Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Tea Story

Updated 7/15/14

From time to time, I get asked about my tea journey and so I thought I'd share it here...

When I was a child, my Grandma T would visit yard sales and find beautiful old china for my sister and me. Grandma fostered my enchantment with teacups, and as I grew up, it became a passion. Both of my grandmothers had tea parties with me and I remember them fondly!

I grew up on a horse farm in the Midwest, drinking hot tea as a treat in the wintertime. My father, mother and grandmother all enjoyed taking tea. In 1997, my husband (the DH) and I moved to New Mexico where teacup collecting became a serious affair. In 2001, I finished my MBA (while working full-time at a high-tech company) and started Serendipity Teas. I had all these lovely teacups that I wanted to share! I became a Tea Etiquette Consultant, trained by the Protocol School of Washington. I hosted tea parties where I brought the program and tea into homes, and I taught tea classes through the University of New Mexico's continuing education.

In late 2004, the DH and I moved back "home" to the Midwest. I re-focused my tea business to emphasize the tea classes and tea tastings. The in-home work was too expensive and time-consuming to be profitable (I'm not a licensed caterer), and it was becoming less fun. A key lesson for me - keep it fun!

In March of 2007 I indulged in the Tea in London tour. This trip was a gift to myself for working and surviving 10 years with my "day job" company. One of the highlights  was completing the Tea Master's Class, sponsored by the UK Tea Council. I met Jane Pettigrew and Tim Clifton, amazing people and tea educators who are influencing the tea world today!

Over time, my tea knowledge, experience, skills and preferences have evolved.  I am now drinking mostly oolong tea in all its range of glory, as well as Japanese and Chinese greens and pu-erh.  Tho a good Earl Grey is always a comfort.

In 2010,  the DH and I moved to the Pacific Northwest.  Here, my tea life has blossomed in ways I never imagined.  I joined the
Wu-Wo group (for brewing tea outdoors, together) and through that have enjoyed an amazing tea community.  In 2011 I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to China, India and Tibet and in 2013 to Taiwan, both trips focused on visiting tea farms.  I also began studying chanoyu in January of 2012 and that has been a portal into yet another world of tea.  May the journey continue!

Tea is more than a hobby for me, it is my passion and part of my spiritual journey. With each kettle that boils, I try to pause and be no where but in that moment.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Great Video on Chinese Tea Brewing

This is a really great video about Chinese Tea brewing.  Stay with it after the Food Curated logo.  At 9 minutes in, he talks about bowl style tea brewing.  Click the image below to launch the video.  Enjoy and let me know what you think!!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Easy, Pretty, Delicious: Gluten-free, Dairy-free Trifle

I recently made this trifle and it came together in a snap, thanks to the gluten-free angel food cake I found at Whole Foods.  I'm not GF, but have friends and family that prefer or need this.  I love to find foods that please everyone at the table.  This one is a definite winner!  

The GF angel food cake is in the refrigerated section at Whole Foods, near the deli.  There's a coupon for it in the grocer's flyer for the next 2 weeks, as well.  I simply tore it into bits and then added a layer of whipped coconut cream.  I added 1 Tbsp of of sugar and a bit of vanilla paste to the coconut as I whipped it.  If you look closely, you can see the tiny little vanilla seed flecks.

Then I added cherries and nectarines, which had also been stirred together with 1 Tbsp of sugar to make them juice.  I made two layers and done!  So easy and SO  good!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Tea at the Ritz, Buckhead (Atlanta)

I was recently in Atlanta for a work trip and was happy to squeeze in time for Afternoon Tea at the Ritz Carlton in the Buckhead neighborhood.  Kudos to the Ritz for a beautiful tea experience and for getting the name "Afternoon Tea" correct on the webpage.  :-)

Thank you Angela for the suggestion to go here!  The ambiance is old-world elegance and I was delighted when a group of hatted ladies sat nearby.  I also want to brag on my server.  She did a fantastic job!  She offered tea suggestions and was very gracious in her manners. She's been working Afternoon Tea for about a year and seems to really enjoy it. I think that enjoyment makes so much difference.

 As one would expect from a Ritz, the food was both attractive and delicious.  The tea sandwiches: smoked salmon with American caviar, cucumber dill with lemon ricotta dill, prosciutto with melon canape, egg salad, turkey with orange marmalade and Georgia shrimp profiterole.

I enjoyed two scones:  cream and currant, served with clotted cream and strawberry preserves.

And the selection of desserts was equally wonderful.  My favorite was the most simple - the little financier cake in front on the top rack.

A perfect place to rest and regroup in the midst of a busy week!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Chigusa, a Cinderella Story

I recently visited a fellow tea adventurer in Virginia and she took me to see the Chigusa exhibit at the Freer-Sackler Museums of Asian Art at the Smithsonian. COOL!  Chigusa, a tea storage jar of Chinese origin from the thirteenth or fourteenth century, tells an important story related to chanoyu history.  But let me begin with my story of visiting the museum and a docent named Lois.  She guided us through the museum, our small party discussing ancient Chinese artifacts.  Then she escorted us to the Chigusa exhibit where we enjoyed a private tour.  She knew of our interest in tea and she took a portion of her busy day to spend extra time with us. Thank you Lois! Now allow me to tell you the Cinderella story.

Chigusa started as a humble storage jar, mass-produced in China for export. But in Japan, tea people had yet to make this glaze, and it was appreciated for its color and texture. In addition, the size of the jar allowed for storage of an ample amount of tea.  (One of the things that struck me about seeing the jar in person was its size.  It's larger than I anticipated.)  The third desired feature was the lightness of the jar, due to a special manufacturing technique in which the top curve is flattened to reduce heft. So then the jar received its name, Chigusa - myriad grasses or thousand flowers - and its dressings of finery (the blue cording). All dressed up, and like Cinderella, Chigusa went to the ball living a celebrated life as a special named object.


Chigusa is important to tea people and historians because of the story it and its accouterments tell.  There is much documentation about its life and ownership progression.  For example, the boxes above were added by a series of owners, each contributing documentation to the story. Chigusa has also been written about in the tea records of the period, allowing scholars to understand how these tea utensils were valued and used in the period from several different perspectives.

If you happen to be in DC before July 27th, the exhibit is well worth your time.  (And it's free!)  I also learned that if you are in DC after the exhibit closes, you can contact the museum to arrange for a private viewing of Chigusa.  (They do that!)  If  you've seen the exhibit, I'd love for you to share your highlights.

Here is an excellent article about Chigusa:  http://www.thehistoryblog.com/archives/29335 

Images from the Freer Sackler museum.  The exhibit did not allow photography.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Making Shiro An (White Bean Paste)

"Mountain" of Shiro An

Shiro an, a white bean paste that is lightly sweetened, is the base of so many Japanese  tea sweets.  And I love it.  Love it.  LOVE it!  I know that sweetened bean paste sounds funny to Americans, but it really IS good!  When I began studying chanoyu, I had no idea how much I would come to love the sweets that go along with the tea.  What a wonderful surprise!  And sweets with shiro an are one of my favorites.

While it's possible to buy the red bean paste in the Asian markets around here, it is not possible to find the white paste.  So earlier this year I tried making it myself.  My sensei had prepared me well for the all-day process!  You can find her detailed steps here.  If you attempt this, please do use her recipe.  My notes below don't include all the steps.

First you buy dried Lima beans and sort through them, then let them soak overnight. Then comes the part that was hardest for me: Peeling the skins off the beans.  I was making a big batch (because you don't want to do this very often!), and so I had a lot of skins to remove.  Fortunately, they slip off easily.

Then you enter into several rounds of bringing the beans to a bowl and changing the water.  Repeat, repeat until the beans are falling apart.  Then you send the beans through the food processor.  Now you let the liquids and solids separate, draining off the liquid (this also takes several rounds).

Finally, you are ready to add some sugar.  Add the sugar in small increments and stir, stir, stir until  it is the right consistency.  Whew!  
Still needs to be a little thicker - keep stirring!

Fortunately, shiro an freezes really well and will make for many happy tea times in the future!  The bean paste is very mold-able and flexible.  It can be colored and made into interesting shapes, traditionally something that suggests the season.  If you ever get the opportunity to try a sweet made with shiro an, please do!  It's naturally gluten free and fat free, too.  And there's only a little sugar.  Big on taste and texture!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Everlasting Summer

Margie sensei making tea

Toko Natsu Zuki
Everlasting Summer

Everlasting summer - A lovely poetic phrase that reflects today's long hours of sun.  

I had the intimidating but wonderful privilege today to be host and make tea at the Japanese Garden, my first time giving a demonstration tea here. As is true each time I make tea, the experience is unique and full of lessons.  Despite my shaking hands, I managed to make it through reasonably well. After making tea, I also enjoyed the gift of being a guest.  

Below I will share some pictures and the flow of being a guest.

We walked to the tea room by way of the peaceful garden path

Oh, I should mention that today is the first time I dressed in kimono all by myself.  :-) It only took 2.5 hours.
Receiving the sweet before the tea

Scooting forward to retrieve my bowl of tea

Joining the first guest to drink a bowl of tea

Enjoying the delicious bowl of tea

Taking a farewell look at the tokonoma, with the scroll and flower

The day was glorious!  An easy temperature; not hot, not cold, a subtle breeze, a fat robin hopping around with a worm. What a wonderful way to spend the solstice!