Georgia Tea Is Back! – T Ching


A little over ten years ago, I wrote a post for this blog–Tea from Georgia will have to wait–about the setbacks in the tea industry in the Republic of Georgia.  Just a few days ago, I ran across this article dealing with the revival of Georgian tea and I am pleased to report that we may be able to taste tea from this region in a year or two.

Over the years, tea has inspired poetry, art, and pottery–it has also been the subject of great innovation—and war.  Tremendous advances in sailing technology were made because getting tea from countries of origin to countries of consumption as quickly as possible was of paramount importance.  Now, given advances in agricultural practices, tea can be sustainably and responsibly grown on six of the seven continents on Earth. While every American school child knows the tale of the Boston Tea Party and its pivotal role in the American Revolution, J. Norwood Pratt makes the link between the tea trade and the Opium Wars.

The phrase “tempest in a teapot” has a rich history.  

As the tea industry balances greater demand with sustainable agricultural practices, readers of this blog are justifiably concerned that quality is not sacrificed for quantity, which has been a concern in growing regions like Georgia.  If the only tea available is lousy tea, consumers will make do, pay the going rate, and never experience high-quality whole leaf.

Delighted that Georgian tea is making a rebound, I am going to try to score a hundred grams of this tea.  Have any of you tried Georgian tea?

Image 1 Source
Image 2:  Yuri Tsintsadze (image used with permission from TeaJourney)
Image 3:  Retail display of Georgia tea (image used with permission from TeaJourney)



At the Intersection of Vine and Bush—Sweet and Seasonal


A great palette of seedless grapes is appearing at my local farmer’s markets and perhaps at yours as well. Look for the deep black ones, including fragrant Thomcords: a new variant on the Concord which are seedless. There are varieties tinged with pink, and of course the ubiquitous seedless green, both tiny and colossal.  Look for the highly perfumed Muscat varieties (most likely, these will not be seedless). Truly seasonal and varied, freshly-picked grapes in all of their range of flavors suggest to me an easy and fun way to create a simple dessert where fruit and tea play equal roles. The key here is roasting the fruit first, which concentrates its flavor and adds a slightly caramelized dimension which pairs well with a malty Assam. Here’s how to proceed.

Wash and dry the fruit, allowing 6 ounces of clusters per person. Using kitchen shears or a small sharp knife, remove the grapes from the main stem in small clusters. Spray a piece of baking parchment lightly with pan spray, or–if you have one–place a small silicone baking mat on a sheet pan. Arrange the grape clusters on the pan, sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar, and bake in a preheated 350-degree F. oven for about 20-25 minutes (given the variability of the grapes, it’s difficult to give a precise baking time). Depending on their size and variety, after that length of baking time the grapes should have shriveled somewhat, and the sugar will have caramelized. If not shriveled enough, return them to the oven for a bit longer, checking on them every few minutes until done. Once you have taken the pan out of the oven, immediately remove the grape clusters onto a plate and set aside while you make the Assam cream dipping sauce: the all-important accompaniment to the grapes. It’s nice to serve the grapes and the sauce while warm.

Counting on 4 ounces of heavy cream per serving (the liquid will be cooked and reduced, yielding less than you began with), bring the cream and 1 teaspoon for each 4 ounces of cream of whole leaf good quality Assam (or other black tea of your choice) to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Pour the liquid through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean bowl (discarding the tea leaves) and then add just enough granulated sugar or fragrant honey to sweeten slightly. Return to a clean saucepan and again cook carefully to reduce a bit. Serve immediately with the grapes. If you wish to make this in advance, refrigerate and then reheat over very low heat (be careful not to burn the sauce) just before serving, adding a small amount of additional cream before cooking again to make the mixture flow. The texture of the sauce should be just thick enough to coat the grapes.

Divide the sauce equally into small bowls and enjoy by swirling the grapes into the sauce or remove the grapes from their stems and then spoon a bit of the sauce onto each plate and dip the grapes into the sauce as desired.  Serve this with a thin buttery short dough cookie and a cup of tea.



Blast From the Past: The art of reading the tea leaf


Tasseography or tassology is a fortune-telling method that involves interpreting tea leaves. “Tasse” is from the Arabic root word for “cup” and “graphy” means “map.” The cup serves as a map, and the tea leaves are interpreted based on where they fall on the cup map. Tea-leaf reading is often associated with gypsies, but it actually started in Asia. You need a wide porcelain cup with a handle, small tea leaves, hot water, and a list of symbols. You can read your own tea leaves or go to an expert.

First you think of a question, such as “Will you get the job?” or “Did you make a good decision?” or “Will you be happy?” Focus on this question during the fortune-telling session. The energy you use to focus on the question influences the leaves in your cup. The small leaves will form recognizable shapes. Wet leaves stick best to porcelain cups. A wide cup is great to help spread out the leaves. Using your less dominant hand, scoop a teaspoon of tea into your cup and infuse with water. Hold the cup in your hand as you focus on your question. If you have a lot of bubbles on the surface, you will have a financial windfall. A leaf floating at the top indicates money is flowing toward you. Those are a few predictions. Gently blow the hot liquid and sip your tea. Hold your cup in your less dominant hand.

Drink your tea until there are a few drops left. Keep focusing on your question. Swirl the tea three times counterclockwise with your less dominant hand. You want to make sure the leaves are coating as much of the side of the cup as possible. Give your wrist a full rotation. Gently turn the cup upside down on a saucer. Be careful not to bang the cup on the saucer. You just want the last of the liquid to drain. Wait a few minutes and start to read the map in your cup.

Try to use a cup with a handle. The handle should always be pointed towards the drinker. Think about your question as you look at the leaves. The cup handle represents “home,” or your personal life. The point opposite the handle represents “work,” or professional life. Shapes near the rim represent events in the near future – the next 3 to 6 months. The middle of the cup represents events happening within the next 6 to 12 months. The bottom represents events happening in the next year. Tea-leaf shapes to the right of the handle represent the past, and shapes to the left represent the future. You want to keep all this in mind as you interpret the shapes. Use a symbols guide. You can find many on the Internet.

What do you see in your cup? How does it relate to your question?

Image Source

Originally posted in September 2012 by Tiffany Williams



Blast From the Past: Tea Power: Help Your Skin Glow With These Amazing Tea Drinks


The moment we collectively embraced health as our lifestyle and turned to choices that not only benefit our overall well-being but prolong life as well – we knew drinking tea was going to be the “it” treat.

Tea has been a side-nutrient to regular diets for a long time. However, recently, with dietitians and nutritionists popularized, tea got into the spotlight being celebrated for the multitude of its health benefits, and we’ve all come to adore it.

If you want to have a glowing, healthy and blemish-free skin, here are the teas to drink (or make natural masks of):

chamomile-829220_1280Chamomile

We all have it in our pantries, and this is the time to take it out! Chamomile is, by far, the most popular solution for treating the skin issues topically and it’s been known to help relieve patchy and dry skin, as well as acne. A cup of chamomile a day will help you prevent inflammatory skin conditions since it possesses flavonoids that have a powerful inhibitory effect on free radicals. Chamomile face masks are very popular, too!

tea-1150046_1280Green Tea

Ah, where would we be without this powerful drink! Believe it or not, apart from preventing aging, aiding in weight loss and helping with mental clarity, studies have suggested that drinking green tea may help reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Green tea’s become very popular so for those who aren’t really enjoying the taste, you can turn to green tea extracts and natural cosmetics based on it. Whichever option you pick, you can’t go wrong.

yerba-mate-1389825_1280Yerba Maté

If you are on a mission to keep your skin looking youthful for as long as possible, you may want to give yerba maté tea a sip! Dried leaves of the yerba maté plant are the basis for this delicious tea, and you’d be surprised how multi-practical it is. According to Kimberly Snyder, a devoted yogini and global adventurer, “yerba maté is a traditional treatment for everything from fatigue to appetite control, to a weakened immune system.” She further explains that this amazing drink contains “a long list of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, including vitamin B, vitamin C, manganese, potassium, and zinc.”

Just like his sister-teas, yerba maté tea has served as a basis for a multitude of skin-care cosmetic products that deep-clean pores and wash away grime, dirt and makeup, helping reduce the appearance of pores and preventing acne in the process. Even though they may not be strictly tea based, the cosmetics we particularly love are Thalgo skin care products, FIG+YARROW, 100% Pure and Herbivore Botanicals as they base on natural ingredients and work shoulder to shoulder with tea drinks or tea products to help everyone look better, feel healthier and stay gorgeous.

box-231951_1280Rooibos

Made from a South African red bush, this tea is caffeine-free, and therefore great for everyone who is looking to limit their caffeine intake, or for women who are expecting. Containing anti-inflammatory properties, it’s amazing for treating skin conditions like rosacea or acne. It’s found in beauty products, too and its popularity is increasing rapidly!

Originally posted by Emma Lawson in September 2016



Peppermint Tissane – Another Healthy Beverage


I came upon a recent article the other day and it reminded me of the health benefits of peppermint tea.

Although I’m aware of its GI benefits–which does so by reducing spasms–it has other benefits as well. It appears that peppermint has the ability to calm the central and peripheral nervous system which is especially helpful for those suffering from IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome).

The one that most surprised me was about concentration, however. When I think about concentration, green tea always comes to mind thanks to the L-theanine. Apparently the same can be said about peppermint.  Peppermint tea benefits more than the gut. It’s great to sip on at work too, thanks to its ability to help increase focus and concentration. Even just smelling the tea helps. When you inhale peppermint, it ups how much oxygen is in the blood, and the more oxygen getting to your brain, the better your cognitive function.”

I also was unaware of peppermint’s antimicrobial and antiviral properties, which once again remind me of green teas attributes. And lastly, let’s not forget that it freshens the breath. We’ve all chewed peppermint gum at some time in our past and realized how refreshing it can be. This simple plant which has such remarkable healing benefits should be in everyone’s tea cabinet. Seems to me that you can’t go wrong with peppermint tea. For those gardeners out there, I can tell you that it’s extremely easy to grow so do yourself a favor and carve out a small spot of it in your garden. It can be invasive so consider yourself forewarned.

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Tea VS Coffee: Overcoming Caffeine Addiction


The average consumer drinks a total of 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day, which so happens to be the standard for safety measures for most healthy adults. If you are a regular consumer of caffeinated beverages, an 8oz cup of joe might not do any justice. In today’s day everything moves fast, if you don’t keep up you are left behind with the old. Someday we need

Caffeine is–above all–one of the most widely used drugs in this world. It is a stimulant that regulates the stress hormones in the human body and unfortunately, too many individuals overuse it. Caffeine addiction isn’t associated with just coffee, many soft drinks that are drunk daily contain massive amounts of caffeine all in the name of giving you a boost of extra energy to carry you through the rest of the day. So how much caffeine is too much?  Below we list several ways in which caffeine is used in products.

The good news is there are many ways to eliminate caffeine addiction in order to get the body back to normal. This process is called “detoxing from caffeine” and it’s where good old tea comes in handy.  During the first week of cutting back on coffee, you want to replace your regular jacked-up over-caffeinated coffee with an organic decaffeinated alternative, this helps you slow down your regular caffeine intake but still have the best of both worlds.

Next is when things get fun. Mix half of cup of coffee and one cup of black or green tea. As you all know, green tea has the added benefits of having caffeine but you’ll feel it longer due to how tea releases the caffeine at a slower rate rather than all at once like coffee does. To get a bit more technical, the secret behind this magic is partly due to the abundant amounts of theanine found in green tea which counteracts the effects of caffeine and reduces greatly the jittery effects that coffee can cause.

The debate whether caffeine is good or bad never ends, the truth is it’s not bad as long as you don’t overdo it and/or become dependant on it. There are many health benefits of caffeine, and tea just so happens to be a healthier alternative to a regular intake of caffeine with many added benefits. Caffeine burns fat, aids in weight loss, lowers risk of Parkinson’s and more. So next time someone tells you that caffeine is vile, now you know the above and can respond appropriately.

Image 1 Source
Image 2 Source

Sources
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/caffeine-in-green-tea
https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/caffeine/
http://www.dranthonygustin.com/five-reasons-coffee-drug/



Tea For Comfort


Once, a number of years ago, I dated a man who liked a television series called “The Big Bang Theory.” In it, there is a character with zero social skills who was VERY careful–thanks to his mother’s upbringing–that any time someone was upset he would immediately offer them a hot beverage. As he told one of the other characters: “…social protocol states when a friend is upset, you offer them a hot beverage, such as tea.” It was one of the few things that I actually appreciated from the show, because it truly is an extremely helpful rule to remember.

A few weeks ago, I was woken early in the morning by a phone call from my father, letting me know that my maternal grandmother had passed away sometime in the previous night. It wasn’t completely unexpected, but he mentioned that he thought my mother would like my company. I admit, it took me a few hours to get myself together. My grandmother and I hadn’t been close, but there is such a finality to things such as this. While getting ready to go, I packed three important things to take with me: a vanilla-flavored black tea, tea strainer, and the teapot that had belonged to my paternal grandmother.

When I arrived at my parents’, my mother was on the phone with a focused look on her face and my father was sitting by exuding an air of helplessness. I saw that my mother had a half-full mug of coffee next to her, and know that she only drinks one cup of coffee first thing in the morning. I immediately went into the kitchen and put on the kettle, and in short order placed a mug of sweetened and creamed vanilla black tea in my mother’s hands.

I took a total of two days off from work and I did all the driving, took my parents out to eat, researched, typed legal documents, and made many a pot of tea.

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Baking with Matcha 101 – T Ching


Over the weekend I held a Matcha Masterclass for baking with matcha. It was a mother-daughter class inspired by the many mothers here in Kobe, Japan, who kept asking me how to boost their children’s health with matcha when they hated the taste. Over the next few blogs, I’m going to share the most popular recipes and since Halloween is a HUGE deal in Japan (who knew?!), we are going to start with Green Monster Muffins!

But first, let me explain a couple points about culinary matcha. As with all matcha grades (premium, ceremonial, culinary, etc), there are various price points within the grade. Generally speaking, the higher the price point, the finer the matcha which leads to a difference in taste.

This culinary-grade or “category” of matcha I’m talking about has the strongest taste of all the grades of matcha because it needs to be bold enough to rise above the other ingredients in the recipe, especially when it is baked or cooked. And within the culinary grade, there are various tastes. When adding matcha to smoothies and recipes where heat is not used, increase the culinary-grade of your matcha which is best done by the price point unless you know matcha intimately!

For this recipe, I suggest using quite an affordable culinary grade, without going bottom of the barrel, because you will be using quite a lot of it. In fact, you might feel like calling me to double check the amount, especially with the recipe below!

Culinary matcha, in particular, needs to be balanced by sweetness. Don’t hold back! If you are a sugar no-no person, try using powdered stevia as an alternative. I have not substituted agave syrup in this recipe so I can’t guarantee it will work out. The white chocolate is also a must. All of these ingredients work together to create a delicious, super moist, sweet muffin you can’t put down.

Green Monster Muffins

Oven Temperature: 350°F/180°C
Bake time: 22-26 minutes (standard size), 30-35 minutes (jumbo muffins)
Yield: 12 standard muffins or 6 jumbo muffins

  • Whisk wet ingredients in a large bowl.
  • Stir in zucchini with a spoon followed by white chocolate chips.
  • Mix dry ingredients in another large bowl, sifting everything together TWICE.
  • Put all of the sifted dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ingredients and then slowly and gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet using a rubber scraper. You want to mix as little as possible to prevent tough muffins.
  • To fill the muffin cups, measure out 130g muffin mix and place in lined muffin tin…or eyeball it!

Wet Ingredients

Whisk together first:

  • 6 tbsp (85g) melted butter, cooled
  • 2 eggs

Add in the following:

  • 1/3 cup (80 ml) whole milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar (apple cider/white wine vinegar OK. Activates baking soda: don’t omit!)
  • 3/4 cup (150g) firmly packed brown sugar

Mix well and then stir in:

  • 2 cups (230g) shredded zucchini (adds the moisture to the muffins)
  • 1 cup (180g) approximately white chocolate chips or cut bar

Set aside.

Dry ingredients

Measure and add all to large bowl:

  • 1 3/4 cups (245g) all-purpose flour
  • 35 – 40g culinary grade matcha
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt

Optional streusel topping for the real sweet tooth!

  • 1/3 c (45g) all-purpose flour
  • 3 1/2 tbsp firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 tbsp cold butter, cubed

In a food processor or bowl, pulse/mix the flour and brown sugar. Cut in the butter until it starts to clump with the other ingredients. It’s done when butter is not any larger than pea size. Top muffin before baking.

Bake 22 – 26 minutes for standard muffins and 30 – 35 minutes for jumbo muffins. Done when toothpick comes out fairly clean. Serve with coconut butter for a real scream!

Image provided and copyright held by author.



Online Social Networking Related to Tea – Part 1


Odd I’ve never brought this up before; there are lots of places to talk about and learn about tea online.  Writing a blog post about reaching a million answer views on Quora reminded me of the subject, so I’ll start there, and list others.

Quora: you can ask or answer questions about tea on Quora, more or less an expanded version of Yahoo Answers.  Comments work out like discussion threads but it’s not the same.  There is a personal messaging function, just no forum or thread-style discussion area.  I started writing about tea, and ventured into travel and culture related issues after.

lots of Quora stats to add a level of feedback, if one is interested

Tea Chat (forums): unfortunately this site has run its course, related to online forums having a natural lifecycle, but this had been the main dedicated tea forum.  Tea Forum is a more recent spin-off but it’s not that much more active.  Steepster is really a tea review site, also with a currently inactive discussion section.  There’s only so much tea discussion going on to support dedicated forums, and the next entry sucks a lot of the air out of the room.

Tea Forum; a new version of an old theme

Facebook groups: this is where people talk about tea online most now.  I co-founded one active group, International Tea Talk, which is focused on tea themes in different countries, but others have their own sub-themes:

handy that the groups, pages, and personal profiles all link in Facebook

Pu’er Tea Club: about pu’er, not as snobby as it might have worked out, but still what you might expect.

Gong Fu Cha: mostly US experienced tea drinkers, who don’t favor Western style brewing.

Tea Drinkers: my favorite beginner oriented group.

Local / city FB groups:  I’m in versions related to Thailand, NYCLAColorado, and more recently Melbourne.  Groups like these are ideal places to ask for local shop recommendations.

Reddit r/tea: this subforum is unusual, in terms of format and for people not consolidating into a common-perspective group, but it works for a lower experience level general discussion group.  Just as Facebook links personal profile details and interest groups Reddit works to make discussion across a broad range of interest areas available in one place, typically more anonymously.  They just don’t integrate.

Instagram: not a good place for discussion, just about pictures and limited video, but it’s so active for tea themes that I’ll mention it anyway.  I saw a really cool interview about tea culture in Russia by a Russian tea lovers page there but as far as I know those live “story” videos aren’t accessible later.  They do also upload some videos to Youtube.  Youtube is a media channel but not set up for social networking in that other sense, related to interaction.  TeaDB is a nice blog there, and Tea Fix hasn’t got far as a start on a podcast yet but they’re working on it.

Twitter: I don’t like Twitter, the format or the vibe (culture, as much as a grouping that broad has one).  It could work a lot better than it seems to for sharing information, but it can work out for sharing news links or as a self-promotion feed. Some “tea people” seem to use it for that, and to share other updates.

Google +:  that social networking site is nearly as dead as Julius Caesar, but it had such potential.  Google tends to really develop what it knows is going to work, like Maps, or Android, and throws the rest at the wall to see what sticks.  It would be possible to write an entire post about obsolete or marginal tea-themed social networking options but I’ll stop at G+.  LinkedIn isn’t marginal or obsolete but this would be a good place to add mention of it; tea industry professionals add profiles there, and some groups there relate to tea, as with lots of other subjects.

Images provided and copyrights held by author

To be continued tomorrow



Online Social Networking Related to Tea – Part 2


Continued from yesterday’s post

Tea maps:  this isn’t conventional social networking, more like a wiki project, but the idea of groups communicating information overlaps.  Someone just mentioned creating a private version of one on a Steepster thread, a site that already has a map function, as Tea Chat did, both now obsolete.  This seems like a great idea but the details haven’t come together for any version to get relatively filled in.

Reddit’s tea map version

Issues with online groups

The main problem with online tea interest groups–beyond activity tending to drop off at some point–seems to be people being on the same page, sharing perspective.  Facebook groups work well for sorting that naturally; if you talk about scope beyond group theme interest you probably won’t hear much back, or feedback could be negative.  

That’s why it’s odd that the Reddit subforum works; it isn’t sorted, beyond an emphasis on most people being newer to tea.  That’s also probably why it has 120k+ members and almost none of them seem to be regulars, beyond the moderators.  There are some but they are exceptions.  Vendors had seemed to be more active in the past but a few scandals about product promotion inconsistencies may have thrown off the friendly neighborhood self-promotion vibe.

this shaving forum previously had a developed tea discussion theme (here)

Related to self-sorting there seems to be a natural split in membership of people relatively new to tea or else really far along a learning curve.  That makes sense, that to everyone else in between there wouldn’t be as much point.  Others who like tea could just drink it instead, and skip focusing on a learning curve.  Vendors make up half the people discussing tea on the experienced end, and the rest are probably a bit obsessive to take a drink interest so far.  Relatively few don’t actually have some form of business interest.  Take me, for example; why keep going on about the subject?  I suppose it’s a long story, only partly because I am obsessive.

Vendors account for a lot of the interest in social networking about tea, related to doing it, and providing content as a foundation, in some cases.  But even though tea is a potentially bottomless subject to learn about and experience for most people it’s about drinking a version they know and like, so all that only goes so far.

Trying out holding tea tasting events recently reminds me of how important the real-life aspect is to social networking related to tea.  People can all talk about what they bought from Yunnan Sourcing together (in their FB vendor-theme group), but in general, it helps really sharing the drink in person.  

Someone new to tea can try a lot of types fairly quickly through some sort of meet-up or tasting, and experienced tea drinkers can share more interesting versions with each other.  Some teas just don’t come up a lot, and even if the internet makes really local, rare teas available now the range of all types is so broad that you can’t hope to try most of it.  Reading blog reviews only goes so far; sharing teas with each other in person covers a lot more ground, the actual experience.

The two themes can definitely work together.  Discussing tea online helps with reaching out to a broader group for more information and input, and networking there can help with finding local cafes, shops, meet-ups, and events, to bring the experience back into real-life scope.

conference panel; online meets real life, from a post about Polish tea culture

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