Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: This Bird has flown

I posted this years ago, but the link seems to have perished. This bluesy tune crossed my path again recently, amid an afternoon of pining for Chicago's music scene, and it's worth repeating: the great Andrew Bird, "Tea and Thorazine."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: 'Cup of Tea'

Brian Vander Ark was always a gracious interview when I was on the beat (once, twice), and his band, the Verve Pipe, always possessed a melodic and strong structural talent that lifted them above other grunge-tinged, ’90s-born bands. This song's about the taste metaphor rather than the beverage itself, but somehow it just feels good in an autumn-approaches kind of way ...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Home of the brazier

Dig these beautiful braziers and more from this blog post (part of a series of instruction and experimental study) about learning to love the way tea was originally fired. Covet, much.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

New shop find: Leaf & Kettle

Found another great tea shop, drank some more superb teas — this time north of San Diego in Del Mar, Calif. The local tea-meetup gathered at Leaf & Kettle to learn about this excellent independent shop and to sample some of their offerings. It was one of those nights when the social chemistry sparked a bit (unusual for meetups), the shop impressed, and the tea absolutely wowed.

Leaf & Kettle has been open in a fancy outdoor mall for a couple of years. It's a classic, simple shop built around a tea bar, behind which are a few dozen stainless steel urns full of teas. Their alluring inventory is available online.

Jenna, the manager, poured three teas for our group. First, the organic Kagoshima Sencha, an aromatic spring green from Japan. The first cup was typically vegetal, even grassy (in that good Sencha way). The surprise was the second cup, produced with a counterintuitive shorter steep, which produced more bang for the buck, as it were. One of those teas that seems so light but really packs a wallop.

Next was the stunner: their Hunan Honey Black. Dry, it smells like brandy and freshly baked honey buns. In the cup, it's a rich black tea with a dessert finish — not uncomfortably sweet, not at all off-putting — tasting of chocolate-covered graham cookies. I say that with some irony, because those exact treats were on our table; this tasting note, however, was jotted down before eating one, which I did while enjoying the second steep (which really brought the unsweetened cacao flavor to the fore). The pairing was supreme.

The closer was a tea cocktail of sorts: she mixed an oolong and a fruit herbal (she also added some sliced fresh strawberries) over ice in a cocktail shaker, shook, and poured into glasses with ice and fresh mint sprigs. Very tasty, smooth, refreshing — if you go for the iced stuff. We asked for a second steep of the oolong by itself, Formosa Silk, which was an earthy delight — milky, buttery, a hint of sauteed mushrooms maybe. Had to buy some of that, eager to pair it with dinner.

It is a wonderful feeling, particularly after relocating to a new city, to find that tea shop that connects, that seems to offer just what your palette craves. Leaf & Kettle, hurrah, does so without the come-on of so many tea start-ups. Just a smart, classy joint.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: 'Texas Tea'

The phrase "Texas tea" refers either to petroleum gushing from a well or to a better-known cocktail cribbed from Yankees. Nonetheless, I've found this fresh electronic track by Deadbeat to be great brewing music ...

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Tuesday tea TV: 'My Proper Tea'

This is the best thing I've seen in a while. The performance-sync is spot-on, the rap is righteous, and I totally agree: nothing fires me to hip-hop-angry levels quite like improper tea prep. Enjoy Brit comic Doc Brown rhyming about, yegods, milk-first madness ...

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Monday, September 8, 2014

Buenos Aires: Yerba mate from the source

Academic pursuits recently afforded me the opportunity to cross the equator for the first time. Five days scheduled in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I was excited about (a) seeing water drain the other way around, (b) steak, steak, and more steak, and (c) drinking mate at the source.

You'd think the latter would be easy to find — particularly given stats claiming that "every man, woman, and child" consumes 11 pounds of mate annually — but you'd be wrong. While mate is consumed widely by Argentines, I found that to be largely a private endeavour. Try to find mate served in a restaurant or shop, and you do a lot of walking with nothing to show for it.

Mate is not something I've written much about on this blog. That's largely because the first time I tried a quality dose of it, I wound up with the worst headache I've ever had. Was it the mate? I steered clear, just in case. Since then, I've dabbled amid the trend without getting too excited about it.

Yerba mate has been celebrated as having all the kick of coffee with all the health benefits of tea. (Like most infusion-related health claims, these have yet to be seriously studied.) It's made from the leaves of a holly tree from the South American rainforest. The dried leaves are steeped, like tea, in hot (not boiling) water.

In Argentina, the custom is to steep the mate in a cured gourd and sip the infusion from a bombilla, a metal straw with a filtered submerged end. It looks like a bowl of grassy soup, and the flavor is very vegetative, like a strong white tea blended with sage and geranium.

After some serious hunting throughout Buenos Aires, at the 11th hour I found a restaurant that served mate — but only in the afternoons, after opening at 1 p.m. (or close to it, such is the Buenos Aires easy-go), and only in winter (which it was in August). Cumana, at Rodriguez Pena 1149 (east of one seriously interesting and beautiful bookstore, where I bought a book about mate, even though it's in Spanish, which I don't read), is a good traveler's find: affordable menu, good food, casual atmosphere, and snacky portions. Cumana serves a thermos of mate, with sides of bread or biscuits. The above description stands, and the caffeinated stimulation is significant. I enjoyed a gourdful prior to my departing flight, a 10-hour trek on which I expected no sleep, so mas mate!

A final photo: The family of Juan Carlos Pallarols has been turning out the finest silver ware in Buenos Aires for generations — which is saying something in a country that's name is taken from the Latin word for silver. They made the silver death mask for Evita Peron, and each president of Argentina receives a ceremonial staff made here. I walked to see his shop one morning (closed, alas), and the window display featured these sterling mate gourds. The next time I try mate, I'd like it to be out of this ...

Friday, September 5, 2014

Remembering John D. Harney

I'm late in celebrating the life of John D. Harney, founder of Harney & Sons, who passed away early in the summer.

An early "missionary of tea," Harney bought a small tea company as a savvy business move and turned it into the spearhead of America's tea renaissance in the 1980s. "All we wanted to do was get out there and convert — sort of like St. John with his gospel of tea," he said in an interview, as quoted in his NYTimes obit. "That’s what I consider myself."

Tea writer Bruce Richardson elaborates more personally in his appreciation piece, describing in detail how the missionary fervor came over Harney in his pursuits.

I enjoyed a brief afternoon chat with Harney years ago. He was immanently affable, humorous, and wise. He even read my tea leaves. You can read that old post here.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Do's, don'ts: going out, staying in

An acquaintance writes for Chicagoist and pointed me to this link, a story about how restaurants ruin a simple cup of tea.

One can read this as ever-so justified invective against careless restauranteurs, but one can also take much from its list for our own personal prep. The egregious errors ticked off in the story are as important to be cognizant of at home.

The water temperature issue — burning the tea — is easily managed, though so few do. Green and whites benefit from cooler water. If you don't have an electric kettle that delivers just the right temp, a simple thermometer can set your water straight. I fell in love with a coffee shop on campus not only because they have pretty good tea and selection but because during an early visit one of the baristas asked if I'd like her to put an ice cube in the cup over the tea to cool the water from the instant-boil tap. Not a perfect solution, bu better than nothing — and it showed knowledge and care.

Also, I've become something of an obnoxious evangelist against tea balls and novelty tea steepers. I know, I've posted pics of more than a few of the latter, admiring their design. But the things are really dreadful for tea. If someone finally breaks away from bags only to cram loose-leaf tea into a cramped mesh ball, they don't notice that much difference in taste. Let the tea be. Dream About Tea, a superb shop listed at the end of the story, serves several teas naked in the cup — no bag, no ball, no pouch, just tea leaves directly in the cup. Because good tea sinks.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: 'Tea and Toast'

Lucy Spraggan, a singer on the British "X Factor" show, wrote this moving narrative about the simple things in a couple's life ...

Monday, September 1, 2014

What I drank during my summer vacation

Didn't intend to take the whole summer off, just kinda happened, as life does.

Places I drank tea this summer:
— On my patio, staring into the canyon, decompressing after a strenuous but revitalizing school year. Keemuns and Yunnans and Earl Grey, oh my.
— The Tea Lounge in the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas. Not exactly an afternoon tea kinda town, but what a fantastic spread.
— The courthouse during jury duty. Swill, of course.
— Numerous spots in Buenos Aires. Tea and mate. More to come on that.
— At brunch ... after my wedding!
— Lakeside, in Idaho, in the dang-beautiful middle o' nowhere. Smoky souchong as autumn peeked in.

So, yes, back to brewing and blogging ... Thanks for sticking with me!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Tea tramp

Charlie Chaplin enjoying a tea break during filming, surrounded by nymphs of some sort.

Just because.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Kettle's on, soup's on

Every now and then, I run into posted recipes for tea soup. The variations are myriad, but the best ones, in my experience, center on green tea and salmon.

This is the one that crossed my path recently, a quickie from Samovar which trims away some of the traditional Japanese ingredients in favor of a few extra steamed veggies. The one that's always worked for me is this one: blanching some veggies, poaching the salmon, then steeping the tea in the broth. A little matcha for presentation is a fine idea.

Of note: there's also an old meat-fish-and-potatoes soup colloquially referred to as Fisherman's Tea, though tea is not an ingredient.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

All you need is tea

John and Yoko met in May 1968, a spring romance. Lennon was a regular tea drinker. One of my favorite details of the film "Two of Us" features Jared Harris, as Lennon, making tea for Aidan Quinn, as Paul. (Superb, underappreciated film, a speculative narrative. Check it out.)

A few years ago, Yoko wrote a lovely remembrance of "John Lennon: The Teamaker," including this little turnabout:

“Yoko, Yoko, you’re supposed to first put the tea bags in, and then the hot water.” John took the role of the teamaker, for being English. So I gave up doing it. It was nice to be up in the middle of the night, when there’s no sound in the house, and sip the tea John would make.

One night, however, John came up with “I was talking to Aunt Mimi this afternoon and she says you are supposed to put the hot water in first. Then the tea bag. I could swear she taught me to put the tea bag in first, but…”

“So all this time, we were doing it wrong?”


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tuesday tea TV: A very. Serious. Movie.

In what looks to be at least partially and unintentionally hilarious, yet another biopic of Rikyu has been made. Based on the 2008 novel Rikyu ni Tazuneyo by Kenichi Yamamoto, "Ask This of Rikyu" retells the tale of the teamaster from fish shop to the palace to ritual suicide.

Here's the trailer, which defies the basic tenets of teaism with exaggerated drama, a thundering symphonic score, and many furrowed brows ...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Crafty projects to dye for

Years ago, I monkeyed with tea-dying fabrics — with varying results. At first, I couldn't figure out what the attraction was to taking a nice, white piece of muslin and turning it, well, dingy brown. Then I learned how to get a little more creative.

Two things changed my outcomes: using a resist to make patterns, and using different liquids.

The resist: Dye the fabric, but beforehand apply a compound in words or patterns that will block the dye, leaving the pattern in the fabric's original color. Some instructions suggest using Elmer's glue; it's often not as easy to remove in the end as is suggested. I've used wax before — I used some beeswax I had on hand in a work bench, but you can buy wax sticks for this purpose, seen here. Crayons work, too, and look here for a nifty technique using bleach to white-out patterns.

As to the other liquids, nearly all tea-dying instructions you'll find discuss the practice in terms of black tea. (And use something inexpensive, of course. Don't waste your fine keemun on the drapes!) I suspect, however, that green tea would provide interesting, if subtle, results, too. I also suspect — having had the misfortune of spilling some on a carpet once — that strong herbals such as hibiscus would also work well. The trick: play around with different dyes on the same fabric. One project I enjoyed a while back: I dyed a set of white napkins with tea, but then I dyed their edges (an inch or two, by suspending them into the liquid with clothespins) with coffee, so there was a nice tea tint to the whole napkin plus ribbons of darker brown at the edges.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Tea in the pot — in the garden

At long last, I'm growing tea.

Unable to find the special varietals created for San Diego's particular climate, I ordered a Sochi tea plant from Nichols Garden Nursery up in Oregon. It arrived in splendid condition, a small plant well-established (a foot tall) and moist.

This Camellia sinensis Sochi variety originates, yes, where the Winter Olympics just took place — and one of the northernmost, historic tea-growing regions of Russia. This strain was developed to be especially winter-hardy, which I won't require in southern California, but we'll see how it does.

I've planted her in a firm mound within a half wine barrel salvaged from some debris on this property. I mixed some sphagnum moss, hopefully to aid in holding moisture in the soil (crucial here, especially during last week's awful spell of hot, dry wind). I've rigged a watering system throughout the garden, and it'll feed a dripping irrigation spout at the base of the plant, as well as a fogger I hope to run in the mornings. She'll have dappled shade from a nearby Scotch pine, and some late afternoon sun.

This is a hobby venture, not necessarily a productive one. I can't imagine I'd actually harvest and process any leaves — perhaps on a one-cup basis! Given the opportunity of this wonderful garden, I simply had to try to grow the plant that, on the other end of its life cycle, is so instrumental to my daily life. We shall see.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Smoke and sweetness

Magazine recommendation: Imbibe. It's a well-made, well-edited bimonthly for discriminating lushes like myself, but it doesn't skimp on the coffee and tea features.

The latest March/April edition features two items of note. First, there's a great profile of Steven Smith, the founder of two of the country's most influential tea brands, Stash and Tazo. It's a smart profile of the entrepreneur and his latest, sourced-tea venture.

Second, with the issue's focus on the Pacific northwest, there's a crazy cocktail recipe tacked onto a short feature about Clear Creek Distillery's liqueur made from Douglas fir trees. The cocktail — which sounds insane, great, and insanely great — is called Smoke Signals: bourbon, lemon and orange juices, the fir liqueur, plus a "lapsang souchong tea syrup" (which is just a half cup of the tea, sweetened).

I've used lapsang souchong to add smoke to meats and stews. It's so much better and more effective than liquid smoke. An actual simple syrup made with the piney tea would open up new avenues for flavoring, say, ice cream, apple, anything with maple, maybe subbing for some of the Karo in a pecan pie...?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: Bein' green

Spotted this attractive embroidery on Twitter recently. The Green Man has always been a favorite totem — I used to have a clay Green Man hanging on a tree trunk in a previous garden — especially in spring and summer.

Reminds me of a favorite XTC album track, too. A stretch for the Tuesday tea theme; just pretend Green Man loves his sencha ...

Monday, May 5, 2014

Hi, ho, Hario!

Hario is a nearly century-old glassware company in Japan, and they've generated excitement in recent years with new pour-over coffee makers. Now they've added teaware to their innovating.

Dig this Hario Chaor 4-Cup Tea Maker — a nice, big pot, with heat-resistant glass. The best part, though, is the roomy (important) strainer basket that retracts into the lid with a slide of the handle. Perfect.

Even better, if you're (understandably) averse to confining strainers, is the Hario Largo Tea Dripper, a twist on the coffee designs. The tea brews in the top glass bulb, floating free, then drains and strains into the glass pitcher below. Too bad there are no lids in sight.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tuesday tea TV: 3,2,1 ... tea bag!

I've been reading a lot of physics lately — the quantum kind, yegods — and I've read before some discussions of the physics of tea. Here, however, is a nice time-killer: a quick physics principle demonstrated by setting a tea bag on fire ...

Monday, April 28, 2014

The accidental teaist

Travel days, brought to you by crappy tea.

I know, I should bring my own bags and just ask for the not-hot water. I have, however, neither the foresight nor the chutzpah to do either. So I slump in my seat with the tray table down and ask the alternatingly cheery/brutish flight attendant for a cup of hot tea. No cream , no sugar, thank you.

On Southwest, there is no uniform tea policy. Sometimes you get a cup with a bag already brewing; other times, you get an elaborate delivery of artifacts — paper cup of hot water, tea bag, empty plastic cup (for the tea bag once spent, and it also can double as a heat-saving lid), small red plastic stirring stick. The tea, however, is always the same: a dusty little bag of Mother Parkers, a "beverage services" brand hailing from that renowned tea country, Canada.

It gets me by
while I fly.
Then the hotel room coffee machine,
tasting of latrine,
makes me wonder
why I wander.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

With great tea comes great responsibility

In his off hours, Spider-Man likes a cup of oolong, who knew? Too bad he's using a bag — though I suppose he's partial to the strings.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: Far out, man

This is either the kind of marathon tune you'll enjoy, chilling with a hot cup, or one that will have you shouting, "This is my happening, and it freaks me out!"

The band is Gong, Australian proggers from exactly the era it sounds like. The track is the title composition from the 1973 album "Flying Teapot," a concept narrative about "a pig-farming Egyptologist called Mista T Being sold a 'magick ear ring' by an 'antique teapot street vendor & tea label collector' called Fred the Fish. The ear ring is capable of receiving messages from the Planet Gong via a pirate radio station called Radio Gnome Invisible."

Like, heavy ...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Stay strong: the origins of 'weak tea'

The other day I referred to a politician's less-than-inspiring declaration as being "pretty weak tea." It's one of those colloquialisms that slips in, often unawares. But I thought: where'd that come from?

The phrase is utilized commonly to denote "something watered down compared to the alternative" and is often defined in reference to the diluting of our beloved beverage, "from the practice of adding boiling water to normally brewed tea to create a drink with less flavor and/or caffeine." Wordnik has added "an unconvincing argument" to the definition of "weak tea," which otherwise is "a dilute solution of tea."

One of my favorite things to do these days is spelunk through the Oxford English Dictionary. Alas, the OED doesn't define "weak tea" by itself, but it has tracked it within a few other definitions and quotations, all of which refer to actual poorly brewed tea rather than a metaphorical letdown.

Still, some good lexical fun ...

The earliest usage of "weak tea" as a pejorative beverage is 1825, in Robert Forby's Vocabulary of East Anglia, in reference to the word "lap," as in: to lap up your soup. Here, though, it's as a noun: lap being a diluted sustenance such as "thin broth or porridge; weak tea, &c." The same book applies the phrase to another, wilder one: "water bewitched," a colloquialism "used derisively for excessively diluted liquor; now chiefly, very weak tea." Years later, in an 1874 slang dictionary, "water bewitched" also had this note: "Sometimes very weak tea is called ‘husband's tea.’"

Weak tea being something that makes one miserable (adj.), it's also equated to miserable (n.), first in a description of the "miserable Mrs. O'Grady had prepared" (from Handy Andy: A Tale of Irish Life, 1842 — of course, the Irish would loathe a brew they could see through), and later in a kind of half-adjective, half-noun usage in a 1900 novel: "There was only a miserable tea left." The use of "miserable" as a noun, the OED reports, is "now rare."

A particularly situated usage of the phrase first popped up in an 1897 Journal of American Folklore as "switchel," a word used in and around Newfoundland for "a mug of weak tea given to the sailors between meals when at the seal fishing." But nearly a century later the term had about-faced, appearing in a 1974 National Geographic as "a ‘cup o' switchel’, as they call strong tea."

In the 1950s, weak tea could be referred to — in certain rougher circles, perhaps — as "gnat's piss." The OED has a ’66 definition of "gnat's piss" as "cider, near beer, weak tea or any drink." That's from a book called The ABZ of Scouse (which you can still find), a kind of guide to the dialect particular to the environs of Liverpool in the UK. (A while back, I wrote an appreciation of the late radio DJ John Peel, in which I referred to him, a Liverpudlian, as "a scouse." A brief back-and-forth with the fact-checker resulted in a footnote.) A Glossary of North Country Words, from 1846, also includes the word "wou," defining it first as "the worst kind of swipes" but then "also applied to weak tea, or any other worthless liquor."

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Egg hunting? Try Chinese tea eggs

As Easter weekend arises, no doubt many of us have eggs on the brain. The kind of egg dying I prefer to do as an adult, however, involves cracking the shells and boiling them in tea.

Chinese tea eggs are typical mixtures of beauty and nourishment. Here's a good recipe for the tasty snacks, fairly easy to make — though, in my experience, a skill requiring some finesse.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday tea TV: Irani teahouses

Interesting short documentary here: a look into some tea cafes in Iran. They're called coffee houses, but they don't serve coffee. Dig all the stunning urns and samovars!

"In Iran, taking a break without a hot cup of black tea would be meaningless." See, not so different.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Happy tea cup art

Just a bit of merchandise spotted at Disneyland recently —

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tea pot and cup rings

This photo of these adorable rings has been kudzu-ing along Twitter and Pinterest in recent weeks, but without any source information (like where to buy). If you know, do tell.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: Spring into tea

Spring has sprung, spring classes have begun, the world is looking up. Here's a chill celebration titled "Spring Tea Ceremony" by Oliver Shanti ...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Billions and billions of tea leaves

We've been enjoying the newly revived "Cosmos," on Sundays, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. That this show, which celebrates science (at the just expense of creationist loons), airs on the Fox network is surprising, but welcome.

I'm old enough to remember watching the PBS original, with Carl Sagan. That calm inimitable voice opened new vistas of wonder — the perspective of that "pale blue dot" amid all those "billions and billions" of stars. Sobering, and inspiring. I read his novel, Contact, as a young boy; I still think the belated film adaption holds up.

So I'm pleased to see that Adagio sells two signature tea blends celebrating Sagan: one is called Carl Sagan's Day Off, an intriguing mix of white teas and blueberries; the other, Carl Sagan's Apple Pie, a galaxy of black tea and billions of spices (way too many). The Day Off sounds perfect for a weekend "Cosmos" marathon ...

p.s. If you've not heard it already, don't miss this great song featuring an AutoTuned Sagan.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Celebrating (and rating) the stovetop kettle

I've been using an electric kettle so long now that I'd forgotten some of the actual joy to be had from a stovetop kettle. I adore my plug-in boiler, with its precise temperature settings. But I do miss the whistle of the stovetopper, and the warmth of the flame. Then again, I'm not even sure I remember where my stovetop kettle is, come to think of it ...

A UK blogger named Mike, however, is celebrating all stovetop tea things on a new blog, Stove Top Kettles. He's got 15 models reviewed and rated thus far, and one of his top 5 is an espresso maker.

The other thing I forget about stovetop kettles: their beauty as art objects. Just paging through a gathering of kettles like this blog is a reminder of the captivating design that goes into creating them — certainly much more than the electrics. Like this beauty ...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: No foolin'

No jokes here, just a Tuesday tea tune (they come in batches nowadays, don'tchaknow...) called "April Fool" by the Tea Cozies ...

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Happy anniversary (to me)

For our anniversary — 20 years, yegods — my partner presented me with this great set of china ...

Not only is the pattern somehow modernist and classic, colorful and classy — from St. Petersburg, adding to my Russian collection — I adore the silhouette of the pot. The lid is just that slim gold stopper, almost like a bottle, and the spout is a great pour. The cups are perfectly weighted. J'adore.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

Herb gardening: the perfect nursery?

I finally found the nursery I've been searching for — for years.

Ever since reading Adelma Grenier Simmons' 1964 classic Herb Gardening in Five Seasons nearly 20 years ago, I've been summoning herbs from whatever patches of ground have been available to me. I'm on my fourth garden now, and Simmons' book has been the starting point for the planning of each plot. In previous locales, however, I never found a nursery catering to the wide selection of herbs my winter dreams demanded. Here in southern California, though, I found a good one, at long last.

Pearson's Gardens & Herb Farm is a sweet spot tucked into a hilly, twisty residential area of Vista, Calif., north of San Diego. Started in 1981, it's been a wholesale provider all that time until opening to retail just six years ago. They claim "the largest selection of herbs, spices, and ethnobotanicals in the state of California," and after spending three hours today wandering (OK, practically skipping) the crunchy gravel walkways among their rows upon rows of neatly arranged tables piled with flats I've no reason to doubt the claim. I enjoyed a nice long chat with owner Mark Pearson and made it home with 54 different plants.

Some photos from the nursery ...

The tea connections here: I enjoy herbal teas for many occasions and remedies — but I tend to prefer the fresh stuff. Unlike tea proper, herbs produced for infusion lose potency and flavor quickly. I've rarely been bowled over by herbal teas — save for cinnamon tea on a chilly night, that sublime experience of drinking cherry blossoms (ha, speaking of), and I do sometimes rely on my Everyday Detox — unless, frankly, they just came out of the ground. In particular, my ground. Lemon balm is a longtime favorite — fresh or dried, into the pot, heavenly. Thanks to Simmons, I've learned the sublimity of tea made with sage and/or rosemary. Good ol' mints and chamomiles, too, have calmed many an afternoon. I look forward to rebooting a from-the-garden-into-the-pot regimen this year.

Verbenas are favorites, too, and Pearson's sells more than a few, including pineapple verbena — which they've tagged directly as Moujean Tea, a name I'd not encountered before but is apparently common. It's practically a bonsai-worthy herb, the way it grows in tidy branches with small leaves, and bees love it. Despite its name, it brews up a floral, vanilla-flavored infusion. It's going to be all I can do to let the plants get established before I start plucking directly into my teapot.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Nutritional chart for teas

For those who might be into hardcore number-crunching, Ian Chun of Matcha Latte Media recently translated nutritional values published by the Japanese government on various types of Japanese teas, plus oolong and black tea for comparison. The extensive chart breaks down teas — leaves and the infusion — by energy, water content, protein, carbs, minerals, vitamins, and more. No doubt the numbers vary wildly from brew to brew, but this info can give a basic picture for those watching their intake.

See the chart here.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Tea plantings at San Diego Japanese Garden

San Diego's Japanese Friendship Garden hosted its annual Cherry Blossom Festival this weekend. It's been a long drought here in California, with only two measurable rains this winter, and while the trees struggled to put on their show it was still fairly breathtaing. The garden's coming alive again, though — not only are the plants growing and rejuvenating, but the garden itself is expanding. A significant construction project at the bottom of the canyon will result next year in a grand new tea house (the foundation is kinda huge!), a kitchen, meeting spaces, and an amphitheater.

That means extra plantings, too — including a tea garden!

Along the southeastern slope of the JFG's canyon, in the heart of Balboa Park, more than 1,500 tea plants have been planted. Like the cherry trees, these are special hybrids developed to survive in San Diego's drier climate. Here are some photos taken during my last couple of volunteer shifts at the garden ...

If the tea does well, the garden actually plans to table the bushes, then pluck and process the tea, for use during the garden's monthly Japanese tea ceremonies (usually the first Saturday each month; see the calendar).

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: Here's lookin' at you, kid

Tomorrow, my partner and I celebrate 20 years together. Love is a superlative experience, worthy of every poem and song it has inspired. Allow me this reach for my weekly offering — it's the Cowboy Junkies, performing "Anniversary Song" on one of my favorite music shows from my old sweet home, Chicago. The refrain for this one goes like this:

Well I've known all these things
and the joys that they can bring
And I'll share them all for a cup of coffee
and to wear your ring

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: A ’60s cuppa

Yeah — a big-beat, British invasion track from, uh, a German band called the Rattles. "We will be there after tea," they sing, where they will "drink from golden cups." A 1968 single ...

Monday, February 3, 2014

Canada's Teapot Rock

Sip your tea, gaze at this.
Sip your tea, imagine sipping your tea on this spot.
Sip your tea, believe that someday you will.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A fine idea!

(via and for sale thru society6)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: Y'all

Some down-home, easygoing strumming — coupled with beautiful images of summertime and sun-ripe tomatoes, for those shivering timbers this winter — from the Elms, in a song called "Bring Me Your Tea":

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

New campus, new teas

No doubt you're like me — the first order of business upon relocating to a new workplace or school is to evaluate the available and nearby tea options. It took some doing, to my surprise, upon relocating to UC-San Diego. My previous campus, the Univ. of Illinois at Chicago, had a decent coffee stand next door to my office building, with loose-leaf tea options. It wasn't great quality, but it was at least loose-leaf and served with a modicum of care.

Now at UCSD I finally found (among the campus's plethora of coffee stands, noodle shacks, and even bars) the Muir Woods Coffee House. Basement location: awesome. Prices: lowest on campus (just a buck for a tall tea if you bring your own reusable mug). Loose-leaf teas: pretty great. Their main supplier is a tea joint in downtown SD, Cafe Virtuoso, with a fair stock of estate-grown picks. The English Breakfast is superb, with a fresh floral note that contributes to one's waking. Life-saving and life-enriching on beautiful SoCal winter mornings like this one ...

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: Young love

I've no idea who these high school kids are, but from the notes on the YouTube link and the performance cues the scenario here seems to be this: Sniffly cameragirl had a bad day, and boyfriend-of-the-year candidate attempts to cheer her up by singing about green tea. It's sweet, it's stupid, it's all of that, even the part about burned kitties ...

Monday, January 20, 2014

Gimme a break!

Perk No. 734 to my new Amazon Prime, free-shipping account: Matcha Kit Kats, delivered!!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Look for the yellow label

Just a cool vintage Lipton ad, circa 1935 ...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Tuesday tea TV: A smart kettle!

Nice! Finally, a tea-related app that actually does something super-useful — turns on (or keeps warm) the kettle!

The iKettle calls itself the "world's first wifi kettle," an unsurprising boast. You can program it to put itself to boil in the a.m., and it'll send you the only wake-up text you really want. When you get home — and your phone hits your network — the iKettle asks you if you want it to start up again. Effing genius! Just don't forget to refill it after each use ...

I really should have seen this before Christmas.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Tea relative blooming in January

My apologies for rubbing it in, to all you Midwestern folks shivering in wind chills and buried in snow, but I had to share the January view from my study window. That large, blooming tree is a camellia — not sure what variety, but a relative of the tea plant. I wasn't sure about that identification until its soft-pink, carnation-like blossoms started popping out early in December. A winter bloomer, here in beautiful SoCal!

Meanwhile, I'm engaged in my favorite wintertime activity: planning the garden. We've got a long, sunny terrace level at this new house, which I'm plotting full of herbs and veggies — and a tea plant or two, if I can (a) find an appropriate one and (b) keep it alive. We shall see.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Something different: Himalayan wine tea

Months ago, I acquired some of the intriguing Himalayan Wine Tea from Darjeeling TeaXpress — part of their occasional "exotic" offerings — and it was certainly worth seeking out and raving about. This being January, they're out of stock now, of course, but the seller says they'll order more after this year's second flush. Nonetheless, the tale ...

The Himalayan Wine Tea came with this explanation: "A very unusual tea – which is best served with wine. Mellow yet bold with a strong after taste, it provides a melody of hints in your palate that can only be manufactured in Darjeeling. If Darjeeling is considered to be the champagne of teas, then this is the true champagne of Darjeeling. The Reddish/coppery cup that is generally associated with autumn flush Darjeeling creates a complex taste in your mouth. This variety is highly recommended for wine lovers."

The tea itself brewed up exceptionally strong — my kinda tea — and alarmingly hearty, dark, and yeasty. Dry, it reeked of dark chocolate. In the cup, it smelled like the tea you make while traveling — in the hotel-room coffee maker that, try as you might, you can't wash the coffee taste out of. But not as bad as that sounds. It was high in tannins, and closed with a bold but not appalling bitterness couched within a surprisingly smooth, chocolatey rush. It really wouldn't be bad on its own. In fact, this might actually be a tea to pair with tira misu, or make it with!

Initially, I wasn't sure what to make of the "served with wine" instruction. I had to know more, and I wrote the company for details. The response: "This tea is originally produced by Goomtee plantation - aimed for their Japanese customers who pair it with wine. The flavour/taste profile of it makes it an excellent companion. But not everyone would like this combination, I have been warned by our tasters - so I would highly encourage you to try that. The Japanese drink it with their traditional Japanese wine, most prominent among them is Yamanashi red wine. I personally have not tasted that wine yet, but a mild red wine would pair well."

I first tasted the tea paired with a medium-bodied Louis Jadot beaujolais. Alternating the slightly chilled red with the warm-to-hot tea was an oddity on the tongue, but once a rhythm was found between tea, wine, and nosh, a cocoa-y undertone seemed to establish itself and enhance certain foods (veggies, no; meats, oh yes). I tried another pot later with a stronger wine, am Australian shiraz, which seemed to fare even better — the chocolate tones embracing each other instead of dueling, and bringing out each other's best qualities (muskiness in the tea, an aged quality in the wine).

For kicks, on the first tasting, I tried going one further: I poured the remaining cool tea directly into my half-full glass of beaujolais. The aroma was extraordinary — baking currants, sage, cumin, as if a dessert recipe had been made savory — though the taste was less exciting — thin, of course, and a slight balsalmic flavor, maybe even lime and/or mint, like a wine mojito. Bizarre.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

We like Siamese tea if you please

Here's a delightful and warm scene for your wintry blues — made by an illustrator named Francesca Buchko, who describes her inspiration here as being the two tea-drinking cats at the Verdant Tea shop in Minneapolis. A lovely story there, and the more I gaze at this piece the more I love it.

Dig her site with loads of similarly charming work.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: Righting all wrongs

Tea solves all life's problems, right? That's the idea behind this new promotional video from Yorkshire Tea — they of the nifty slogan, or as Rufus Wainwright calls them "the crystal meth of tea." Come for the nifty theme, stay for the impressive single-take tracking shot. (There's even a behind-the-scenes video about the making of.)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Spiking the spiced tea

If you're not a new reader here, you know this is not a teetotaling tea blog. Many's the post singing the praises of whiskey and black tea — great highballs, even my homemade chai liqueur — and over the holidays I found myself repeating a simple routine that returned much happiness.

Ahead of the season, I'd ordered the Christmas Tea blend from TG. I don't do blends much anymore (one of my few tea-snobbish allowances) but I thought some visitors might enjoy it during the seasonal merriment. It being a decent blend — black teas mixed with vanilla pieces, citrus peels, cloves a hint of nutmeg — I started making some afternoon pots around the house. Inevitably, I wouldn't get too far through the pot before it went cold. So as the cocktail hour approached one evening, I dropped a slug of whiskey into a cold cup of the Christmas Tea. Pow! The flavors popped, putting on a united front in a way they hadn't before. I started purposely pouring and ignoring the pots. I've done this with chais and other similar, spicy teas, to similar effect, but not with the zing this particular blend delivered. Forget the name, this will be a seasonal warmer through the equinox.