Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Yes, let's

Just sharing this photo, which was Facebooked by a couple of friends who've just relocated to Leeds, UK. I couldn't help giggle more than I probably should have at the box of Yorkshire Tea in the background.

I came for the "160 bags for the price of 80"; I stayed for the fabulous slogan: "Let's have a proper brew." Henceforth, I shall begin each teatime with that gentle but insistent prelude.

Friday, January 18, 2013

White tea riot

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Look at the birds up in the trees!

Saw this over at fair-trade-minded shop Ten Thousand Villages: a beautiful tea tray hand-painted by Peruvian artists. Birds in the tree, sunny warm colors, all on reverse-painted glass. Stylish, handy.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday Tea TV: Tea on the lawn

Occasional flashbacks to my ’80s youth — a recent one took me back to "The Young Ones" and their dreadful tea parties on the lawn ...

Alas, I can't locate video of the clip I was really thinking of, when Neil kills the kettle and Vyvyan says, "Oh, no! That means we'll have to have raw tea again!" — as he proceeds to chew on a dry tea bag.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Tea ceremony can be of yore or yours

We use the word "ceremony" a lot in tea doings.

Every tea culture has one. Japanese chado, on any occasion, is peaceful and reverent, a conduit for meanings both profoundly universal and deeply personal. Chinese gongfu is fluid, skillful, utilitarian. Korean tarye is natural and relaxed. Outside of Asia, English afternoon tea is a certain celebration of civility.

These are each ritual in aspect, bearing out in some form the etymology of the word "ceremony," from the Latin meaning "holiness, sacredness; awe; reverent rite." But even the street culture of Burma, the mint tea cafes of north Africa, the mandated cups for visitors and buyers throughout southern Asia and the Middle East — tea throughout the world manages to express itself through ceremonial gestures and symbols. What is the Russian samovar if not an altar, a baptismal font?

At your table, together or alone, tea traditions can be maintained — or born. Learn the old ways, carry them on, forge the links. But also experiment, incorporate, transcend.

Friday, January 11, 2013

En garde! The art of tea dueling

I forget what lead to my brief flirtation with steampunk — I think I backed into the subculture while reading Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle trilogy — but a friend recently asked me if I was aware of tea dueling. It's a steampunk thing, and it beats pistols at fifty paces.

In a tea duel, the duelists sit across a table from each other. Each is armed with a cup of hot tea and a tea biscuit (butter cookie, what have you). Refereed by the Tiffin Master (or Mistress), the duelists dunk their biscuit into the tea for a count of five seconds, at which point the biscuit is removed. The duelist who waits the longest before eating the biscuit — without having lost any soggy crumbs or saturated pieces to the tea — wins. Victory is described as a "nom," and it's harder than it might seem.

Nerdy, but civilized. Complete rules can be found here in the "Articles of the Honourable Association of Tea Duellists" (sic).

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Make tea, sit: a manual

This blog post, "How to sit in a chair and drink tea," is every kind of awesome. It's a long read, but it ably captures the mindfulness required — well, you know — in every step within the simple act of doing just what the title says.

"Run water into the kettle, feeling its growing weight, and take a moment to smile at your fortune if you did not have to leave the house to do so." So true.

"You will now confront one of modern society’s ever-present dangers, which is the risk of distraction we face whenever nothing interesting happens for a few minutes." Preach it.

"The tea will take a few more minutes. Good! Those minutes are a little present, just for you, only because you welcome them." Amen, brother.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tuesday tea tunes: Outside the box

If you've ever described a cup of tea as pure poetry, here some young musicians pushing that notion to the extreme — with an improvised song based on the words from a box of organic black tea ...

Monday, January 7, 2013

The ups and downs of tea science

As a curious person by nature, one of the fun parts about being enrolled in a university is having access to research libraries. Nearly any paper published in an academic journal is usually a couple of clicks away. You'd be amazed — at least I was recently — at the amount of research still going on into the continuing mystery of tea. Just in the last year, papers have included "Chemistry and Pharmacology of Caffeine in Different Types of Tea Leaves," "The Chemistry and Biotransformation of Tea Constituents" and "Flavour Chemistry of Mate and Some Common Herbal Teas."

But chemist Matthew Harbowy, who's focused a lot of his own work on tea and caffeine, has taken to Quora (a question-and-answer service with massively greater credibility than most "answers" sites) in recent months to bring a lot of this kind of research out from behind academy walls.

For instance, Harbowy tackles a question I've heard debated almost as often as the great milk-first debate: "Does bouncing your tea bag actually do anything substantial?" After discussing the Noyes-Whitney equation, the hydrophobic barrier and several experiments, he concludes: "Within statistical error, under almost all testing conditions, I cannot find a difference between dunking and not dunking under controlled circumstances, so do it how you want."

Also see his answers to "Does green tea have more caffeine than black tea?" and "How much caffeine is there in jasmine tea?" He's also a contributor to the scholarly collection Caffeine.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Natural look, natural feel

New favorite home-decor source: Leif, a supplier of artistic living accessories and tabletop pieces hewn from natural materials and designed to look that way.

Dig these cups — this one (pictured) is called Brushed Snow and is made in Japan. Other cups in this same shape are wrapped with wood grain, or real cedar for the sake cups. They also have some beautiful, ghostly glazed tea bowls. Best part: great prices.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

New Year hibernation

When New Year week is over, people are likely to be sitting around the fireside to enjoy a kind of hibernation, making and drinking tea all alone. They do not mind having no guest. Their own favorite scroll in the alcove, a single flower, a kettle put on for themselves, a Korean salt-dish teabowl of their liking or the warmth of an oo-zutsu (large tube) teabowl — all are enjoyable. If perchance, a tea friend of their unexpectedly visits them, it must be doubly joyful. — Sasaki Sanmi

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Tatezome new year's tea ceremony returns

Hey, locals: Each January, Urasenke Chicago presents a New Year's tea ceremony (Tatezome) and hosts a nice luncheon afterward at the Japan Information Center. I attended and wrote about it a few years ago, enjoyed a rewarding afternoon and met some lovely folks.

The next one is scheduled for Jan. 26, and here's a video of last year's ceremony ...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Tuesday tea tunes: Little anchors

Here's hoping all your holiday travels were safe — and not as wobbly as the planes in this video — and that you, in this new year, "Stay Grounded" like British indie-folk singer Tom Williams does with tea and toast ...

Tea people and the new year

The new year comes with the vanguard of the first streak of daylight accompanied by the burnished dawn wind, in a stately and majestic way. The new year is decked out awe-inspiringly, faultless and graceful. Tea people are pious, serious and peaceful as they welcome it. A new year brings out the gift of myth, classicality and delight. Tea people receive them with admiration, nostalgia and ecstasy. As everything is full of celebration, gratitude and joy, tea people are busy but happy.
— Sasaki Sanmi