Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Tea cup novelty

Here is a link to an article about a new self-stirring (well, kind of) tea cup (thanks to Tea Guy Speaks for posting the link on his blog). It looks nifty but impractical to me… If you could put a lid on it and shake it, then maybe (but would James Bond complain about the tea being bruised?). I just don’t think it would distribute sugar evenly if you only swirl it. Or honey, if that’s more your cup of tea (so to speak).

Plus it will be harder to lick the remaining little bit of undissolved honey off like you can do when you take the spoon out of the cup so it doesn’t stick up your nose while you’re drinking your tea…

And then there’s the issue of drinking the tea without choking on the little ball, or alternatively of having to fish it out of the cup with something (like a spoon, perhaps?). And then you will have to wash it and worry about losing it.

Dear me, I’m losing sleep just thinking about this, and it’s not even lunchtime yet. No, I can’t see it catching on, I’m afraid…

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Good afternoon

I have not had much time for tea blogging or indeed for tea itself over the last weekend, largely due to a surfeit of packing (nearly as bad as a surfeit of palfreys, as you will know if you remember your 1066 And All That). House-moving is imminent, and of course I am going to give careful consideration to the placement of my tea collection. Due to limitations of space at the moment it seems likely that my collection of antique tea-cup-and-saucer sets will have to remain packed in boxes in the shed… which is a pity but the other option would be to display them on open shelves and risk having Beren (the kitty) use them to test the workings of gravity (he likes pushing small objects off things when restless or feeling hard done by, a most effective form of blackmail which usually sees either me, my husband, or both of us, leap to do his bidding).

At any rate, I did enjoy a decent cuppa this morning (I felt terribly British, as I had toast and marmalade and a cup of tea with milk) – a small pot of Larsen & Thompson Assam from the Mazbat estate. This is a single-estate tea which I purchased from the Wine and Cheese Providore in Manuka, a very nice little place with a variety of gourmet goodies, which is an offshoot of the ever-expanding Mecca Bah which seems to be intent on taking over the entirety of Manuka Terrace. (Not that I am complaining, as they do very delicious food, and I was of course very pleased to see that the W&CP sells more than just wine and cheese, neither of those things being a particular weakness of mine.)

Unfortunately Google doesn’t seem able to provide me with a website solely devoted to Larsen & Thompson as a company, however a search for their teas does return this page, for The Alderman Providore, who apparently stock quite range of Larsen & Thompson stuff. (An Australian site, even better… must remember these guys…) They don’t seem to stock the Mazbat Assam, but they do have the Risheehat First-Flush Darjeeling which I have also purchased from the W&CP and absolutely adore.

The Mazbat Assam is a really good strong cup of tea, a beautiful deep red colour and a great malty flavour. It’s best on its own (but it also takes milk quite well, and a bit of sugar would possibly go nicely too). The Risheehat is quite different, although it also has a beautiful rich colour, but the aroma and flavour is much fresher and lighter than the Mazbat Assam, and a bit sweeter too. “Fully fired and toasty, round & mature, fruity and with a prominent honeyed nose and a hint of muscatel”, the blurb at Alderman tells me – I will have to go off an have a cup this afternoon when I get home from work and see if I can identify those flavours… Gee, it’s a hard life…

On another note, my thoughtful husband has just pointed out this article to me, about a possible increase in the price of a cup of tea. The horror!

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Happy Tea Experience at the Airpot, and other musings

No exciting tea tales to relate today, unfortunately. I spent a very pleasant weekend in Melbourne but unfortunately did not have time to go to any tea shops (shocking I know). I did however get a nice surprise when my husband and I were having a cuppa with my parents at the airport after they met us at the Tiger terminal (which is so far away from the main terminal that we may as well have stayed in Canberra, honestly – but this is not the place to gripe about that). We went to HighTide which is close to the Virgin Blue entrance to the Domestic Terminal. Much to my delight (having psyched myself up to brave a regular, crappy teabag, because of it being so cold and miserable weather-wise and us having had to walk for miles in the pouring rain to get back to the main terminal – but I said I wasn’t going to gripe, didn’t I?) I discovered that TeaDrop teas were served!

TeaDrop teas are lovely loose-leaf teas and tisanes, served in those nifty little pyramid teabags, which I first discovered at the Groove Train on Bridge Road, and I’ve since seen them in quite a few cafes and coffee shops round and about the place (even in Canberra, I think, though I can’t remember where just off the top of my head). The Malabar Chai is particularly nice – I think that’s the one I’ve had most often – and the Cleopatra’s Champagne is also great (that’s a blend of chamomile, lavender and rose petals, very fragrant and floral). I decided to try one that I hadn’t had before and selected the Fruits of Eden blend, which was served nice and hot in a big mug. It had a great red colour from the hibiscus and it was fruity without being either too sweet or too tart.

It was quite a nice change to get the tea (with bag) in a mug, which is why I’ve mentioned it, because lately I’ve been feeling short-changed when I order tea that comes in one of those annoying little stainless steel teapots which invariably drip and the lids don’t close properly… I’ve noticed recently that whereas normally I would expect to get two tea-cups’ worth out of one of those little pots, I have only been getting one. Now I haven’t made a thing of it because I am very meek and mild when it comes to being a customer. But seriously – it’s only water, people. It’s not going to break the bank for you to fill up my little teapot properly so that I can get two cups instead of just one…

But with my tea coming in a mug like it did at HighTide, I could see exactly what I was getting and did not feel short-changed at all. I know it’s much more proper to make tea in a teapot, but I didn’t really feel that it detracted in anyway from the quality of the fruit tisane… They’re a bit tougher than some other teas I could think of.

What I have the greatest hankering for at the moment is a Tea Tonic blend called Tea Party Tea, which is sold at the health food shop where I used to work (amongst many other places). It’s a blend of rooibos and rose petals. My sister and I christened this blend ‘Festivi-tea’ and used to drink it by the bucketful. I suspect that homesickness is a major reason for my craving for this particular tea at this particular time…

I am of course not willing to pay $22 for a product that I can make at home myself for about $6, but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to source some reasonably-priced loose-leaf rooibos in Canberra (I do have rose petals though). I am hoping that my local health food shop that does all the bulk herbs and teas will have some, but I keep forgetting to go and check it out. Very remiss of me. Perhaps this evening (if I don’t get home too late)…

By the way, you may have noted that Tea Tonic sell their blends in teabags as well as loose. Unless things have changed dramatically since I finished up at the health food shop (6 months or so now) I wouldn’t bother with the teabags. They’re not that bad, but they’re not that good (not as good as the TeaDrop ones, e.g.). They’re made in little unbleached filter bags, which is virtuous and surely good for you, but the product inside largely resembles dust (as you will find with most teabags) – a dramatic difference from the loose-leaf product in the tubes or tins. The filter bags are also notoriously flimsy in my experience – they break open in your tea extremely easily (if they’re not already broken when you open them).

There are some concerns that the pyramid teabags which are made from nylon are not very environmentally friendly, however – see this article at The Simple Leaf blog…. I will try to find some more information on this.

Friday, 16 May 2008

More Lovely Tea Sites

I discovered this lovely site yesterday: The Simple Leaf. It’s nice to find a site that is mainly about Indian teas – most of the others that I have looked at so far focus on Chinese and Japanese ones. Unfortunately The Simple Leaf folk do not deliver their tasty sounding goods outside of the USA, otherwise I would definitely given some of their teas a go. They do however have some handy and encouraging information on how to perform a tea-tasting for yourself - I will definitely be giving this a go when I have a quiet afternoon to myself. They also have a blog which is a really interesting read!

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Why do I bother?

I had to travel for work yesterday, which meant a lot of time spent at airports, being rather thirsty, and little chance of a decent cup of tea.

Water was on offer at the meeting, which was of course good, but I decided also to brave the teabags on offer and made myself a cup of Lipton's Orange Herbal blend, which was primarily rosehips and hibiscus so I thought I couldn’t go too wrong there. Well, I was wrong about not being able to go wrong - it tasted like chewable vitamin C tablets (you could hardly even taste the hibiscus), and made me wonder why I had even bothered. Deluded hope? Latent masochism? Well, whatever the reason, it was not a very worthwhile experience at all. I have learned my lesson this time and will studiously steer clear of such offerings in future.

Perhaps I should invest in some decent loose-leaf tea bags from T2, and take them to these kinds of functions with me; yet I can’t help wondering if that’s just too rude and pretentious for words. Then again, why should I be embarrassed to appreciate quality? Other people should hang their heads in shame at offering such inferior beverages…

Anyway, note to self, with a smack in the head for good measure: DON’T BOTHER WITH THE TEABAGS, VERITY – it’s not worth it!

PS. I had to smile when I came up on this product just now while browsing at The Tea Smith – unbleached paper filters which can be filled with your desired tea, and taken with you, thus saving you ‘the indignity of suffering through terrible tea’. I love it! Might have to purchase some myself…

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Tea Recipe - Chai Masala Muffins

This is a variation on a delicious recipe I found at Vegweb - it makes about 12 smallish muffins (they don't rise much). They are really moist and tasty, and fairly sweet. You will need to keep them in the fridge, but as long as you do that they should last about a week. They are best, however, eaten warm with some soy chai with sprinkles...

1 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 cup oat bran
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon or chai sprinkles
2 tsp good quality chai masala, brewed 
in water to make 1 cup liquid
1 cup apple sauce
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 180 deg Celsius
Mix dry ingredients together in a large bowl
Add tea, apple sauce, maple syrup and oil, and mix well
Spoon into non-stick muffin tins and bake for 20-25 minutes 
or until firm and golden on top


Woke up early this morning and for once actually felt like getting out of bed (plus the cat was restless, which always helps - easier to get up than listen to him scratching the carpet, pushing things off the bedside table, and so on), so I hopped up and decided to try out my gyokuro that I bought from T2 last weekend. I've been saving it up for a nice quiet time so I have the chance to savour it properly.

Well, all I can say is, it was a revelation. The liquor was clear yellow-green, and the taste - well, I don't know the proper terminology, so I'll just try to describe it as best I can. It was a bit earthy at first, but then with an aftertaste that was clear and sweet, a little fruity even, and it left a nice cool feeling on my lips that I've never experienced before except when drinking something like peppermint. Totally sublime.

I've just googled 'gyokuro tea' to find out more about it. According to Green Tea Expert, gyokuro means 'gem of dewdrop' or 'pearl dew' (isn't that lovely - although if I am repeating misinformation I hope that any Japanese speakers out there will correct me). It is apparently one of the rarest and most expensive Japanese green teas, and the dark green colour is the result of shading the plants, leading them to develop more chlorophyll.

(I have a second photo to add but for some reason it's just not uploading. I'll try it again later...)

I will definitely be drinking more gyokuro more often, and will probably invest in a whole packet once I've worked through the little sample size that I bought... This could prove to be an expensive habit. But who am I kidding? Tea was always going to be an expensive habit for me...

Update, 13 May – I just did a bit more reading about gyokuro and it would seem that I did not brew it properly the other day when I made it (nice though it was). You need to use a lot more leaf to a small amount of water (2 tablespoons leaf to 120ml!) rather than the regular 2 teaspoons to a pot, which is the T2 recommendation. Oops! But apparently you can get several brewings out of it this way. I guess I will try it, but it looks like I will be going through it a lot more quickly than I thought. Definitely a tea to be saved for special occasions…

Friday, 9 May 2008

Caffeine myths and reality

I read a most illuminating (if at times somewhat technical) article at Cha Dao the other day, concerning the levels of caffeine to be found in different kinds of (Camellia spp.) tea.

It turns out that it is not actually true that black teas are the highest in caffeine and that green and white teas have little or none – in fact white teas may have the highest concentration of all! This is definitely contrary to everything that I’ve ever heard before but it appears to be backed up by good evidence (and certainly makes good common sense – e.g. if the tea is plucked from the same bush at the same time, it will have a similar amount of caffeine no matter how it’s processed).Not that the amount of caffeine in tea bothers me that much, apart from avoiding anything too strong too late in the evening. But I now have some handy facts up my sleeve that I can trot out to debunk myths when I hear people spouting off about them (so to speak).

I wonder if the Cha Dao people have any similarly high quality articles about the health benefits and antioxidant levels of tea. I would be interested to read those as well… I’ll have to have a look.

I am seriously considering taking advantage of the currently favourable exchange rate to purchase a Yixing teapot from the Jing Teashop… but that might have to wait until after I’ve moved house (an unfortunate necessity)…

Today I am drinking a blend called ‘Daintree Sunset’ from The Tea Party (which has a shop at the Vic Market in Melbourne, but also retails products in Canberra, a nice surprise) which is a rather tasty blend of chamomile, spearmint and lemon myrtle (although I think it’s a bit light on the lemon myrtle, personally) – I’ve been going through quite a lot of this over the last couple of weeks. It’s refreshing and non-caffeinated, calming and warm (especially important given some of the airconditioning issues in the building where I work), and – this may sound like the lunatic fringe here – it seems to go well in my work teapot… some other teas (French Earl Grey, for example) just don’t. I can’t explain it, but there it is. Maybe it’s just that my cubicle-ridden work environment isn’t the right place to drink them.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

The Proper Use of Tea

What does it mean to drink tea ‘properly’? As I mentioned yesterday this is a question which has been occupying me for some time. I have read Tea Life, Tea Mind and am currently reading The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo, both of which discuss Teaism or Cha Dao as a Zen practice.

I find this both inspiring and intimidating – and I’m probably not alone, I suppose. Why else would it take years to become practised in the arts of Zen and tea?

Questions (I’m hoping I’m not the only lunatic who actually goes around wondering about these things…):
* Is it acceptable to drink tea while you’re doing something else?
* If I boil water in a kettle, is that bad? The alternative is a saucepan on the stove (which is what I use if I’m heating water for a tea that need a lower temperature, like a green or white tea; while practical, I can’t help but feel it lacks finesse).
* But should I stand there and watch it the whole time, or can I leave it (or, with less potential for disaster, the kettle) and run around the house hanging up washing or making my lunch?
* Can I drink tea at my desk at work?
* For that matter, can I drink water or eat an apple at my desk at work while I’m doing something else – because the whole point is (as I understand it) that Zen is about mindfulness and being in the moment whatever you’re doing. So there is not much worth in only applying that mindfulness to tea and not to the way I live the rest of my life.

(Feel free to correct me if I am not getting this right. I want to learn.)

I want to be able to enjoy tea, many times during the day. I feel that richer, deeper enjoyment will come from mindfulness, so I will do my best to cultivate that. But refusing to allow myself to drink tea in situations when I can’t be fully mindful will probably be counter-productive… I want to ‘do tea right’ but I don’t want it to become about rules and regulations.

The other day I was comforted to read, in the wonderful online magazine The Leaf , an article by Thomas Leons entitled ‘The Conscientious Tea Consumer’. In this article Leons emphasises the importance of trying different styles of tea for oneself – forming one’s own judgements but always listening with respect and an open heart to the recommendations of others. There is no one Way!

I don’t have the book to hand right now, so I am remembering this off the top of my head, but I think that Okakura Kakuzo said in The Book of Tea that Teaism is the worship of the Imperfect. I will try and hold this thought in my heart.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Tea Thought for the Day

Tea is only this: First you heat the water, then you make the tea. Then you drink it properly. That is all you need to know.
- quoted in Tea Life, Tea Mind by Soshitsu Sen

Something to think about... I am ruminating a lot about what constitutes drinking tea 'properly' at the moment though. More on this when I have more time!

I eventually got around to re-steeping my Buddha's Tears yesterday - it held up quite well I have to say, although much of the jasmine flavour had gone with the second pot. The green tea flavour was still very pleasant though. I will happily get two pots out of it in the future. Sometimes discarding tea leaves after only one infusion strikes me as rather wasteful - although it depends on the tea. I wouldn't bother reusing most of my herbal blends - all the volatile oils disappear too quickly. I suppose tannins must be more robust...

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Verity's Adventures in Wonderland

I headed off to T2 this morning as forecast and came home with a few things (very restrained of me, really): a new tea strainer, a box of their 'Soothe' herbal blend (one of my favourites) and an 'Exotic Stack' which includes Buddha's Tears, Gyokuro and Pai Mu Tan. 

I've had Pai Mu Tan before, but hadn't tried the others and figured it was a relatively inexpensive way ($40 for the 3) of testing them out - especially given that the other option for Gyokuro was the 100g box at $48 (a bit much to shell out for a tea I wasn't sure I would like).

The shop itself was a little smaller than I'd hoped, and a bit crowded at the front - they have their big sample table, where you can smell all the different teas, very close to the entrance. This made it a little hard to get in, given that there were a number of customers browsing the shelves towards the front, so I had to squeeze to get into the actual shop. On the plus side, it is of course a Good Thing that they were relatively busy even on a Sunday morning in Canberra at 10.30.

I noted a sign saying that they are currently looking for assistant managers... *sigh* 

I have just shared a pot of the Buddha's Tears with my husband - I took some photos of it while the leaves were unfurling. It is the best jasmine tea I have ever drunk - really floral and with a beautiful sweet aftertaste, a lovely golden colour too. I was surprised at how large the leaves were when they had unfurled - the balls are so small and intricate when they are rolled up. I can't imagine how tricky it must be to make these kinds of teas...

I'm going to go and see if I can get another pot out of it. There seem to be differing views on how many times you can re-infuse particular teas, and how long for - e.g. I've read that a first infusion should only be for 30 seconds, and the second and third ones can be longer. Well, I'll see what happens with the remains of the Buddha's Tears (after a first infusion of about 4 minutes)...

Saturday, 3 May 2008


This is my first foray into the world of blogging; I hope it's a successful one. Time will tell!

I am passionate about tea, of all kinds (except the not-good, crappy kinds - although I suppose you could say I'm passionate about avoiding those) and I intend to use this blog to post reviews of and comments about tea, tea paraphernalia, tea books and tea experiences. 

Tomorrow (Sunday) I am joyously proposing to make my first expedition to the recently-opened Canberra outlet of T2 - updates of purchases to follow. 

Please feel free to add your comments or suggestions for things you would like to see on this blog, issues about tea that you would like to discuss... All are welcome! Looking forward to hearing from you soon.


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