Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Drinking SE Asian Teas

How fortunate I am to have friends that love tea AND that travel to far away places and bring back teas to try!  I recently had the chance to taste tea from Southeast Asia, specifically Laos and Burma.

The Laos tea was from an "old tree."  We think that means no one knew exactly when the tea tree was planted.  Maybe it went rogue, but now it's being harvested and processed into black tea.  It brewed into this lovely copper color shown above.  I enjoyed this tea very much.

Piglet gets muddy

The Burma tea was a "pu-erh" in the shou (ripe) style. This tea brick was purchased from a local company, Tao of Tea.  As you can see, it brewed into a rich chocolate color.  Look closely to find the steam floating on the surface of the liquor.  

As we sipped, we reviewed a map to see exactly where the countries that produced these teas were in relation to Yunnan, China.  Relatively close, which makes for an interesting consideration of tea flavor profiles and processing techniques.  I love learning about the world through tea!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Book: Ancient Art of Tea

"Without water, there can be no discussion of tea."
Xu Ci Xu

I've been slowly working my way through this book, sent to me for review by Tuttle Publishing.  I move through this book slowly because there's much to learn and absorb.  

The book is great for someone (like me) who loves to geek out on tea. The author, Warren Peltier, takes ancient texts and translates them, while also making some pointed commentary on his own when it's useful.  Peltier says in the preface, "Some readers may be familiar with the "God of Tea", Lu Yu, and his Classic of Tea, but what did other tea masters of the same or later periods have to write about tea brewing and preparation?  This book is a record of what they said."

Segmented into major sections that discuss the Art of Tea, Water for Tea, Preparing Fire for Tea, Taste of Tea and Tea Etiquette, it's a book best red in sips, not gulps.  A book returned to as a reference and a prompt for reflection. I can't say it's easy reading, because we're traveling back in time, but I can say for me it's pretty fascinating!  

If you're into Chinese tea and history, this book is for you.

Tea drinking has fixed times each day: pre-dawn, breakfast time, forenoon,
meal time, evening, and at sunset.
 Wen Long

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The Background Makes the Foreground

The background makes the foreground

The soft blue to the cobalt
The blur to the focal point
The ground to the fall
The step to the rise
The silence to the sound
The longing to the joy
The fear to the success
The team to the leader
The child to the self

It turns out
   The background makes the foreground

Friday, November 28, 2014

There's No Need to Hurry

"The month of November makes me feel that life is passing more quickly.  In an effort to slow it down, I try to fill the hours more meaningfully."

Though winter encroaches, I'm not ready to let go of Autumn just yet.  The shops along our little community's center are decked out in twinkle lights, green and red - but I want a few more days of gold and rust, of mustard and brown.  I want to tarry with the nation in a state of thankfulness rather than buying-fulness.  "There's no need to hurry" are some "sweet words" I heard at a recent retreat, and I beckon them now.

I had the privilege of hosting a friend for tea recently.  Just the two of us, my favorite way of getting to know someone.  I used this tea set with its rust and gold.  I like its boldness.  I linger and look at its detail, run my finger along its pattern, decipher the scene.

"Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures." 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

On Gift Giving

'Tis the season of gift giving and receiving.  I enjoy both, I think most of us do.  Truthfully, I like this best when it's at unexpected times.  Nonetheless, we all find ourselves giving gifts or receiving them at prescribed intervals.  It can be a little maddening on top of the enjoyment.

I've been refining my gift-giving philosophy.  Here are a few of my guidelines.  What are yours?
  • Am I giving from a place of joy?  If not, then something has to change. I have cut back deeply on obligation gifting in favor of  giving with more thought and heart.  
  • Am I in a gifting pattern that is no longer necessary? Some long-time friends and I made the agreement a few years ago to stop the annual Christmas gift exchange.  It had become a habit, but none of us needed the stuff.  Instead, we spend time together.
  • Can I make a gift this person would appreciate?  Or can I give something made locally?
  • Can I give an experience (rather than another thing)?
  • Is this something that I think the person will love?  (I try to avoid "generic" gifts when possible.  A tea suited to the person's tastes or personality is always an awesome gift!)
  • I'm learning that the wrapping and unwrapping of something is half the fun!  The Japanese understand this well.  I'm not a neat corner-folder-wrapper, but I am creative so I go with that.
On the flip side, there is a skill to receiving gifts, as well - and gently directing what you'll receive from those closest to you.
  • The Dear Hubby (DH) and I seldom exchange gifts for the big holidays.  Instead, we share little surprises throughout the year.  On the "big days" we favor spending time together in a special way. If one of us really wants a thing, we make a specific request.  This took me a bit to wrap my head around in our early days, but the DH and I are both much happier with a specific list!
  • I also give Mom a list.  Thank you, Mom, for all of your generosity.
  • I am appreciative of any gift I receive (even the odd ones!) and write a thank-you note.  There is grace in practicing gratitude.

I hope your holiday gifting and receiving season brings you joy.  Do you have tips to share?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Saturday Morning

A suspended morning
  The fountain sings
       I've been home-making
         I am happy

A morning alone 
   The sun shines on my face
      I've been drinking tea slowly
         I am content

Morning today
   The raindrop glitters
      I've been writing messily
         I am

Saturday Morning:  A poem I wrote recently
The tea shown is King of the Forest Sheng Pu-erh from Global Tea Hut

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Revisiting St. James Tearoom (Albuquerque)

I recently had the opportunity to revisit the St. James Tearoom in Albuquerque, NM.  It's my favorite tearoom in large part due to the emphasis on well-made tea, excellent and creative food, and the superior service.  And also for sentimental reasons.  Over many cups of tea at the St. James I have dreamed, nurtured friendships, celebrated and even cried.  It was here that my friends bid me farewell from NM 10 years ago and it is here that I return whenever I'm in the Land of Enchantment.

Here's a tour and I hope you enjoy!

Above: The portal to a world of beauty.  Below:  The hallway that leads to the tea nooks.  I really like this hallway, especially the light with the directional signs.

You can choose a hat along the way.

This little welcome card awaited us.  Thoughtful small touches like this make a big impact.

In addition to lovely traditional china cups and saucers, the St. James now has its own custom china. Each cup and saucer showcases one of the St. James values with words like beauty, civility and excellence.

My dear friends who gathered for tea.

The Chronicles of Narnia provided the inspiration for this month's menu. It's worth noting, the St. James has provided a gluten-free option for afternoon tea since long before it was mainstream.  The gluten free menu is lovingly prepared and as substantial as the 'main' menu.  

Savories: Alsan's turkey apple pate, Pevensie's parsnip pear latke, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver's cottage pie, Magical wild rice and butternut squash.  Served with Sir Philip Sidney traditional black tea.

Scones: The amazing St. James cream scones (the best, according to me!) and Professor Digory's apple scones,  with apple curd and clotted cream.  Served with Caramel Delights scented tea.

Sweets: Upside down chocolate nut cake, the White Witch's cranberry compote pavlova and chai custard ice cream with chocolate spice cookie. Served with Charleston green tea.

My heart is full of warmth and fond memories from my visit to this special place with special friends.