Blast From the Past: T.E.A.


Time
Energy
Attention
These are the elements of TEA

Time to sit quietly;
Energy to boil and brew;
Attention to the aroma and flavor.

Time
Energy
Attention
Where in life do we find these gifts?

Time to listen to someone;
Energy in our movement and creativity;
Attention to the marvelous world around us.

Time
Energy
Attention
These are also the elements of our daily choices.

What will we do with our time here?
How will we spend our precious, limited energy?
To whom or what do we give our attention?

We are the brewers of our own TEA,
Every minute choosing how to blend the three.
A pinch of this; a dash of that; mixed together perfectly.
The artistry of creating how we spend each moment,
Is behind the simple word of TEA.

©2012 Joanna DeRungs

Originally posted in January 2012 by Joanna DeRungs

Photo “Clock detail of La Torre del Rellotge in Barcelona Spain” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0 Generic to the photographer Arjan Richter and is being posted unaltered (source)

The post Blast From the Past: T.E.A. appeared first on T Ching.



Kyobancha, the Winter Warmer – T Ching


There’s nothing like the smell of a wood-burning open fire in the dead of winter to make you feel warm and cozy.  But if you don’t have a real fireplace, there’s another way to snuggle up!

A fairly unfamiliar Japanese tea called Kyobancha will fill your home and heart with a smoky, toasty fragrance that smells just like a log fire. The strong woody aroma gives way to a surprisingly mild yet edgy tea that can be enjoyed at any time of the day. It’s also proven–by sake-swigging salarymen–to be one of the best hangover helpers known to man!

Kyobancha is made with the larger leaves gathered from the deep pruning of the last harvest of the season in October or the first harvest in March. Many houses in the Japanese countryside have their own tea plants and will create a rough tea they call kansha from this harvest. What makes it a kyobancha is an entirely different thing.

Kyobancha reigns from Kyoto where tea masters first started smoking tea for this unique, addictive flavor. It’s rare because it isn’t popular or even really known outside of Japan.

It’s believed that Kyobancha morphed into Houjicha, the roasted–not smoked–tea that is a daily staple of all Kyotoites and a nightcap for most Japanese. Often Bancha is referred to as Kyobancha, meaning Kyoto Bancha, but it’s the sultry smokiness of authentic Kyobancha that makes this tea special and not to be confused with anything else. Kyobancha is also called akachan bancha or “baby’s bancha” because there is virtually no caffeine in it.

To produce Kyobancha, the leaves and stems are pruned, steamed, then sundried and packed in brown sacks for two to three years for aging. The main difference between this tea and a traditional houjicha is that the leaves are not rolled after steaming like they are in a roasted houjicha.

Once aged, the leaves are fired in an iron pan over a smoky flame to give it that alluring smoky finish. When you see this tea at first glance, you might think someone just went outside and swept up the autumnal foliage! With its huge open leaves and stems, it differs radically in appearance and taste from roasted Houjicha, which usually has smaller, almost curly brittle leaves and produces a toffee or fruity finish.

Kyobancha is a goof-proof tea usually made on the stovetop in large quantities by simmering it. Macrobiotic followers like to simmer it for at least 10 minutes but a more common method is using a two- or three-minute simmer. Both are delicious so give each one a try and let the warmth embrace you as the snow falls outside.

Image provided by and copyright held by author

 



Some Intermediate-Level Ideas About Tea – Part 2


Continued from yesterday’s post

Varying exposure; South East Asian teas:  Off the broad themes here, it’s worth considering exploring tea types and sources outside China, Taiwan, Japan, and India.  Not that anyone could ever really “get to” all the tea types in China, or even do justice to just sheng pu’er or wuyi yancha.  The “generalist” approach is kind of assumed then.

To me, it’s interesting trying something new versus only enjoying ever-improving close variations of past experiences.  Trying teas from less traditional source regions gets you that, even though they are harder to turn up. There are significant other challenges, like most of the mass-produced oolong coming out of Thailand not being very good (relatively).  And the rarer teas out of Vietnam are all but impossible to even hear about, never mind buy. Teas from Indonesia, Laos, and Myanmar just aren’t widely available either. Exploring versions from Nepal might be easier, but then finding others that are hard to find could make for an interesting endeavor.  One good lead for hearing about what’s out there in detail is my own blog, Tea in the Ancient World.  It’s crazy what has turned up in the past year.

Real forest-sourced tea, a special NGO project in Laos (photo credit and details, CCL web page)

Tea group themes:  I touched on this specifically not so long ago (see Online Social Networking Related to Tea – Part 1 and Online Social Networking Related to Tea – Part 2) so I’ll keep this short. No matter what page you are on there’s a tea group out there that will be a close enough match.  There’s no need to lose hope because some seem too snobby and others aren’t into even hearing about single type loose tea. Put another way: tea perspective and culture seems to bunch up at those two extremes.

Keeping pace with others in tea exploration:  Don’t even try.  The interest is yours, and trying to achieve some benchmark for getting through a certain range of knowledge or experience or owning a “normal” amount of gear might only ruin it.  If leaning into those or other pursuits is a good match for you then go for it, or even if making it a competition is. To me, the core of experiencing tea is liking what’s in your cup at the present moment, and all the rest of the context and framing is secondary.  Then again I never really was into “finding my tribe,” related to anything I did.

Functional tea preparation doesn’t require a lot of equipment

Over and over I hear humble-bragging about how “I’m not really a tea snob, but I do own or have tried (whatever it is, often a list).”  A photo alone can imply all that, or a statement like “it’s crazy how many types I’ve tried.” There are groups for that: circles in which owning tea gear, or tea collections, or rare teas (or all of that) is the norm.  Or I suppose also places where knowing a lot about processing, local Asian cultures, history, or tea genetics is valued; but at some point, the themes do run out of enough shared interest level to collect members into a group.  

The nice part about a tea interest is that people can make of it what they want.

Image 1 source
Image two provided by and copyright held by author



Some Intermediate-Level Ideas About Tea – Part 1


Related to the social media theme, I tend to like to talk in places where people are newer to tea because I can help people more there.  The “expert” groups are nice for a different kind of reference and discussion. Even in those places it often works out that a newcomer who really isn’t very far along the experience curve can help prompt really good discussion with questions.

Here I’d like to explore some ideas from a middle ground, the kinds of things people pretty far through a learning curve probably took years to become clear on.  Of course in some cases even “the basics” relate to potential differences of opinion, so to be clear this is all just my take. This moderate length writing format doesn’t allow enough room for full-context discussion and treating exceptional cases or opposing views.

Brewing temperature:  Really a 1000-word post couldn’t do this subject justice, but I want to quickly map out a few ideas.  Those brewing temperature tables aren’t wrong as a starting point guide, even though their suggestions vary quite a bit.  It’s also not wrong that essentially all teas should be brewed Gong Fu style using boiling point water (or just below it), and short infusions; even for green teas, for some.  But the two contradict. Preference variation is part of that, but some people claim that using anything but boiling point water for good oolongs is doing it wrong.

There seems to be a natural progression towards using Gong Fu brewing more once you get familiar with it, and it works a lot better with higher quality teas to use very hot water than it does with lower quality versions.  That sketch doesn’t resolve all the contradictions but it maps out some main themes that lead to some of them. Really for people who feel they represent a more authentic Chinese tea preparation tradition, what “Gong Fu” brewing really is wouldn’t be a simple subject; but a lot of people just use that as a reference for using a different proportion of tea to water, more infusions, and a different teaware device (gaiwan or clay pot, typically).

A recent Liu Bao tasting; Gongfu style brewing can be nice for comparison tasting

Tea exploration, vertical versus horizontal:  Of course this one really is a matter of preference.  I just talked to a vendor who prefers to stick mostly within the scope of Taiwanese teas even for personal consumption, and that’s fine: very reasonable.  For me, it works well to adopt an organic approach, to get to whatever comes next naturally: whether that relates to exploring better quality teas within a limited range or being all over the map.  Or not exploring much at all is still a valid judgment call. Advocating exploration of what else is out there as an option might bring up an implied “tea snob” context since there’s really nothing wrong with someone mostly drinking blends, or Harney and Sons-level “pretty good” teas.  Sticking to tea bag teas is pushing it; that’s like someone with a coffee interest only drinking instant. Up to them, but why?

A Vietnamese version of a rare Chinese version of sheng pu’er (I think), called trà chít there

Appreciating flavor versus mouthfeel, aftertaste, and “cha qi,” drug-like effect:  That’s already most of what I want to express: that over time people tend to expand what they like about teas.  To me, it’s not that I want a tea to have a certain mouth-feel–for example–more that the way varying types of aspects balance can be nice, or not work well.

All images provided by and copyright held by author

To be concluded tomorrow



Tissanes for Man’s/Woman’s Best Friend


My daughter rescued an older dog, Mavis, about a year ago. Jennifer was willing to adopt an older dog and said she’d be interested in a dog that was 4-6 years old. She found Mavis and fell in love. Mavis is deaf and going blind but that’s not stopping her at all. She was found in Alabama with 74 dogs who were locked up in cages and surviving in horrible conditions. We’ve all heard stories of similar abuse but meeting Mavis brought the issue home to me on a different level. A trip to the vet uncovered an old chip that had been placed in Mavis, perhaps by her original owner. It appears that Maris was 11 years old. I had my concerns about a dog who was clearly a senior, with multiple handicaps, but Jennifer was already all in. She was in love and it seems to be mutual.

Mavis has made a remarkable adjustment to her new circumstances but continues to have some anxiety when my daughter leaves the house without her for any length of time. It’s as if she keeps waiting to be abandoned. I came across a solution that I’m eager to share with Jennifer: Barking Mad Creations.

I hadn’t realized that dogs can also benefit from medicinal herbal teas, just as people do. Of course, certain herbs are contraindicated for animals but this web site seems to have done some investigative work for simple blends that are most appropriate for your pet. I’m eager for Jennifer to try the anxiety blend with Mavis to see if she can be more comfortable when left alone. If she can improve that situation, Mavis can live out the rest of her life in comfort and peace. If you try something for your furry best friend, please let us know.

Photo “Drink Me” is copyright under Creative Commons-Non Commercial Attribution License 2.0 to the photographer Mark Hillary and is being posted unaltered (source)



Blast From the Past: Trusting your senses to make a good cup of tea


I trust my senses to make a good cup of tea, but that has not always been the case.  As a novice loose-leaf tea drinker, I was afraid to trust myself.  I rarely made a cup of tea without my tools.  As the years passed, though, I ditched the thermometer and the timer and learned to trust my instincts through touch, sight, and experience.

Loose-leaf tea can be more than just a delicious cup of tea – it can be a sensory experience.  I began making tea in a glass teapot so I could enjoy the sight of the leaves opening and releasing their flavor and the water changing colors and taking on the goodness of the leaf.

My first tea job was serving people tea at demos at local specialty stores.  I encountered many people who had never had the sensory experience of loose-leaf tea.  They had never seen what was inside a tea bag.  After seeing my thermometer and timer, some became intimidated.  Many asked if they absolutely needed a thermometer, a timer, and a teapot to make a cup of tea.

It’s a balance I have had to find when I speak to customers.  The level of knowledge and the depth of tea passion vary.  I tailor the conversation depending on how far a customer wants to go with their knowledge and tea education.  The bottom line is always a good cup of tea, but a good cup of tea will vary depending on the road the customer wants to take.  Regardless of the process, I always tell people to trust their instincts.

My process has changed over the years.  I mentioned ditching the thermometer, but for me it was after using it for months.  As I used the thermometer, I always touched my water-cooling vessel at the point at which the boiling water hit it, throughout the cooling process, and when it reached the desired water temperature.  Over time, I gained a feeling for different water temperatures.  I did the same with the timer, but used a different technique.  I began to pay attention to the color of the infusion.  This takes me back to the glass teapot.  For me, it was crucial to use a glass teapot to be able to judge the rate of infusion and the color of the brewed tea.

Every Friday morning, I conduct educational tea tastings at work.  I don’t use a thermometer or a timer.  My technique was validated when my colleagues complimented my tea-making skills.  It’s one thing to refine my technique to fit my palate, but pleasing others gave me further confidence in my tea-making instincts.

Originally posted by Susana Mojica in January 2011

Photo “Hot Tea, Blend 333” is copyright under Creative Commons-Non Commercial Attribution License 2.0 to the photographer Alyson Hurt and is being posted unaltered (source)



Pairing With Durian Desserts – T Ching


Yet another list specifying more than 150 dishes in tiny print, all on a piece of 8 X 11 glossy paper! This time it is the menu of the newly opened “SweetHoney Dessert”, hailing from Hong Kong. The menu section entitled “Glutinous Rice Balls” lists 12 sweet courses, including Sweet Potato Soup with Glutinous Rice Balls, Sweet Ginger Soup with Glutinous Rice Balls, and Sesame Soup with Glutinous Rice Balls. If the verbatim specification of “Glutinous Rice Balls” for each item could be eliminated, the page would look less confusing and cramped. Can everyone guess the most expensive dish? It is a bowl of Stewed Swallow Nest with Fresh Milk at reasonably priced $15.45.

The fruit durian, whose appearance resembles porcupinefish, holds a special place in the heart of SweetHoney Dessert’s team who devotes an entire menu section, “Durian Special,” to this exotic produce. I ordered Durian Mochi, Durian Pancake, and Durian Pudding during my visit; all were delicately prepared and yummy. However, 10 minutes into the tasting session I was re-studying the menu, hoping to order some hot tea to complement durian’s outlandish flavor and creamy texture.

At my previous workplace more than fifteen years ago I savored durian for the very first time. A Vietnamese colleague considered those of us who had never tasted durian deprived of life’s pleasures and brought one to the office. The tasting was held inside a conference room to contain durian’s peculiar aroma: in other words, it smells. This past September, in the Philippines, I had fresh durian again. Mangosteen deserves to be the “queen of fruits.” How could durian be the king, as considered by many in Southeast Asia? It does not have any of a typical fruit’s common traits.

SweetHoney Dessert does not offer one single tea. I am still pondering which teas to pair with durian desserts…



Spilling the Tea: Behind the Tea – Part 2


In conclusion of yesterday’s post Spilling the Tea: Behind the Tea – Part 1

I was curious to find out about the Tea Research Institute and their efforts to expand their knowledge and methods of tea growth and production. I thought you might be interested in the following, which is right from their website:

“The Institute has developed over 914 improved clones, out of which 51 clones have been selected for consistent superiority in yield and quality and released for commercial exploitation by both smallholder and large estate growers. Thirteen of these clones yield between 5,000 and 8,000 kg of processed tea per hectare per year. These yield levels are some of the highest in the world and are three times the average yields of unimproved tea varieties.”

Oh, and there is plenty more to discover by checking out their site:

LEARN ABOUT THE TEA RESEARCH INSTITUTE

Now, for the part I found just as interesting: Mr. Karanja mentioned his late grandfather–Mr. Kirori Motoku–a man who had to undergo some extremely turbulent times in Africa. A man who wanted what was rightly his. A man who fought to take back what was taken from him. This is the “spilling of the tea” part. The truth about those who invaded other lands, took from them, and exploited them; and how they had to fight just to be farmers. Yes, we know there was/is a dark side to the world of tea – one that is probably not gone entirely as of yet.

FREEDOM FIGHTERS JUST WANT THEIR LAND BACK

Many have “spilled the tea” about tea in the past; however, something deeper happens when we not only sample the tea, but ask about the tea, too. In learning about the tea, one also discovers so much more.

I am compiling this post on the fourth day of Kwanzaa – a celebration in America for honoring African heritage in African-American culture. Day four of the weeklong festivities is called Ujamaa, which is about Cooperative Economics. African-Americans celebrate building and maintaining their own stores, shops, and other businesses as well; and profiting from them together.

LEARN ABOUT THE DAYS OF KWANZAA

Cooperative Economics seems to be the mission of the Kenya Tea Institute as well; however, we best serve the tea industry by making tea a global initiative, too.

I’ve been spilling the tea for over fifteen years now, but it’s usually been on a tablecloth!

Paul (Kevin) Karanja has plans to open a tea and coffee shop in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area. You can check out his profile on LinkedIn. He welcomes any of your inquiries.

PAUL (KEVIN) KARANJA ON LINKEDIN

May 2019 bring global cooperative economics and unite the world of tea!

Image provided by and copyright held by author



Spilling the Tea: Behind the Tea – Part 1


“Spilling the Tea” seems to be a phrase associated with drag culture especially if you watch any episodes of “Ru Paul’s Drag Race”. If you’ve never heard the expression before, pay attention: it’s showing up everywhere.

I’m bringing it to your awareness today for all the global tea farmers that not only struggle to get their tea to the buying public–and that is after all their great efforts to grow and produce their leaves–but I’m also doing it for all of those who have battled for decades just to be farmers.

“Spilling the tea,” means spilling the truth, revealing the truth, telling the truth.

Most of us do not know the truth of the tea farmer and everything he or she has been through in their journey to bring us tea.

The internet and social media are helping us to become more aware, this is true, but do we dig a bit deeper when asked to sample the tea of a farmer?

When approached by Paul (Kevin) Karanja from Kenya to sample his White Silver Needles tea, and upon composing this post I wanted to dig deeper.

His selection of white tea arrived quickly, and it was beautiful to behold. Soft and delicate little leaves still holding on tightly to their fine silver velvety coating it looked like as fine of a sample as I’ve ever seen before. It tasted light, floral, with some sweet vegetal hints, which left a honey-like taste in the back of my throat. The infusion was faint, the aroma suggested spring with fruity overtones, and simply begged for another steeping and then another.

No, not all white tea is good white tea, as many of us have discovered, and this one did not disappoint at all. However, it was just another white tea tasting and I wanted more. I wanted the “tea” about the tea the “tea” about the area, about the farmer, about the land, about the history, about the family. I wanted to spill all the “tea” about the tea. Simply sharing the tea itself just wasn’t enough.

I contacted Mr. Karanja through LinkedIn with several questions several times!

Here is one of his responses:

“The tea is grown at the slopes of Mt. Kenya Region, a place called Kirinyaga. We are small-scale tea farmers that join hands to produce the White Silver Needles Tea. The tea does well because of the high altitude and because we are close to the equator.”

After more questions:

“Yes, I am a tea farmer, and my late grandfather was a tea farmer from a tea growing region in the slopes of Mt. Kenya. My grandfather and mother had been tea and coffee farmers for most of their lives. I learnt about the white tea variety from the Kenya Tea Research Institute. The White Tea Pilot Project began in 2013 with various tea farmers from the Mt. Kenya Region. My company’s name is PAKEV INTERNATIONAL. I am currently developing a website.”

There is much to learn about this region of the world. Please use the link below to discover this amazing county in Kenya. It’s much cooler in temperature than I ever dreamed it would be, and wait till you learn about how much rain they get annually in that area!

LEARN ABOUT MT. KENYA & KIRINYAGA COUNTY

Image provided and copyright held by author

To be concluded in tomorrow’s post



Jamming With Pleasure – And Tea


Counting our blessings at the end of a tumultuous year is never a bad idea. Despite all of the things going wrong in our world today, taking care of ourselves (and others) by lovingly preparing a nice meal or stopping to make a batch of preserves can take you and the lucky recipients of your largesse through the season and beyond. I for one am always grateful when I peruse my tea cabinet and behold the varied riches and inspiration contained within it. Resolved to do more than just drink the tea, I set out to make the most of the current citrus season in California (the bounty of which is widely available in other parts of the country) and create a citrus marmalade flavored with tea.

On a recent visit to my local farmers market, I found table after table filled with kumquats, blood oranges, Cara Cara oranges, Melogold grapefruit (the kind with a fragrant non-acidic juice but, alas, many seeds), bright skinned and floral Meyer lemons, tangerines, and clementines of many sizes and sweetness/tartness levels, and subacid Oro Blanco white grapefruit. What to make of this beautiful array? A tutti-frutti blend cooked with sugar into a sparkling marmalade, topped off with a splash of well-brewed potent tea (Darjeeling would be my choice here but feel free to use whatever tea is your current favorite).

There’s a contemplative calming effect to preparing your own marmalade. Here’s how I do it.

Simply wash in soapy water however many Mason jars and lids you estimate you will need (depending on their size—pints, quarts, etc.). Also wash a metal spoon to use for stirring the marmalade and a tool to transfer the finished product into the jars. Sterilize all in enough boiling water to cover the tops of the jars by at least 3 inches. Keep all of this in the hot water until ready to fill while you are making the actual marmalade. You can bring the water back to the boil again just before you are ready to fill the jars.

Assemble a collection of citrus fruits with as varied of colors and sweetness levels as you wish. Wash them well. The pleasurably-focused and somewhat time-consuming part of the process is as follows: Other than for kumquats (with their sweet skin and tart flesh, which simply must be quartered with seeds removed) handle the fruits in the following way: Using a small serrated knife, cut a thin slice from the ends of each of the fruits to allow them to stand firmly on your cutting surface. Using that same small serrated knife, now remove the remaining peel from each of the citrus fruits. Then using a metal spoon, scrape away and discard about half of the pith–the white under-layer–from the peel. Then cut the peel into strips about an inch in length by half-inch wide or thinner if you would prefer. Reserve the fruit and all the juice that you yield in the process.

Now bring all the assembled peel (and quartered kumquats, seeded, if using) to boil in a generous amount of water. Once the mixture is at the boil, reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for about 5 minutes and then drain the peel through a sieve, discarding the water. Repeat the process two times more, discarding the water each time. The goal here is to have citrus peel that is meltingly tender but not disintegrating into a mush. If it is still not tender enough, continue cooking in water. Remember that once the peel is cooked with sugar it tends to toughen–not tenderize–so it is vital that the peel is tender before that point.

Now place a glass or porcelain plate into the freezer which you will be using later to test for adequate thickening of the marmalade.

At this point, you are ready to mix the cooked peel with segments of the fruit (removing the segments cleanly by inserting a small sharp knife into the membrane on each side of the fruit segment). Weigh the fruit segments, the now-tender peel, and the juice. Weigh out an equal amount of white sugar and place all into a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to be sure that the mixture does not burn on the bottom or sides of the pot. Be prepared as well to skim off scum and seeds which rise to the top of the mixture as you go. At this point, for each 4 pounds total of fruit, sugar, and juice, add 2 cups of well-brewed tea and bring again to a boil. (Any additional seeds you have missed will most likely float to the top of the scalding mixture and can be carefully removed as you see them emerge.) Continue cooking over a medium-high flame until the mixture reaches approximately 220 degrees F.  Test for adequate thickness by spooning out a bit of the mixture onto the now-well chilled glass or porcelain plate. If the mixture wrinkles when lightly pushed with a finger or a spoon, it is done. If not, continue cooking the mixture and test again.

When done, retrieve the sterilized glass jars from their hot water bath, using tongs designed for this purpose. Then using a sterilized metal spoon or ladle, fill the prepared jars with the hot marmalade to ½ inch below the top rim of the jar, screw on flat lids and rings, and then place the filled jars into a canning rack set into a large pot of enough boiling water to cover the jars by 3 inches. Boil for 10 minutes and then carefully remove the jars from the pot. Place on a countertop lined with a clean dish towel and let cool. Label and date them. Store in a cool, dark place until ready to enjoy and gift freely. Morning toast never had it so good!

Image provided by author and is copyright to Lauren Wemischner