Blast From the Past: Georgia O’Keeffe and the cup of humanity

One of my favorite encounters with the spirit of tea came while touring the home and studio of Georgia O’Keeffe in Abiquiu, New Mexico. In her pantry, I spied two Mason jars on the wall. One had been hand labeled by O’Keeffe as Tea. Next to it was a jar with a label that read Good Tea. I laughed out loud. This is the moment of enlightenment all students of tea eventually discover along their way. Enlightenment begins the moment we realize there is tea, and there is good tea. Hopefully, we carry that awareness further into art and good art, food and good food, and life and good life.

My other lasting memory of that New Mexico visit was my awareness of space within the O’Keeffe home. The colors, the furniture, and the few select pieces of art were all in keeping with Okakura Kakuzo’s idea of harmony and simplicity as found in The Book of Tea. “Eliminating the insignificant” is what Frank Lloyd Wright called it. O’Keeffe was a second-generation disciple of Okakura. Her teacher at Columbia University had been Arthur Wesley Dow, a friend of Okakura in Boston. I knew The Book of Tea was one of her favorite reads, but I didn’t understand how much she loved the book until I came across Christine Taylor Patten’s book, Miss O’Keeffe. In it, Patton recounts the evenings she read sections of The Book of Tea to O’Keeffe during her last years.

I spoke by phone recently with Patten at her home in Santa Fe and we talked at length about her recollections of The Book of Tea. She vividly recalled O’Keeffe’s love for Okakura and spoke eloquently of the similarities between O’Keeffe’s life and the Japanese tea ceremony. “They were obvious – her constant manner, her humility, her exactness, her utterly respectful exactness,” she remembered. “A small act seemed to be a natural ritual – the folding of her handkerchief, for instance – as if it was the most important thing a person could do.” That bit of insight explained why I was drawn to O’Keeffe’s art long before I knew of her tea connection.

If we are mindful, we recognize the tea spirit in all our daily activities – making a cup of tea, gardening, painting, making music, writing, cooking, and even sweeping. Okakura reminds us that “one of the first requisites of a tea master is the knowledge of how to sweep, clean, and wash, for there is an art in cleaning and dusting.”

If we can find Okaura’s concept of teaism in the humble act of wielding a broom, we find contentment. Or, as the Tao Te Ching teaches, simply be. Or, as the English housewife instructs, have a cuppa tea. Okakura walked in the cultures of both East and West and recognized our common love for the ancient beverage he called the cup of humanity. Within that communal cup, the little thing becomes the great thing, and living becomes good living.

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Originally posted by Bruce Richardson in October 2011

Tea and Illness – T Ching

In mid-September, my husband woke up one morning half chipmunk-cheeked: something had caused one of his cheeks to swell up. On day three, when the swelling had not receded, he finally acquiesced to go to the doctor. The doctor’s finding was as expected: an infected tooth was causing the salivary gland to swell in reaction. Step one: a week of antibiotics.

Thus began my poor, beleaguered husband’s miserable week in bed as antibiotics and infection waged a bitter warfare within him. I worked from home for it so I could cook him the three meals that he needed to take three antibiotics (with food!) per day.

The other important thing that I pressed on him was, of course, fluids. It’s vitally important to push fluids when one is on antibiotics, in order to flush the toxins that are generated as a by-product of both infection and antibiotics. As such, I made him pot after pot of–did you see this coming?–TEA.

For both my husband and myself, tea has always been the go-to whenever ill. It was a regular occurrence in both of our childhoods that with illness comes the drinking of tea. We both grew up in a time that didn’t think twice about the caffeine content in tea having a negative effect upon children. And unlike the lemon-lime Gatorade that my father tried to ply me with when I was ill (to this day, I have a strong associative aversion to the stuff), tea is a constant source of comfort. It is always delicious, always welcome, always beneficial.

A pot of tea, a spoonful of raw, local honey. What could be more healing than that?

Hail Colombia!

Just when you thought you’d tasted a creditable selection of the world’s teas comes along a refreshing surprise—Bitaco tea grown in the Andes from Colombia where it is now spring, heading toward summer. As I sit contemplating the end of summer and confirming that fall is indeed here despite the summery weather, my thoughts turn to the fruits of the season—pears, apples, Asian pears, pomegranates, persimmons, even quince.

Here are fruits not just for eating on their own, and here’s a tea that brings uncomplicated pleasure in the cup but also is a perfect steeping liquid for the fruits of fall. Coppery colored, bright in flavor, this tea is as comforting in the cup as it is welcome in the dessert maker’s kitchen. It spells fall to me. Shorter days, cooler nights, and orchard fruit seem to be a perfect match. Seeing the bounty piled high in my local farmer’s markets, beckoning me with their burnished skins, a visual feast of red, golden, yellow, speckled green, brilliantly flame-colored–I can’t resist taking home armloads. Looking for ways to enjoy them beyond eating them out of hand (other than quince which are best cooked to become tender, aromatic and rosy colored), I brew some tea, spiced with a whole cinnamon stick and then sweetened with a tinge of honey and add an assortment of peeled, cored and quartered fruit. Turn the heat down low and let the fruits soften, absorbing the mellow flavors of the tea. Usually a half hour of patient cooking over medium to low heat transforms the fruit (the tea should barely cover the fruit in the saucepan; add more tea if you note that the liquid has evaporated too quickly and the fruits are still raw). To check doneness, insert the point of a knife into the fruit. When done, the knife should easily pierce the fruit. Continue cooking until you get to that point.  Remove from the heat, and then let the liquid and fruit come to room temperature. Remove fruit and poaching liquid to a non-reactive shallow dish. Chill covered until cold. Get the best local honey you can find along with a tart but not overly thick plain yogurt. Crush some buttery gingery cookies (homemade or storebought) and set aside.

To serve, arrange the fruit and some liquid in small bowls, dollop on rivulets of yogurt, drizzle the honey over all and then finally add some crunch with the cookie shards. If you’d like to gild the lily even further, splash a bit of good Cognac just before serving. And if it’s cool enough in your area, enjoy this dessert around the hearth, logs blazing and crackling, the colors of the flame matching the palette of fall fruits.  

Serves 3-4
The details:

  • 1 lb of fruits, peeled and cored and then quartered or halved, depending on size
  • 1 quart brewed Colombian tea
  • ¼ c. good honey
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Yogurt
  • More honey, as desired
  • Shards of gingery buttery cookies
  • Cognac, optional

The post Hail Colombia! appeared first on T Ching.

Blast From the Past: Ancient Tea Forest

Whisper in my ear.
Tell me your thoughts.

What hidden things stir your veins,
on the tree in the still of night?
Fragrant watery breeze blowing from nearby stream
Teasing you with fingers that never touch.

But that is the language of nature:
Touching without limbs
Seeing without eyes
Breathing without moving
Singing without a song.

Secrets told in invisible languages
Leaf to leaf.
Harmonies sung without words.
Your pulse quickens
As lush days turn into fecund nights.
To those without ears, the sound
Is impossibly beautiful.

Originally posted in October 2007 by Paul Rosenberg

Mangosteen Tea – T Ching

Mangosteen, an evergreen tree native to Southeast Asia, bears fruits with dark-purple rind and white flesh whose tangy sweetness and adorable appearance garner fans from all over the world.  In Thai, mangosteen is called mangkhud, as in the recent super typhoon Manghut that made landfall in the Philippines and persisted destruction in Hong Kong and China.

Tea is often a euphemism for “powder.”  Ground, surprisingly, from the leathery rind, mangosteen tea is known for its anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties due to containing the compound xanthones.  Juice derived from cooked mangosteen shell, yet another form of “tea,” has been consumed in Asia for centuries; the fruit’s by-products are no funky commodities in the Western world either.  Some of the Internet articles dated a decade ago reiterate that like myriad other health products, mangosteen tea’s benefits such as disease-fighting capabilities are yet to be validated.  Believers continue to believe.

The packs of mangosteen tea I purchased in the Philippines last month do not come with preparation instructions.  I savored fresh mangosteen for the very first time in Indonesia more than ten years ago; the flavor was indescribably scrumptious, so sweet and juicy that I presumed indelibility.  When re-encountering mangosteen last month, I could recall neither the flavor nor how the tough shell could be squeezed, twisted, and crushed by hand to expose the sheltered edible flesh.  No way will I forget again as I have found over-priced mangosteen, probably air-flown from Asia, at one local supermarket.

Images provided and copyright held by author

10 Ways to Enjoy Green Tea with Milk – Part 2

Green Boba Tea

Boba tea is a popular treat throughout East and Southeast Asia. It’s also sometimes called “bubble tea”, a reference to the black tapioca pearls that rest at the bottom of the cup. The classic black tapioca bubbles can be purchased at many Asian supermarkets. They’re also widely available online.

The body of the drink calls for a handful of ice cubes and equal parts brewed green tea and milk. An optional teaspoon of matcha powder can add a splash of rich green color. Mix everything together in a cocktail shaker and you’ll have a full serving of naturally colorful milk tea ready to pour. If you’re adding tapioca pearls to your beverage, make sure that you drink it through a wide enough straw to get the full boba tea experience.

Green Tea Ice Cream

Green tea is one of the most delicious ice cream flavors. Many popular brands offer their own spin on green tea ice cream. Alternatively, you can make your own by adding a tablespoon of culinary grade matcha powder for every cup of wet ingredients in your favorite ice cream recipe.

Matcha Custard

For the ultimate marriage of healthful green tea and decadent dessert, we highly recommend incorporating the flavors of green tea into your next batch of custard. Only a teaspoon of culinary grade matcha powder is required for every cup of wet ingredients. The results are visually stunning, rich in antioxidants, and absolutely delicious.

Milky Green Tea Popsicles

Just like all the best homemade popsicles, green tea popsicles are very simple to make. The recipe calls for two teaspoons of culinary grade matcha powder for every cup of milk. Sweeten the mixture to taste with agave nectar and freeze it for five hours in your favorite popsicle mold.

Matcha Smoothies

Adding green tea to your favorite healthy smoothie is a simple way to give it added flavor and a little kick of caffeine. The taste of green tea pairs well with just about every fruit combination under the sun, but our personal favorite recipes bring together matcha powder, milk, and vanilla for a rich, refreshing flavor.

You can adjust our simple vanilla variation with mint, citrus, or even a little protein powder if that’s your style. You can also mix a few teaspoons of matcha into your own go-to smoothie for an easy antioxidant upgrade.

The delicious flavor of green tea can spruce up your favorite go-to recipes or inspire you to try something outside your comfort zone. As these lattes, cupcakes, and custards prove, matcha and milk are truly a match made in heaven.

Read more matcha and green tea recipe through my book.


The recipes in this wonderful cookbook by Kei Nishida highlight the uses of matcha and green tea as main ingredients. It educates and informs readers on the essence and importance of green tea to health and our overall well-being. Readers gain basic knowledge needed about brewing tea, modernized varieties of green tea beverages such as smoothies and cocktails and pastries such as bread, cakes, and the making of sweets.

The book also has over 200 clear images of most of the ingredients and food mentioned so that readers can get a vivid visualization and step-by-step guide to all the recipes given.

Check out Cook with Matcha & Green Tea by Kei Nishida

10 Ways to Enjoy Green Tea with Milk – Part 1

You already know that green tea is a delicious, healthy beverage, but you might not be aware of just how versatile your favorite tea can be. A wide variety of beverages, desserts, and baked goods blend the rich, satisfying taste of milk with the subtle, earthy flavor of green tea. The possibilities are endless, but we’ve listed ten of our favorite green tea recipes below.

Matcha Green Tea Latte

Matcha lattes are delicious, healthy, and easy to make. For the uninitiated, matcha is a powder made of ground green tea leaves. Whereas green tea leaves are steeped in hot water before use, matcha powder is blended directly into recipes or beverages. If you’re drinking matcha by itself, a fine “ceremonial grade” matcha powder is recommended. For a nice latte, on the other hand, a more affordable “culinary grade” powder will do the trick.

To begin, use a bamboo whisk to blend a teaspoon of matcha powder into 1/4 cup of boiling water. Then, add milk and sweeten the latte to taste with agave nectar or other natural sweeteners. It’s that simple! This tried-and-true latte recipe is delicious hot, but you can also combine the ingredients cold in a jar with ice and shake vigorously for a yummy, chilled alternative.

Matcha Cupcakes

Culinary grade matcha is perfect for baking. Not only is it healthy and flavorful, but it adds a dramatic splash of green to baked goods without the use of artificial dyes. Adding matcha powder to your next batch of treats will imbue them with an eye-catching grass green color derived from a natural, healthy source.

Cupcakes are the perfect confectionary candidate for the vivid green of matcha powder. Just add two tablespoons of matcha green tea powder to your favorite vanilla cupcake recipe for every cup of milk or buttermilk. Don’t forget to sprinkle a little matcha powder onto your decadent frosting of choice.

Green Tea Pudding

Lots of delicious, milky desserts benefit from the earthy flavors of matcha powder. For example, adding a tablespoon of culinary grade matcha powder to your favorite pudding recipe will add both color and flavor to a classic sweet treat. For extra presentational flair, sprinkle additional matcha on top of the pudding.

Green Tea Lassi

Lassi is a traditional yogurt-based Indian beverage. A version of lassi with turmeric powder is a popular folk beverage all across India, but lassi with green tea also has devotees all over the world. Sip this mild, chilly beverage on a warm summer day and you’re sure to understand why.

Lassi is very simple to prepare. You’ll just need equal parts plain yogurt, milk, and a teaspoon or two of matcha powder. Beat the ingredients together thoroughly and sweeten to taste with agave nectar. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can add a teaspoon of lemon juice for a little citrus kick.

Matcha Donuts

As with cupcakes, donuts are great for showcasing personality through playful presentation. The vivid green color of matcha can give your next batch of donuts an eccentric style all their own.

A few tablespoons of culinary grade matcha powder will blend well into any donut recipe, but you should also consider whipping up a sweet matcha glaze to get the full effect. Our favorite matcha glaze recipe calls for half a cup of whole milk, two cups of powdered sugar, and two tablespoons of matcha powder.

Check out Cook with Matcha & Green Tea by Kei Nishida

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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?

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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?

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Originally posted in September 2012 by Tiffany Williams