Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Quasi Sophisticated Moment

It certainly helps that I broke out my beautiful, platinum-banded wedding china that I've only just unpacked for the first time in 11 years of marriage. But it only seemed appropriate that for my first foray into Keemun, it should be served in a most elegant cup.

I've always viewed Keemun as a high-falutin' tea. It's the tea that Theodosia's right hand man and master tea blender, Drayton Conneley, seems to always be sipping as he ponders whatever murder has just occurred in the TeaShop Mystery Series by Laura Childs. It's the tea that I only hear ultra-tea nerds talking about. It's just always seemed so above me and my ability to appreciate. Which is why I was rather surprised when Bill Waddington of TeaSource recommended Keemun Mao Feng.

And so, after a bit of reading up on the subject, I was delighted to learn that Keemun was first produced in 1875 by a man named Yu Qianchen. (Keep in mind, tea has been around since the 10th century B.C., so Keemun is basically a newborn on the tea scene). Yu has an interesting back story all on his own, but where his tea adventure begins is where he took off for China's Fujian province to learn about black tea production, came home to his own Anhui province and effectively changed the entire region's green tea production into black tea production with a businessman's eye for meeting European demand. Despite his unjust failure as a civil servant, Yu got the last laugh as his black tea, Keemun, exploded in popularity in England and is now a primary component in most English Breakfast Tea blends. I love a fairy-tale ending.

The reddish brown tone of the steeped tea is visually warm and inviting. The aroma has something of a plum wine hint to it. And the first sip... Always my favorite. There's a brightness to it, with almost a fruity-sweet, tangy finish. At the same time, I sense a whisper of smoke, though very, very faint and in the far-off background.

Keemun, I have misjudged you. Here you were, accessible all the time, ready to hang out at the drop of a hat. And I? I mistook the high praise of you for your own snobbishness. Shame on me. I'm so glad to learn I was wrong. You're as down-to-earth as they come.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Moment of Faithfulness

Yesterday, I had starting writing a post entitled, "A Hanging Cow Hide Moment." You'll have to forgive me for putting that particular moment on hold, but I'm a little distracted. My Grandpa passed away yesterday. Peacefully, and surrounded by ones who loved him so dearly. I'm torn between being selfishly sad because I can't see him anymore or hear his stories or listen to his incredible Donald Duck imitation - and being so happy for him as he is now where he has so longed to be: In Heaven with his Savior.

My Grandpa was a man of faith. And if you took a moment to review his progeny (6 children plus numerous grand and great-grandchildren), you would see they are each individuals and families of faith. For him, I believe this would be his proudest legacy.

The tea cup pictured above is one that my Grandpa let me choose from my Grandma's collection when she passed away many years ago. It has been keeping me company today as I have attempted to work. It also makes me think of his lovely voice. Growing up, one of my favorite things was listening to my Grandma and Grandpa, and my Mom and her 5 siblings sing together. They sang traditional hymns in such beautiful harmony.

The thought keeps coming back to me that the one thing he would want us to remember is the Faithfulness of God. I found this on YouTube (of course), and while it is not any of my relatives, it is in the same vein as the music they sang, and the family still sings, together. The song is one of the staples from my youth. And a truth I am leaning on today. Great is Thy Faithfulness.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Victor Hugo Moment

For your own quiet tea moment this evening:
"Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily tasks, go to sleep in peace. God is awake."
- Victor Hugo

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Wintry Tea Moment

Minnesota winters can be the stuff of some peoples' nightmares. Blizzards, snow drifts as tall as houses, temperatures of -20 degrees F.  This winter has been particularly harsh there. One gentleman told me that in his 26 years of living in the Twin Cities, he can only recall one winter this cruel.  I was fortunate enough to visit the area when it was a balmy 34 degrees F. Just the right side of freezing. But outdoor temperatures aside, the thing that really warmed my heart was a trip to Teasource and a visit with one of my tea mentors, Bill Waddington.

When walking into the St. Anthony location, the first sight that greets you:
Isn't it lovely?  At 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, the place was already lively with nearly every table full. Tuesdays have become quite popular, as this is Sample Day where patrons can try 5 teas for a jaw-droppingly low price. There is a new theme each week, and in one month of Tuesdays a patron can experience 20 different varieties of tea!

Ah, Bill! Always such a pleasure to see you! He ushered me back into the inner sanctum, his office lined with bookshelves and world maps - of tea origins, of course.  We chatted about his latest travels, courses he has been teaching, and the article he wrote for an upcoming issue of Fresh Cup. And of course, what's in his own cup. As before, I was not disappointed. This visit, he introduced me to Dark Green Needle. From the Hunan Province of China, this is a must-tea. What I like about Chinese green teas is that they are not as grassy as the Japanese greens. They are earthier, and in this case, nuttier.

Now, in addition to being a bit of a tea nerd, I am also a operations nerd. In fact, my undergrad degree is in Production/Operations Management. I studied the concepts behind organizing warehouses, streamlining production processes, and all things kanban. And so, it was my greatest delight to be taken on a tour of Bill's tea warehouse! Row after row of perfectly organized, perfectly shelved teas. Over 250 different teas in all! As he walked me through the basic system design, my face literally began to ache because I was smiling so broadly.

"I have just achieved Nirvana," I told him. He just smiled. And nodded.

In addition to the glorious warehouse (and I just saw the store's warehouse. Apparently there is a much larger facility. Next time.  Next time...), I got to see tea blending in process. While a good deal of the tea is blended according to Teasource specs overseas, a lot is also blended in house.

The cold, wintry Minnesota wind blew outside, snow lay in drifts outside the front door, but I could not have been warmer or more comfortable. To see a person in his or her element, pursuing a true passion, is inspiring. Bill and his team's enthusiasm for tea is contagious. They are just as excited about a moderately priced, really good tea that is afforable as they are about a rare and spendy one.

And so, as I wrapped up another lovely visit to Teasource, I got to savor a few more moments and make some tea decisions of my own. A shopping bag full of teas, a tea cupping set, and some Ceylon Vithanankanda, FOP for my patient cab driver, and I was one content girl.

Thank you, Bill, and everyone at Teasource. It's always a treat to see you!

St. Anthony Store2908 Pentagon Dr. NE
St. Anthony Shopping Center
St. Anthony, MN 55418
(612) 788-4842
Store Hours:
M-Sat: 8:00-8:00
Sun: 10:00-5:00

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Minnesota Hotel Moment

I've been finding myself in Minnesota once or twice a year now for the past 3 or 4 years, and that actually makes me very happy. Minneapolis is a refreshingly lovely city with (gasp) friendly, hospitable people! When asked to speak at an annual conference for the industry that supports my day job, I accepted with no hesitation. I've spoken at this conference before, and I looked forward to lunching at a favorite downtown spot.

However, one very long and expensive cab ride later, I realized the conference was in a new location. Still in the Twin Cities environs, but way out in the boonies. Little Conference on the Prairie. Hmm.

With no where to go and not much to do last night, and also discovering that the remodel of the Embassy Suites did away with the bath tubs (WHAT Were They Thinking?!?!?), I settled in for an evening of tea and reading. The book: The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, by Alan Bradley (2nd book in his mystery series, where the heroine is 11-year-old Flavia de Luce, chemist-in-the-making). The tea on hand in the room: Harney and Sons, Earl Grey. Works for me!

So, while I won't be re-visiting the friendly streets of Minneapolis, I have arranged a stop in at TeaSource to see one of my tea gurus, Bill Waddington. Looking forward to seeing what delights he has to introduce me to this time!