Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tea on 'Saturday Night Live': 'Pinkies up!'

The formula for sketch comedy on "Saturday Night Live" is: one joke multiplied by however many times it can be repeated within the time allowed. This one from a few weeks ago at least made me chuckle most times ...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Teabagging goes mega with world record

These presenters are just dreadful, but their presentation is amusing: It's the world's largest tea bag! Six feet tall, certified and big enough to drop into, say, a dunk tank fit for a David Letterman sponge suit. Why a show on a cable network dedicated to all things gaming decided to go for the world record on tea bags is unclear, but hey ...

(Thanks, Bobby!)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Baby, I love your way

A pleasant instrumental from Peter "Talky Guitar Thing" Frampton, "My Cup of Tea" ...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ready for a close-up

The camera on these new iPhone4s is really good, so here's a little tea porn from yesterday's lazy day drinking pu-erh with one of my favorite, simple yixing pots ...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mystery meat and fake tea

The recent class-action lawsuit filed against Taco Bell, claiming that its "seasoned ground beef" doesn't contain enough beef (in addition to all the soy fillers, etc.) to actually be labeled beef, reminded me of the similarly shady history of tea's actual ingredients. Many tea histories I've read contain frightening but usually colorful accounts of the various ingenious, fiendish ways businessfolk have either stretched a meager supply of tea into a greater amount with additives or simply faked the product altogether.

Sometimes, used tea leaves were simply resold as new. Servants around Britain could earn a few extra pence by selling the contents of their masters' cold tea pots to firms that would dry them on hotplates and repackage them for sale. The 10th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, from 1902, reports that "according to Mr Phillips, of the Inland Revenue Office, there were in London alone, in 1843, as many as eight manufactories in which the exhausted leaves, obtained from hotels, coffee-houses, and elsewhere, were redried, and [adulterated] with rose-pink and blacklead, in imitation of genuine tea."

If no actual tea was around, some unscrupulous profiteers simply chopped up the leaves of whatever was available and labeled it tea. Roy Moxham, in Tea: Addiction, Exploitation and Empire, lists the impostors:

The favourite leaves used for adulteration were hawthorn for green teas and sloe for black teas; but birch, ash and elder were also used. Of course, the leaves of these trees did not make a convincing liquor, so it was necessary to add various colouring agents. In addition to the terra japonica [tannin from the acacia tree], additives included verdigris, ferrous sulphate, Prussian blue, Dutch pink, copper carbonate, even sheep's dung. Of these, sheep's dung was probably the least harmful.

An 1820 document, Treatise on Adulterations of Food and Culinary Poisons by German chemist Frederick Accum, contains a record of dozens of prosecutions and convictions for these crimes, based on a law passed by Parliament in 1725 specifically against the adulteration of tea. (The U.S. Congress got around to this in 1883.) One such case against a Mr. Palmer, who was busted with "a quantity of sloe leaves and white-thorn leaves, fabricated into an imitation of tea," discusses how the man and his associates would gather leaves from trees and bushes around town — "at the moment [victims] were supposing they were drinking a pleasant and nutritious beverage, they were, in fact, in all probability, drinking the produce of the hedges round the metropolis" — and then treat them with an "article used in producing the appearance of the fine green bloom observable on the China tea [but] was, however, decidedly a dead poison!"

The British, incidentally, started out drinking mostly green tea. They wound up as lovers of black tea (which took milk and sugar better) — and Moxham suggests the specter of lethal additives was the cause for the change in tastes: "The publicity given to the adulteration of tea, and the understandable public concern about the use of poisonous copper dyes in green teas, in particular, seems to have brought about the shift in consumption from green to black teas.

These are historical examples. I still see headlines in online searches sometimes about present-day adulteration incidents, mostly from India, and in the last couple of years there was an obvious effort to educate Indians about detecting adulterated tea and other foods (here's a lil' animated movie about it).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Spooning

Whew, sorry I've been AWOL this week. I got distracted by some crazy assignments — a dreadful Beatles tribute show, the Justin Bieber movie, the Grammys (my Super Bowl). I'm back to earth a bit now. Today I made some tea and listened to music for pleasure, a rare treat, and turned to a favorite record, "Putting the Days to Bed" by the Long Winters. I've tried to post this before, but now I've finally found an embed on YouTube — it's their tuneful (if not directly tea-related) "Teaspoon" ...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Culture Clash

Man, the Clash has some strange legacies. Here's Big Audio Dynamite II and its synthesized, odd little operetta, "The Tea Party":

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Starbucks new Trenta size makes for big gulp

I drink a lot of tea throughout the day, so perhaps I shouldn't snicker at this. But Starbucks is rolling out its new beverage size, and it gives new meaning to the concept of a big gulp. Previously, Starbucks has offered coffee and tea in cups designated, in order from smallest to largest, Tall, Grande, Venti. They've now added Trenta, a whopping 31-oz. cup. How big is that? Bigger than the capacity of the human stomach, for one, and big enough to contain an entire bottle of wine, with room for cream ...

Hot beverages are not offered in this size, but a lemon-flavored iced tea is included among the selections. As a Southern native, I can tell you: It's a legal requirement below the Mason-Dixon to serve iced tea in cups at least this big.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Happy Year of the Rabbit!

Chinese New Year starts today — the Year of the Rabbit (specifically, a metal rabbit this year), which is allegedly calm and more peaceful. Yeah, bring that. The dancers above performed today in Bangkok, balancing teacups on their heads. Celebrate by trying that at home, making this yummy new year cake, or by watching videos of bunnies eating things.

Also, dig this cool rabbit-calendar tea towel!

12-step program for tea addicts

Laura Childs' next tea-shop mystery novel, Scones and Bones, is out next month. (Love these. Interviewed her last year.) I'm reading an early copy now, and I have to share this sweet bit of corn from early in the book:

"Thanks to you," said Brooke, "I think I've turned into a complete tea addict."
"There's a twelve-step program for that, you know," said Theodosia.
Brooke looked surprised. "There is?"
"Never be more than twelve steps away from your tea kettle," said Theodosia.

Ba dum bum.

Darjeeling in Des Moines? This is getting good

This is a photo, believe it or not, of an epiphany. We write our little tea blogs and we hang out with tea people and we get on a first-name basis at a shop or two or ten. Like any niche, it's easy to forget this isn't really a treehouse, a club, a benefit exclusive to those of us with even a smidge of knowledge, feigned or hard-earned. But here I was, in a really nice tea shop in, of all places, Des Moines. This guy — in the sweatshirt for his drywall business, complete with Christian fish logo — flips through the menu with his wife and talks brewing temperatures with the gal behind the counter. I expected only Lipton bags during my first of many future visits to this town (relocated relatives), certainly not a great shop with what looks to be finely sourced teas sought after by burly Iowans in caulk-covered boots. I stood there for a moment and realized just how widely tea must be getting around, that the marketing articles aren't just being optimistic. They've even opened a Teavana or two in my Oklahoma home town. It made me really happy, and really excited.

The shop, Gong Fu Tea, has been in Des Moines' East Village neighborhood for more than six years, no less. A few minimalist tables up front, a nice long service counter in the middle, and some teaware and tasting tables in the back where customers can schedule gaiwan and gongfu services. This display of tea jars runs along the wall ...

The owners, Mike Feller and Rusty Bishop, have sourced some good teas, available online (they also have a monthly tea club). I left with several, including a pretty marvelous hojicha — golden-brown and toasty and awesome with some noodles and peanut sauce earlier this week. (Feller contributed comments to this story in a recent Des Moines Register.)

Great tea is almost everywhere! Long live the cha!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: 'Tea in Chicago'

This blogger is based in Chicago, as some of you might be weary of hearing. But allow me one more choice moment of boosterism. I was thrilled to find that the divine and feline Eartha Kitt once recorded a tune called "Tea in Chicago." It's a demure, slightly coy description of that moment when you know you've made it — when you're "such a lady" sipping tea in Chi town:

Tea in Chicago
what an elegant place for tea
Me in Chicago
stirring up quite a cup, I'll be

I can't find anything embeddable, nor can I even find a complete copy of the track to link to, but here's a sample that includes the chorus, and here's another sample with some of the early verse.