Tea Writings

A blog about tea from the desk of Cecilia Tan

Archive for the ‘Tea Musings’

Tea Art

July 22, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews

Today I visited the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, especially to see the”Lords of the Samurai” exhibit.

It should shock no one reading this that the Japanese ruling class of 1100-1868 were very into tea. They were strongly influenced by China, and many noble families collected tea implements (bowls, scoops, etc…) from Viet Nam, Korea, and other “exotic” places, and kept them as prized family heirlooms. One bowl in the exhibit had been cracked and fixed up with gold. Many of the individual implements were given poetic names like “Queen of the West.”

You may be familiar with the term “raku” to refer to a kind of pottery. The name originates from a family of ceramicists, and one person in particular, Raku Chojiro, who popularized a style of rustic individual pieces, each being completely unique and more naturalistic than the prim, painted ceramics from China. They have a bowl in the exhibit which Raku Chojiro made himself! (Pictures and more details here. They also have the original scrolls of the Book of Five Rings as copied by Miyamoto Musashi’s apprentice. For a martial artist like me, that’s a bit like seeing the Gospel actually written in some Disciple’s hand.)

Some of these prized tea things were so highly valued that the high ranking families had paintings made of them.

I ended up buying some sencha in the museum store after looking at the exhibits. I bought “Sa” brand sencha, which has various “award winning” claims on the box and a fru-fru marketing blurb, like most fancy teas seem to have these days.

The sencha is good. I’m on the second steeping on this chill and foggy San Francisco evening. The tea has that grassy flavor, a hint of that rubbery side coming out that is so common in sencha and dragonwell, but not in a detrimental way. I don’t think I dare go for a third steep, though. It will likely turn bitter before reaching a reasonable level of flavor.

Speaking of bitter, throughout the convention I was attending all weekend, I made a trip pretty much every day to Starbucks, where I purchased the Tazo “China Green Tips” every day. The first day it tasted quite sweet to me, but each successive day it seemed to be getting more and more bitter, even when I definitely did not oversteep it. I finally figured out today that everything tastes a bit bitter to me right now, even chocolate malted milk balls. Weird, no? I’m not sure if it’s my allergies acting weird, or my brain being out of whack, or what. The first day, I found I quite liked the China Green Tips and I will definitely try that one again sometime when my taste buds and/or brain have gotten over this bitter phase.

Tea-Drinking Weather

June 29, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings

The main consequence of the fact that it has been rainy and cold for the entire month of June is that I have continued to drink hot tea far into the season when I would have normally switched to iced.

This is good! It means not only no summer hiatus for Tea Writings (not that I was sure there would be one…), I have kept up my routine of taking breaks from writing and work to brew new pots multiple times per day.

I have never been good at just sitting and meditating. What? Just sit and try to think about nothing? I have always been better at reaching a meditative state through motion or music or something else where you distract the brain from thinking and only later when you “come to” do you realize you’d gone into a meditative state. Practicing martial arts, for example. At some point your mind has to get out of your way for you to really excel at it. Consciousness expands to include everyone in the room, maybe everyone in the building. This happens not through sitting still, but through doing focused motions.

Making a pot of tea can be like that, if I let myself be mindful. If I am not focused, I get the order of the steps wrong. The water boils before I have picked out a tea. I rinse out the pot with hot water but I forget to rinse the loose leaves. I measure the leaves but haven’t put the basket in the pot yet. And so on. It’s often like that first thing in the morning when my brain is still trying to shake off the effects of the allergy medicine I took the night before.

But once I’m actually awake, it’s a nice break to go every hour or two, out of my office and down to the kitchen, which overlooks the cool green summer shade of my back garden, and brew a pot.

I’m not always mindful while making tea, of course. Sometimes I’m checking my Twitter feed on my iPhone with one hand while I empty the dishwasher with the other, while waiting for the boil or the steep. But at least I have the chance to step away from the computer a few times a day.

Today I am finishing up the very last of the Stash brand “Light Fragrant Ti Kuan Yin” that I got for Christmas two and a half year ago. Honestly, over the two years it has lost some of its flavor, but I never should have taken so long to drink it. The container got buried under some others, and then it was superseded by newer, fancier Iron Goddess purchases from Aroma Tea Shop in San Fran and elsewhere, like the packet I brought back from China itself, which I used up immediately.

Which raises the question of what to do with the teas that have lost their luster in the back of the cabinet? I’m far too frugal to contemplate throwing them away. But there are a few that just don’t have much to recommend them, now. Perhaps some of them should end up in the smoker the next time we barbecue? Your suggestions are welcome at ctan.writer at Gmail dot com, or comment below!

Roast Sweet

June 17, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews

Ahhh, this is Da Stuff.

I’ve been drinking a lot of enjoyable teas lately. Despite the fact that it’s mid-June and the longest day of the year is nigh, it’s been downright chilly in New England. With the temps in the low 60s every day and in the 50s (or even 40s again like it was last night) at night, it’s perfect tea-drinking weather. A warm pot sits on my desk throughout the day and evening hours while I work.

Having just ordered a slew of sample teas from various places, I’ve been brewing lots of things that are quite tasty, but I’ve been refraining from writing about them until I’ve tried them each four or five times. I used to review music back in another life, and I learned that I didn’t really know what I thought of an album until I’d heard it through five times. I figure tea might be the same.

Except today I brewed a pot of “Oolong Choice.” (more…)

Weather Or Not

May 26, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews

It’s lovely and sunny today, and June is nearly here, but it’s actually quite chilly in my house. The temperature outside has only reached 53 on this sunny afternoon, and in here it’s about the same as it is all winter–66 degrees.

I spend a lot on tea when compared to your average person, though probably not compared to your average tea snob, perhaps $200 a year? (And that’s not counting all the tea I get as gifts.) But tea costs very little when compared to the price of heating the house.

Two winters ago I reduced the temperature on my thermostats from 68 to 66 and decided to drink more hot tea instead. The result was not only my steady tea routine, but a drop in our gas bill that winter of $800. (And the price of gas had gone up, so the usage might have dropped more than indicated by price alone!) Given that I have to run a gas stove to heat the water, that was a very pleasing sum to see. (And also one of the reasons I feel absolutely no guilt about buying as much tea as I like.)

I’m keeping warm on this not-yet-summer day with a sturdy roasted bancha from Holy Mountain. The have it labeled Houjicha (roasted bancha tea). “This tea drink is a bancha that is lightly roasted, which gives it a nutty flavor. Not at all a connoisseur tea, but a fun everyday drink that goes well with Japanese foods,” reads the web site. “Its liquor is a tawny brownish color with a smoky taste.”

I just picked this one up to see if I like it better than the various Sow Mee White Tea cans and batches I’ve ordered from various places, and since used up. As it turns out, I like it about the same. Sow Mee would be slightly sweeter in the cup, but the effect is similar as far as a roasted flavor is concerned.

Actually, I will have to brew this again later, in a porcelain or glass pot, to be sure of what it tastes like. This batch I made in a yixing clay pot, which always imparts a little of the flavor of the clay to the tea. The clay has a slightly chocolate-y taste, on that same axis with the roasted teas and the oxidized oolongs.

In fact, it’s time for me to brew another pot now. It’s still chilly and I’m drinking it fairly quickly to keep warm!

Chinatown, Dollars and Scents

May 18, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings, Tea Reviews

Sunday found me in New York’s Chinatown, where I stopped before heading home after a weekend in the city for both business and pleasure.

This is the Chinatown of my youth, a place my family almost always went when we were in the city for any reason. (That is, after we’d moved to New Jersey from Manhattan when I was around five.) If we had out-of-town guests or family, and had spent the afternoon sightseeing, we would finish the day with dinner in the basement dining room of the Hunan House on Mott Street, or in later years the upstairs eatery of Say Eng Look (“Four Five Six”).

One night we brought my uncle, who was doing post-doctoral work in marine biology at U. of Southern Mississippi, and some of his researcher/grad school friends there, when they were on a road trip from USM to Wood’s Hole in Massachusetts. One of the guys on the trip was from Singapore, and when the waiter brought the hot steamed towels before the meal for our hands, he pushed it into his face and nearly cried. (more…)

Heart’s Delight

May 09, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings

We indulged ourselves in one of my favorite weekend “brunch” traditions, which was going to Chinatown for dim sum.

We arrived at the restaurant at noon and I was surprised to find how uncrowded it was. Oh, there was a lively business going on at the dim sum palace known as Chau Chow City, but nothing like what it was like ten years ago, when you had to fight to get in on a weekend day between 10am and 1pm. I don’t know if it’s the economy affecting the crowds or just the tradition of family dim sum for Asian-American families is waning? Several of the Asian markets have closed because fewer and fewer families make the special trip to Chinatown to do their shopping. On the other hand, the huge Asian markets like Super 88 that are located in the suburbs where the vast majority of the Chinese population have moved to are also downsizing. So, I don’t know.

You wouldn’t think the economy would keep people away from dim sum, which is one of the least expensive gourmet meals one can buy. Six of us went this morning, and we were overstuffed at the price of $12 each, and that with leaving a generous tip. $12 each got us approximately 15 different dishes? Let’s see if I can remember:

This is a blog about tea

May 06, 2009 By: ctan Category: Tea Musings

Caffeinated, uncaffeinated, chinese, indian, english, green, black, white, red, herbal, medicinal, high, low, cream, oolong, sencha, dragonwell, keemun, darjeeling, scented, mint, steeped, strained, iced, made in a gaiwan, from taiwan, jasmine pearl, a grey earl, in a cup, that’s what’s up.