It's one of those small world things... a good friend of mine has another friend who happens to be starting a tea biz. Old friend introduced us, and now I have the start of a new tea friendship. I am happy to announce that American Gongfu (beta site) is launching with my new tea friend James at the helm.
James sent me this "Joy of Tea" porcelain set for review. He framed it as great for travel or office use, and so I decided to field test it. I've been using it in the office for a few weeks now. I like it's compact 3-part setup. The bottom cup is thin and nice for drinking, while the inner brewing vessel is thick and sturdy. The lid fits both - a plus to keep my tea warm once I'm done brewing. Lid could also be used as a coaster.
With built-in teeth in the brewing vessel, loose leaf is strained as I pour. (Some leaf will escape and I wouldn't use this with a fine herbal like rooibos - but that's not what it's designed for). It's like a hybrid between a gaiwan and a tasting set.
A nice little side connection is that the set is by Taiwanese porcelain company Eilong. I have a few other pieces from this company, and it brings me happy memories of shopping the Yingge District of Taiwan.
My summary of this brewing set: I like the compactness and how it lets me brew loose leaf tea in conditions that may be less-than-ideal for that style. I like that the lid fits both vessels. I like the color options. It's not quite as smooth as pouring a traditional gaiwan (at least not for me), but I'm happy with the product's convenience and look. You can find the product here.
Raising a cup to the small world of tea connections!
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Saturday, April 01, 2017
It's an exciting and important weekend here in Portland! The Japanese Garden opens the Cultural Crossing expansion, to members today and to the public tomorrow. This $33.5M project began 10 years ago as part of a master site planning process. I had the good fortune to attend the media day, and I am eager to share what I learned.
Umami Tea Cafe with beloved Yoshino cherry tree just about to bloom
First, there was a 2-year search to find the right architect. Internationally renowned Kengo Kuma rose to the top of those in consideration. But how to get someone of such stature to consider a project of (relatively) small scope? After all, he is designing the 2020 Olympic Stadium in Tokyo. Garden CEO Stephen Bloom had a plan. He invited Kuma to visit Portland as a guest lecturer, and allowed the garden to work its magic. Kuma saw the potential and the importance of the project, and here we are today.
New entry to the garden - the Tanabe Welcome Center
Near the parking lot at the base of the hill
Near the parking lot at the base of the hill
There were three main goals with this project:
- Manage the growing attendance of the garden to respect its peace and quiet, and protect the fragile landscape. Attendance has grown rapidly in the past few years, from 120K in 2005 to 400K in 2016. The new cultural crossing expands the garden's footprint to allow more space for the visitors to span.
- Provide more opportunity for cultural education. In fact, the Japanese Garden Training Center, the first of its kind in the US, will be established. This program, taught in English, will provide courses for amateurs and professionals, and serve as way to develop a community of skilled caretakers for the ~250 Japanese gardens in the US.
- Address logistics issues, providing more accessible space for people with disabilities. In addition, create a safer and more pleasant environment for pedestrians as they enter the garden.
CEO Stephen Bloom: "We are no longer just a garden. In fact, we are a center of culture and art for Japan."
Additional features include a larger gift shop, the Umami Cafe - a beautiful space to have a bowl or cup of tea, and the castle wall.
This wall was built in the traditional manner of dry stacking rock. It serves as a design feature and a retaining wall for the steep slope behind. The project leader, Suminori Awata, is a 15th generation Japanese stone mason.
Sadafumi Uchiyama, Garden Curator
Diane Durston, Arlene Schnitzer Curator of Culture, Art & Education
Also quoting Stephen Bloom, "It takes a village to make a village." Many dreamers and doers have been involved for the long span of this work. In addition to the leadership of Stephen Bloom, Sadafumi Uchiyama has worked tirelessly to bring the expansion to fruition in a way that maintains respect for the original garden and allows for new services. Sada-san was emotional as he told us about his journey over the past several years. Likewise, Diane Durston spoke about her excitement at the expanded educational and cultural programs the garden will now be able to offer.
There's so much more to show and tell, and the best way to experience this is to visit. I recommend you allow yourself to go slowly, quietly. The Cultural Village and the gardens will speak for themselves.
Monday, March 27, 2017
It is from Shiuwen that I have learned the most about Oolong tea, particularly Taiwanese Oolongs. I am so grateful for her shop - Floating Leaves Tea - her teaching, her generous sharing of knowledge, her sense of humor and her friendship. I had the chance to travel with Shiuwen and a small group of tea lovers in 2015, to tea fields of Taiwan. There I met some of the most beautiful smiling faces I have ever seen.
And so with gratitude I share with you a little more of this tea woman's story.
Q: Would you please share a childhood memory of tea?
A: When I was a child, I was close to a cousin who lived just across the street. Many times after school I would go in search of her. Whenever my cousin's father was home, he was always brewing tea, and he always asked if I wanted some. I would sit down and have tea with him for short moments. We never talked much. He would explain that we were drinking Oolong. I remembered that I enjoyed drinking tea out of a tiny tea cup. I would look at his Gong Fu tea setup and watched him brew for awhile. Then I would run away to find my cousin. He has already passed away. I wish I could have told him that I now have a tea business.
Q: When did you begin your tea business?A: I started to do tea tastings at home in 2002. After our first tea tasting at home, friends were amazed with Gong Fu Cha tea service and asked how they could get tea like that. Shortly after, Floating Leaves Tea was born. We opened our teahouse in July 2005.
Q: What does your business offer?
Floating Leaves Tea is known for its Taiwanese Oolong. I travel to Taiwan once or twice a year to learn and source tea. I also offer a curated list of quality teas in other varieties, such as Chinese green and Pu-Erh. I am excited to offer many tea education classes in the shop, every month. Please see the listing of tea classes here.
I am dedicated to learning tea from farmers and producers and pass on what I learn to the tea drinkers coming across my path.
Q: What brings you joy about this tea work?
A: I love learning tea from tea farmers, processors and tea professionals in Taiwan (and I reached out to Yunnan two years ago!). I consider it a privilege to be a bridge to share what I learn directly from the source to the tea drinkers in the States. Each time when I see that someone is excited with the tea I share, I know I have opened a door for him or her to the fun, exciting and fascinating tea world. From the sparkles in their eyes and the smile on their faces, I feel I have done right to connect them to the tea people to whom I am admire and am grateful.
Monday, March 20, 2017
Today I would like to introduce you to Jennifer Brenner. She is leading the effort to bring a tea festival to Portland, and I am so excited to see this come to fruition! Mark you calendars for July 22nd, and check out the website for details.
Here's my interview with Jenn:
Q: I know that you were a Peace Corps volunteer, and that experience included tea. Would you please tell us about that?
A: As a young adult, I traveled to Niger in West Africa for 3 years with the Peace Corps. It was there that I met tea. Tuareg people in Niger have a modified Moroccan tea ceremony that included three rounds of gunpowder tea and sugar, a small metal teapot, and a wire frame holding hot coals. The three rounds were for life, for friends, and for love. We would drink tea during the hottest time of the day, when the shade of the Neem tree beckoned. These afternoons of drinking tea with my friends came to represent the spirit of Africa for me, where time was not to be hurried, laughter was abundant, and friendship and family prized above all.
Q: You've taken on an exciting project with TeaFestPDX. What will this be like?
A: TeaFestPDX is Portland's first tea festival, to be held at the World Forestry Center on July 22nd, 2017. There will be a vendor area outside, selling tea and tea-related merchandise, as well kombucha, boba, and other tea vendors selling prepared tea. Indoors we will have a variety tea tastings in the outer ring of the building, and the inner area devoted to exploring the larger tea cultures of the world. Each area will have classes, tastings, and talks related to tea culture in that area of the world. For example, there might be an area devoted to Chinese tea culture, with a Gong Fu ceremony, a talk on organic tea growing in China, or a tasting of Pu-er teas. The first festival will be a one-day celebration. Please check out our websites to sign up as a vendor, a presenter, or to volunteer - www.teafestpdx.com.
Q: What brings you joy about this work?
A: Tea is interwoven into the fabric of my life and I love drinking tea with strangers, friends and family. Tea brings people together and encourages a pause and a slowing down. I experience the joy of sharing this pause with others, either through dropping in at my favorite tea shop, or through an event as large as a festival.
A giant THANK YOU to Jennifer and the core team of volunteers working to make the TeaFestPDX happen. I am excited to be a part of the event!
Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Introducing Heather Agosta, the co-founder, CEO and Tea Blend Formulator of Jasmine Pearl Tea Company.
Heather Agosta in a tea field, Shizuoka, Japan
Q: Could you share a childhood memory related to tea?
A: When I was a little girl, my friend and I would have tea parties in her parents' greenhouse. We would make orange spice black tea with lots of sugar and we would eat gingerbread cookies. I am sure we would get really jacked-up on sugar and caffeine. It was a blast!
Q: Tell us about your business. When did you begin?
A: I started The Jasmine Pearl in 2004 with my husband, Chuck. We started out blending teas in the basement of our home. We ran the business out of our living room and basement for six years before we moved to a commercial space.
Q: What does your business offer, today?
A: We offer 100+ loose-leaf teas, all blended on-site using our proprietary recipes. We directly import teas and source ingredients from all over the world. Our teas are sold to cafes, restaurants, spas and natural grocery stores. Retail customers can also purchase our teas online and in our NE Portland tea shop.
Heather and Jasmine Pearl Tea Company co-founder, Chuck Bauman
Q: What brings you joy about this tea work?
A: I really love tea! I particularly enjoy formulating blends for our company and for other companies, as well. Creating new tea blends is a fun and challenging task. It is especially rewarding to teach others how to blend and to see what interesting combinations they can create.
Stephanie's perspective: Whenever I spy the Jasmine Pearl cans on a grocer's shelf or in a restaurant, I smile (and I order that tea!). If you're in Portland and a tea lover, this shop is a must-see. I'm particularly fond of the tasting bar and the line of Japanese green teas. Sign up for one of the classes to enhance your tea knowledge and skill, or get grounded as you quietly sip your tea in the welcoming seating area.
Thursday, March 09, 2017
Sometimes when I'm drinking tea alone, I will pour a second cup and invite someone special to join me in spirit. This time, I invited my muse. She appreciates flowers and beauty and quiet. She's helping me plan a writing workshop for the spring equinox.
Friday, March 03, 2017
I recently had the chance to spend a lovely hour and a half at Shakespeare Corner Shoppe & Afternoon Tea in San Diego. You might expect the sunshine photos, but I mostly experienced intense rain throughout the week, so the sunshine was very welcome.
This British goods shop (tea, puddings, pastries, etc.) offers afternoon tea on its lovely front porch. The team excels at details, from the little flower shown above to the fact that as a solo diner, I was pampered even more vs. being pushed to the side. For example, I was offered two tea choices, one complimentary!
After I freshened my hands with a warm towel, I enjoyed a bowl of carrot and parsnip soup. It was delicious!
Followed on by the finger sandwiches: egg salad, cucumber with mustard pickle, rosemary chicken, roast beef with butter lettuce and horseradish.
Along with scones, double Devon cream and strawberry jam. The owner is British, and these are the real deal.
And then dessert... a dark chocolate raspberry tart, toffee cake, shortbread, black forest gateaux and sweet wine syllabub. I knew of the old-fashioned dessert syllabub (it's like a mousse), but had never tried it. Delicious!