Monday, October 31, 2011

New Tea Treasures

Here are some of my newly collected tea treasures.  The little brown (yixing) teapot came from China, along with the utensils.  The tea boat (the tray) came from New Century Tea Gallery in Seattle.  These implements are part of the Gong Fu (Chinese/Taiwanese) style of brewing tea.  In this approach, you use a high ratio of tea leaf to water, you brew in a small pot, and you serve in tiny little cups.  The idea is to do multiple infusions, adjusting each brewing to show the tea at its best.  It's a wonderful way to brew and serve tea, and I hope you can experience it.

The utensils above include tweezers for handling the cups, a tea scoop, a flat-headed device for managing the wet leaves in the pot, a pick for getting leaves out of filers and spouts, and a funnel.  The wood is called "chicken feather" wood in Chinese.

Here are the little cups used with this style of tea.  They'll hold abuot 3 small sips of tea.

Have you enjoyed the Gong Fu style of tea?  It's becoming more accessible in the US and if you're in Portland, you can partake at the Chinese Classical Garden.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Experience Tea (Issaquah, WA)

Roberta and I are standing in her tea studio

Meet my friend Roberta.  She and I became acquainted on the China Tea Tour, and I am delighted that she lives in the Pacific Northwest!  She has just opened a tea shop in Issaquah, WA called Experience Tea.  I had the opportunity to visit her this week, and I recommend this as a must-see for the next time you are near Seattle.

When you walk into the building, you'll be met with this vibrant green (one of my favorite colors!), announcing that you've made it to the right place. 

Inside, you'll find shelves of high-quality tea (with jars for smelling) and a selection of beautiful tea wares.  Roberta will brew up something for you to sample as you browse the selection.  Some of the treasures - both tea and wares - are ones that she discovered in China.  

During our trip, I enjoyed hearing Roberta talk about her final preparations before the grand opening.  Her vision is to create a community of tea lovers, and she offers classes to bring people closer to the leaf.   
Roberta has completed many of the STI classes on tea, and as you take a sip, she'll guide you on a journey of discovery.   

Experience Tea is located in charming Issaquah, a small town near Seattle.  As I drove into town, the surrounding views were like a painter's palette of autumnal colors.  Deep evergreen, copper, orange, red.  A few of those trees were caught in the window reflection above. 

Best wishes to my friend as she launches this new tea adventure!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tea Seed

Tea Seed

Look at this gorgeous tea seed!  I love its soft triangle shape, its verdant color and its leathery texture.  Camellia Sinensis grows from seed of course, but growing from seed is tricky.  The seeds are germinated in sand, and the germination rates aren't stellar.  In addition, the flowers are open pollinated which can lead to plant variations - sometimes good, sometimes not. 

Most tea propagation done today is from what gardeners call "cuttings."  A slip is taken and nurtured until it's ready to go into the soil.  The strength of this method is that it has a higher likelihood of yielding a viable plant.  In addition, you've got an exact copy of the parent plant and so expansion of the best species becomes easier.

The soil and temps of most regions in the US don't provide optimal conditions for growing tea. However, there is a plantation off the coast of the Carolinas, and there are test plots up and down the West coast.  I once tried to germinate a seed in a pot at home, with no luck.  Eternally hopeful, I shall try again (tho this time I might start with a baby from a cutting). 

Have you grown your own tea?

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Squatty Potty

Squatty Potty

Ladies and Gentlemen - You asked for it.  Or at least some of you did.  "What were the bathrooms like?" is one of the most common questions I've had about the China trip.  ;-)  So here it is, a squat pot of typical form.  Actually, this one would score quite well on the rating scale that we developed on the trip.  It gets high marks for cleanliness, has TP in the stall (tho you can't see it), and flushes.  Plus there was a sink with soap for hand washing.  All around a luxury bathroom experience, relatively speaking.  We saw many that were not as nice, and some that were downright scary...but we persevered!

Here's the deal - these are not as hard to use as it might first seem.  In fact, many would argue that the benefits of this type of toilet far outweigh our Western style.  I remain unconvinced, but I'm a product of that West.  My travel mates and I observed that when given a chance, the Asian women always chose the squat pot over the sit style.  Read more about squatty potties here, including the benefits.

If you've never had the pleasure, here are some tips.  I welcome yours, as well!
  1. Roll up pants before entering stall.  (The floors are often wet from flushing over-spray.)
  2. Get used to an aroma and deal with it.  Just deal with it.
  3. Always have tissue on your person, in your pocket is best in case you leave your bag with a friend.  Most Chinese public rest rooms do not have TP.
  4. Hand sanitizer and/or wipes are invaluable.  When packing, leave behind clothing to make room for these.  They are not easily found in China, so bring plenty.
  5. There are a few techniques that can be put to use to navigate the squat pot.  Google it.
  6. Privacy means something very different in China.  When you've really got to go, and all that's available is a communal (no stall) situation, use it.  Again, just deal with it.  No one is watching you; they're all trying to be as discreet as possible.
  7. Laugh.
Since I've already started down this's another cultural bathroom experience exchange.  First, imagine the setting:  Korean airport after flying for 12 hours overnight and NOT SLEEPING.  This is hanging on the wall in the bathroom stall.  MJ and I both emerge from the stalls with the giggles.  What exactly is this?

Feeling brave, I go back in and push the button.  It makes a sound like a flushing toilet.  I'll let you figure out the rest.  Indeed!

OK, this may be my most off-topic post on this tea blog yet...but not to fear, I'll tie it together.  When on a tea tour and drinking as much tea as possible, one must frequent the bathroom.  There you have it.  Happy weekend!

Do you have a squatty potty story to share?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Meadowlark Tea Room

Delicious foods at the Meadowlark Tea Room

Here are the additional details I promised about the Meadowlark Tea Room.  We'll start with the food, of course!  I chose the Linnet tea and the DH selected the Robin Redbreast.  Menu found here.  Delicious all around!  The scones were just as I remembered them from being in London:  not overly sweet, perfect with a dab of jam and cream. 

Sharon offers a nice menu of tea selections.  Since she's from Britain, we got into the spirit of things.  Tom had PG Tips and I had Yorkshire Gold. With milk, of course. 
The tea room is well appointed and decorated in royal blue and white.  Plenty of elbow room at each table gives space for the three-tiered serving tray along with your cups and saucers. 

Antiques and more

When you've finished tea, you can browse through the antique mall. 

The best part of this experience was meeting Sharon and learning her tea room story.  I wish her and the staff the best of luck in this endeavor.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Vancouver, WA Tea Spots

Scones and tea with the DH at Enchanted Tea Room

The DH (dear hubby) and I had a wonderful getaway to Vancouver, WA over the weekend.  We had planned (OK OK, I had planned and he agreed to tag along...) scones and tea at the Enchanted Tea Room and Gift Shop.  I enjoyed chatting again with the nice folks there, having just seen them at the NW Tea Fest.  I picked up a fun T-shirt (I will show it soon) and I wished them good luck in the launch of their new adventure:  Tea Bar Downtown, which will open this fall.  I'll post more info once it's officially open for business.  Best wishes!

The DH had thus fulfilled his tea and scone obligation.  However...and it's his fault...

As we were walking through the community, he pointed out a sign that said "tea and antiques."  I was not expecting the fully-functioning and proper English tea room that we found!  The Meadowlark Tea Room

Sharon, Proprietor of Meadowlark Tea Room

Sharon is a native Brit and had opened the tea room two weeks ago.  She offers several variations of afternoon tea.  I'll show you what we had in my next post, because of course we had tea!  How could I pass this up?  The DH earned lots of points for putting up with enjoying another tea room and will be justly rewarded.

To finish the tour of Vancouver, WA...we happened to be in the Vancouver Mall and stumbled upon this bubble tea shop.  I would not have noticed the connection with tea, except for "Braganza
in the name.  I did not sample anything, but am intrigued.  Best wishes to this company, as well!  I am always heartened to see thriving tea businesses, whether they be bubble tea, traditional tea rooms, tea bars, or other formats. 
Braganza Tea, a Bubble Tea spot in the Vancouver Mall

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ubiquitous Tea

Ubiquitous Tea

No surprise here - tea is everywhere in China.  I knew this, but it didn't lessen the spark of delight when I would see the evidence.  This woman is a classic example with her jug of tea leaves (she'll refill with hot water throughout the day), her jade bracelet, her hat.

Thermos of hot water, ready to make tea

These giant thermoses caught my eye.  The picture doesn't accurately give the sense of scale; these are big!  Always at the ready to brew up some tea.  Tea is everywhere!  I think I fell in love with China.

Makes me wonder where our US culture would go if we drank more (unsweetened) tea than soda. What do you think? 

Also, check out this lovely site, Life Tea.  I can't read most of it, but I'm loving the photos!  The header is really great.

Happy weekend, I hope it's lovely for you.  I'm looking forward to some outdoor fun with the DH (and tea!).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mid Autumn Moon Festival

Mooncakes being served by our kind hostess

A month ago, on the even of a full moon, I was in Dali, China (Yunnan).  It was such a fun time and honor to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival ("Moon Festival") with a local family.  It's tradition during this festival to visit family, and we began in the brother's home of our host.  This woman (I've named "Grandmother") served us this AMAZING mooncake, made in the bamboo basket and filled with walnuts and chestnuts.  I ate my share and then some!

We tasted longan fruit.  The longan is a relative of lychee.  Sweet and juicy!  Good Lapsang Soochong teas are said to have a hint of the flavor of a dried longan. 
Longan fruit, called "Dragon's Eye"

Chinese Pomegranate

We also enjoyed fresh pomegranates, which are not like the ones sold in the states.  The skin is soft yellow and pink, and the flesh of the fruit is light with a pink tint.  We saw these growing along the roadside, each fruit on the tree covered in a protective plastic bag.  Such time intensive work!

We strolled through the traditional village and down to the river, then to our host's home for the evening.  (Our final stop was one of the homes across the way.)

Roof-top view of the village

Our delicious meal

Our host was the chef from the Linden Centre.  I'll write more about the Centre in another post, but I highly recommend it!  We ate al fresco in the center courtyard.  We had an array of delicious foods, including melon shoots (on the far right).  They were served like sauteed pea shoots.

When the evening was done, I had sampled four types of mooncake:  1 - The walnut-chestnut (my favorite!)  2 - A pastry-like crust with a sweet pork filling (the pastry in photo above)  3 - Packaged version with a meat filling (it came home for the DH) and 4 - Sesame with dried fruit, also very delicious.

There she is!  This photo taken by one of my taller tour mates.  :-)

The moment we first saw the moon peeking over the rooftop was special. Everyone's conversation stopped and collective enthusiasm welcomed her to the night sky.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Wu-Wo at Chinese Garden

Yesterday I had the joyful opportunity to be in a demonstration of a Wu-Wo tea ceremony at the Chinese Classical Garden in Portland.  I've been part of a group that practices Wu-Wo for a little over a year.  I've waited to blog about it because I wanted to do a good job.  As a novice I didn't feel ready, and I still have so much to learn, yet my desire to share this beautiful experience with you outweighs my hesitance.  After all, Wu-Wo was designed to be a tea ceremony for us all. 

Thanks to my friend Mitra for taking the photos.

The Portland Chinese Classical Garden, our splendid setting for Wu-Wo

Here is the introduction from the program materials:  "Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony is based on traditional Chinese Gong-Fu small pot brewing dating back to the Ming dynasty more than 300 years ago. Traditional practice was modified in Taiwan in 1989 to create a ceremony that allows many participants to brew and serve tea together. Wu-Wo translates as 'selfless' or 'void of self.' There is no ranking of participants by level of knowledge, nationality, religion or social status and there is no expectation of reward. This ceremony helps participants develop a tolerant attitude and cultivate cooperation and thoughtfulness toward others while sharing a cup of heartwarming tea."

I distill the experience to that of enjoying tea in community, in nature, while quieting my mind and focusing on the moment.   Please note that my description of the ceremony is based entirely on my experience, and is not meant to be presented as instructional.  Cultural, regional, and personal variances play a role, and I am new to this.  I learn something new each time I join the group to brew, serve and drink tea.

My Wu-Wo mat and equipment
The larger white tea cup was used for the demonstration, to show the color of the tea liquor

The basic equipment includes a brewing vessel, a serving vessel, four cups, a thermos of hot water and a tray for serving.  Since Wu-Wo is typically done outside, you also need a blanket or mat to sit on (or a small stool).  A timing device is helpful, and coasters keep the tea cups brought to you well-balanced in the grass.  My entire kit above packs into my backpack.  That's one of the best parts - you can take this on a hike!  One can use humble tea brewing vessels.  Any tea is welcome, and this spirit of diversity and appreciation is central to the ceremony.   

Pouring the first steep into our serving pots

The general flow of a Wu-Wo event is to arrive and set up your mat/brewing space.  We use a unifying process of unpacking that keeps the experience orderly and tidy.  After everyone is settled, we have time to socialize and admire each person's arrangement and equipment.

Next, we enter a period of silence and brew the first round of tea.  Here is where careful observation of your own tea and of your community is important.  We move as a group to serve one another, though we are not speaking.  Typically, we sit in a circle and serve tea to three people on our left and ourselves. 

Serving the tea
Dewey explains Wu-Wo to the guests

We often brew, serve and drink three rounds of tea. When I drink the tea from others, I try to focus on the tea:  its aroma, flavor, temperature, aftertaste, etc.  I try to notice the subtle changes between each steeping.  I also offer a silent thanks to each person who has brewed, to the tea plant, and to all that has gone into making the tea.  For me, this becomes a meditative component, and I love it.  Sometimes my chattery mind wanders off to other matters entirely, but I try to guide it back to the tea.  

We drink the tea

Reading a poem

At the end of the ceremony, someone may offer a poem or reading to bring the event to a close.  Since we are outdoors, the birds and breeze often join us in this moment of appreciation.

Range of oolong teas brewed at this Wu-Wo event

Many people in our group love oolong tea, and so we often find ourselves drinking a splendid range from light to dark.  Remember, though, that any tea is welcome and honored. 

If you ever have an opportunity to participate in a Wu-Wo gathering or demonstration, I hope you will.  More information:

Friday, October 07, 2011

Green Tea Dress/Scarf

My "Green Tea" Minidress and Scarf

This is my "green tea" outfit!  Brought to me by my fashion-forward friends!  This outfit has a story...

Part One:  While in India at the Glenburn Tea Estate, my room friend MJ comes to the room with this AMAZING scarf!  It's a silk/cotton blend, it hangs so lovely, it's got a great hand feel, it's got the tea leaf/flower on it, it's perfect! 

Camellia Sinensis leaf and flower

I didn't buy one.  Why? I don't know.  Sometimes I get that way.  I was admiring MJ's scarf for the next few days, wishing I had indulged.  You can imagine my delight when, a few days later, MJ handed me this scarf she had tucked away as a gift.  SO thoughtful!

Part Two:  I arrive home from China/India, weary and bleary.  On the table to welcome me is a package from CO Tea Lover.  Inside is this fantastic silk mini-dress.  My friend found it in the Halloween section at a local thrift store!  It's handmade, silk, lined with a lovely contrast fabric, and fits great!  Of course, the best part is that it's a perfect match for the scarf.  My green tea outfit, meant to be.  Thank you to MJ and CO Tea Lover!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

News and Tea Events

A few exciting things to share...

Some news
New tea book:  My friend and fellow blogger Angela has a new book coming out!  Read about it here.  It's called "Dainty Dining: Vintage recipes, memories and memorabilia from America's department store tea rooms." Can't wait to read it!

My first review:  From the Tea Reader, a review of my contribution.

Upcoming Events
Song of Tea, Art Institute of Portland
In Portland tonight...the opening for the Art Institute of Portland's Song of Tea.  I can't make it tonight, but hope to see the exhibit before the end of the month.  Sounds great!

October 6 – October 30, 2011
1st Thursday Reception;  October 6, 2011 6 – 8pm
The Steven Goldman Gallery
1122 NW Davis St – Portland, OR

From the organizers:  "The Steven Goldman Gallery at The Art Institute of Portland and The International Culinary School presents Song of Tea.

Everyday more than 3 billion cups of tea are prepared across the planet making tea the world’s single most widely consumed beverage (unadorned water aside). Song of Tea is a look at six of the most influential tea producing and consuming countries, and an examination of the cultural influence and history of tea in China, Japan, India, England, Morocco and South America through writings, objects and ceremony.

Please join us at the Opening Reception for a sampling of fine teas prepared by Steven Smith Teamaker, Tao of Tea and Marrakesh Restaurant, and a Gongfu tea ceremony also courtesy of Tao of Tea. To pair with the various brews the International Culinary School will be serving a selection of special tea snacks from around the globe.

On October 15th we invite you to join us again in the gallery at 1pm as Jan Waldmann performs a formal Japanese tea ceremony and leads us in a discussion in the Japanese way of tea."

Wu-Wo Demonstration at Chinese Garden
This Saturday, I'm honored to be part of a group demonstrating the Wu-Wo tea ceremony.  Come see us (and right now, it looks to be dry!). 

Saturday October 8th, 2011, 1 pm, Portland Chinese Garden (requires admission to Garden)

"Wu-Wo Tea Ceremony is based on traditional Chinese Gong-Fu small pot brewing dating back to the Ming Dynasty more than 300 years ago. This traditional practice was modified in Taiwan in 1989 to create a ceremony that allows many participants to brew and serve tea together. Wu-Wo translates as “selfless” or “void of self”. There is no ranking of participants by level of knowledge, nationality, religion, or social status and there is no expectation of reward. This ceremony helps participants develop a tolerant attitude and cultivate cooperation and thoughtfulness toward others while sharing a cup of heartwarming tea. Observers will have the opportunity to taste the teas and ask questions."

This event is part of the Garden and Tao of Tea's month-long celebration of tea.  See all events here.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

James Norwood Pratt: A Call to Action

Steph and James Norwood Pratt
Norwood has a new book - the Ultimate Tea Lover's Treasury.  We both have stories in the Tea Reader.

I had the chance to hear James Norwood Pratt speak twice in the past week, and I am the better for it.  I heard him first at the Northwest Tea Fest in Seattle.  Yesterday, he spoke at the Chinese Garden in Portland as part of the Tao of Tea's month-long Essence of Tea celebration

Listening to Norwood speak was delicious.  He regaled us with stories of tea's history, transitioning smoothly to the present by calling us to become tea ambassadors.  "Each one of us needs to reach one of them [non-tea drinkers]."  I agree with Norwood and found myself inspired!  Tea offers so many cures for today's social ills of being over-sugared and over-busy. I find myself contemplating how I can further share this message with my community and be of service. 

Veerinder Chawla, founder of the Tao of Tea, introduces Norwood

Norwood signed his book, "To my colleague Stephanie."  It's a small thing, but hugely meaningful to me because of this man's large influence in the American tea industry.  To be called a colleague is gracious, inviting, inclusive.  It motivates me to do my part.   
James Norwood Pratt inviting us to become tea ambassadors

Monday, October 03, 2011

Beijing Market in the Morning

Now back to Beijing....Here's a morning market.  I'll let the photos speak for themselves, with this one story.  We learned that there are "two prices" for market shopping.  In the morning, the older folks buy.  The prices are better; they have time to haggle.  In the afternoon, the folks coming home from work are tired and hungry.  They're in a hurry, and they pay a higher price. 

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Exciting News: Tea Reader

Two authors:  Virginia "Cinnabar" Wright and me, holding the newly-released book

This just in from the NW Tea Fest!  The book A Tea Reader:  Living Life One Cup at a Time is out!  The official release date is Oct 10, so I just about jumped to the roof when I saw a copy at the Phoenix Tea booth here at the NW Tea Fest!  I am so honored to have a story in this collection.  The compiler and editor is Katrina Avila Munichiello, and my heartfelt thanks to her for seeing this project through.

I cannot overlook the irony of the story I submitted.  It was about leaving my beloved friends in New Mexico in 2004, and my struggles to find deep connections with other women in my new home town.  And here I am, living that again today.  And as before, it is tea and writing that have brought me to deep connections with amazing women in my new hometown.

If you are interested in the book, please purchase it at your local independent tea shop or book store. You'll also find it online at Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, etc.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Room Friend

MJ and Steph at Lake Namtso, Tibet

In Chinese, the phrase for room mate means "room friend" and that phrase was perfect for mine. Let me introduce MJ, my room friend!

She and I met on another tea tour, the one to London in 2007. When this opportunity became a reality for me, her name drifted into my head as the person that I should invite. MJ is a tea business woman and in addition to her enthusiasm for tea, she has a deep passion for life.

I sent off an e-mail, quite out of the blue, to ask if she'd be interested in this journey. I was excpecting a polite, "That's cool - thanks for thinking of me - but I can't" e-mail. Imagine my delight when she started her note back to me with "Hello, room mate"... In fact, she had independently found the information about the tea tour shortly prior to my inquiry. It was meant to be!

MJ proved herself an extremely resourceful and creative room friend. We began calling her Rose MacGyver for her many inventions along the journey. Always ready to meet new people, try new foods, climb a mountain or tell a good story, MJ became even dearer to me on this journey. I'm a lucky woman to have had such a thoughtful, generous and smart traveling companion.