Sunday, October 16, 2016

Headed to Kyoto

I hope to drink many bowls of tea over the next two weeks, while I'm in Japan!  I'm traveling with my Sensei and three other tea students to the heart of the Japanese tea world, Kyoto.  We'll visit the headquarters of the Urasenke school (of which we are affiliated), have tea and sweets as often as possible, take in the beauty of and pay our respects at temples (Buddhist) and shrines (Shinto), eat fabulous meals, enjoy Japanese gardens, visit museums and as the trip comes to a close, stay amidst the tea fields. I'm overflowing with excitement! I'll share photos here, a few while I'm traveling and more when I returned.  Please wish us safe travels! 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

PDX Tea: Opening, Documentary Fundraiser and Roasted Dong Ding

It is with much excitement that I share that PDX TEA has re-opened in a welcoming and tranquil new space in Portland! David Galli hosts tastings and educational events, as well as curating high-quality teas (for sale). Many of these teas have come from his travels. David is a good friend, and I know first-hand how lucky Portland is to have someone with his level of knowledge and tasting abilities to be part of our tea journeys. 

Last Sunday, several tea lovers gathered to taste charcoal roasted Dong Ding. We were able to enjoy three different roasting levels. We noticed how the tea shifted not only by roasting level, but also within the consecutive brews of the same tea. 
Roasting tea is a specialized skill. Often the tea roaster is a different person from the grower and also the tea maker. Roasting involves science (temperature, moisture levels), as well as sensory arts (the smell of the leaf, the feel of it in your fingers, the control of the heat).  After a tea is roasted, sometimes the roasters let the tea rest for awhile to mellow before selling it.   

There are different kinds of roasting. Below, David is showing an electric roaster. The Dong Ding tea we drank is a very special type, roasted over charcoals (they are banked with various levels of ash to manage the amount of heat). People who enjoy this type of tea  have concerns that the knowledge and skills of charcoal roasting are dwindling.  To that end, this tasting was a fundraiser for a project to make a Taiwan Tea Documentary, including charcoal roasting. Shiuwen Tai of Floating Leaves Tea is trying to raise funds for this project.  It's a very worth cause, and I have donated!  (Also note - Shiuwen is offering a 30% discount to my blog readers on the High Mountain Tea Sampler - see here.)

I look forward to many wonderful tea tastings at PDX Tea, and I wish all the best to the Taiwan Tea Documentary project!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sample High Mountain Taiwanese Oolongs, Floating Leaves Tea

Shiuwen Tai, Floating Leaves Tea

Keep reading to the bottom of this post for a 30% discount on the High Mountain Oolong Sampler box from Floating Leaves Tea!

I am blessed to be able to taste teas regularly with Shiuwen Tai, of Floating Leaves Tea. Shiuwen's shop specializes in well-curated teas from her homeland Taiwan, as well as China and Japan. I had the chance to travel to Taiwan with Shiuwen in 2013, visiting farmers and fields and drinking my weight each day (or so it felt) in tea.  It was heaven!

Below is evidence of a recent tasting, where we made our way through several categories of tea, including white, baozhong, high mountain oolongs and Ti Guan Yin. 

Shiuwen gave me a sampler box of High Mountain Oolong teas, to taste and write about. This is a new product available from the online shop.  Shiuwen has very generously given readers of my blog a 30% discount for the next 30 days on the High Mountain Sampler, shown below.  This is a very, very good deal!!  Use "stephcupoftea" in the referral code at checkout.

The sample box contains a half ounce each of Alishan, Shan Lin Xi, Li Shan, He Huan Shan and Da Yu Ling. The teas represent different mountains (and elevations) in the category of High Mountain Oolong.  

I recommend using two gaiwan and tasting these teas side-by-side, so that you can tease out the subtle differences.  (You can steep these teas several times each, so this is a great thing to do with friends.) While this category of tea, generally, is light and aromatic, when you drink these with attention and care, you will be given the gift of noticing the differences in flavor, aroma and mouth feel. 

So let's celebrate a good deal and good tea!  Thank you, Shiuwen.  Go here to enjoy the discount (good for next 30 days) and use "stephcupoftea" in the referral code.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tea Ceremony for Mom

My mother recently visited  and I was happy to be able to honor her with a Japanese tea ceremony. Thanks to my Sensei, I was able to hold the gathering at the traditional tea house in the Portland Japanese Garden.

Guests arrive and enjoy a welcoming hot water in the waiting area. Next, the host will silently bow to the guests, signifying that s/he is ready.  The guests  walk on a stone path, through the beautiful tea garden (shown below), to the tea house. Guests rinse their hands, symbolically purifying themselves, before entering the tea room.

Upon entry, guests appreciate the scroll, the flowers and the kettle. The scroll below is Ichigo Ichie, often translated as "one lifetime, one meeting."  It emphasizes the importance of the present experience, never again to be repeated.

Flowers for a summer tea ceremony are often presented in a basket. Tea flowers are always freshly picked and are in the spirit of wildflowers. Fancy hybrids or flowers with strong fragrance are avoided.  The host (in this case, me) arranges the flowers "as they grow in the field." Here we have a late summer grass, brown-eyed Susan, scarlet flax, white balloon flower, Rose of Sharon and morning glory.

Once the guests are settled, the host offers official greetings and serves the sweets. I served a moist sweet made from sweetened bean paste (it's delicious!), that looks like the Japanese balloon flower. My mom had helped me shape these sweets, which was extra special. It takes some practice! I also served a pineapple ground cherry (cape gooseberry). 

Next, I made tea for the guests. This is the high point of the experience. The goal is for the guests to feel a spirit of shared heart with the host and other guests.

The host and guests share conversation about the tea utensils and their history, and other things in the tea room. Every item has been specifically chosen. The host considers the season, the guests, the setting, etc., as s/he chooses the scroll, the flowers, the utensils and even the specific tea-making procedure. It's part of the idea that no two gatherings are the same. 

It's hard to see in the photo above, but there is a hosta leaf on the top of the water urn, above my right knee. I chose the Habuta procedure, which uses a leaf as a lid for the water urn.  It's a special procedure for summertime.

After the discussion regarding the tea utensils and final thanks, the meeting adjourns with a bow. 

Tea, in all its forms, offers so much beauty. I hope we all can pause to enjoy the peace that comes with a bowl (or cup) of tea. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Fiber Artist with a Tea Heart

I am very excited today to share with you tea artwork made by my friend Karen. I know Karen from our local Wu-Wo tea group. Her fabric art is full of color, texture, depth (literal and figurative), and heart. Karen customized these three pieces, and I'm so happy with the results! Keep reading to see the inspiration behind them. 

Karen, the artist

This is the first piece made. Karen invested a lot of time reading through this blog and finding visual cues to my tea life. She glowed like a child with a happy secret when she unveiled the piece.  Did I recognize it?  Slowly, awareness dawned. Yes - I knew this!  Study it for yourself, and then look carefully at the header on this blog.  This artwork is modeled after that exquisite tea leaf set. I was really taken with the attention to detail and the color variation that mirrors the photo. This artwork represents my passion for tea.

This second piece was done after my completion of a women's leadership program, where I learned to lead writing circles (and much more!). Karen designed the colors to pair well with the color of my living room walls. This artwork represents the sacred feminine and my my personal growth. 

The third objet d'art is absolutely inspired.  I knew the general idea, and yet I was completely blown away when Karen presented this to me.  She re-created a photo from my experience in Rwanda.  Go here to see the photo inspiration.  The white on white is so accurate - she even captures the bubbles in the tea! The fabric in the lower left is a souvenir I brought home from Rwanda.  This artwork is all heart. 

Finally, I want to share the three-dimensional aspect of this artwork. I love that the frames are painted and become part of the piece. It's like the art is reaching out to engage with me.

Find more information on Karen's fiber art here.  If you would like an introduction, let me know and I'll connect you!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

World Tea Expo: New Product Showcase and Regional Events

I've been in Vegas for a day-job conference, and it happened to coincide with World Tea Expo! Lucky me! I was able to pop in to the Expo Hall for a (much too short) lunch break.  Here are some of the things I found in the New Product Showcase area.

Meet Erica and her team. Erica has begun a lifestyle and accessory line based on tea. She wants to promote the positive aspects of a tea and a healthy lifestyle. I love the idea and wish her much success! (going live later this week). 

This is Thao.  She has developed a line of certified organic tea blends. Her blends are scented and flavored with natural oils and dried fruits, no sweeteners. She's a CPA by educational background and wanted to open a business aligned with her passions of health and being aware of what we consume. I loved chatting with Thao about labeling laws and the importance of transparency for consumers.

Now meet Suil. He is bringing to market powdered Japanese teas (organic), including teas beyond the traditional. There's matcha, of course, but also powdered sencha, genmaicha and hojicha. He brought these teas to market because, despite the popularity of matcha, he couldn't find what he knew as good matcha tea in New York. The combination of his English and Japanese allows him to work directly with tea farms. I enjoyed the powdered hojicha quite a lot. Suil and I discussed the froth-potential of the powdered teas. He felt that matcha was the only one that frothed as it should for a traditionally-whipped bowl. To make the others, he shakes them in a pitcher and that suspends the particles in the water.

At the booth below, I sampled instant teas that dissolve in cool water. While I don't think this product is for me (I'm all about interacting with the leaf), I think that this product has a market. I sampled the pu-erh tea crystals. They also carried rose, white, green and black tea crystals.

This booth also displayed a cool tea canister.  Inside were tea sachets.

And finally, perhaps the most interesting business concept I encountered was that of a tea curator.  I met Izaak and his colleague in the registration line.  They both live in a small town in Wyoming. Izaak curates tea for folks who are interested in drinking the good stuff. Along with high quality teas, he brings tea education to his clients who don't have a local source of good teas.

There were many other interesting new products, and I didn't have time to see them all but you can see the full list here

Also, a word about the World Tea Expo: It's an industry conference for trade professionals and press. It's not open to the public. Most of the vendors are building relationships and hoping to land new contracts. Read more about the attendance policy here. This is an important conference for the business of tea.  For those of us interested in tea conferences that are open to the public, there are a number of regional ones that are quite excellent.  See this list.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Cooling the Water

It's HOT here in the Pacific Northwest.  We've had temps hovering around 100 degrees for three days. That's intense - especially for June and for a region where a fair number of folks don't have air conditioning. 

In these hot temps, I still drink hot tea. I choose teas that do best with cooler waters, often greens and especially Japanese greens, like sencha (ironically, in the photo above, I'm not drinking a Japanese green).

There are several ways to cool the water: Take it off the heat before it reaches a boil, let it sit off the boil before using, or - as shown above - use a cooling pitcher. The cooling pitcher (yuzamashi) is a common feature in sencha sets (also in Korean tea sets).

I'm not using a thermometer, so I'm guessing at the temperature.  I sense that it's cooled to around 160 degrees.  After pouring the cooled water into the pitcher, I generally pour off at about 30 seconds, adjusting on the second brewing, as appropriate (usually a wee bit longer).

I confess: I've brewed some senchas really poorly, and more times than I care to admit.  It's always because I've been distracted. This is a tea that requires your full attention.

Below: I'm decanting straight into my teacup, but it's also possible to use the water cooling pitcher as a serving vessel.  Note that the tea will continue to cool in the wide-mouthed vessel, so at this point (the tea is done brewing), you want to serve quickly.

You don't need anything fancy to cool the water.  You can even use a Pyrex measuring cup.

Experiment and find the right process for making yourself a great cup of green tea with cooler water.