Tea Writings

A blog about tea from the desk of Cecilia Tan

Archive for July, 2009

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!

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.