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.