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 ...