Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Teaku No. 11

reverie broken
I know now it's time to go
the tea has gone cold

Pressing concerns: Do you use a French press for tea?

I'm hunting a good French press again. Teaware doesn't last forever, and the glass beaker on my favorite large press cracked a while back. But it raises the question: Is a French press teaware?

I've always enjoyed having a French press (or cafetiere) on hand, even though technically it's designed for coffee. Claimed as an invention by both the French and the Italians, the press first started appearing in French cafes around the 1850s, eventually patented in 1929 with French manufactures coming first.

There are some teas — particularly my favorite white tea, with its large, dried leaves and stems — that seem to work best in a French press. The beaker of a press gives leaves like these plenty of room to float, swirl and steep. I've never liked tea balls or pots with strainer baskets, as they tend to compact the loose tea and prevent good water circulation during the brew. A press, meanwhile — as long as you don't actually press the plunger all the way down and thus squeeze bitter flavors from the tea — allows the free circulation with the benefit of perfect straining (when straining is needed).

Materials are good here, too: French press beakers are usually glass, which is both an excellent insulator and best for visuals (for practical and aesthetic reasons). I avoid plastic on French presses at all costs: glass container, metal parts and fittings.

As long as you keep a press clean — as noted in this good video discussion of French press tea making from Lainie Sips — and, duh, don't use the same press for tea and coffee, a good press should serve you tres bien.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: Hunny

As someone who used to do exactly what this young woman is doing — be seized by songwriting inspiration and setting down to record the thing, even if it's bedtime — I have to share this plaintive amateur folk song, a love ditty to tea and honey called "Teaspoon of Honey":

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day: Grab your travel mug for tea on the go

It's Earth Day, that quaint 24-hour period given over to the planet and the marketers who love it. For the tea world, it's a good reminder to ditch the plastic, styrofoam, even paper cups from your favorite to-go steeping shop. In my experience, most places have no problem filling up your travel mug.

Today, in fact, Starbucks will do it for free! Bring in your earth-conscious, reusable travel mug and get a free tea (from Tazo) or coffee.

I have two travel mugs I like for different reasons. One is blue, has a good-grip rubbery handle and is remarkably well-insulated; sometimes I've filled it with chai, gone for a walk, and returned home before the tea was cool enough to drink without boiling my tongue. The other is pink, has no handle and is just plain cute.

Of course, these are just insulated mugs that could contain anything; they're not specifically built for tea. There are, however, a lot of good travel mugs now especially designed with tea in mind. I've tried a few. Planetary Design makes a nifty French press mug, which is handy and fashionable — but a wee bit leaky on the go (great for an office desk, though). Bodum also makes a line of travel presses.

A new one I've just been trying out is the Libre tea glass, a portable insulated glass (glass inside, plastic outside, cool to carry) with a filter on top for brewing loose-leaf tea. You can actually brew two ways — with tea directly in the glass using the filter to screen the leaves as you drink, or with tea in the filter for brewing. I was a moron, not sure if it was designed for one application only, until I saw this video ...

Good Housekeeping has this good comparison of 27 different tea/coffee travel mugs. That first one, the Thermos tea tumbler, is similar to the Libre glass without, of course, the glass and thus no doubt a tad more rugged out and about.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April tea haiku

Imagine the smell of the freshly roasted tea at Uji
now that the renowned yamabuki are in full bloom.
— Basho

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Xtreme tea!

Are you man enough for tea? Then crank up this comedy sketch ...

Tuesday tea tunes: Simply put

Indeed, "there is a lot to be said for a nice cup of tea"! So says British singer Binnie Hale in this nearly century-old, wonderfully jaunty recording, "A Nice Cup of Tea"...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Pricey storage tins at least look swell

I just rearranged my tea cabinet, which involved buying some new canisters and storage containers (more to come). I did not, however, splurge on any of these, though I show off this photo just because I like looking at great design. This is a Soss Box. These "food-grade, hermetically-sealed containers feature magnetic, stackable modular sections — including an optional screen section for particulate collection — solid aluminum construction, and stainless steel fasteners." They fit in your hand, and they cost $200 (without screen) to $250 (with screen).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Flapper dictionary's got my number

I am a crumb gobbler. I declare that proudly. In fact, I am a crumb gobbler who enjoys his noodle juice. I even like a little whangdoodle, and I try to remain kluck.

That's how a flapper might describe me, I guess. I ran across this post from a book shop owner who happened upon a stack of old editions of Flapper magazines ("Not for Old Fogies"). The July 1922 edition included "A Flapper's Dictionary," running down the slang terms common to liberating women of the day. "The flapper movement is not a craze, but something that will stay," the author asserts. "Many of the phrases now employed by members of this order will eventually find a way into common usage and be accepted as good English."

A "crumb gobbler," for instance, is a "slightly sissy tea hound." Tea itself is referred to a "noodle juice." (Crumb gobbler I get, but I'm not sure what tea has to do with squeezing pasta. Or perhaps it means, rightly, that it's fuel for your brain?) Also, there's "Cake eater — see 'Crumb gobbler'."

Read the whole dictionary here. Do you find it to be the cat's particulars?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The return of the East India Company (yes, that one)

The East India Company lives again — and, get this, it's now Indian-owned.

The ultimate symbol of British imperialism and capitalist extremes, with an impressive history, the East India Co. was dissolved more than a century ago. But Mumbai-born Sanjiv Mehta opened a fine-foods shop last summer in London using the famous name, to which he'd acquired the official rights and trademarks (even the coat of arms). While the new East India Co. has no plans to dominate global trade again, it is offering — how could it not? — a sizable array of teas.

I've tasted one, and it's pretty extraordinary. Though I enjoy a quality Earl Grey on rare occasions, I've never found citrus flavors very complementary to black tea. (If you do, check out this run-down of citrus and tea.) East India offers a really pleasant alternative: a mango tea. Many brands offer mango teas (Adagio's is good), and East India's ranks high among them. To a surprisingly strong black tea is added dried mango fruit and mango oil, rounding out a remarkably full-bodied tropical flavor without becoming cloying or gimmicky. It doesn't strut through the door as a boorish Flavored Tea, you know? I've really enjoyed this, and I can't wait to ice it this summer.

Pictures of the shop and information about some of their other teas — from a Jane Pettigrew tea tasting there — can be found here.

Tuesday tea tunes: A cold cup

I've had days like this, like Judy Tzuke describes in "Cup of Tea" — feeling old, not quite upbeat, even using tea as a rare metaphor of distress and disillusionment: "I feel like life has poured a cold cup of tea on my head..."

May these moments be few and fleeting for you ...

Monday, April 11, 2011

'Colbert Report' takes tea ahead of royal wedding

Stephen Colbert the other night spoofed all things British in this segment from "The Colbert Report" about the upcoming royal nuptials. It concludes with an amusing, albeit uncomfortable, tea service. "You don't have to have a stiff upper lip when you're drinking tea," Colbert is advised ...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

'Coffee: The Musical'? We need this?

Later this year, we might see a new show on Broadway — "Coffee: The Musical." The New York Times says the musical will include “an original musical soundtrack, dancing, singing, topical coffee talk, love stories, and the preparation and enjoyment of coffee.” The opening number, "Hot Black Stuff," has an impromptu premiere last month at New York's Coffee & Tea Festival.

What would a "Tea: The Musical" sound like?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Tea's critical past on film

I've recently discovered a wonderful website: Critical Past. It's a big cyber-pile of historic stock footage, easily searchable. You can spend hours on this (I have) looking up things about where you live, topic of personal interest (music! tea!), general history. The videos range from clips less than a minute with no sound to full-length pieces in glorious technicolor — but, alas, they are not embeddable. Here, though, are some favorite tea-related links ...

1942 Japanese tea ceremony at home
The only thing that gives away this brief look into a Japanese home during wartime is the hilariously condescending narrator ("one cup of lukewarm tea coming up!"). Two scenes of tea ceremonies led by a dolled-up woman.

Das Fuhrer sits down for tea
Speaking of WWII, here's a 20-second clip of Adolf Hitler himself, in color (I don't think I'd ever seen him in color before!) at the Teehaus (Tea House) on the Mooslahnerkopf, in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, Germany, dated 1938. Dig the aide who shoves in Adolf's chair — wearing full Nazi regalia! Both interesting and creepy to watch.

These are the men in charge of your tea
In 1938, anyway. A short reel showing the United States Board of Tea Examiners tasting various teas in New York.

Monkey tea, monkey brew
What more can I add to describe this 1930 short than is in its title: "Tuxedoed Chimpanzee named Oscar dines at a table, prepares and drinks tea, and smokes a cigar like man, in Lucerne Switzerland"?

The amazing 163-year-old man!
So claims this Russian in this 1967 newsreel, showing the man an dhis 80-year-old third wife having tea. The fella, according to the narrator, "believes the surrounding mountains are so high the angel of death cannot reach him."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tuesday tea tunes: 'I like six cups not one or two'

I'm a Woody Guthrie fan, and here's a reminiscent, mournful folk song about tea, Michael Hurley's "Tea Song"...

Turn on the tea and let it brew
I like six cups not one or two
My nerves are shaking and my heart is breaking
It's just because of all the tea I take
Bring out the cups and honey too
Turn on the tea and let it brew

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Free novel about Ceylon tea plantation life

I've just finished a novel I enjoyed much more than I expected: The Tea-Planter, from 1900 by Fanny Emily Penny (one of those free Google Books titles, wonderful to read on a tablet through that iPad or Android app). It's a breezy tale of a jilted English woman who relocates as a governess to a Ceylon tea plantation. Like Laura Childs' mysteries, I relished it less for the plot than for the occasional details of life among the tea.

Here's a passage, in which the family gathers to try the first batch of tea fired by the eldest boy...

Friday, April 1, 2011

'A good woman is like a tea bag ...'

I'd not encountered this quotation before until recently. Love it...

A good woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.
— Eleanor Roosevelt