Tea Writings

A blog about tea from the desk of Cecilia Tan

Archive for the ‘Tea Musings’

In Search of the Best Soy Milk Green Tea “Latte”

August 27, 2010 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews

My obsession with soy milk green tea lattes started early this summer. On Sundays when my S.O. was off at jujitsu and errands and such, if I didn’t have to go somewhere else myself, I would often go to our local, independently owned coffee shop to get some writing done.

The shop is called Simon’s, and as I understand it has become one of the respected coffee shrines in the area for those who worship the trade of the barista. (The baristas have been in competitions and such.) They also have a light menu of soups and muffins, and of course they offer tea of various excellent kinds, served in the pot.

Of course, when it’s hot outside, a hot pot of tea might not be what I’m looking for. But I still want my hit of tea. And all too often iced tea, if not done right, is a waste of good tea anyway. So one afternoon I was staring at their chalkboard menu and it dawned on me, oh, green tea latte. That sounds kind of good.

But with summer come my seasonal allergies, and milk or dairy products pumps up my mucous production. So I asked. Can the green tea latte be made… with soy milk? Of course! replied the cheerful barista. And… can it be iced! Surely!

And a new obsession was born.

Idleness and Industry

June 05, 2010 By: ctan Category: Tea Books, Tea Musings

It’s one of life’s inherent paradoxes–isn’t it?–that we associate sipping a cup of tea with slowing down and taking a moment to relax, and yet the tea trade is one of the most labor intensive of all industries. I have now had the pleasure of reading Sarah Rose’s For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History and so can say that this has been true for over a century.

The tea industry would never again be the same in the wake of the massive global changes brought about by British Empire-building. The shift of the English taste from green to black tea and the fate of India and the East India Company (the world’s first multinational corporation) hinged on the clandestine expeditions of botanist Robert Fortune. He traveled into remote areas of China where no white man had ever gone in order to unlock the secrets of Chinese tea production, so that the British colonies in India could seed massive plantations to break the Chinese monopoly.

The book and the historical tale it recounts is fascinating, but I only had the leisure to read it thanks to an unexpected afternoon free while visiting the city of New Orleans. (more…)

A Rose In Winter

January 23, 2010 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews

The time has come for me to either restock the Ten Ren black rose tea I’ve just run out of, or to replace it with something else.

Being an adventurous sort (not to mention a tea blogger…) I’m open to trying some other brands, flavors, and formulations of rose, but a quick look over just my favorite sites, much less the plethora of rose teas reviewed at Steepster (up to 532 from just 519 teas yesterday!!), reveals more choice than my currently overtaxed brain can handle.

So I solicit your suggestions, here, on Steepster, on Twitter, Facebook, and wherever else you may cross my path.

Ten Ren Black Rose Tea: So, the tea I am now out of is sold from huge canisters at the Ten Ren shops all around the world. I bought this batch at the shop in Chinatown NYC and had no idea it was going to become one of my “staple” teas — i.e. a tea I brew at least once a week. (I typically brew 2-3 varieties per day, every day.) As I mention in my tasting note on this tea on Steepster, “This is a reliably delicious tea that holds up to at least 4 steepings, still giving beautiful color and excellent flavor, though milder by the 3rd and 4th time through. It doesn’t hit you over the head with the rose too much, doesn’t muck it up with any other flavors.”

The first thing, of course, is that the black tea itself must be of good quality. Crummy tea hidden by a shot of rose oil is not what I’m looking for, obviously, but I am a big believer in the fact that the most expensive tea isn’t necessarily the best. (more…)


December 19, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings

When I was eleven years old, my family took a month-long trip to the Philippines to visit our many relatives there on my father’s side of the family. One of the revelations of that trip was how incredibly good the fruit was there. At the Silahis Hotel in Manila my father ordered a half of a papaya for breakfast one day, and it was easily the size of a large watermelon, longer than his forearm! (For my part, I discovered the hot rice, ginger, and chicken porridge known as arroz caldo, traditionally served for breakfast, and insisted on having it every day.)

Better even than the papaya was the mango. After spending some time in Manila, we traveled to Cebu City (on the island of Cebu) and in ‘the provinces’ could buy perfectly ripe, huge yellow mangoes every day in the market. We ate them every day for breakfast or for ‘siesta’–the light afternoon meal or snack that came right before naptime. My mother loved them so much that after we came home, one day we were walking down the street in midtown Manhattan when we were stopped by a TV news crew polling people about what they thought the sexiest food was. Nearly everyone else said pizza, but my mother immediately said the mango. They aired her comment and we were all thrilled to see her on TV!

By now you are wondering what this has to do with tea, since this is a tea blog. I’m getting to that. Let it steep. I promise I’ll eventually make some point about food and drink being a cultural connection between people and their families and society at large. Or something. (more…)

Tea Witness

December 15, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Books, Tea Musings

You meet all sorts of people on the Internet. Having a tea blog is a little like running an online tea shop. People stop by from all over, and sometimes you get into interesting conversations with them.

One recent visitor to TeaWritings was Jason Witt, the author of the recently published book Spirituality of Tea. Right now the Kindle edition of the book is only a dollar, so I bought it. Jason is something of a tea monk. He eats a low-calorie diet, doesn’t drink or do drugs, doesn’t own a car or house and tries not to clutter up his life with possessions, and finds his ecstatic pleasure in tea and communing with God daily through tea. He doesn’t live on a mountaintop in Tibet, though, but in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Jason’s book reminded me in some ways of the books of Earl Grollman, who although he is a rabbi, focuses his books on a wider audience through the belief that all human beings, not just those of a particular religious sect, could benefit from his message. Grollman’s subject is grief and bereavement, and he writes in a very direct and almost simplified manner, soothingly repeating the messages distraught survivors need to hear. Jason’s subject is overcoming the stresses of modern life and the get-ahead mentality that distances us from our true needs, both physical and spiritual. Like Grollman, he invokes God and Heaven without specifying a specific church or doctrine and sends a powerful, direct message about the peace and happiness one can find.

Despite rampant commercialism and battles over its meaning, the holiday season still means something spiritual to me, making now a good time to talk with Jason about God, tea, religion, and other such subjects. I chatted with Jason, of course, through the Internet.

CT: The basic message of your book is that people can find God within themselves through drinking tea. Can I ask which one you came to first, God or tea? (more…)

Virtual Pot Hunting

November 06, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings

My favorite tea pot broke the other day. It was a white china pot, with a blue fish on the side. I was attempting to scrub it out by hand after it had gone through the top rack of the dishwasher. It slipped out of my wet hands and smashed in the sink. When I say smashed I mean the spout broke into about 12 pieces plus many slivers of smashage as small as grains of sand. In other words, it shattered a lot like glass, and the slivers were even sharp enough to cut, as my thumb discovered shortly thereafter. It’s not reparable. (The teapot, that is–my thumb turned out fine.)

This pot was bought in Chinatown for four dollars about 12-13 years ago, and over the past five years or so has been used pretty much every day. One impressive thing about the inside of the spout where it couldn’t be scrubbed–which I can see now that it’s smashed–is the coating of tea residue. Pitch black and the texture of sandpaper. Wow. (more…)

San Francisco Tea Tour: Stop #4

September 14, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Shops

Our final stop of the day would be the Samovar Tea Lounge. Samovar is tea at its hippest, while at the same time reaching back into the cross-cultural history and roots of tea and the tradition of the tea house as a hang-out.

On previous trips to San Francisco I had been to their location on the border of the Mission and the Castro to meet up with business colleagues. Tea is far superior to meet over than lunch, because you don’t get overstuffed, and you are intended to linger over tea. Tea allows you to set the pace of the meal and conversation, rather than being lock-stepped through courses and perhaps hurried out the door. You have nibbles, you have steeping and re-steeping, and you have the weight of thousands of years of civilized conversation behind you.

Tea and writing go together as cornerstones of Sinified Asian culture, and perhaps that is where philosophy comes in.

Tea Touring #2

August 17, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews, Tea Shops

Our next stop on our San Francisco tea excursion was the Aroma Tea Shop, a place I’ve ordered from many times on the web but never visited.

If you have seen their web site you will have seen a posed photo of Haymen Da Luz and his wife Ying Wi, described there as “the young and sexy owners of Aroma Tea Shop.” In the photo they are both wearing traditional garb, Haymen is holding a bamboo bird cage, Ying Wi a teapot that matches her chongsam. Midori, who had met them before at their Richmond area store, however, described them to me as “like two characters straight out of anime.” (more…)

San Francisco Tea Tour, part one

August 15, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Shops

Today I am drinking bubble tea, because I worked at my tae kwon do school this morning. Otherwise one would normally not see me getting up earlier on a Saturday than on a weekday. It’s a scorcher out there today (or as we say here in Boston, “ah scaw-chah”), so on the walk home I could not resist stopping at Tapicha, the bubble tea stand in the Porter Exchange (Lesley) building.

I’ll have to do a bubble tea review at some point, but today I’d like to finally start writing about all the tea shops I visited while on my recent travels in San Francisco, Montreal, and Washington DC.

Actually, on the trip to DC I was so busy I never made it to Teaism, which I recall liking very much on past visits, though I did have some surprisingly nice teas in the fancy hotel where the SABR conference took place. They had Republic of Tea in food service bags in the restaurant, and every day the maid refilled our selection of Taylors of Harrogate. The hotel was one of the more expensive ones I’ve stayed in, so it was nice that the tea was a little more upscale than what one often finds. At a reasonably nice Sheraton one will find Tazo, at a Holiday Inn Express, Lipton. (I bring my own teabags when I travel, since in some hotels one doesn’t find tea at all. This wasn’t the case this time, though!)

But a bagged tea made in a hotel room coffee maker is just to tide me over most days while I am traveling until I can have some real tea, either by returning home, or by playing tea tourist.

Tea tourist stop #1 on my trip to San Francisco was, accidentally, the Asian Art Museum (see previous post), but I made an actual plan to meet up with my friend Midori to seek out some shops in the city. Midori has many virtues as a friend, not the least of which are an automobile, fine taste in tea, and an unending ability to converse with me about all the intellectual curiosities of the world (people, food, culture, art, architecture, food, history, politics, literature, and did I mention food?).

Our day began with dim sum. We met a small group of friends at a restaurant just a few blocks from Chinatown proper, at 11:45am. I arrived at 11:40 and the place was deserted enough that I checked that they were open. By 11:45 four parties had been seated and I could literally see people coming down the hill and up the street from the financial district. I secured us a table for five and by 12 noon there was a line out the door.

It was dim sum, therefore we feasted. The tea was good, if unremarkable. Thus fortified we set out for the Ferry Building, which has become a gourmet shopper’s dream.

Handcrafted chocolates. “Tasty salted pig parts.” (As the Boccalone slogan reads.) Wild mushrooms. organic everything. And a tea shop. (more…)

Tea Travel & Starbucks

July 24, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews

Tazo Tea has been stalking me.

Okay, not really, but it seems like everywhere I have been in San Francisco OTHER THAN the fancy tea shop tour I took yesterday with a friend (posts on that still to come), it has been TAZO TAZO TAZO.

It started when I suddenly realized the day after I arrived that I had not, in fact, remembered to pack my travel stash of tea. So I began my re-caffeination the day of the convention with a stop into a ubiquitous Starbucks where I availed myself of the “China Green Tips” tea. At SBs they put two tea bags in the large cup (whatever the **** they call it). I let them steep for maybe a minute, maybe 90 seconds before I pulled them out, and the resulting brew was pleasingly grassy and sweet.

I went back to Starbucks for this same tea several times over during the convention, although “back” is perhaps a relative term, since I never found that exact Starbucks again, but kept ending up at other ones that I thought were it, but weren’t. (All were within 2-3 blocks of the hotel.) Interestingly, none were as good as that very first cup, making me wonder if I had found that same location if they would have been, or if it was some other factor.

Meanwhile, the hotel itself also stocked Tazo, and at the various buffet meals we took part in I helped myself to more. I’ve had Tazo in these kinds of hospitality situations before. Earl Grey, Wild Orange, etc. It’s often the hotel brand one gets with room service, too. But I had never seen the “Green Tips” before and still think it’s the best.

Now I am in the Oakland Airport. My flight is delayed, but at least there is free wireless and a Starbucks with plentiful power outlets. I’m drinking Green Ginger right now and I’m wishing I had gotten the Green Tips instead. It’s not bad, but it’s not a tea drinker’s tea, really. I had to sugar it to make it really palatable, and now it’s pleasing, but a bit like drinking candied ginger. Yummy, but not tea.

Or maybe anything would just seem blah compared to the tea I drank yesterday. Next post I’ll start trying to go through the teas and the tea tour I went on yesterday. A friend from the Bay Area and I hit four different tea shops (and dim sum) in the course of the day, tasting and smelling lots and lots of very fine, wonderful teas. More on that when I get back home!