Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Russian Reflection Moment

My sister-in-law took me to Siberia when I was 20 years old. She was attending the 1st Conference on Children's Health with some other medical and dental professionals. I was her office manager at the time, working my way through college. It was my first foreign adventure crossing an ocean.

I remember the warmth of welcome from the people, their amazing food that was so "meat and potatoes" but so fresh and so delicious. Their penchant for sitting around after dinner and singing folk songs. Their readiness to laugh and have fun. The vodka. Good heavens, the vodka.

I saw a Siberian city in total disrepair, a country in which Communism had just fallen and Democracy was barely seeping into the vocabulary. And yet.  And yet... There was a strength of spirit, a turn-your-collar-up-against-the-wind-and-keep-trudging-forward determination.

I'm sipping one of my staple teas: Romanoff, an organic, blood-orange-infused, strong black tea from American Tea Room.  There's something so severe and yet so comforting in this blend that keeps the obsession going.  It is in this cup that I am reminded of that determination, that strength of spirit paired with the readiness for fun. Sometimes that's what's missing. Looking for the opportunity to laugh, have fun, make light of the gravitas that may well be at hand.

Lesson learned.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Gongfu Fighting Moment

Everybody was Gongfu fighting
Those steeps were fast as lightning...

What can I say? Every time I see or even think the word, "Gongfu," that song parody runs through my head. And now it will run through yours.

You're welcome.

The Gongfu experience is relatively new to me, and for awhile was very intimidating. I know there are Gongfu purists who take the Chinese Tea Ceremony very seriously and see it strictly as that: a ceremony. Others view it as another way to enjoy certain types of tea, Puerh and Oolongs in particular.  To boil it down (pardon the pun) to the very basic difference of Gongfu brewing and regular brewing, it's about the amount of tea leaves and the length of steeping time. Gongfu - more leaves, briefer steeping times.

For me, Tea is usually the backdrop against which other activities take place, whether it's catching up with friends or family, spending some special time with my daughter, or accompanying me as I read or write.  Gongfu allows the moment to be specifically about the tea. For me, it's a new way to slow down, relax, in the same way I might relax through yoga or a hot bath. 

The part that can feel somewhat intimidating is the equipment. And that's where Matt Kitchens of Tea Setter comes in.  All of the "how" is taken out of the process with their Chinese Tea Sets.

I took great pleasure in laying out my tea set. The little glass tea pot, the gaiwan, two tea cups, the strainer, all on a simple but beautiful bamboo tray.  There were six different teas to choose from, three Oolongs and three Puerh. Decisions, decisions. I chose the Old Capitol Puerh, because it looked most exotic, as though it had been broken off an ancient tea brick (I don't know if it really was, but I let my imagination go there.)

As I rinsed the tea leaves and then conducted my first steeping, I realized that there was a level of precision that I was enjoying  in the process. Not that you have to be terribly precise, but you could allow yourself to be as precise and ceremonial, or as laissez-faire, as you liked, and still really enjoy every step of the way.

The first steep, only 10-15 seconds...

I liked having the strainer to catch the few stray bits of tea that may have otherwise ended up in my cup.

Despite being steeped so briefly, the tea is robust, earthy, though not as fermented as I've experienced with some Puerhs.

The second steep. This time about 30 seconds.  It's amazing how the flavor changes, not necessarily in intensity, but in nuance. In sweetness of finish.

The third steep, now up to 1 minute. Obligations slip away, deadlines are set aside. I study the color of the tea, the flavor, I notice how the tea cup fits so nicely in the curve of my hand.

I go through six steepings (is that a word?), all told. I feel calmer, having savored a moment of just tea and me. With so much going on all day, every day, and always feeling like I'm running behind, this is a much needed oasis. And while today I needed this moment just for myself, I'm already thinking of who I'd like to invite over to share a Gongfu Moment with me. But would I choose another Puerh? Or an Oolong.  Hmm.

And everybody was Gongfu Fighting...

If you'd like to experience a Moment with your own Chinese Tea Set, Tea Setter is offering two special coupon code for my readers (Thanks Matt!)

Code: MomentSet10 - $10 Off Deluxe Tea Set & Free Shipping (it makes the set
$54 with free shipping which I think is a great deal)

Code: MomentTea10 - 10% Off any orders of tea including our samplers.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Moment In My Head

Every once in a while, I'm able to steal away into my office 10 or 15 minutes before the "official" start of my day. Today is one of those mornings. For just a few minutes, I can try and clear all of the mental clutter from my mind and be ready for the day as it comes.

The clutter is like anyone else's, I suppose. Bills to pay, the start of the school year, what to pack for the business trip, how to address the new 'tude we're seeing from this one, not the other one, how to gently extricate myself from a long-term professional commitment, how to participate in another one without selling my soul to them, upcoming birthdays, new babies to celebrate, a new book club, a getaway... 
Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.          -Victor Hugo
And so the day begins.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Tea Time Moment in the Office

I always enjoy guests stopping in to write on my blog, and it's my pleasure to have Brenna Ciummo, a writer for Seattle Coffee Gear, share one of her Office Tea Time Moments. Enjoy!

Here at Seattle Coffee Gear, we get to do a lot of coffee testing. Yet contrary to what some people might think, this is not to the exclusion of tea. A few of us, myself included, are avid tea drinkers and are very serious about our tea. In fact, we’ve gotten to do a few fun experiments of our own including tea tastings, determining the right brew temperature for various teas and playing with new tea ware.

Despite all of the exciting things we get to do, my favorite part of the day is simply brewing up a cup of tea. There is just something relaxing about sipping on a cup of tea while I write (especially on rainy days, which happens pretty frequently here in Seattle). Perhaps it provides me with the extra creative “juice” I need to overcome the curse of a blank page and a blinking cursor.


Another aspect that makes my “office tea time” enjoyable is that I have a much better tea setup than in offices past. At my previous jobs, I often had to make do with getting hot water from a spigot or even microwaving it – neither of which provide much, if any, control over the water temperature. At SCG I’m lucky enough to have several tea kettles (and a variety of loose-leaf teas!) to choose from -- from more traditional looking steel ones to modern glass ones.  We even have a machine that would practically make my entire cup of tea for me (except for dispensing it into a cup) if I so desired.

Out of all the kettles, I am most drawn to the glass variable temperature kettles (like the Capresso Tea C100 Temperature Control) most likely because you can watch them in action. Whoever said watching water boil is boring was wrong or at least didn’t have a glass kettle. It is so neat to watch the water bubble and bounce around as it heats up; it almost looks like a lava lamp. The beauty of this kettle is that it allows you to select from five temperature settings that accurately brew whatever type of tea you desire. The kettle also automatically shuts off once the water has been heated to the selected temperature, which is great since I don’t have to worry about leaving a burner on while I’m typing away.

Tea time has become a daily ritual for me. One of the first things I do when I come into the office is select which tea I want for the morning, set my kettle to the appropriate temperature setting for the tea and watch the leaves unfurl as I pour the hot water over them. I often repeat this procedure again later in the day for a mid-morning or afternoon (sometimes even both) pick me up. What is even more fun is educating my co-workers about the joys of tea and telling them about different teas I’ve tried. Hopefully it won’t be too long until more of them start joining me for afternoon tea, which would be the best moment of all. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Dueling Dragon Well Moment

This summer feels like it has been a series of decisions of every size and magnitude. From "zucchini or broccoli with dinner?" (broccoli) to "this online meeting provider or that one?" (this one) to "are you going to try for a boy now?" (no).  It's daily and weekly and monthly, decisions, decisions, decisions. And it seems more so now than ever. I don't know what's in the air.

Most of them have some kind of long-term ramification. I've been wishing I could just make a decision that had no ramifications whatsoever.

And then the opportunity arrived by mail from JING Tea. Airmail, even. The decision: which Dragon Well do you like better?

A sheer opinion that most likely will be different than (and the same as) at least half of the people who are faced with the same decision. I like the sound of that.

What a pleasure to set aside the weight of the day, put the kettle on, lay out two cups, and enjoy the company of myself and two cups of tea.

I've been loitering in a particular daydream of late that involves wandering aimlessly through fields of tea in the early morning while the leaves are fresh with dew or mist. I take great pleasure in reading about the origins of the teas I'm drinking and imagining myself there. These teas fan the flames of my fantasy.

In this cup, JING Tea's Dragon Well Supreme, Organic.
Picked in the cool early spring, before the rains. From the organic soils of Fengwu Tea Garden.
 As this tea steeps, there is a light, earthy, lemon freshness from the pale yellow liquid. Early spring seems like yesterday and yet a million years ago both at the same time. The first sip of Supreme is springtime in a cup. Light, fresh, smooth, smooth, smooth. I can slow down, I can let the weight of months of decisions slip off of my shoulders.

In this cup, JING Tea's Organic Dragon Well.
Picked between April 11th and 12th 2013 from Yanghai Garden
 The scent here is more earthy, with a hint of toasted rice. As I enjoy the first sip, I am reminded of genmaicha, though very subtly. This is a tea of the earth, and I find it fascinating that teas picked just days apart (though different gardens) can taste so different and yet be so obviously Dragon Well.

I take my time, I savor each tea, appreciating the complexities and changes within each tea as the minutes pass. In the end, I steep one more cup n the beautiful, clear, glass tea infuser mug JING Tea provided as well.

Watching the leaves steep is almost as relaxing as sipping the tea itself.
I decide, with no consequence whatsoever, that there's a reason the first tea is named, "Supreme." For that is what it is. And I don't feel at all badly for the second Dragon Well, because I'll be enjoying it again too. The other lovely fact of my decision is that for once it is not an all-or-nothing proposition. I can decide which one I like better, but I can have my Teas and drink them... two.

A Menu Reveal Moment

I've been a fan of Coffee, Tea and Tulips in Mission Viejo for a number of years. While they are a tea room and even more, their passion for unique food, unique tea (and coffee) and a unique dining experience shines through every thing they do and decision they make. (And by "They," I of course mean The Artiste, a.k.a. Michael Samawi, and his lovely wife, Lina.)

That's why is was such an honor for me to be invited to a private tasting of their new menu!

While their tea service has always been exceptional (they really do make the best Scones ever!), they've added their signature Worldly touch and created a menu of Tea Flavor Themes that literally blows my mind.

In a tour of Sandweech Flavor Themes, I was introduced to flavor combinations that have left me wondering, "Where have you been all my life?"

As a part of the Artiste's Daring Adventure, I was introduced to Fatteh, an ancient dish from the Egypt - Lebanon region. Let me just say, I'm in love with this creation. The savory goodness is something I've daydreamed of often since this meeting of fate.

The Tel Aviv from the Protein Flavor Profile is another savory masterpiece with chicken, sourcream, bleu cheese and topped with bacon. And as we all know, everything's better with bacon.

For the tea traditionalist, there is the Deconstructed Egg Salade, in the Traditional and Vegetarian Flavor Profiles. Now, those who know me, know that I'm all about the egg salad sandwich as de rigueur with Afternoon Tea. So, I was a little skeptical when I saw the presentation. However, one bite made me a believer. This simple bite of sliced egg, tapenade, pine nuts, and some of the Artiste's secret spices topping a soft wheat bread was just this side of heaven.

A sampling of everything - absolutely wonderful!

But then... there was more. Lots more!  Because not only has their tea menu been updated, their regular menu has undergone a major transformation as well!

Not into afternoon tea? No problem. A wonderful world of Salades and Sandweeches await you. Even a To-Die-For breakfast burrito!

Eggs, cream, shawerma (another introduction to a little slice of heaven), spinach, tomato, feta... trust me - amazing.

You don't need to be into "Tea" to be into Coffee Tea and Tulips' new menu. In a world of fast food and heat lamps, this is actual, affordable, inspiring cuisine. And it's tucked right in my back yard in the city of Mission Viejo, California.

Run. Don't Walk.

Coffee, Tea and Tulips
25280 Marguerite Pkwy, Mission Viejo, CA
(949) 587-9988 ·
Please contact Coffee, Tea and Tulips 29 1/2 hours in advance of your desired Tea Time.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Christmas in August Moment

In our household, most celebratory events involving the giving and receiving of gifts take place December through April. It starts with Gene's birthday, rolls into Christmas, carries on through my birthday in January, appears in small but sweet ways around Valentine's Day in February, continues on through Anne Marie's birthday in March, and wraps up in grand fashion with Edie's birthday in April.

And while we've become accustomed to lovely packages full of tea arriving on our doorstep from around the world, Edie recently lamented that it had been ages and ages since she has received a package in the mail. (First world problem, I grant you.)

It was just about that time that a package arrived not only for Edie but her sister as well. And it was from Grandma! Hand made quilts. There are few things I love receiving more than hand made quilts for my daughters. I love them for myself as well, but the understanding of the thought and time and care that is stitched into a quilt is very striking to me.

There is the choosing of the colors, the print, the trim, all with the preferences and likes of the recipient in mind.

I think it was with those thoughts running through my head that I was so thrilled when at the same time I received a package from Tea Horse. They had offered to send me some tea to try and asked me my preferences. That, in and of itself, is very usual. A tea company offers to introduce me to some of their tea and they ask what I like. I always share that I love strong black teas, especially Assams. Most often, the package arrives with an amazing assortment of samples, one of which might be one that I expressed interest in. That's part of the fun, though, being introduced to teas I might not seek out on my own. That is how my likes and preferences have expanded. Each tea company mentors me in their own unique way.

But... when I opened the package from Tea Horse, I admit I got as excited as my girls had regarding their package from Grandma.

 All strong black teas, and even a single estate Assam! Christmas! Christmas has arrived in August!!

And so, I celebrated all day.

 First, I steeped the Ceylon Nuwara Eliya, grown on the Kenmare tea estate. Recently, I overheard a gentleman discussing Ceylons in general. He scoffed at drinking them on their own, saying that they're only fit for blending. Well, obviously he's never had this Ceylon. The bouquet of the steeping brew is just that, a bouquet of  wildflowers, marigolds and a hint of caramel apples. I was instantly transported to cozy childhood memories of early fall. The first sip: full bodied and true to its bouquet. The essence of marigolds and slightly burnt caramel lingers on the palate, not unpleasantly. You hear wines described as complex, and that description applies beautifully to this tea. The scents, the flavors, all packed into a strong, robust cup. I'll admit, this is a tea that comes back to my mind again and again. Like a good book or movie that you just can't stop thinking about.

Assam Mangalam. I couldn't restrain myself on this one. I had originally planned to save this one for last, but it just called to me. And I'm weak.  Assams are often described as "malty," and this single estate Assam holds the quintessential maltiness. This is strong, bold, substantial. Everything I love about Assams. This is my definition of pure luxury and comfort. An obsession is born...

Commonwealth Blend. I love that this is an English Breakfast blend, named Commonwealth, inspired by two countries of "the Commonwealth of Nations," Assam and Ceylon (Sri Lanka).  I loved this cup of heartiness. An English Breakfast blend should pack a punch, in my book. It should make you sit up and take notice and carry you through your morning. And this one does. Beautifully.

Finally, Chocolate Peppermint. In the past, I've had mixed feelings about dessert-y teas. Some are very, very nice, and some try a little too hard. This one is one of the "very nice" variety. It needs no more description than exactly what it is. Chocolate and Peppermint. That is what this tea is all about, but not in a sickeningly sweet way. Layered against a canvas of Ceylon, the essence of peppermint and cocoa is just enough to give you the satisfaction of having a treat, but none of the heaviness or saccharine-induced guilt. Adding a little milk makes it that much more decadent.

What a holiday! What an amazing tea journey taken in just one day. The challenge will be to continue exploring other teas and not just come running back to these. Thank you, Tea Horse, for such a gift and for making Christmas arrive in August!

(Tea Horse has a monthly subscription service. One could potentially have Christmas every month of the year!)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A California Garden Tea Party Moment

It does not seem possible that today is the first day of August. It has never been more true that "The days are long, but the years are short," as Gretchen Rubin describes so poignantly. So as the children are growing up at breakneck speed, and summer seems to consist only of a long weekend, it was so lovely to slow down and spend a Saturday afternoon with some girlfriends and enjoy a Garden Tea Party, California-style.

With Meesh Pierce, of iMeeshu, offering to host, I was very happy to bring the tea. But not just any ol' tea. With this kind of summer heat, we needed something very special, something cool and refreshing. And surprising. My friends at Capital Teas had just the thing. I was introduced to their Tea Lager and Vino Teano concept at the World Tea Expo, and knew I had to share it with my California friends.

While beer at a ladies' garden party might typically feel a bit out of place, the Tea Lager was pure elegance. Stella Artois infused with Cream Earl Grey produced a light yet richly refined flavor. I think it's safe to say that I was not the only "lady" who embraced the idea of beer at a garden party with gusto.

The Vino Teano we selected was a Chardonnay infused with Cherry Blossom Rose Sencha. The fresh scents of cherry and roses, backed by the spring-sweet grassiness of the sencha took our BV Chardonnay to another level. There was a depth of flavor and refreshing quality that made this the fan favorite.

And no garden party would be complete without an iced tea. But of course, not any ol' iced tea. This was Mexican Mango Chili Mate. As a special touch, I brought along an assortment of beautiful mini handcrafted sugars from Chambre de Sucre.

While garden parties can quite easily get overly fussy, Meesh, true to form, created a menu and setting that makes the guests feel both at home and utterly pampered.

There was nary a porcelain tea cup in sight! The tea offerings were served in small canning jars, which I loved. The food spread was a feast for the eyes as well as the mouth: Fresh herbs and veggies from her garden,

which she grilled and arranged with spicy hummus and crusty bread to make our own California Tea Sandwiches,

garden fresh salads,

a dreamy cheese and honey tray,

and the most dangerously decadent delight that I may have ever encountered: the feta stuffed fig wrapped in bacon.

Out of sheer awe, we collectively shared a moment of silence. It may have been prayer. It may have been plotting on how to grab the most for ourselves.

As we sipped and supped and shared, we agreed that this was the type of tea party even our husbands could enjoy. Next time...

*** All photos courtesy of Meesh Pierce