loath to promote the cutesy side of tea culture. I tend to be allergic to anything with an embroidered cat on it or a purely decorative cozy. I've read my share of dreadful tea-themed "poetry," too — but there's a book available (Amazon shows it slated for Dec. 1, but you can buy it now directly from the author) of real poetry that happens to sing of tea.

Distinguished Leaves: Poems for Tea-Lovers by Elizabeth Darcy Jones is a neat volume of pert verse celebrating tea and its accoutrement. Cute by occasional default, most of the poetry here is quality and at least strives for literate standing beyond being a mere gift book from the acquaintances who perhaps know you as "the tea person." Try this sample:

"Afternoon Tea from Cornwall"

My gaze falls on the Fal – it’s dead on three
Tregothnan’s sun makes butter of my bones
Someone’s thinking, ‘Now’s the time, it’s time for tea!’

Tourists talk of Eden, Marazion and the sea
While clotted cream is spread on fresh baked scones
My gaze falls on the Fal – it’s dead on three.

Torn leaves – from bushes only feet away – are free
To swell, and fill the pot until it groans
Is someone thinking, ‘Now’s the time, it’s time for tea?’

It’s young, organic, grown right here and, naturally,
It tastes of rivers steaming smoky tones
My gaze falls on the Fal – it’s dead on three.

Best check your watch and travel West with me
Read the signs! Switch off your mobile phones!
Everybody’s drinking. ‘Now’s the time, it’s time for tea!’

The villain line that I forgot comes back to me
I reconnect to that which no one owns
My gaze falls on the Fal – it’s dead on three
This someone’s thinking, ‘Now it’s time, the time for tea!’

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Autumn is your last chance

We're getting some autumn breezes around Chicago now, for sure, so this week's tune is "Autumn Wind" by a 20-year-old Canadian indie-folk guy who records as The Irish Tea Room. It's a song that definitely sounds like its subject ...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

'Whose kettle scarcely has time to cool'

Happy birthday to Samuel Johnson (center, taking tea, above), one of the world's most formidable tea drinkers. A prolific writer in London in the mid-1700s, Johnson self-described as "a hardened and shameless tea-drinker, who has, for twenty years, diluted his meals with only the infusion of this fascinating plant; whose kettle has scarcely time to cool; who with tea amuses the evening, with tea solaces the midnight, and, with tea, welcomes the morning."

Amen, sister.

If you haven't read the entirety of his critical essay, "Review of 'A Journal of Eight Days' Journey,'" from whence that comes, it's worth a Sunday afternoon perusal. Johnson eviscerates a fellow author who proclaimed tea to be an evil influence in Britain (and got most of his facts wrong in the process). You can find the text here, after you've poured a cup.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

In-tea-lligence from India and China

As I write this, I'm sipping a Japanese bancha from a new mug, one emblazoned with the logo of the grad school where I'm now a master's student. I have a typically windowless, cinder-block office on campus in a typically weird, strangely designed university building, and I've already scoped out where the hot water taps are in the building so I can at least approximate a decent cup of tea as I slave away writing papers, conducting research and reading, reading, reading.

One of the many aspects of campus life I appreciate once more, after having been away as a student for nearly two decades, is the regular contact with people of different backgrounds and experience. In my graduate cohort are several students from India and China, for example — so, of course, we started talking tea.

Raj, a student I'm collaborating with this week, hails from India. She scoffed at the shop in Calcutta I've written about before — Dolly's, from which another friend of mine sends me tea whenever she visits. "That's where you go to show off, not to drink real tea," she said.

She recommended something I tried this weekend, too: a strong cup of Darjeeling with a bit of lemon, a pinch of sugar and a tiny bit of ... black salt. Fabulous, I have several colored salts given to me ages ago by a chef, and I always forget to use them. A big proponent of salty-sweet combos, I encourage this. Salt in tea is something everyone should try at least once, and this balance of sweet, salt (with the added clean smoky flavor of the charcoal-blended black salt) and lemon is as perfect as the world's greatest cocktail, the sidecar.

Another thing Raj said that I loved, as we discussed the ideal spice blend for chai: "Mostly cardamom, no cinnamon. Americans are obsessed with cinnamon. You put it on everything!"

Raj complained that India's tea businesses export all their good quality teas. Another student, Qian, from Beijing, said it's the opposite in China: they keep the good stuff in the country and export the crud.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Hot tea, cold beer

Back to the working week, folks, so step lively. Here's a beat for you, courtesy the Herbaliser and rapper Jean Grae — who boasts of bringing "100 gallons of flow" to this contemplation of a curious cocktail. Eventually, she concludes: "You know what tea and beer would taste like if you put them together? Not good." (Warning: some strong language, etc.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Boulder and the beautiful teahouse

A friend and colleague, Mark G., drove into the Rocky Mountains for the first time in his life this week. On his way through Boulder, Colo., he followed my recommendation to revive himself at the Dushanbe Teahouse.

Just because it's such a beautiful place, here are some of the photos he sent to taunt me about where he was, while I was at work ...

Thanks, Mark. Ya bastard.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Darling, where's the tea chest? (gasp!)

One of the free books I nabbed off of iBooks (long live the public domain) is Henry Fielding's Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon, which I dove into because of my previously mentioned fascination with Portugal. The book is true to its title, however; it's all about the journey, and very little about Lisbon itself. What it illuminates is just how excruciating and slow 18th-century travel was, and during the journey Fielding and his companions were bereft when they feared the absolute worst had befallen them: they thought they'd lost their tea chest ...

We promised to be ready as soon as breakfast was over, but this was not so soon as was expected; for, in removing our goods the evening before, the tea-chest was unhappily lost. Every place was immediately searched, and many where it was impossible for it to be; for this was a loss of much greater consequence than it may at first seem to many of my readers. Ladies and valetudinarians do not easily dispense with the use of this sovereign cordial in a single instance; but to undertake a long voyage, without any probability of being supplied with it the whole way, was above the reach of patience. And yet, dreadful as this calamity was, it seemed unavoidable. The whole town of Ryde could not supply a single leaf; for, as to what Mrs. Francis and the shop called by that name, it was not of Chinese growth. It did not indeed in the least resemble tea, either in smell or taste, or in any particular, unless in being a leaf;...

When a good deal of time had been spent, most of it indeed wasted on this occasion, a thought occurred which every one wondered at its not having presented itself the first moment. This was to apply to the good lady, who could not fail of pitying and relieving such distress. A messenger was immediately despatched with an account of our misfortune, till whose return we employed ourselves in preparatives for our departure, that we might have nothing to do but to swallow our breakfast when it arrived. The tea-chest, though of no less consequence to us than the military-chest to a general, was given up as lost, or rather as stolen, for though I would not, for the world, mention any particular name, it is certain we had suspicions, and all, I am afraid, fell on the same person.

The man returned from the worthy lady with much expedition, and brought with him a canister of tea, despatched with so true a generosity, as well as politeness, that if our voyage had been as long again we should have incurred no danger of being brought to a short allowance in this most important article. At the very same instant likewise arrived William the footman with our own tea-chest. It had been, indeed, left in the hoy.

(Speaking of tea in Portugal, here's a recent article about the tea gardens in the Azores, Europe's only tea production, with some nice photos. It looks better than it tastes, but what a vacation this visit would be!)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Marketing 101, with Prof. Earl Grey

You can create all the funky new flavors you want, but don't mess with the original.

Twinings found that out recently when the venerated British tea company decided to "refresh" its Earl Grey recipe, adding "a dash of lemon and a touch more bergamot," and relaunching it under the company's Aromatics line of flavored teas. "The Earl himself couldn’t have imagined how wonderful his favourite tea could taste," Twinings claimed.

The reviews (many via a Facebook protest page) came in quickly, and they were not "wonderful":
  • "I took a big gulp expecting it to taste lovely and bergamotty but to my utter dismay (and horror as I nearly spat it out) it tasted like lemon cleaning product - vile."
  • "I have to say it is utterly gross. We wont be buying it in the office again."
  • "It stinks, rather like lemon Fairy Up Liquid and is unpleasant to taste. I threw the contents of my box out into the compost."
  • "I can't drink the new blend. The false lemon flavour is just horrid.
  • "I cannot describe how awful this new tea tastes. The old award-winning tea was in a completely different league to this foul-tasting dish water."

A Twinings spokesman reported that, of course, the company had conducted "rigorous consumer tasting" before unleashing the new product and received a "strong preference feedback over the previous blend."

In a move that brings back memories of the New Coke scheme, Twinings announced last week on its website that they were giving in to popular demand — "Whilst many love the new Earl Grey, a group of Earl Grey fans have asked us to make the previous blend available. Not wishing to disappoint, we have introduced Earl Grey The Classic Edition," the statement reads — thereby shrewdly and cheaply reminding the British public of its national treasure.

The origins of Earl Grey tea and its bergamot-tinged recipe have been debated for ages, but Twinings made it the household name it still is today. The company first sold the blend in 1831, naming it after then-Prime Minister Charles Grey.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: 'Summer's good times are gone'

I like this folkie shuffle, a song about reflecting on summer's good times over a cup of tea: "Tea for One" by Jake Roche:

Tea for one by jakeroche

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Keeping the multitasking out of the moment

It's not easy to do nothing, but I'm trying.

The tea is on the tray, hot and steaming, and I'm finally stealing a half hour — OK, maybe an hour — to enjoy it. My life is increasingly harried of late, and I could use this time to read, to catch up on my journal, to do personal tasks that I enjoy but are still tasks. The pile of magazines. The poor, ignored novel.

But, no. This isn't a moment for multitasking. Just sit and drink the tea. That's all that's required now, in this moment. Sit, think, maybe chat with company. All the work being done, the tasks executed — they will be better for this tea time, this downshift, this empty space. I read an article a while back about how the mind requires empty time like this to process the thoughts from the busy time. It cited President Obama, saying he and his advisers are aware of this kind of thing and that he makes an effort for empty mind time during the day. (Go ahead, riff on a joke there.) Balance and moderation in all things. It's how the world works.

I do allow myself a notepad. The thought bubbles that arise sometimes need jotting down; if I pin them to paper then I won't worry about remembering them, and my mind can stay loose and free.

One of my favorite stories is about the poet Allen Ginsberg at a meditation retreat. He kept a notebook and pen by his side, scribbling thoughts that occurred and felt like keepers. Later, sitting around a fire with other meditation students, the leader asked Ginsberg what he'd been writing. "Little thought bubbles," he said. The leader asked to see his notebook — and promptly threw it in the fire. He was missing the point.

But this is tea time, not strict meditation. It's mulling. It's mindful. It's a rare moment — to breathe and relax and reboot. We'll return to the world and the work soon enough.

Nothing on my knee but my tea cup.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: 'The Old Beatnik'

I officially progress further into my 40s this week. Today's tea tune, "The Old Beatnik" by the Steaming Heads, thus cuts across many lines for me — it's a punkish and British folk tune (love all that), it's about growing old without regrets ("I didn't wait till I was dead to have a good time"), and the band wraps it up with a fiddle breakdown of a traditional tune called "Cups of Tea." Live long and prosper ...


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Blemishless virgins! Teenage boys! Drunk architects!

My news feeds have been peppered with strange tea-related stories recently. Here's a round-up:

— Women in China usually do the bulk of the tea picking, but at least one garden is looking for a few blemishless virgins to pick tea with their teeth. Stay classy, China!

— A British architect claimed in court to have no memory of grabbing a waitress and holding a knife to her throat after she asked him to pay for his cup of tea. His lawyer told the court he had enjoyed a successful career as an architect "before alcohol sadly took a hold."

Teenage boys love afternoon tea. Really.

— They'll probably also really dig this hemp iced tea.

— I'm never clear on the ultimate legitimacy of overseas news outlets, and I run into links to newspapers like The Hindustan Times quite often. And I must say, this is one of the strangest columns I've ever read.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A hurricane of protest in North Carolina

This week, as Hurricane Irene turns north and heads toward North Carolina and the rest of the East Coast, I read an interesting piece by Bruce Richardson about a revolutionary tea protest that occurred in 1774 — not in Boston but in North Carolina.

I'd heard this mentioned before, but Richardson's piece in Tea Time magazine neatly sums up the Edenton Tea Party, an organized political action by several women in this Carolina seaside town. As angered in the South as they were in the North by the Tea Act of 1773, residents of Edenton sent shipments of food to Boston to show solidarity after their harbor-brewing experiment in December of that year.

Those protesters, however, wore costumes to disguise their identities. In Edenton, 51 wives and mothers signed their names on a letter sent to King George announcing a boycott of British tea and cloth. "This brazen act of civil disobedience," Richardson notes, "was one of the earliest organized women's political actions in United States history."

The document of Oct. 25, 1774, was published in a London newspaper by January, stating that the women had "resolved not to drink any more tea, nor wear any more British cloth, many ladies of this province have determined to give memorable proof of their patriotism, and have accordingly entered into the following honourable and spirited association. I send it to you to shew your fair countrywomen, how zealously and faithfully, American ladies follow the laudable example of their husbands, and what opposition your matchless Ministers may expect to receive from a people thus firmly united against them." The London papers also mocked the event with caricatures (like the one shown).

Signing their names had consequences, at least for one of those laudable husbands. Penelope Barker coordinated the protest, but her husband John was stationed in London as North Carolina's liaison to Parliament. "When word came that his treacherous wife had organized a rebellion at home," Richardson writes, "he was forced to flee to France."

The Barkers' home is now a tourist attraction in Edenton, and we'll be thinking of them this weekend and hope home and teacups survive the storm.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Getting schooled

God help me: This week I begin a master's program. I'm excited, but the work load — in addition to my full-time job and, of course, tea blogging — is daunting. I'll be needing more tea than ever, primarily for its stimulant properties.

So here's a song from a Japanese anime band called After-School Tea Time; I love it because of its amazing production and obvious aping of American garage rock, especially in those opening organ strains ...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Moonies

Last night as a full moon, and tonight it'll still be brilliant and bold in the summer sky (weather permitting). As you sip and stare, here's Enya's "Tea-House Moon," which some lovely YouTuber has uploaded with accompanying images of Chinese art and tea scenes:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: From China to Carolina

Here's a funny take on tea history and the Southern insistence on "Big Ol' Sweet Iced Tea" by Christian comedy singer Anita Renfroe:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The first day of autumn, at last!

There is no sign of autumn wind.
Is it really risshu?
— Onitsura

Have faith, tea friends! Autumn begins today!

Old-school autumn, anyway. Aug. 7 or 8 corresponds to risshu, the first day of autumn, on the old Japanese lunar calendar.

It certainly doesn't feel like it, of course. So many of my friends and family live in areas of the country that have positively baked for two solid months now. Even in Chicago, it's been considerably hotter than last summer. Some days I can't conceive of any tea other than iced.

While risshu, this early in the planet's actual revolution, doesn't correspond with any real or noticeable changes toward cooler weather, it's at least a comforting reminder that, yes, the earth is moving and we will be in sweaters before we know it. Summer downpours recently shut down Chicago's Lake Shore Drive, but six months ago a blizzard did the same.

Sasaki Sanmi writes of risshu: "It is still the middle of the lingering summer heat: shining hot, sultry or sweltering. It is not easy to seek out chashu in this month. ... Clear your mind of all mundane thoughts, and you will be able to find coolness. This is true; whether you can beat the hot weather or not depends on your state of mind."

It's all in your mind, yeah, right. But we'll make it. We always do.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tea cozies (cool ones!) and drip catchers

I only own one tea cosy — just a silk kimono for one of my yixing pots, given as a gift (pictured). I've never fully considered their utilitarian value, until we blasted the A/C recently and I found myself draping the teapot with a cloth napkin to keep the brew warm. When cooler weather rolls around, I think I might be in the market for one.

I am, however, allergic to all things "crafty," so I'm not interested in the plethora of yarny, knitted offerings out there. So I was thrilled to find this: the HOB. It's a line of tea cozies that doesn't go for cute, just slightly stylish and highly functional. (Not sure why they go for all caps, but a "hob" is an old-fashioned term for a spot in the fireplace to keep things warm.) I could do without the backpack-like plastic straps, but these certainly look great — the earth tones, the geometric pattern, the polka dots, all really sharp looking.

In related teaware: I recently read about a marvelous invention, via the English Tea Store blog. I've not encountered a "drip catcher" before, but in lieu of cozies, as mentioned above, this sounds ingenious. Says A.C. Cargill: "A drip catcher — simple, humble, and effective — is designed to prevent your teapot from dribbling after pouring. You slide it over the spout (obviously), and it absorbs the errant drops of tea making a quick getaway down that spout." Check out theirs (pictured); many seem to be similarly styled like citrus slices.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: I will try to fix you (a cup)

I'll be spending this weekend in the heat and dust of Lollapalooza 2011 in Chicago's lakeside Grant Park. One of the headliners is Coldplay, and here's singer Chris Martin doing Cat Stevens' "Tea for the Tillerman" — over the end credits to an episode of "Extras," which unfortunately ends in a duet with Ricky Gervais ...

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tea, the universe and everything

I've enjoyed the writing of Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, etc.) for much of my life, but not moreso than a friend of mine, David Z., who's a devoted fan of the late British author.

David just passed this along to me after reading a posthumous collection of Adams ephemera, The Salmon of Doubt, which includes Adams' stern instructions for making a proper cup of tea. Adams was a tea fanatic like ourselves, to the extent that the Infinite Improbability Drive he created in the Hitchhiker's books included as part of its power source "a nice hot cup of tea."

His instructions, which could face off admirably against Orwell's own, are thus:

One or two Americans have asked me why it is that the English like tea so much, which never seems to them to be a very good drink. To understand, you have to know how to make it properly.

There is a very simple principle to the making of tea and it's this - to get the proper flavour of tea, the water has to be boiling (not boiled) when it hits the tea leaves. That's why we English have these odd rituals, such as warming the teapot first (so as not to cause the boiling water to cool down too fast as it hits the pot). And that's why the American habit of bringing a teacup, a tea bag and a pot of hot water to the table is merely the perfect way of making a thin, pale, watery cup of tea that nobody in their right mind would want to drink. The Americans are all mystified about why the English make such a big thing out of tea because most Americans have never had a good cup of tea. That's why they don't understand. In fact the truth of the matter is that most English people don't know how to make tea any more either, and most people drink cheap instant coffee instead, which is a pity, and gives Americans the impression that the English are just generally clueless about hot stimulants.

So the best advice I can give to an American arriving in England is this. Go to Marks and Spencer and buy a packet of Earl Grey tea. Go back to where you're staying and boil a kettle of water. While it is coming to the boil, open the sealed packet and sniff. Careful - you may feel a bit dizzy, but this is in fact perfectly legal. When the kettle has boiled, pour a little of it into a tea pot, swirl it around and tip it out again. Put a couple (or three, depending on the size of the pot) of tea bags into the pot (If I was really trying to lead you into the paths of righteousness I would tell you to use free leaves rather than bags, but let's just take this in easy stages). Bring the kettle back up to the boil, and then pour the boiling water as quickly as you can into the pot. Let it stand for two or three minutes, and then pour it into a cup. Some people will tell you that you shouldn't have milk with Earl Grey, just a slice of lemon. Screw them. I like it with milk. If you think you will like it with milk then it's probably best to put some milk into the bottom of the cup before you pour in the tea. If you pour milk into a cup of hot tea you will scald the milk. If you think you will prefer it with a slice of lemon then, well, add a slice of lemon.

Drink it. After a few moments you will begin to think that the place you've come to isn't maybe quite so strange and crazy after all.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Heat Miser vs. Snow Miser

Here's a great article in The New York Times about cold-brewing coffee and tea.

I've never bought into the cold-brew, having tasted some before and found it lacking. This story explains why — because the hot and cold products are chemically different from each other:

Hot water also cooks as it extracts, forcing chemical reactions that transform some of the extracted substances into other things, and driving some aroma substances out of the liquid. Cold water, in contrast, extracts more slowly and selectively, produces a simpler extract, and doesn’t change the original flavor substances as much.

So cold-brewed teas and coffees are chemically different from their hot counterparts. They tend to contain less caffeine and less acid. And, of course, they taste different. If the flavor of hot tea or coffee is your gold standard, then cold brews won’t measure up.

I make plenty of iced tea during the summer — just enjoyed another pitcher of TG's Manjhee Valley first-flush, which does well over ice — but I prefer a strong hot brew poured over ice. You?

Then again, hot and cold have always been fighting.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: I wanna be your ... tea

Ah, the Internet. Who knew country songwriter Don Williams was still around? Well, now you do, and now you can enjoy his creamy baritone and soft stylings backed by a nifty digital background as he sings "Cup o' Tea":

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Tea and work

Still life: Tea and deadlines.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Green beans: 'The coffee trust'

I've walked by the Kukulu Market ("Ethiopian Specialties!") in my neighborhood a hundred times, and I've always been intrigued by a sign in the window boasting "Ethiopian green coffee." As a tea person, I thought this must be something similar — slightly less produced, or less roasted. Maybe it's actual green coffee beans fresh off the bush ground up and filtered!

Sort of. I finally stopped in this week. Inside the tiny shop, the owner showed me Ziploc baggies of green coffee beans — dusty-green beans with that tell-tale seam down the flat side — as well as a large wicker basket full of them, plus a big scoop. They're just beans that haven't been roasted yet.

"So why buy unroasted beans?" I asked.

"So you can roast them yourself." Then he said something I love: "For some people, it's about finding the coffee trust, finding the spirit of the bean that speaks to them."

Which Folgers, no doubt, or even Starbucks, is not concerned with.

It's a control issue — and price, the green beans are significantly cheaper — so that consumers can roast the coffee to their taste. Like a light roast? Pull them off the heat when you want. Like it dark? Bake those babies!

Many customers, the owner explained, roast the beans at home, just using a pot on the stove (stirring often). There is, of course, plenty of home equipment to purchase, as well, and many different types of green coffee.

(I was also unaware that, just as there are tea ceremonies, there is an Ethiopian coffee ceremony.)

I couldn't help wish tea was available in this state — leaves fresh off the plucking table, available for pan frying at home. I suppose it is available this way if you live next door to the plantation.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Tea at Pitchfork

Just spent the weekend at the Pitchfork Music Festival, one of many three-day concert fests here in Chicago — and the most enjoyable.

Pitchfork has a wonderful community spirit to it, and is populated by more people who really listen to the music, as opposed to chatty scenesters. It's still three days in the summer heat, but I survived if for no other reason than Intelligentsia was serving coffee to the artists backstage ... and they also had a splendid lightly roasted oolong. I can't tell you how fabulous it was to write my dispatches late in the afternoon with a good cup of tea.

So today's Tuesday tune is not only tea related but, by degrees, Pitchfork related. Stick with me ...

One of the Pitchfork performers I most enjoyed (to my surprise ... his music has had to grow on me) was James Blake, a piano player and singer who crafts some otherworldly, quite spacious keys-and-beats music usually tagged to a genre called dubstep. I managed to have a lovely chat with him before his show.

Blake is the son of an obscure British guitarist and prog-rocker named James Litherland, who in 1972 was one of several guitarists on a Long John Baldry record called "Everything Stops for Tea" (which also features Elton John on piano and Rod Stewart on banjo, and they each produced a side).

Of course, I can't find Baldry's bloody take on the song anywhere online for you to listen to here. There's this video from Baldry's final U.S. performance, in which he answers a request by running through it spontaneously, but it's not very good. Baldry's album, and its individual songs, is available via iTunes.

Here, though, is Jack Buchanan from the song's original recording made during World War II — it hails from a 1935 musical, "Come Out of the Pantry" — and it may have become my favorite Tuesday tea tune of all time:

p.s. I hear no resemblance to the original, but here's a totally rocking song also called "Everything Stops for Tea" by a current band, the Nervous Wreckords, with more tea imagery in the video.

Friday, July 15, 2011

More tea mystery novels

I've written here before about my love of Laura Childs' tea-shop mystery novels. No surprise then that I recently ran across two other murder mystery series that dip a toe into the tea world.

Leslie Meier writes a popular series of mysteries lead by am affable character named Lucy Stone. Her latest (and 19th!), just published, is The English Tea Murder. The title baffles me a bit because tea barely makes an appearance in the book. It's kind of a running gag throughout the story that the women, Lucy and several college pals, are on a tour of England — a departure from the usual Lucy Stone setting in a town called Tinkers Cove — and their continued attempts to sit down for afternoon tea in London are repeatedly thwarted. When they finally do, at the Wolseley, alas, it's not necessarily worth having waded through this mostly dull tale. But at least they're smart enough to upgrade to champagne all around!

I've just started another novel which feels much more promising: Deanna Raybourn's Dark Road to Darjeeling. This fourth entry into her series involving an upper-class sleuth named Lady Julia Grey follows the very Nick-and-Nora couple to northeastern India to visit a friend. Raybourn's writing has drawn me in, and the book thus far is rewarding, including some amusing descriptions of tea and tea life in 1889:

"I thought we were forbidden from speaking his name," Portia said, handing me a cup of tea. The porters brewed up quantities of rank, black tea in tremendous cans every time we stopped. After three days of the stuff, I had almost grown to like it.

It already reminds me something of The Tea-Planter!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

'Let's go down to Chinatown'

After tea recently in Chinatown, during a meditative moment
near the pavilion in Chicago's nearby Ping Tom Park.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: This tea is your tea

Happy 99th birthday, Woody Guthrie!

The famed American balladeer would have turned that ripe old age this Thursday. I used to attend the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival each year in Okemah, Okla. — it happens this week, it's wonderful, you should go — and now I'm stuck in Chicago each summer covering a different festival that always falls on the same weekend.

But in celebration of ol' Woody's near-centennial (and, hey, let's also point out a fantastic new book about him, Woody Guthrie: American Radical), here are the lyrics to a song I found in the Woody Guthrie Archives many years back, dated Feb. 5, 1948, and I'll leave the interpretation entirely up to you ...

"Tea Bag Blues"
by Woody Guthrie

Well, it's awful cold outside
And I'm cold at home tonight
Walkin up an' down my my poor self
God you now this just ain't right

I'm gonna boil myself a tea bag
I'm gonna boil myself a tea bag
If you'll moze over my way
I'll boil you off a tea bag, too

I've come up from Oklahoma
Where that dust and gravel blows
I've got gals with boozeleg rotgut
But I never did learn to know

Just how to boil me off a tea bag
How to simmer up a tea bag
If you'll ease over my way
I will boil you off a tea bag, too

I rode the trains and the buses
Rode the rods and rode the blinds
Hit every kind of bag and satchel
Used every bait that I could find

I never did think about no tea bag
I never did even see no tea bag
But if you'll ooze over closer
Yes, I'll boil you off a tea bag, too

I've used beer, and wine, and coffee
Buttermilk, sodie and rum
And I've rolled them every color
Seen them go before they come

I'm learnin' how to use a tea bag
Learning how to dip a tea bag
Babe, if you'll sneak over my way
I'll strain your little tea bag, too

I'm learnin' how to dip my tea bag
Learnin' how to soak my tea bag
I'm up north in New York City
Singin' my lonesome tea bag blues

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Iced tea and baking soda

My apologies for my recent absence. Life gets in the way sometimes. And I totally missed National Iced Tea Month!

The May issue of Southern Living magazine presaged that lengthy June holiday with a feature headlined "Sweet & Simple: 28 New Ways to Enjoy Tea From Pitcher to Platter" (for some reason, the same feature online lists only 19) loaded with some great drink and food recipes, including a wonderful looking sweet tea-brined chicken and a sweet tea tiramisu. (This is southern living, mind you, so we're talking sweet tea and only sweet tea.)

This one I've tried, for blackberry sweet tea — all hail those buckets of berries at the farmers market this summer! — and is worth noting for a particular ingredient:

3 cups fresh or frozen blackberries, thawed
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
Pinch of baking soda
4 cups boiling water
2 family-size tea bags
2-1/2 cups cold water
Garnish: fresh blackberries

1. Combine blackberries and sugar in a large container, and crush with a wooden spoon; stir in mint and baking soda.
2. Pour 4 cups boiling water over tea bags; cover and steep 5 minutes. Discard tea bags.
3. Pour tea over blackberry mixture; let stand at room temperature 1 hour. Pour tea through a wire-mesh strainer into a large pitcher, discarding solids. Add 2 1/2 cups cold water, stirring until sugar dissolves. Cover and chill 1 hour. Garnish, if desired.

"Er, baking soda?" a friend asked.

Depending on the variety you're making, or the astringency of your particular kind of tea, the soda blunts the tannins that, in this case, double from the tea and the berries. As Fred Thompson writes in his book Iced Tea:

There are as many ways to brew iced tea as there are Southern grandmothers. I grew up on iced tea made by bringing a small amount of water to a slow boil and then pouring it over the tea bags to form a concentrate. More water was added to finish the process. I guess I'm biased toward this method, but it definitely does make good tea. The baking soda might seem strange, but it softens the natural tannins that cause an acid or bitter taste.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: The means in your possession

Vintage Police! Dig Sting's sci-fi outfit as he steps on the rhythm of "Tea in the Sahara" ...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Just a cup of rain

Getting into the rainy season around here (hooray!), and I ran across this rainy-day tune. The band is called the Tea Party, and the song, paced by some patient guitar strumming, is "Watching What the Rain Blows In" ...

Friday, June 17, 2011


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Radiation fears bedevil Japanese tea growers

Who woulda thunk the tea experience one day would include Geiger counters?

World Tea News reported this week that the Japanese government "is testing 100 tea processing factories and has halted shipments from the Warashina district of Shizuoka City." Four prefectures now are under scrutiny. (Also in the WSJ.)

In Japan, the miniscule amount of tea grown in the north is nearly all consumed locally. The green tea that's exported is primarily grown in the south and southern islands, far from any threat of radiation contamination following the March 11 offshore earthquake and resulting nuclear power plant disaster. (See a map of Japan's tea-producing regions in relation to the power plant here.) Still, governments everywhere are setting up testing protocols for Japanese tea to screen for any contamination.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I attended a green tea tasting at Tea Gschwendner. The company's master taster Thomas Holz mentioned that TG has been screening all its Japanese tea just to be safe, and has yet found nothing alarming.

Either way, with shipping halted and some harvests suspended — including this anguish voiced by a tea farmer forced to destroy his early harvest — Japan may suffer a tea shortage this year. There's still no reason to fear drinking Japanese tea, but expect prices to be meddling.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Turkish apple tea

A friend of mine has been gallivanting about Greece and Turkey in recent weeks. She sent this photo of "Turkish apple tea (read: hot apple cider. It was good though)":

(Thanks, Tanya!)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday Tea Tunes: Well, a Sunday tea tune ...

This is a Tuesday feature, but here's the great duo Peter & Gordon singing "Sunday for Tea" ...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: 'O tea of freedom!'

A reader passed along this link (thanks, Sue!) to a video allegedly from rebel celebrations in the Libyan city of Benghazi.

The YouTube post says the translation of this song begins with this:
O tea of freedom!
Ya la la la laa lee
O you that is dear to me!
Ya la la la laa lee
Your strength is 100/100!
Ya la la la laa lee
O tea of freedom!
Ya la la la laa lee