Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: 'Big Dipper'

Wish I'd found this a few weeks ago — it would've made the perfect Halloween-week post. Nonetheless, here's a band from Alabama that calls themselves Teacup and the Monster, a far-fetched name based on this old snapshot of Boris Karloff taking a tea break during the filming of "Son of Frankenstein." For what it's worth, they have a gritty, slightly spooky acoustic sound ...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Morning fiber, morning tea

Sometimes I stand there in the morning, in the kitchen, staring into space. Boil, kettle, boil.

During one such empty reverie recently, I stared at the side of my cereal box instead. It was a new purchase, a brand I'd never heard of before — Peace cereals (boasting "premium all-natural, non-GMO ingredients that have been verified by a trusted third party") — and a blend called Walnut Spice. My eyes drifted over the ingredients label. That's odd, I thought.

Amid the expected grains, flour, sugars and nuts, the ingredients of this particular cereal include "Assam Black Tea Leaf" and, further on, below some additional spices, "Rooibos Tea Leaf." As much as I enjoy using tea as a savory ingredient, I'm puzzled by the choice to use both regular and the rooibos teas for flavoring here. I contacted the company; no response. Anyone got ideas?

Peace has a sizable line of cereal flavors, including — now this sounds good right about this time of year — Chai Fiber Flakes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: 'Tea-House Moon'

Full moon tonight. Those autumn moons are usually so crisp and clear. Look up!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Reissue, repackage, repackage

Loves me some Rishi Tea. I start nearly every morning with a pot of their China Breakfast. (Are you shopping amid this Cyber Monday nonsense? Their site offers free shipping today...)

However, while I'm happy they've switched their packaging from metal tea tins to lighter, sustainable foil packages in recycled boxes, I'm bummed that the amount of tea per package has dwindled.

The net weight listed on each container naturally would shrink when moving from heavy metal (3.2 oz.) to lighter cardboard (1.94 oz.). But the tea from two tins used to fill up my cupboard canister, yet the tea from two foil packages barely crosses the three-fourths mark. Alas, the price doesn't seem to have adjusted accordingly.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: I'm a rowdy dowdy

It's a holiday week here in the States, family's coming, it's going to be — as always — a bit crazy. Before the madness begins, I'm taking Nat "King" Cole's advice. I'm taking my sugar to tea ...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tuesday tea TV: 'Cake and tea!'

A scene from one of my favorite films, "Withnail & I," a difficult but rewarding old comedy (Richard E. Grant's debut) about two city blokes on a troublesome country holiday. Here, they visit a tea room, ever so briefly ...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Vote for the (lowercase) tea parties

If you haven't already, be sure to vote today!

Of course, there's a line of teapots emblazoned with dozens of different Obama or Romney slogans and graphics.

We're not overly partisan here at t2, but hey — we can't find any photos of Romney having tea. Just sayin'.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Tea and olives? Ew. Tea olive shrub? Ah!

In certain parts of the country, mostly in the South, there's a lovely shrub that struts its stuff this time of year. It's called the tea olive, and it's basically a bellwether for autumnal temperature changes. When the thermometer swings, the tea olive blooms — and releases a wild, wonderful citrusy scent.

No idea why they're named tea olives. Anyone?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Great tip: Steep and sip

The Washington Post yesterday published an interesting Q&A with Robert Rex-Waller, the tea sommelier (also referred to as the space's "curator") at the Tea Cellar in D.C.'s Park Hyatt Washington. At the end, he's asked for his tea-making tips and gives a few of the basics about loose-leaf and good water, but then he adds this:

Sip as you steep. When he’s steeping a tea for himself, Rex-Waller doesn’t usually look at the clock; he tastes as he goes, until he feels “it hits the spot.” “Most people will know once they’ve gotten to a certain point, when there are flavors that they enjoy.”

This is such excellent advice. Tea time is supposed to be a moment of freedom from our usual slavery to timers and clocks. Also, each spoonful of tea is hardly uniform.

So if it's not difficult to do with the pot you're using, steep the tea with a teaspoon handy. A minute goes by — stir and taste. Another minute, stir and taste. Steep until it tastes right (or the way you want it), not until an arbitrary time — and they're all arbitrary — dictates. Fewer surprises, more satisfaction.

Plus, if you're like me, you forget the timer anyway, walk away — just to do something real quick — and return seven minutes later cursing the ruined brew. Tasting as you go means you stay with the tea, you're part of the process. It's more meditative than you think.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tuesday tea TV: England is 'Tealand'

Here's a delightful short (20-minute) documentary about tea shops in London and elsewhere in England, called "Tealand." It includes chats with customers and owners (including the cool Time for Tea cafe in London).

Monday, October 29, 2012

For your periodic tea-ble

Making a good cup of tea is, like the baking that often accompanies it, truly an act of chemistry. So this beautiful set of teaware — fashioned from repurposed laboratory test tubes, beakers and such — blends form into function. Alas, it's art, not for sale.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday tea TV: Death by tea cup

Real men drink tea. Anyway, here's Vin Diesel in "The Chronicles of Riddick," dispatching a bad guy with his tea cup ...

As one person says on the video's YouTube page, "They should sell a Riddick tea set. No one would mess with you."

Monday, October 22, 2012

A tea moment with Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov is one of my favorite poets, an insightful, usually accessible writer who tends to summon the divine — finding big revelations within life's little things.

Today's Writer's Almanac spotlights a poem of hers, "Sojourns in the Parallel World," that seems, to me, to sum up something about the tea moment — reverie, lost in one's thoughts, how crucial that process really is, and how it renews us, each time.

It happens "because we drift for a minute, / an hour even, of pure (almost pure) / response to that insouciant life," and then:

... when we're caught up again
into our own sphere (where we must
return, indeed, to evolve our destinies)
—but we have changed, a little

Morrissey: It's 'greased tea,' dear sir

Just a few weeks ago, I posted a Tuesday Tea Tune about Morrissey's "Everyday Is Like Sunday," and my lifelong puzzlement about the line, "Share some grease tea with me." (I'm not the only one wondering, for example.)

I stand corrected — and by the master himself ...

Morrissey was due to perform here in Chicago this weekend, but he's postponed that and a few other concerts this week so he can fly back to England to be with his ailing mother. Heaven knows I'm miserable about that, because he actually answered some interview questions of mine via email (the only medium through which he'll conduct an interview, as he claims to have been misquoted so often). So you'll have to wait for the rescheduled dates to read the Q&A over at my day job.

But I'll go ahead and share this with you now, because I asked him a bonus question — I thought I'd find out for myself — about that lyric.

His brief answer: "'Greased-tea,' actually. Tea in a cup that hasn't quite been washed so therefore has a slight film across the top. Nasty."

What a difference a 'd' makes. Now my cup is full.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: Wouldn't say no

An Irish duo called the McGetigans put their tea cups front and center for a litany of all things they could do without — except tea:

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The history of tea: Going Dutch

In histories of tea, we read often about the origins of tea in China, about England's swiping of tea from China, about England's American colonies and our notorious harbor-steeping. Rarely do we get a good look at the direct relationship between the United States and China. Eric Jay Dolin's new book, When America First Met China, attempts to tell the story from a Pacific perspective rather than an Atlantic one.

One of the first ships to sail under an official U.S. flag was the Empress of China, sailing 18,000 miles to what was known then as Port of Canton in China.

Dolin also debunks a common presumption that it was English colonists who brought a taste for tea to these shores, noting:

In fact it was the [Dutch] colonists of New Netherland who first drank tea in America. And since they drank Chinese tea supplied from Holland, the Dutch colony is where America's infatuation with things Chinese began.

Thus when England took over New Netherland in 1664, transforming it into the colony of New York, the English inherited a community of tea drinkers. From that point forward the consumption of tea spread through the American colonies in much the same way as it had throughout England.

Read an excerpt of the book here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Easing into the big hairy now

Ran across an amusing column from the other side of the globe — this piece in the New Zealand Herald, written by a rather dour-looking musician (dig his mug shot!) and effervescent with joy for the simple cup and its power to keep our feet on the ground. It opens:

Tea should be taken whenever it can be. It is what it is, and does what it does, better than any other consumable. "If you're feeling sad and lonely, there's a service I can render. Tell the one who loves you only, I can be so warm and tender." Although these are the words of that lyricist, Hal David, I feel these are words of tea to us, if tea had words. Tea, of course, is beyond words, as anything that boasts greatness is. In fact, tea is so great for improving the quality of one's life, I can't think of anything better. It basically eases you into the zone of the hairy now. ...

"The hairy now." The best part of life, the best part of tea.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tuesday tea tune: 'Dem owna tea bread'

Here's another stretch for a tea-song connection. The tune is called "Earth a Run Red," from Kingston-based reggae singer Richie Spice (aka Richell Bonner) — read the story behind the song here — and it includes a noted lyric describing the young hustling lifestyle: "10-year-old a look dem owna tea bread."

Say wha? That story above explains this way:

Spice said he heard the 'tea bread' phrase "as a youth. Me never know what it is. Me think tea bread was you provide your own meal, til mi get to understand is a little bread."

Interesting. Here's the song:

Friday, October 5, 2012

Art in the tea leaves

Beautiful artwork, yes? Can you guess the medium?

It's made from tea leaves. Artist Andrew Gorkovenko created several scenes like this — scenes illustrating the origins of tea, or noteworthy images from a tea-producing country — from whole and ground black tea leaves.

The images were then applied to a particular bit of branding, adorning boxes of tea here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Tuesday tea TV: Tea trucker

Here's a delightful, two-minute, slice-o'-life documentary about Jess, a refreshingly optimistic woman in South Africa who exited the rat race and opened her own tea shop. That's common enough — but Jess' place, Lady Bonin's Tea Parlour, is a trailer on the sidewalk (American urban gastro-hipsters know this as a "food truck").

This is the second edition of a filmmaker's innovative series called Art of Work, and I first saw it a while back on the Tea Guy Speaks blog.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: Hiccup!

This song — a wobbly, space-age, theremin-infused delight — is called "Fur Teacup." Here's hoping they mean on the outside. The band: Tipsy.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Antique tea cases, caddies at auction

C'mon, Powerball, get on the stick.

Christie's is putting up some bee-yoo-tiful teaware for auction, but you've got to be a 1 percenter to even think about bidding. Like this drop-dead gorgeous antique tea chest (pictured below), "circa 1790 — inlaid with swags and bell-husks, the cover with an oval patera, kingwood crossbanding and silver handle and escutcheon, the interior fitted with a pair of lift-out 'D' form caddies with locks." Salivate, drool.

There's also a lot of truly gorgeous, George III-era tea caddies "offered from the collection of a London gentleman."

The auction's live next month in England. But the Publisher's Clearinghouse Prize Patrol isn't due for another go-round till the end of October. Drat.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: Equinoxiffic

Autumn equinox is on the way later this weekend. Here's a synth-driven poject called Beneath Autumn Sky cooing over and over ("I had to run away and hide") in a song called "Morning Tea":

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Billy Corgan opens tea house

In my day gig, I published a piece this week about Smashing Pumpkins leader Billy Corgan — who today opens his own tea salon, Madame Zuzu's Tea House, in a northern Chicago suburb (announced late last year).

Corgan's on hand today, greeting customers and playing his 1930s Bosendorfer piano throughout the afternoon. He's hoping to create a real mixing, conversational atmosphere in the place, booking not only fellow musicians but guest speakers of every stripe. Earlier this summer, he told me he'd like the place to be "a more casual hang, a place where you could come see a guru or a rabbi talk."

The nice thing is, it's not really a celebrity vanity project. Corgan's not exactly that kind of guy. He's a genuine tea person — claims to have never had a sip of coffee ("I always hated the smell," he says) — and he himself is buying the teas for the shop.

A typical suburban kid who thought all tea was Lipton, his band hit big in the ’90s and he traveled the world — thus sampling great teas in their many native lands.

This week, he related to me a sublime tea moment that cemented his conviction to fulfill the dream of opening this shop: "I was staying at the Savoy Hotel in London, and they have this classic English tea area under a garden dome. I was ordering a pot of rose petal tea. I'm in this historic hotel drinking this incredibly pleasurable tea — it's the small things in life. It stopped time for those few minutes."

Shaken, not steeped

If you've read this blog for very long, you know I'm as much of a lush as I am a tea-totaler. Thus, I adore this nifty design.

Looks like a tea pot, no? But it's actually a cocktail shaker.

Try as I might, I can't find a video of this thing in action. I'm imagining the genius of its function, in addition to its form, is the handle — something underutilized in cocktail shaker design and crucial when you're trying to get your martini as cold as Valley Forge.

The design — Swedish, storied, dating to the 1920s or ’30s — is hard to come by. You'd have to really love your designs, cocktails or tea to purchase one in the States, though, given that they run more than $400 a piece. Looking and admiring is free.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: Moz's greasy spoon

Autumn comes and my musical mood always goes back to bedrock — cloudy days, moody ways, Morrissey.

One of his first solo singles, "Everyday Is Like Sunday," includes a lyric near the end that's always puzzled me: "Share some grease tea with me." I've seen fans argue about the meaning of this for decades, with nothing settled.

At the very least, you could order this mug with the lyric emblazoned on it, or go whole hog and drink tea right out of Morrissey's head.

Monday, September 10, 2012

No change? Need tea? Just tweet

There was a Coke machine in Singapore that gave you a soda if you hugged it. In Argentina, they tried a machine that dispensed beer (!) if you tackled it (!!). Now a South African company has unveiled a vending machine that dispenses a cold bottle of iced tea — for the price of a tweet.

Just approach the wonderfully sci-fi named Bevmax 4-45, whip out your smartphone (or tablet) and send a tweet — any ol' tweet — containing the hashtag #BOStweet4T. In seconds, somehow, the machine figures out you're the one who sent it and, with a fanfare of gadgetry and a spooky synth voice, delivers your tea.

BOS teas are made with rooibos, a caffeine-free infusion made from a plant native to Africa.

Here's the crazy thing in action ...

Friday, September 7, 2012

Moroccan tea glasses

I bought a set of hand-painted Moroccan tea glasses many years ago — I forget where, somewhere we were vacationing. This pre-dates the full bloom of my tea fixation. I originally bought them to shamelessly copy a foodie friend of mine who once served wine in tea glasses at a dinner party. Very handy for that, and pretty.

I've since gone back to using them for their intended purpose (though I hardly ever do the whole North African green-mint tea thing, pouring from three feet in the air). In an effort to moderate my tea intake — must be done, getting out of hand in the afternoons (he writes, his hands shaking) — they're delightful for sipping just moderate amounts of tea. They're also a lively and more harmonious way to bring tea to the table with meals. I don't have any of the silver holders with handles that are quite common for these glasses, and I most often have been using them for white teas served at a lower temperature, anyway.

Those are mine above, but below is a set I currently covet, from this list of five great Moroccan tea glass buys.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sleek, functional tea caddy

Given my fondness for tea cases and innovative designs, here's a beautiful, streamlined set that touches on both.

The stainless steel box serves as both storage (for the sugar bowl, milk jug, wooden tray, etc.) and a warming surface (a holder for tea lights fits underneath the teapot). The cups and pot are china, so no skimping on materials for tea on the go. Many more lovely photos here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tuesday tea TV: 'Schoolhouse Rock'

Given that many of us are heading back to school right about now — my own tea kettle is doing stretches in preparation for another fall semester — here's a classic lesson on the basics of the Boston Tea Party, courtesy the great "Schoolhouse Rock":

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor, rest, repeat

A long work day, and it was only late morning. I stretched (a rare moment when I remembered to do so), I snapped and cracked my old bones, I took my tea and stared out the window at the sprinkling rain.

Tea and its dual uses: it revs me up for work, hones my focus, then it steps me down from the work, relaxing, soothing. Each day is a yin-yang cycle of work and retreat, of leisure and business. The trick is to master the wavelength — to bring the cycle of rest and work into a nice, even hum, with the two poles evenly spaced, or at least as spaced as they should be, as the work or the rest calls for. The rest benefits from the work, the accomplishment, the contrast. The work benefits from the stretch, the window, the moment.

Curiously, just recently I ran across this passage in an old journal, part of an entry from Christmas Eve 2004 describing one of my old staring spots:

Just took a tea break. When I need a mid-afternoon breather, I like to take my tall tea mug to a landing on the building's east stairwell. What was once the main entrance, on Main Street, features seven stories of steps with a wide, gentle rise curling around a cavern of empty space all the way up. Just outside the fifth floor, outside the receptionist area, there's a 12- or 14-foot window overlooking Main Street. I like to lean on the bannister and stare at the city. The 320 Boston building looms to the left, with its unpredictable design and occasional arches. I'd love to find the access to that patio up there. The whole building looks like Philadelphia Hall, but on top its jutting corners and Tetris-like construction look positively Roman. The owner of the Indian art gallery across the street is invariably standing on the sidewalk, smoking. The construction crews are laboring even today to get the rest of Main Street reopened to traffic after a couple of decades as a pedestrian mall. The vantage point on the buildings to the southeast couldn't be better composed. I should take pictures. The work world that goes on outside my head. Important to remember.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

'To know the spirit of Japan, pass by a tea house!'

I've been meaning to post this film for a while — "Chambre du The," a half-hour 2005 documentary about the building of a tea house in Paris a few years earlier.

Architect Masao Nakamura is interviewed and filmed as he constructs this gift from the nation of Japan. The footage of the work is remarkably peaceful to watch, and Nakamura remarks about his goals for the space — a space in which he imagines the universe itself to be re-created.

"Take time for somebody — this is tea," he says.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday tea TV: A bloody tea

Even I sometimes just want a bloody cup of tea ...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Same song, umpteenth verse

Another inexcusable absence — the blues song of every blogger.

Summer: festivals (Lollapalooza here, the only time I ever see much less drink Sweet Leaf canned iced tea), research (ugh), capped by a lovely stomach flu last week. You wanna know sick? I didn't even want a cup of tea. That sick. (Though I found that a certain brand of detox tea tastes remarkably like the paregoric my mother dispensed when a very young me had a tummy ache, and thus it has a similarly calming effect on the old belly.)

The autumn ahead: concerts (Springsteen, David Byrne, Robyn Hitchcock), more research (double ugh), perfect health (ahem).

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: Shhhhhhh

After the insane weekend I had, here's the perfect soft music for a "Quiet Tea Time," from one of the many soundtracks available to the anime "Aria" series ...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tea at the London Olympics

In London for the games? (Lucky so-and-so.) Looking for tea shops or afternoon tea? I spent five days in London a couple of years ago doing nothing but tea sampling. Here's what I found:

Other Olympics-related tea tidbits:

— I've seen several tea towels for sale, each branded with various London 2012 designs. This one (pictured above) is my fave. I dig this one, too, though it's sold out. Plus, here's one for the ’48 London games.

— Since tea is an iconic British image, it shows up in odd ways among the mountain of merchandise — including these three logo lapel pins.

— Olympic officials had to adjust their doping tests when green tea was found to help cover certain steroids.

— The phrase "tea leaf" in London is slang for a thief. Who knew?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: Iced beats

No idea who this DJ is beyond his name (Stephen West) and location (Liverpool), but this mix he posted on Soundcloud is chill, is titled "Time for Tea III" and, hey, is an hour long!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Tea for two, but not for Ru'

Rufus slept through that day's tea time (above), as he does most afternoons. I'd never thought of offering him a cup, until last night.

While trying to induce drowsiness on an overnight train from Memphis back to Chicago, I listened to a short series of recordings from the BBC — actor Alec Guinness reading bits from his memoir, My Name Escapes Me. (I don't mean to imply that this was dull and thus sleep-inducing — quite the contrary — rather that Guinness' stately monotone was just the train ticket for relaxing one's nerves.) In one of the passages, he mentions his dog's failing health but adds that the dog was feeling better that day, part of his evidence being that the dog lapped up a saucer of tea.

Can a dog or cat drink tea? Veterinary information is surprisingly scattershot online (where's the trustworthy WebMD for cats and dogs already?), but here's what I've pieced together from searches and a call to our neighborhood pooch practice:

Offering tea or coffee to cats or dogs is not a great idea. Sugar is terrible for both, dogs are usually intolerant of milk and, most importantly, caffeine negatively affects those smaller nervous systems (cats, in particular, are prone to heart palpitations and sometimes muscle tremors from caffeine). A small cup of decaffeinated tea — cooled down! — shouldn't hurt, but a habit of it would be bad for both bladders. Tea does not, as has been reported out there, promote growth in dogs, according to our vet.

In sum: enjoy your tea, but give Rowlf and Ruby a straight shot of your fresh, filtered water instead.

And mind where you set your cup. Dogs'll drink just about anything.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dark tea rising

Thoughts and prayers are with the victims' families and all Coloradoans dealing with this awful tragedy ...

(And, yes, that's a Batman tea bag hanging over the rim of that cup.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tuesday tea TV: Willis Earl Beal

One of the revelatory acts at last weekend's annual Pitchfork Music Festival here in Chicago was eccentric soul singer Willis Earl Beal. As I wrote on Friday:

But "singing" seems a flaccid verb for what Beal actually accomplishes. Projecting a massive, versatile voice that hollers and howls, grates and growls, the 27-year-old Beal's bellowing evokes the oldest bluesmen and the fiercest young rappers. It's a voice that swings wide, high and low -- often from guttural yawps to fluttery falsetto within a single line. He's Screamin' Jay Hawkins, then he's Curtis Mayfield.

Now I find this video of Beal, showing some performance footage spliced in with interviews about style — some of which take place in Brooklyn's Ran Tea House, where Beal (discovered first as a visual artist) has some tea and makes a sketch ...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Hot tea, cool music

Speaking of drinking hot tea in the middle of the summer heat, here I am this weekend at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago — enjoying a lovely cup of Intelligentsia's Iron Goddess of Mercy, prepared peacefully in the middle of the festival madness in a gaiwan, if you can imagine ...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Hot tea on a hot day? No sweat!

If you're here reading about tea things, then you've read the incredulous "hot drinks cool you down!" story a thousand times. An NPR blogger marveled anew at the thought this week, posting information from a neuroscientist about how hot drinks make you sweat, which is the body's cooling mechanism, so in fact hot drinks facilitate cooling off, etc.

Perspiration, though, only cools you down if there's air around your body (moving, ideally) to cause the temperature-regulating evaporation. In other words, sitting in a plush chair and drinking hot tea on a hot day is only going to make your back and posterior a warm, wet mess.

My favorite response, however, to the question "Does hot tea make you cooler?" was posted on a message board ages ago: "No. Taking heroin and going to be-bop clubs in a beret makes you cooler. Drinking tea makes you a quaint old English lady."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

First-flush Darjeelings from Rare Tea Republic

The latest tea company to enthrall me: the Rare Tea Republic, "a company that curates fresh teas from the world's finest tea gardens" that was launched last fall. Don't worry about confusing the name with the Republic of Tea; they're the same company. The Rare Tea Republic was spun off from the already high-end, high-priced brand to focus on small-lot and single-estate teas.

The business is based in California's Bay Area, but its production and distribution facilities are in downstate Illinois, due east of St. Louis. The teas, however, are sourced from across northern India and near the Himalayan mountains. RTR launched with 19 teas from the region, two of which are already award-winners.

I'm still a second-flush kinda guy, but the samples of first-flush Darjeelings I've had in the past year are bringing me around, including a couple of doozies from RTR. Their Jun Chiyabari FTGFOP1 — the packet I have notes its origin (Nepal) and, wonderfully, its plucking date (April 9) — is fantastic, with a rich and peaty odor, which in the cup blossoms into a flowery scent (peonies?) and a corresponding flavor, like sweet chamomile and lime. The widely praised Phoobsering FTGFOP1 (Darjeeling, April 11) was an absolute marvel. Dry, it reeks of camphor and champagne, a bracing aroma that had me huffing the bag far longer than is proper. Cupped, it's a much more nuanced, sly, complex beast, still confident in the nose but remarkably light on the tongue, very much like a buttery chardonnay. (Most previous reviews cite lemons and lilies here; the latter maybe, the former I didn't get at all.) A third sample, the Wah FTGFOP (Kangra, April 12), laid there like an old dog  compared to the other two, perhaps faithful but devoid of any real spark of life. Each of these teas stood tall after long brews and several subsequent steepings.

Intriguing finds. Next, I'll dive into their five white offerings.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: Spell it TEA

Of course, there was a band called Tea. An acronym, really — TEA, for the first names of each founding member, like ABBA — and a (justly) forgotten Swiss group that turned in this cover of the Lovin' Spoonful's "Summer in the City" in the similarly sweltering summer of ’75 ...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Katy Perry's cats (for real) and afternoon tea

An episode of "Parks and Recreation" last fall concluded with one of the greatest ideas ever. A newly inducted group of male girl scouts (long story) celebrates their rite of passage with a "puppy party." Just what it sounds like — a party with rented puppies. Ingenious.

This week I had to see the newest pop star biopic, "Katy Perry: Part of Me," for review. Midway through the chronicle of the megastar's world tour, Perry and three friends spend an afternoon at an establishment in Tokyo with a slightly different spin. It's a kitty party!

"This establishment serves tea and coffee while you hang out with cats," explains one of Perry's pals. "They charge you. To sit with cats."

Apparently, the cat cafes are a trend in Japan, where an aging population relishes the chance to dote on four-legged wee ones. At one cafe, a particular cat likes to nip people's milk tea out of their cups.

Great green tea and a bunch of adorable kittens you don't have to feed or clean up after? Schedule me!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A real American tea party

President Kennedy has a cup of tea with his cousin Mary, 
in the kitchen of her cottage — his ancestral home — 
during a presidential visit to Ireland in 1963.

Happy 236th birthday, America, nation of immigrants!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: Marmalade (no Vegemite!)

Tin Tin was an Australian pop band in the late ’60s who got their start when pal Robin Gibb produced their first singles, including this dreamy arrangement of woozy harmonies, "Toast and Marmalade for Tea":

Monday, July 2, 2012

'Success lies in a single word: care'

This is a tea blog, sure, but most of us enjoy the occasional cup o' joe, too. You'll also, no doubt, enjoy this promotional short film from 1961 — a "Mad Men"-era bit of genius titled "This Is Coffee!" Dig the bongos, the poetic voiceover, the percolating tips and the travel to distant lands ...

How, then, do we make the perfect cup of coffee to our taste? Success lies in a single word: Care. Three simple ingredients go into the brewing process: water, coffee, time. Care will produce a perfect result every time.

We could say the same of tea, yes?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Happy harai

On a bright June moonlit night during harai, the sacred music
and white robes both ripple outwards. How cool it is!
— Teika

Friday, June 29, 2012

The feeling is frayed and Day-Glo, too

A couple of years ago, a popular Internet forward was links to photos of various alcoholic beverages and cocktails — as crystallized and viewed under an electron microscope. The images (still online, of course) were usually colorful and sometimes breathtaking. Great wallpaper, anyway.

Someone finally applied the same lens to caffeine. So here's an up-close and personal look at the substance with which we're already otherwise f-f-f-familiar ...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: Holo-tea with Hatsune Miku

Last week, I was at a visual communication conference in Utah, presenting some of my research into virtual pop stars. (Quick version of long story: If you saw the Tupac hologram this spring, they've been doing much more interesting stuff like that in Japan for years.) One, in particular, is a Japanese vocaloid called Hatsune Miku. Of course, someone has written a tea-related song for her (a few, in fact). It's an unusually mid-tempo, alt-rock strummer called "Mint Tea" ...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bitch session on the road

My old nemesis: Mr. Coffee.

Traveling this week, staying in three different hotels. Two in Iowa, one in Utah. A decent cup of tea will not be had, I know, even with the good stuff I brought along. But my how I try.

In every room, the proprietors have "conveniently" placed a Mr. Coffee. Cursed little things. They always reek of the black. So I scrub, and I wipe, and I rinse. My bancha still tastes like bean.

(They made a Mrs. Tea once, in the mid-’90s. Cute thing, with a real teapot under the drip. But really, drip is not the best way to steep your tea.)

Usually, it's the available water that ruins the experience. I grab a bottle when I can, but can't always. The third circle of hell is a cup of tea made with hotel tap. Mmmm, calci-riffic!

The fifth circle: The restaurant bag basket. The lukewarm water. That stainless-steel pitcher with the lid that never quite fits right and a volume somehow less than the corresponding cup. At least it's not one of those glass bulbs with the black plastic neck (the Hottle, shudder) ...

God, I'm spoiled. Despite all this kvetching, I'm having a wonderful trip ... ;-)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: Just Before June, in June

Always a sucker for young gents who scrawl things on their guitars, here's a YouTube trio called Just Before June singing "The Tea Song" — "We don't have milk and sugar / just each other's company ..."

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ideas and sensations: Happy Bloomsday!

Today is Bloomsday, June 16, the day the action of James Joyce's Ulysses takes place. Here's a tea moment from chapter 1:

Buck Mulligan frowned quickly and said:
-- What? Where? I can't remember anything. I remember only ideas and sensations. Why? What happened in the name of God?
-- You were making tea, Stephen said, and I went across the landing to get more hot water. Your mother and some visitor came out of the drawingroom. She asked you who was in your room.
-- Yes? Buck Mulligan said. What did I say? I forget.
-- You said, Stephen answered, O, it's only Dedalus whose mother is beastly dead.
A flush which made him seem younger and more engaging rose to Buck Mulligan's cheek.
-- Did I say that? he asked. Well? What harm is that?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Alfred Hitchcock presents: tea

We recently watched "Marnie," a 1964 Alfred Hitchcock thriller (well, it's not very thrilling, really). It's a fairly tedious psyche-drama. But I have to share this scene from the middle of the film. Start the video below and skip ahead to about 6:00.

Sean Connery's Mark Rutland is bringing his captured bride home for tea with his father and sister. The script ably utilizes tea as a means of quickly drawing the characters.

The fuddy-duddy old man likes his "strong, please, no milk, two lumps of sugar," then goes on about insisting on keeping quality tea on hand. Connery, trying to break away from Bond and in full leering mode, says to his sister, "You take yours with lemon, don't you, Lil?" Himself, he calls for "Strong with a dash of rum for me," which dad disdains as "spinster's tea," adding, "Mucking up tea with strong drink. There's something sneaky about it, eh?"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tea + beer

Suddenly my in-box is frothy with news of different attempts to combine tea and beer. If that sounds like your cup of ale, here are some of the watered/tea'd-down summertime combinations:

• The now-venerable Great Lakes Brewery in Toronto has its Green Tea Ale, which is reportedly big on the actual tea flavor but gets medium reviews.

• Coors, of all places, now has its own blend: Coors Light Iced T. Says the WSJ: "The citrus-like, iced tea-flavored beer will have roughly 4% alcohol content but no caffeine." So the point of drinking this would be ...?

• A more innovative and promising idea is fermenting on the other side of the world: the Yeastie Boys in New Zealand have created a trophy-winning "Gunnamatta" India Pale Ale, using Earl Grey tea leaves (from fellow Wellington business t Leaf T) instead of hops — so the tea is an integral part of the brew and not a mere flavor additive. As one of the brewmeisters says, "I just got fed up with chocolate and coffee beers being the trend du jour and thought it was time to put tea into the limelight." Amen, brother. Alas, Yeastie products aren't exactly easy to find over here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: Atmosphere

Found this grouping of tea-related music on Soundcloud. Three tracks of blissful atmospheric music — the kind perfect for a gongfu ceremony, perhaps — and one oddly placed pop song:

Friday, June 8, 2012

Suzushi (coolness)

The rush-thatched roof looks cool;
even from the bridge one can make out the aroma of tea.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Margaret, what is the tea master?!

Korean tea, Korean tea, Korean tea!

Everywhere I go now, tea people are yammering about Korean tea. I've had Korean greens a few times before, but nothing's really knocked me out. Someone in Seoul, however, must have coughed up the dough for an image consultant and a marketing campaign, because the buzz about Korean teas is boiling over. In conjunction, Korea just sent an enormous delegation to the World Tea Expo last weekend in Las Vegas, so expect to have more news m*a*s*hed in your face.

Even the label of the sample packet I just tried touts "the up-and-coming tea growing district of Seogwang." When I stopped at Tea Gschwendner recently to stock up (my cupboard must always contain some of their south India white and a lot of their Keemun), I got the Korean sales pitch. So I took a sample of their new South Korea Seogwang Sencha (not in their catalog yet). It's a fine sencha, nothing to blog in capital letters about. It improves noticeably with a hotter brew (go for 190 degrees instead of the usual cooler temperatures for greens), showing off a firm balance between astringency and fruitiness. I'd drink it again. OK?!

Bonus: Searching for information about it did lead me to one of my favorite discoveries of the year, however: die Tea Queen! Apparently, my beloved Gschwendner has this (unofficial? official?) spokes...person, a Dame Edna-ish sort who makes some pretty hilarious promotional videos using their teas. It's all in German, mind you, but the hilarity of this one making Earl Grey muffins is barely topped by the following "man"-on-the-street video featuring some clearly uncomfortable Germans taste-testing the Seogwang Sencha ...

Of course, we're talking South Korea here. One can only imagine the bilge-water likely served up as tea in poor North Korea.

Background: Korea has a tea culture more than 2,000 years old (there's a decent primer here), so it's not as if the teas there are brand-new. I've seen a few things about their particular ceremony, darye, and I remember once wanting to fly to Seoul immediately because they have a tea museum called the Beautiful Tea Museum. In most of my tea histories, Korea is mentioned merely in passing ("China and Korea," "Japan and Korea"), except this bit from Mair & Hoh's The True History of Tea:

In Korea, where tea more or less disappeared with the great purge of Buddhism toward the end of the Koryo dynasty in the 14th century, the beverage experienced a remarkable 20th-century renaissance with the great Korean nationalist, Buddhist monk and tea master Hyodang Choi Beom-Sul (1904-79), who, building on the work of the 19th-century monk Cho-Ui, reawakened the Korean people's interest in tea. "Like Cho-Ui ... he left behind him a growing community of people, reaching beyond Buddhism, devoted to practicing the Way of Tea as a means of spiritual refreshment, a source of community, a sign of peace," writes his biographer Brother Anthony.
Refreshment, community, peace. That's pretty much why I'm here. You?

(Sorry about the obscure title reference. Margaret Cho joke. Couldn't resist.)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: No, not Hot Tuna

I'm about to write a master's thesis on virtual pop stars. Long story. But here's a homemade example — someone's Wii Music/Rock Band creation, a "band" called Hot Tea featuring Oolong on vocals, Ceyon and Earl Grey on guitars, bassist Darjeeling, drummer Keemun and, of course, Lapsang Souchong on timbales.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Queen's jubilee, and ol' cousin Norm

Video from yesterday's Thames parade — celebrating the queen's jubilee, 60 years on the throne —is splendid. I celebrated quietly with a spot of tea, and I finally polished my good English silver pot. A few Chicagoans have put out Union Jacks in place of or in addition to their stars-and-stripes this weekend. Jolly good.

While taking jubilee tea, I thumbed back through some notes, books and research. Norman Hartnell, the famed London fashion designer in the mid-20th century — and the man who designed Queen Elizabeth's wedding and coronation gowns — was a second cousin to me. The Hartnell house was one of the longest-running in British fashion history, and Normie's costumes were lavish, to say the least. He loved embroidery, embellishments and jewels jewels jewels. One of his first wedding gowns, worn by the bride of Lord Weymouth, was swathed in silver and gold netting and was described as "the eighth wonder of the world." He loved to tell his clients, "I despise simplicity. It is the negation of all that is beautiful."

Hartnell was appointed official dressmaker to the royal family in 1938. He made Elizabeth's wedding dress in 1947, and her coronation gown (pictured above, in Norman's sketch and as Elizabeth exits her carriage) in 1953. Everything he created for the royals was certainly fit for a queen, but he had to walk a fine line. A queen's clothes have to be regal, yes; they also have to be both not trendy and not obsolete. "The Queen doesn't want to set the style," he said. "She wants to be comfortable." Then again, take a look at the clothes he designed for regular gals — like this video of models posing awkwardly in his spring ’38 collection — and decide how much he really knew about comfort.

In Windsor Forest, Hartnell had a country home (and a mink farm!) where "all sorts of people would roll up for drinks, lunch or tea," according to one biographer. In London, his favorite spot for afternoon tea was Claridge's, in Mayfair, where he had a favorite table near the door. (Today, for some reason, the tea menu at the Doubletree Hotel in Cambridge claims to be "inspired by Norman Hartnell and Lord Byron," which is, for so many reasons, an amusing pairing.) I visited Claridge's on my London tea trip a couple of years ago. I also stopped by the Bruton Street building where Hartnell's fashion house thrived for so many years. It's been nicely restored, and his name is still on it.

Here's to you, Sir Normie. Someday I'll get over there and finally write my book about you.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Lay off the Hoff, man!

Speaking of David Lee Hoffman, the great contemporary tea explorer has run into a kerfuffle with his California neighbors. Despite residing in live-and-let-live Marin County, Hoffman's compound uses some innovative recycling techniques for his waste (garden and human) involving worms. Folks are concerned about the possible runoff.

“I wanted to show that there are distinctive nonpolluting ways to live on the planet,” Hoffman explained to The New York Times recently over tea and chapatis made from his heirloom wheat. “In my mind, I thought I could demonstrate to the county that these systems work. ... I did what I felt was right. My love of the planet is greater than my fear of the law.”

You can voice your support for Hoffman's endeavors by signing this petition, encouraging the county to work with him instead of against him. Read more at Hoffman's site.

Hoffman's Phoenix Collection has supplied some great teas to the Chicago Tea Garden, which just announced its impending closing, and his life's work in dealing tea (read a good summary here) is the subject of a fine Les Blank documentary, "All in This Tea," which is still available as a streaming offering on Netflix.

RIP Chicago Tea Garden

Sad to report that the Chicago Tea Garden — a fine business by superb people supplying a delicious line of quality teas — has announced its end. Begun three years ago by blogger Tony Gebely, CTG has purveyed some of my favorite teas, often raved about here, including Zealong (a unique South Pacific oolong) and a fabulous Golden Li Buo from David Lee Hoffman's stock.

The only good news out of this is that he's having a clearance sale, starting at 30 percent off. Check the site now before it's all gone.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday tea TV: 'Tea and cake or death!'

Comedian Eddie Izzard draws the line of jihad ...

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Salty, milky Mongolian tea, with music

A lovely Chicago indie-pop band, Canasta, went on a serious world tour earlier this year — to Mongolia, part of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Arts Envoy Program. In the dead of winter, they suited up and hauled their gear halfway around the planet to this remote republic, where the ancient tea trade once thrived.

Mongolia, in fact, has a contentious relationship with tea. The Mongols conquered China in the 13th and 14th centuries, but they lost control after the death of the great warrior-unifier Ghengis Khan. For the next two hundred years, the Mongols were cut out of the tea trade (which the Chinese then facilitated chiefly for as a currency for the purchase of horses) until tea seeped back in during the 16th century. When we talk about tea in this context, we're talking mostly brick tea, usually chipped and brewed in a mixture of butter and milk.

The members of Canasta — engaging young, urban musicians — encountered the remnants of that tea culture on their February excursion.

"They serve this hot, salty, milky tea," said singer-bassist Matt Priest during our recent interview. "I never quite got used to it."

"I liked the buttery one," said singer-violinist Elizabeth Lindau (pictured, enjoying it). "The other one just tastes like salty milk."

"It's cool that wherever you go, they serve you tea right away," Priest added. "You walk into your room, and even though the room was incredibly spartan and the shower was dangerous, still there'd be some hot tea waiting for you."

The one native beverage the Canasta folks did savor was seabuckthorn juice, the pressings from an orange berry complete with crunchy edible seeds.

Canasta celebrates its 10th anniversary in concert June 2 in Chicago. Their latest album, 2010's "The Fakeout, the Tease, and the Breather," is delightful.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tea ceremony: Energy, replication and membranes

Fascinating column in the New Statesman (thanks, Kevin!) considers the structure of human society by, first, applying a very extended metaphor — comparing human civilization and culture to the simple complexity of a biological cell — and then using four cultural institutions as examples of the hypothesis.

One of the examples is the Japanese tea ceremony. The writer marvels at its survival over many centuries, wondering aloud and in context:

A quick glance at biology invites us to ask the following question: why hasn't the Japanese tea ceremony become extinct? What has sustained it over so many centuries? The system must in some sense keep reproducing itself, ensuring a supply of new officiants to serve as hosts and new participants to serve as guests, and maintaining and replacing all the exquisite equipment used. It requires a lot of energy to keep going. What is its metabolism and how does it work?
After analyzing the tea ceremony's component parts, its history, its system and support, a curious conclusion:

It may, like university education, be helping both society and the individual in all manner of ways. It may be nurturing the arts, instilling virtues, preserving knowledge and wisdom, stabilising the mores of society - or it may have had, but lost, these roles over time. It may survive today as a sort of self-perpetuating parasitical growth that reproduces itself because it can. It seems on the face of it, however, to be a benign - mutualist, not parasitic - element of society.
Read it here, over a good cup of sencha.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday tea TV: Snape eyes

Actor Alan Rickman brings nothing to the screen if not gravitas. In this video — a curious production idea, with brilliant results — Rickman makes a cup of tea. The catch: he does it in super slow-motion. I challenge you to watch all eight-and-a-half minutes of this. Be warned: tea apparently makes Alan a bit ... edgy.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Charting the processes of tea types

I can't believe I've never run across something like this before. I've read a thousand explanations of the differing steps applied to the production of tea's various types — white is hardly processed at all, green a little more, oolong after that and so on — but I've never encountered a simple chart showing the differences. Damn handy, and it was recently drafted and posted by Chicago Tea Garden owner and World of Tea blogger Tony Gebely. The type is tiny; click for a larger image ...

Read more about it here.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sigh. Waiting for the budget line of tea trunks ...

I've written before about my growing fascination with tea cases and trunks. I wonder why these creations call to me. Perhaps I admire the sense of orderliness, everything in its right place. Most likely I simply covet the lifestyle that would require such a thing — traveling the world, with tea in tow.

So here's another beauty — from Louis Vuitton, of course, which recently opened a shop in Taiwan (in Taipei 101, the second-tallest building in the world). On that occasion, they unveiled some new trunks, including this handsome, slim set, which comes in orange, red or green and contains a customized Chinese tea set from Hsiao Fan Pottery Art.

Enjoy gazing upon it. During the preview at the new shop, the new trunks sold for millions apiece. You break it, you buy it.

Also, the LV website has a lovely short video posted, "The Art of a Tea Ceremony," which you can watch here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: 'Sahara' redux

I've posted "Tea in the Sahara" by the Police before, but this version got to me. It's Police guitarist Andy Summers, in a solo show at the wonderful Park West venue here in Chicago back in 1987. The singer is Canada's Nan Vernon. Good stuff ...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Seeking to Finnish this tea

My fingers are crossed, but I know better.

Robert's Coffee, a Scandinavian chain, has posted a note at the entrance to its website claiming that a site rebuild is under way. I'm hopeful that means some fancy new international sales option will become available. Hoping hard.

We visited Helsinki a couple of years ago, and the coffee chain's Sir Robert's Blend — a Keemun-heavy mix — remains one of the best afternoon teas I've ever enjoyed. The catch: Robert's doesn't sell outside of the far-north countries in which they have shops. No website orders, no nothin'. Maddening, and my account of that blend's greatness increases in magnitude the longer I am denied some more. Sigh.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Japan goes Gaga over Lady's tea cup

If you were in the wealthiest 1 percent, what crazy celebrity trinkets would you bid on at auctions?

Someone this week paid $75,137.50 for a tea cup. Three months after the tsunami last year in Japan, pop star Lady Gaga was seen on Japanese TV sipping from this tea cup. The final sale includes the cup — which has "We pray for Japan" inscribed on its side in Japanese — complete with the Lady's lipstick marks

That was the second-highest bid at the auction. The most expensive sale was $137,900 for a crystal piano used by Yoshiki from the popular prog-metal band Japan X. (They're great. I interviewed Yoshiki once, and saw them at Lollapalooza.)

Proceeds from the auction benefit the Tomodachi Arts Fellowship Program, which helps Japanese art students study in the United States.

Continue: Did I leave this thing on?

I walked off and left the blog running.

Forgive me, I meant to stay away a week and left for six. Crazy busy, yadda yadda. This graduate school thing is great, except when you also work full-time. Last week — the semester's glorious finale — was a definite hell week but only slightly more insane than the previous 15. Suffice to say, first year of a master's is complete, and I'm coming up for air again.

Thank God for the tea. I said that most mornings, afternoons and nights as I studied and wrote. Not only does tea keep me alert and focused, it also serves another crucial function: If it weren't for the tea-fueled toilet breaks, I'd have gone far too many hours without so much as rising from the chair or un-hunching over the computer.

Things I've written about during the last nine months of graduate communication study: the protest music of Occupy (or lack thereof), depictions of economics in dystopian science fiction, the effect of audio dilation on speech comprehension in a driving simulator study, the history of autoethnography, the birth of language, the coming computing singularity, the BioMuse feedback music system, Woody Guthrie's para-social relationship with his radio audience, comparing the history of media studies to the oracle of the Tao te Ching, McLuhan McLuhan McLuhan, and my developing claim that all music is now background music.

So, I'm back. For whate'er 'tis worth. Today's tea tunes has nothing to do with tea, but c'mon, I gotta ...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pause: Tea in Texas yet again

Please forgive yet another delay in the posting stream. My travel tea mug and I are on the road again. I had to speak at a conference, and now I'm back in Austin, Texas, for the annual South by Southwest music hootenanny.

You can bet I'll be escaping mid-afternoon for a respite at the tea shop I discovered here last year: the Tea Embassy.

In the meantime, I managed to snag this adorable promotional card for a digital marketing firm in L.A. ...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Tuesday tea TV: Wu-Yi documentary

I've been down for days with a dreadful cold, the only upside of which was that I finally got to watch most of this five-part documentary series on tea production in the Wu-Yi mountains of China. Produced in 2009 (and thankfully translated into English), these half-hour segments are informative, sure (well, keep in mind this is produced without blemish by China's state television), but also loaded with some great scenery.

Watch: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Queen likes Fortnum & Mason, so will you

Queen Elizabeth, Camilla and Kate caused a stir this week when they visited London department store Fortnum & Mason.

Unfortunately, there seem to be no photos of the trio actually having tea. Allegedly, they did so "with some of the store's staff, suppliers and former employees." F&M's renovated restaurant now has been renamed the Diamond Jubilee Tea Station to mark the queen's 60 years on the throne.

I note the occasion only to trumpet Fortnum & Mason one more time. I visited there a couple of years ago on a tea junket. Their Grey Dragon Oolong is still one of my favorites, and the store is a delightful shopping experience, especially compared to the tourist insanity of Harrod's.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A splendid-looking kettle

More stuff to covet: Here's a splendid-looking — and obviously rugged — tea kettle ...

Spotted it on Uncrate, it's available here. It's also $70, but your kettle (electric or otherwise) is not the piece of teaware you want to skimp on. Dig the stainless steel/zinc construction and natural cork handles (genius).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tea: 'The symbol of all of Turkey'

This video shows a presentation by writer Katharine Branning related to her book, Yes, I Would Love Another Glass of Tea. It's a curious read, written in the form of letters to a historical figure named Lady Mary Montagu — the idea is to give an overall impression of Turkey and its rich culture, which includes a specific take on tea. "In my eyes," she says, "this little glass of tea is the symbol of all of Turkey."

Turkey is high on my tea-travel wish list, and Branning's talk makes it even more appealing (though I'd like to knock the video editor upside the head here). "In Turkey, you don't say, 'Breakfast is ready,'" she says. "You say, 'The tea has steeped.'"

I'm going to start doing that.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Covet this wooden tea table

Lainie at Lainie Sips posted a nifty photo on Facebook a while back — this photo:

That's one lovely tea table. It folds up into the chest you see lower left, with beautifully carved storage shelves inside the doors, leaves for extra space and a stout stool.

Comes from this China exporter, no price listed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wednesday Tea should happen eight days a week

Just a note to pass on a link — I wanted to comment in more than 140 characters ...

The Harvard Crimson published a story today (Wednesday) that I found quite touching. Seems a pastor at the university, the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, had a tradition of hosting Wednesday Tea. It sounds rich:

Immediately upon arriving at Sparks House, tea-goers would find themselves in the warm embrace of the Reverend. After an initial greeting, they would pass Gomes’ study — on the right — and enter the living and dining rooms — on the left — where tea was prepared. There, a designated “tea-pourer” would pour the steaming beverage from a polished silver tureen. Although the weekly event had little structure, the Reverend insisted on including typical Anglophile customs, choosing a different friend each week be the guest of honor and serve his visitors.

I now adore the Rev. Gomes. But he passed away last year. Nonetheless, students restarted the tradition last fall, and this story is full of students and faculty commenting on the revelatory aspects of these simple gatherings — "a real appreciation for the importance of social interaction and the preservation of communities," "hospitality in its purest form" and, indeed, "We don’t have anything like this in our culture."

Everything described here is exactly what I value most about tea. Read the full story here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thinker, sailor, soldier on and don't cry

These two are the totems of my table. The teacup, well, of course, always on hand. The wee Thinker — I bought him at a sidewalk market last fall. Deeply entrenched in graduate study, I looked at him and knew I needed his encouragement, his example. He sits by my computer, frozen in thought, as I hunch forward and crank the gears of my own creaky brain, analyzing research and cobbling together my own. Like a Buddha's belly, I sometimes rub his head for good luck before firing up Google Scholar and EndNote. Often, he's staring down into the tea cup, and I pity him because he looks like he'd love a cup.

My brain literally hurts. I've been away from this blog a short while (sorry, life happens), swamped by one of the busiest seasons I've experienced in a long, long time. Craziness at work, three grad classes, a personal life woven in there somewhere. I think back to a wealth of languid days last year, of afternoon teas that stretched on for hours (thank heavens for that well-insulated silver teapot of my grandmother's) — they seem like a dream. Thank heaven tea is as much a fuel for brain work as it is a social lubricant and a meditation for stolen moments. Those that I manage to steal nowadays are priceless.

I'm not complaining; you're busy, too, likely busier. I know so many unjustly laid-off people — busy is fine, busy is good, busy is a blessing I count every panicky morning. It feels great to have wind in my sails, even if I've no idea where I'm headed or how to get all this cargo home. Surely Robert Fortune had a few such moments.

(Forgive the dreadful pun in this post's title.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tuesday tea tunes: Pimped out

"Tea time," sing the Pimps of Joytime, "do you wanna have some?"

Why, yes. I would.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Teas I've been tasting

I don't do a lot of reviewing on this site, but here are some splendid teas I've been drinking recently ...

Stash Tea's organic Lu'an Gua Pian green tea has been a delight, a summery green throughout this thus-far mild winter. It's an open, flat leaf, like a Japanese green, but with a sweet taste — more floral than vegetal, especially on the finish — and a bright yellow liquor. Great on its own.

A colleague from China passed along a packet of wonderful green tea from the Enshi Huazhi organic tea company. I'd relay more details if I could read the package. Bright green in the cup, good grassy flavor, great for gongfu.

A new location for Adagio Teas has opened in downtown Chicago, and on a rainy afternoon I finally stopped in for some sampling. I made two discoveries. First, I'm not much of an herbal drinker, but I'd just had a massage and was looking for something without caffeine — and I had a pronounced craving for hibiscus. I was guided to the Wild Strawberry, full of fruit (pieces of apple and berries), hibiscus and rose hips. Totally not my thing, but I really enjoyed it and bought some; not a bad dessert tea. The star in Adagio's lineup, though, is the Fujian Rain, a fired oolong with an eye-opening balance of flavors: woody, barely smoky, and every cup tastes like you steeped it with mineral water.