Saturday, October 30, 2010

Harney & Sons Tea Tasting: Hojicha

I think this is a really cool photo!  I like how the small glass teapot has steamed up and framed the steeping stalks.

Hojicha - This tea is a novelty.  In the world of tea, many things are old, ancient.  Tea has been consumed a looong time.  Yet hojicha is relatively new on the tea scene.  It was created as a by-product of mechanized tea picking (which began in the '20s).  The leaves get used for bancha and sencha, the twigs remain, and that's what this is - twigs of tea.  This tea is roasted over charcoal.  Very different from its steam-fired Japanese green cousins, and an entirely different flavor and aroma profile.  

I'm drawn to the metaphor that is offered to us in each sip.  I like how the creators of this tea looked for a way to use the leftover materials, what many people would throw away, and make them into something useful. 

In his tasting book, Michael Harney recommends this tea as a good one for coffee drinkers. While I don't drink coffee, I understand the comparison. It's darkly roasted in flavor and color. What I found most interesting is the sweet aftertaste and very dry tongue feeling.

Hojicha is not very known to those of us in the US. If you get the chance to try it, do!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Harney & Sons Tea Tasting: Genmaicha

Today's tea review is Genmaicha, also known as brown rice tea or "popcorn" tea.  There is rice in this tea, but no popcorn.  That nickname comes from a "popped" kernel of rice that really does look like popcorn!

I regret that I don't have my own photo for this review.  I should!  Heaven knows I have sipped my fair share of this tea.  (I brew at ~190 degrees for about 2 minutes.)  But I don't have any on had at this moment...and I want to move along in the book, so here's a shot from wikipedia.

In my opinion, this tea is a fun one, and a great one for new green tea drinkers.  I say that because of the inclusion of toasted brown rice, which gives the tea a nutty, gentle flavor that balances the stronger bancha (or sometimes sencha) green.

From Harney's website:  "Once considered a cheap peasant beverage, Genmaicha has recently come into vogue among Japanese urban elite and in the United States as a health drink."

If you drink this tea, what do you like about it?

Sunday, October 24, 2010


When my niece was born and I met her for the first time, I whispered in her ear what I knew to be true,  "You're amazing.  You are smart and strong and creative.  You are compassionate and kind and giving."  I also told her she was pretty, but I tried then - and continue trying - to make that subservient to far more important qualities. 

Today I found this recording of Katie Makkai at a poetry slam and watched it three times.  I hope you will, too.  

"The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will will never be merely pretty."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Horrible Cup of Tea

I had a horrible cup of tea yesterday, and it was made by none other than yours truly. The root cause: I was in a hurry.  It unfolded like this....

2 minutes between meetings, dash to the break room.
Get hot water and grab the first teabag I can get my hands on (Stash white/green blend). I don't normally drink tea bags - I have my own "stash" of loose tea, but I was in a hurry.

Steep tea for all of 15 seconds thinking, "I'm going to be late."  Toss teabag because I don't want oversteeped tea.  I'm in a hurry.

Toss in two ice cubes from the soda machine because I'm thirsty,  I'm in a hurry, and I don't have time to wait for it to cool.

Discover that tea is truly horrible.  Proceed to office anyway.  I'm in a hurry.

Join phone meeting a little late.  Try to calm myself by sipping horrible tea.  Cough and make faces.  Be grateful that I'm on the phone and not in person.  Push horrible tea to back of desk.   

Finish meeting without tea.  Finish day without tea.  Remind self - being in a hurry yields nothing but horrible tea!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Exploring the Wide Range of Tea

A favorite thing among favorites at the NW Tea Festival was participating in the many varied tea tastings.  Offered by experts also in love with tea, these tastings allowed for a deep appreciation of a particular tea category- be it type of tea, country, processing technique, etc.

The photo above is from the Aged Chinese Tea tasting, led by Charles & Laurie Dawson.  In many cases, tea is best when it's not allowed to get old and stale.  However, in the hands of a master tea maker, some teas can be very special when intentionally aged.  That's what we explored in this tasting.  We tried an aged Bai Mu Dan (white), an aged Ti Kuan Yin, a basket-roasted Liu An (a new tea to me - similar to but distinct from a Pu-Erh), and young and old Pu-Erh.  The teas were prepared in gaiwans, using a lot of leaf for a fast infusion.

Next I attended an exploration of Korean teas and tisanes, led by Yoon Hee Kim.  Unfortunately, I don't have any photos from this excellent tea tasting. I wish I could show you the tea ware.  The Korean tea equipage was marked by the use of a water cooling bowl.  A person experienced with this style of brewing uses the palm pressed against the bowl to gauge the right temperature.  Many scholars believe that Korean tea practices were an influence in the formation of Japanese tea culture.  In this tasting, we sampled wild golden mini chrysanthemum (tisane), mulberry leaf (tisane), an organic spring green, and hydrangea (tisane - very sweet!).

Brett Boynton (of the Seattle Tea Cup) led this tasting, which focused on Sri Lanka (Ceylon) teas.  We tasted two teas from different estates, one from each of the main tea-producing regions.  I was reminded that Sri Lanka is the world's biggest exporter of tea.  It's number three in production, but other countries drink a lot of their own tea, reducing the export volume.
Jennifer Sauer, of Bon Teavant, led us through a comparison of spring v winter oolongs.  I loved her vivid descriptions of spring oolongs being like a teenage girl, and winter like a mature woman.  We tasted spring/winter baozhong (see above - notice the color difference) and spring/winter dong ding (yes, that's really the name).
You might recognize the gent on the left, James Norwood Pratt. He partnered with Jason Chen, author of A Tea Lover's Travel Diary, to lead a tasting of two special teas, Phoenix Oolong (single tree) and Ti Kuan Yin.  These two worked well together, sharing stories, information and good humor.  It was a fabulous way to end the tea festival.

As I walked away from the event, I told my traveling companions that I felt euphoric.  If you apply the drug formula - the drug (tea and lots of it), the human, and the setting -  I think you'll understand why!  

Thursday, October 07, 2010

NW Tea Fest: Exhibit Hall

A very fun part of the NW Tea Festival was visiting with the vendors at the Exhibit Hall.  The offerings ranged from high-end teas to tea equipage, chocolates and cookies, teapots and cozies, and more.  Here is a list of the vendors and below are just a few snapshots...

Tea Lady of Olympia, Washington
 The Tea Ladies had an interesting and colorful array of tea pots, kettles and cups.  I loved the little white porcelain cups with rubber nubs in bright colors.

High-quality teas available for tasting

 It was fun to talk to the vendors and learn about what they offered.  Here, a rep from SA Japanese Green.

 A new product soon to be on shelves from Tao of Tea.  I really liked the RTD (ready-to-drink) Tulsi.

Otaku Tea is reaching out to new tea markets. From the program materials, "Otaku Tea is focused on making tea for the steampunk and cyber punk sub-culture. Gamers, Anime Fans and Geeks Welcome." Read more about steampunk, if you're interested.  I love innovation and wish this company all the best!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Lots to Say, Little Time

 Me, happy at the NW Tea Festival in Seattle

I spent last weekend at the NW Tea Festival and had an amazing time!  I have several days of pictures and content to share, but am currently on a work trip with limited time.  Let me just summarize by saying it was fabulous! 

One highlight was hearing James Norwood Pratt read from his upcoming book.  Other exciting moments include the many tea tastings, especially the aged Chinese teas and Korean teas, the visits to Seattle tea spots and especially spending time with other tea lovers.  More to come soon!