Thursday, June 27, 2013

Tea report from Morocco

Dear friends Mitch & Tanya recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary with an excursion through Morocco. I asked about any tea encounters, and Tanya provided this report:

The time: After breakfast. After lunch. After dinner. After you bought something from them. Before you bought something from them to entice you to buy ...

The flavors: The base was a bitter tea, but I never had any without fresh mint. They always asked if I wanted mint and I never declined it. After one meal we had in Essaouira, the tea was flavored with cinnamon, orange, mint and rose. It was lovely.

The delivery: On a silver tray.

The pots: Always the silver, fluted, Victorian-esque type like the kind you see in this photo I took [the photo above, from Tanya's exquisite photo blog] Never once did they use a purely functional or simple Japanese-type pot. And never clay or plastic pots. Always some kind of metal, always silver in color.

The tea receptacles: Cute little glasses, about 3 inches tall and 2 inches wide. They were generally indented in some fashion near the top, almost like a votive candle holder. The glasses were clear and not adorned in any way.

The process: HOT water, tea, fresh, unground flavorings floating right in the pot. No bags or screens. The local (it was always the local) would pour the tea from the pot WAY high into a glass — the stream of tea was usually 10 inches to a foot. Then he would pour that back in the pot. Then he would pour the tea from WAY high again into the same glass, and then back in the pot again. This happened four, sometimes five times before actually serving. We assumed this process was to (1) cool the tea and (2) mix the flavors. I was always the first to get one. They poured the tea to the aforementioned groove and hand me my glass of fucking. hot. tea. Presumably the tea steeped for a while before delivery.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tuesday Tea TV: 'The Tea Chronicles'

One of my favorite online personalities for years has been Charlie McDonnell, the cutie video blogger behind Charlieissocoollike. He and some mates have recently unveiled a short film, starring Charlie and featuring tea as its unsettling plot point. It's like a PG Tips commercial directed by M. Night Shyamalan (but, you know, satisfying in the end). "I'll bet you put the milk in first, too, didn't you? You monster!" Charlie cries.

Watch the full 10-minute reel here:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Drinking the days away

You've seen this beautiful design, I hope. It's a calendar — and each "page" pulled is actually a square of compressed tea you can drop right into your morning cup.

Knowing me, I'd cut out the middle man and slip them right onto my tongue, like a Listerine strip.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Jinkies! My glasses!

If you're reading this blog, chances are good you're doing so through corrective lenses. Possibly up to three-quarters of the population wear glasses, contacts, monocles — something to bring the ascenders and descenders into focus. My own glasses, I've found, are the key to moments of mindfulness.

It's simple, really: I take ’em off. During at least the first few moments of tea (alone), I remove my glasses. This leaves me pretty blind — the red blur over there is the pot, and I can usually line up the emerging brown liquid with the white blur — but, more importantly, it means I can't read, I can't focus on things out the window, I can't rely on the pair of organs that dominate our experience. The world Out There is less accessible. So I sit, turn inward, think. I have little choice. Perhaps my other senses heighten a tad, but I am mindful of the moment.

A weakness becomes a strength.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Tuesday Tea Tunes/TV: #teaspora

Here's a video that's every kind of cool — plus it's a lovely song.

For her newest tune, "Tea Song," Irish singer-songwriter Róisín O crowdsourced footage for the video, asking people to send in clips of themselves drinking tea. But not just any people — the request was made to Irish expatriates living around the world. It's a phenomenon referred to (and hashtagged) as the "teaspora."

"It’s crazy to think that, after growing up in the Celtic Tiger, so many of our close friends are now living and working abroad," she said. "That’s why we felt this idea for 'Tea Song' could be cool and a nice way to get back in touch with friends and family we haven’t seen in a while, and at the same time get in touch with fans abroad. And also share our mutual love for tea; it brings us closer as a nation!"

Monday, June 17, 2013

'A pinch for the pot'

Somewhere in the mists of my tea education, such that it ever was, I picked up the mannerism of adding whatever correct and required measure of tea to the pot — and adding a pinch. It had to be my mother saying this: "A pinch for the pot."

I've tried with little luck to find some origin for that expression, if it is indeed ever spoken outside my particular parlor. My only discoveries have been in late-19th century novels. Elias Power by John M. Bamford (1884) describes a "good lady" warming a teapot, adding "a pinch for each guest" and then "an extra pinch for the pot."

That squares basically with James Norwood Pratt. A seer of teaism, I asked him about this phrase. He hadn't heard it as "pinch," but said, "What I grew up hearing repeated is the hoary old 'a teaspoon per cup and one for the pot.' Both expressions are beyond tracing, no doubt, but I'll bet the pinch antedates the teaspoon."

My favorite reference though, is this passage from Frederic Morell Holmes' Faith's Father: A Story of Child-Life in London Bye-Ways (love those antediluvian titles!), because it describes the winking pleasure — the "low voice," as if doing something slightly naughty — with which I seem to have adopted this aspect of the teatime performance:

In course of time, however, he reappeared, bearing with him an old battered tin canister, out of which he ladled, with the greatest deliberation, two spoonfuls of tea, following them with a little "pinch for the pot," as he observed with a low voice. It was indeed quite a sight to see him cast in that last little pinch. He did it with such an aspect of extreme benevolence and generosity, as though he were exhibiting to the world a vastly magnanimous action, and was being cheered on by the spectators. Having done this, he closed up the canister with the usual difficulty experienced in making the lids of those articles fit on properly, and once more attempted his perilous passage across the floor.

I shall strive to restore this behavior prior to every pour.

Thursday, June 13, 2013


London's Daily Mail recently published a piece about the city's Volupte Lounge, which offers afternoon tea amid a burlesque show. They write: "Dancers dressed in traditional 1920s style corseted costumes perform while you enjoy your tea, teasing with the seductive style of dance which involves slowly stripping off items of clothing."

Here's my report from visiting the place a few years ago. I'm rather amazed they're still doing this, though I recall the place being packed to the rafters with, of all customers, bridal parties.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tea at Downton Abbey

All these months later, poor Dan Stevens is still apologizing for his character's deathly exit from the popular BBC series "Downton Abbey." In some of my catch-up reading recently, I came across an exclusive interview with Lady Carnarvon, the current resident at Highclere Castle (real-life stand-in for Downton Abbey) in the Coffee & Tea Newsletter.

In it, Lady Carnarvon describes the afternoon tea still presented at the castle (which now is a busy tourist attraction) and outlines the menu (egg and cress sandwiches, scones, jam, the works, plus a Victoria sponge cake), serving Earl Grey and breakfast blends. Answering a question about how afternoon tea has evolved over time, the lady says, "Not at Highclere," where the tea traditions have "stayed much the same, although we don't have tea in the Drawing room ever, tea is taken in the Salon or sometimes in the Music Room." She reiterates this again later in the Q&A: "Teatime has stayed the same, no special traditions."

For your summer garden party, Adagio has, of course, crafted a Dowager Countess blend, described as "stately and floral with a bit of smokiness for contrast. An elegant cup for an elegant lady/fearsome matriarch."

Remember, it would be a pity to waste a good pudding. #wordstoliveby

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tuesday Tea TV: Harry Connick Jr. in a tutu

A friend recently made me aware of an occasional segment on the "Ellen" show, in which two little girls with frightful British accents sit down to tea with whatever incongruous celebrity guest happens to be handy. It's pretty cloying — and I tend to steer away from anything that highlights the tea experience as the provenance of girls — though this episode featuring singer Harry Connick Jr. is amusing and amusingly awkward.

"I'm surprised at how comfortable I feel," Connick says as he dons a tiara and pink tutu.

The girls mention Connick's recent appearance on "American Idol," where he appeared as a mentor to the shrill harpies that pass for talent on that show. Talk about awkward and amusing — Connick was clearly driven to near madness as he tried to impress upon the warblers the value of the American songbook and that the songs are actually about something greater than however many notes you can cram into one syllable.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

From the kettle to the dog bowl

Rufus, our big white Muppet of a dog, usually joins me for tea. For the company, anyway. He curls up in his chair opposite me, and I confess I've wished sometimes that he could share a cup.

Make no mistake, giving regular tea to a dog would not be a great idea. Canine heart rates are high as it is. The last thing you'd want to do is hop up a dog on caffeine, which isn't great for dogs (neither is milk or sugar).

One tea company, California Tea House, has manifested this thought in an actual product: Machu's Blend, Tea for Dogs. They claim:

After consulting with numerous veterinarians, and compiling research on herbal treatments for canines, we put our tea blending skills to work for our canine companion. Machu's Blend tea for dogs is a once-a-day herbal tea comprised of Chamomile, Ginger Root, Fennel Seed, Skullcap and Calendula that not only promotes healthy skin and coat for your dog, but also lowers stress and aids digestion of dry dog food, easing the stomach and reducing gas. In addition, Machu's Blend is great for the prevention of bloat and treating dogs that suffer from seizures as well as motion sickness caused by car rides.

Beyond that, there's an additional whole line of herbal teas for dogs called Woof and Brew — five different blends allegedly perfect for pooches.

I still wouldn't recommend it, but there it is.