Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

May you spend a moment in reflection of all that 2013 has brought you.
May you sweep clean your world for the start of a new year.
May 2014 bring you peace and joy.

Photo taken in Miaoli, Taiwan in May, 2013
Info on poet Matsuo Basho

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sharing Matcha over the Holidays

I had the wonderful opportunity to make matcha for a good friend and my niece while visiting my family over the Christmas holiday. It's always a gift to me to serve tea to those I love. 

My Japanese tea teacher shared with me some white bean paste (Lima beans cooked down, with sugar and a bit of rice flour - it's an all day process), and I had some red bean paste frozen. These made it through airport security "). I made traditional Japanese tea sweets for my guests. The grown up guest liked it and my niece thought it was OK. I was impressed she even tried it!

In fact, she was eager to be my helper and try everything. The horses came along too. 

I made the matcha very very light for her, and with plenty of froth. She liked it!  That's my girl!

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Twinkle, twinkle oh bright star

Happy solstice!  I'm observing this longest night with a fire, herbal tea, Portland Cello Project music, cinnamon incense and a Japanese sweet I've also named Solstice.

Cinnamon incense


Japanese sweet made from red bean paste, lima bean paste, rice flour and sugar. I hope you have the opportunity to try something like this one day. They're delicious. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Have Yourself a Cozy Little Christmas

Different people need different things at the holidays.  Some people love big, loud family gatherings. Others prefer quiet moments of reflections alone or with a loved one.  I enjoy both!  As I mature, I find that those quiet times are even more necessary to my well being.

The DH and I recently snuggled into our window seat and shared tea and snacks.  It was a wonderful way to spend time together before the holiday travel and rush. 

I'm hoping you find beautiful moments to savor over the next two weeks.  Happy Holidays of Light!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

New Tea Filters

This bright green little apple floats and bobs in my teacup.  Hidden beneath is a stainless steel mesh tea strainer.  A gift from a friend.  It makes me smile!

This gorgeous wood strainer rests on top of my teacup, with plenty of space for the loose tea leaves to expand and open.  The product is from Tea Nest and I found it locally at The Jasmine Pearl.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

What is Dim Sum?

Do you enjoy an occasional lunch of Chinese dim sum?  It's a tasty and fun experience, with its historical roots and modern day practice involving tea.  Tea is always offered, in addition to a wide range of small plates.  Typical foods include dumplings, steamed buns, turnip cakes and egg tarts. 

From wikipedia:
"Eating dim sum at a restaurant is usually known in Cantonese as going to "drink tea" (yum cha, 飲茶), as tea is typically served with dim sum...  Dim sum is usually linked with the older tradition from yum cha (tea tasting), which has its roots in travelers on the ancient Silk Road needing a place to rest. Thus teahouses were established along the roadside. Rural farmers, exhausted after working hard in the fields, would go to teahouses for a relaxing afternoon of tea. At first, it was considered inappropriate to combine tea with food, because people believed it would lead to excessive weight gain. People later discovered that tea can aid in digestion, so teahouse owners began adding various snacks."

The fun part, aside from the food, is the action.  Often, the food is brought around on carts and you get to pick what you want.  (Sometimes you can order from a checklist.)  It's ideal to share the food among the group, and the giant lazy susan shown above is both practical and entertaining.

I recently had dim sum with my tea friends and we had three pots of tea going.  The quality of tea in dim sum restaurants varies greatly, but we're pretty picky. (No luke-warm jasmine tea bags for us.)  We brought three varieties of tea to enjoy with the meal.  A nicely done jasmine, a bai hao (oriental beauty) oolong and a shou pu-erh.

My favorite way to end the meal is with an egg tart.  It's like a miniature custard pie.

Thanks to a friend's google search, I learned that dim sum literally means "touch the heart". The idea traditionally is that dim sum was a snack.  You would eat just enough to quiet the hunger, but not to stuff yourself.  Today, however, it's turned into a meal.  (Reminds me of the afternoon tea evolution, as well.)

Eating vegetarian at a dim sum restaurant is challenging, but not impossible.  Tip:  Watch for the bok choy or Chinese broccoli and ask for green beans with black bean sauce (request no fish sauce).

If you're interested in Dim Sum at home, check out this great book, Dim Sum: The Art of Chinese Tea Lunch, by Ellen Leong Blonder.   

So tell me - Is dim sum  new to you?  What intrigues you?  Or - where is your favorite dim sum place; what's your favorite treat?

Friday, December 06, 2013

Sencha Natural Mints and New Products

Many of you have probably tired these green tea mints from the Sencha Naturals company.  What do you think of them?  I enjoy them.  The company recently sent me a sampling to review.  My favorite flavor is the yuzu ginger.  I had never before noticed that the mints use Stevia leaf as one of the sweeteners.  I would encourage the company to continue working its formulation in this direction.  Love this company's packaging and visual look.  The cardboard tube was hard to work until the DH figured out that the bottom pushes up and then it turns much better (note to company - you may want to make this note on the product).

A newly released product is this Green Tea + C immune support powder.  The ingredients include matcha, vitamin C derived from acerola cherries, coconut water powder, ginger, tumeric and orange peel, sodium bicarbonate (for fizziness) and Stevia.  I can't make claims about the efficacy of this as a health tool, but I can tell you that I'll be trying it out as I fly around this December.  The flavor is pleasantly sweet with a mild matcha note and that back-of-throat bite from the baking soda.  I like matcha, so this works for me but I can imagine it might not work for those who don't care for the spinach-like notes.  Have you seen or tried this?  What's your opinion? 

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Tea Alone

"When we cannot bear to be alone, it means we do not properly value the only companion we will have from birth to death - ourselves."  ~Eda LeShan (1922-2002)

Sharing tea with others is a primary source of happiness in my life.  I love it!  Equally important, I am learning that I need quiet time to myself to truly thrive (and this is coming from an extrovert!)  I've written before on this topic here and here, and yet it continues to come up as a subject for me to discuss in this blog.  It must be an important message to myself.

Do you make space in your life for alone time?  Does tea play a role?  Do you sometimes meditate or read an inspiring book?  Do you sit quietly?  Do you daydream or doodle?  Do you listen to music or the sounds of nature? 

I crave/need a resting place for my brain, a time to allow it to settle and relax and not be so busy, busy.  I'm learning how meditation works for me, and like any new skill it takes patience and practice.  A sip of tea can be my encourager and my place of rest.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Another Way to Cook a Holiday Bird

A whole chicken, deep fried
Muzha, Taiwan

Well, here's another way to cook up a holiday bird - you can deep fry the whole thing!  And how do you serve the meat? Like this!  With oven-proof gloves covered in plastic. 

The turkey was very moist and delicious.  It's a local specialty.  At this feast (and feasting was a daily occurrence), we also enjoyed sauteed greens, bamboo shoots, eggs with pickled daikon (another local specialty), soft noodles with tea oil (below), fried shrimp, soup with fermented winter melon and bamboo, fried soft tofu, fried sweet potato, and a special seasonal green onion from a field nearby.

This Turkey Day, I am going bird-free again.  The DH and I are having a quiet dinner in front of the fire with cava (sparkling Spanish wine), cheese and crackers, and fruit.  Happy Thanksgiving to you however you eat your bird (or don't eat it).

Monday, November 25, 2013

Hiking in Sun Moon Lake Area of Taiwan

Old growth tea plants in between betel nut trees

I've been sifting through Taiwan Tea Tour photos and will return to blogging about that trip for a few days. 

One of the most physically engaging aspects of the trip was the time spent near Sun Moon Lake.  We did lots of hiking, much of it through betel nut/tea groves.  These tea bushes are old, from the Japanese Occupation era in Taiwan's history (~1895-1945).  Taiwan tea was a popular crop (black even!), but over time the market weakened and betel nuts became more of a cash generator.  Fortunately, the Taiwan tea market is finding its strength in black tea once again and these tea fields are becoming lucrative.  In the photo above, the darker green bushes are the tea plants.

One fine morning after an interesting breakfast of pesto sandwiches, hot dogs with relish, sweet potatoes and eggs, we set off.  (The place we stayed, Black Tea Workshop - and I highly recommend it - was offering a 'European' experience.  I think something was rather  humorous in the breakfast interpretation.)  Then we set off to climb up, up, up...

And past signs like this...  It took me awhile to figure out that our guide (above) was banging his walking stick into the bushes not because it was great fun, but rather because it was scaring the snakes away.  I'm not a fan of snakes and prefer they stay out of sight.  I am very glad that they did.

We crossed a beautiful creek

On a rickety bamboo bridge...
And we all survived!  (Note to my traveling companions - this  image and the first one are actually from the day before).

Friday, November 22, 2013

Bamboo Vase

Bamboo vase with rose hips

I've always liked the look of bamboo, but after a recent class on carving bamboo scoops and making bamboo vases, I am even more enamored with this plant.  Technically, bamboo is a grass.  It's strong and grows quickly, making it a wonderful renewable resource. 

I had help in making this bamboo vase, from my Chado teacher. What's cool is that in between each bamboo node, the plant is hollow like a tube.  Using a Japanese hand saw and a vice grip, I very carefully cut just above and below nodes to make the desired length.  Then we used a chisel to cut out a hole in the middle (where the flowers go).  The final step was to drill a hole in the back for hanging.  When I have plants that need water, I use a plastic baggie tied around the bottom of the stems and tuck that inside the tube.  (I don't want mold to develop inside the bamboo tube.)

It hangs in my entryway.  I love it!

The DH, making sure I don't take myself too seriously   

Monday, November 18, 2013

Herbal Teas for the Evening

Ginger-Thyme Tea

Hello, blog readers - As the nights grow longer, darker and cooler, I find myself wanting a warm beverage to sip in the evening.  And more often than not, I want that beverage to be without caffeine.  I'm fortunate that we grow many herbs in our garden and I'm often able to make a fresh herbal tisane, like above.  I also enjoy dried herbal/flower teas.  I recently picked up some dried plum blossom and a friend gave me some linden flower tisane (more on these later!)  What are YOUR favorite herbal brews?  Does anyone dry your own herbs?  Any tips there?

Recently, I was approached by the Buddha Herbs company to review some of their blends.  Given my interest in herbals these days, I agreed.  I was expecting a handful of herbal tea bags, so imagine my surprise when I received a giant box in the mail with several boxes of herbal teas as well as supplements!  I have been enjoying the herbal blends, particularly the raspberry leaf. The DH has been drinking the chamomile.  (I don't drink chamomile because of allergies - it's in the ragweed family.) I am also sharing the generous bounty with a local community group that regularly has meetings over coffee/tea, and they send thanks as well!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Watermelon Radish and How I Write a Blog

Watermelon Radish

Way back in 2005, when I started this blog - Wow, really?  Has it been that long?! - I thought first about the message I wanted to write and then maybe added in a photo that kinda-sorta fit.  That was before I dove down the DSLR camera rabbit hole. 

These days, I just as often start with the photo and then craft the message.  That doesn't mean the message has taken a back seat.  Rather, I've thought in generalities about what I want to say much earlier in the timeline.  When I'm taking photos, my mind sees potential story threads to match the experience I'm shooting.  Back at my desk, I let the images weave that thread together with the other parts of the story.

And then...
Sometimes I just have an image that I want to share.  Like the watermelon radish above.  This picture makes me SMILE every time I see it and I wanted to share it with you.  There is a story here:  The DH grew these.  Sometimes they have a spicy bite and sometimes they don't.  And I love them for their cheery colors. 

If you write a blog, how do you go about crafting your stories?  And do you sometimes post photos just because?

Thursday, November 07, 2013

I Know How Much Work It Is...

Homemade macarons

I know how much work it is to host an afternoon tea gathering.  The planning, the shopping, the cleaning, the decorating, the cooking, the cleaning again, the presentation.  (This doesn't even touch on making homemade macarons!!)  It's a labor of love, but it's also an endurance sport.  That's why when I'm invited to a tea party, I am so appreciative!  And when that tea party is hosted by a dear friend when I visit from far away, and she brings together friends I have not seen in a long time, my heart swells with gratitude.  I was honored with this very thing on a recent visit to the Midwest.

Each place setting was unique

I was so busy catching up (and enjoying the food) that I neglected to take photos of all the courses.  However, everything was scrumptious and beautifully presented.  There's just something about an afternoon tea, isn't there?  The beauty invites me to slow down and savor.  The tea encourages me to listen and to share deeply.  And I believe the love put into preparing the event and each morsel is amplified and returned to the hostess.

Artistry in the sweets

Monday, November 04, 2013

Enter with Joy

My tree-lined street, vibrant with color

I used to feel a little sad when autumn would come.  I knew the days would grow shorter, darker and colder.  But over the past few years I've re-programmed myself to welcome fall with joy.  I welcome the color, the seasonal produce, the crunch of dry leaf, the smell of wet leaf, the crisp air, the pause.  And now, I even welcome the rain, the grey and the cooler temps.  I've learned to embrace warm mugs of tea and toasty socks, movies and books, nesting and inward reflecting.  

How do you welcome fall?

My front door

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tea Blossom

Camellia Sinensis blossom

My tea plant has had a beautiful flush (growth spurt) this autumn, including a profusion of flower buds. I love to follow the fat, round buds as they develop into this simple flower.
Notice the fall leaves in the background, also reflecting on the front edge of the dish

We (meaning the DH) recently moved the tea plant into a rather large pot and it will be spending its first winter outside on the back balcony.  It's doesn't get super cold (or hot) where I live, and so I think it will be happy there.

Do you have a tea plant?  Does yours live inside or out?

Friday, October 25, 2013

What is Yerba Mate and How Do I Make and Drink It?

A formal mate gourd and the loose leaf brand my friend prefers

I am very happy to co-author this blog post with my good friend, AM.  I recently had the wonderful opportunity to learn about and drink yerba mate with her family and some other tea friends.  Yerba mate is the plant from which the beverage "mate" is made.  While this is indeed an herbal (it's not from the camellia sinensis tea plant), it's a bit of an anomaly in the herbal world.  It contains caffeine - or to be technical, a chemical compound that some believe is caffeine and others believe is close but not the same.  Either way, it contains a stimulant and should be sipped with that in mind.  I find the beverage to be savory and filling.  It's flavor is a complex blend (to me, anyway) of vegetal, herbal and a tiny pinch of mint.

I am happy to share the rest of this blog post with you, written by AM who is from Argentina, one of the South American countries where yerba mate is part of many people's life.  Enjoy!

Mate is an infusion made with yerba mate and drunk all over southern South America (Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and southern Brazil mainly). Yerba mate is a large bush with bright green leaves that grows in warm, humid climates. You may have seen it here in the US in the form of tea bags or as iced tea. In Argentina, the traditional way is to drink it communally out of a hollowed out and dried gourd, with a metal straw.
A less formal gourd, beautiful in its simplicity

The way it works is this: the host or the person who decides to make mate (in my parents' house, it's almost always my dad) fills the mate (the hollowed out gourd is called the mate) with yerba mate (about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way up usually) and then, before pouring the hot water in the mate for the first time, you need to add a splash of cold water (a teaspoon or so), to settle the leaves and prevent them from burning. Then you fill the gourd with hot water on the verge of boiling. The host drinks the mate with the straw until there's no liquid left. This is done rapidly, usually within a minute or two. The host pours water in the mate again and sometimes drinks the second one as well. The reason for this is that the first pour (and even the second) tends to be very strong. The host pours the next mate and hands it to a guest, who drinks it rapidly (within three minutes usually) and returns it to the host. The host refills the mate and hands it to the next guest. The order is determined depending on where people are sitting. (It proceeds in order, in any direction, from the place where the host sits. Mate can move clockwise or counterclockwise. The host decides). The mate then moves around the table until it's the host's turn to drink again. The host is the only person to pour water into the mate.

The mate drinking circle continues until people don't want to drink anymore. At any time, you can say "thank you" and drop out of the mate drinking. The host continues serving until people no longer want to drink. If the infusion gets too weak, the host may decide to change the yerba mate and start anew with fresh yerba mate.

Don't move the straw!  That stirs up the leaf and you want it to stick in place

Yerba mate is green and is a mix of dry, often powdered, leaves and twigs. The flavor is intense, herbal and somewhat bitter. For most people, it's an acquired taste. Like tea and coffee, it has a stimulant effect.

The usual times to drink mate is in the morning, with breakfast, or as an afternoon break with pastries or cookies to go along with it. Some people drink it in parks, beaches and during road trips. In Argentina, you can easily get hot water for your mate-making needs in gas stations. 

Have you enjoyed mate?  How about in the traditional way?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Huckleberry Scones

I'm about a month late in writing about this...
Back in mid September, the huckleberries were ripe in the Pacific Northwest.  I was not familiar with huckleberries - are you?  They grow well here and are important to Native American cultures.  Apparently they grow in the Northeast, as well.  They're similar to small blueberries, only firmer and with their own tart-sweet flavor.

The DH (dear hubby) made whole wheat huckleberry scones.  Mmmmm!

I also made a huckleberry syrup, which is great on pancakes.  Below,  I'm using the syrup over a grilled nectarine.

Do you enjoy huckleberries?  How do you use them?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

What Is Oolong (Wulong) Tea?

Ti Guan Yin tea in Muzha, Taiwan

What is oolong tea?  This is perhaps the most difficult Tea 101 topic I've written.  The tea is not one tea, but rather a range of hundreds (maybe thousands?) of teas that range between light and fresh to dark and roasty.  Technically, oolong tea spans the broad chasm between a green and a black.  Oolongs vary in many factors, but fundamentally, the variation is based on the amount of oxidation that the leaf undergoes in its process, from ~10% up to 75 (perhaps 85)%.  Factor in the local growing conditions, the tea farmer's skill and the tea maker's artistry, the roasting (if it applies), whether the tea is balled or twisted, the storage, the water, the brewer - and you have innumerable variations. 

The magic, to me, of oolong teas is in their diversity.  An oolong honors its provenance, forms a partnership with the tea farmer, yields to the hand of the tea maker and expresses itself uniquely for the brewer.  From the very green and minimally oxidized Baozhong, to the high mountain fragrant teas (like Alishan), to the highly oxidized Bai Hao oolongs to the deeply roasted traditional Ti Guan Yin or Wuyi teas, I hold that there is an oolong for everyone.  My tastes change based on the season and my mood, but I am generally drawn toward the heavily oxidized and/or roastier versions.  But wow how I appreciate the heavenly aromas or creamy mouth feel of others.

Baozhong oolong tea in Pinglin, Taiwan

Oolong tea processing originated in China, possibly the Wuyi region.  Today, Taiwan joins China in production of incredible oolong teas. (Some people believe the best oolongs are from Taiwan, but this is a highly personal choice.  I find great teas from both China and Taiwan.)  I had the wonderful opportunity to tour Taiwan last May and I've been blogging about it off and on, and will continue to do so.  The photos in this post are from that trip.

Oolong teas are often (and I find best) brewed in gong fu style.  This style of brewing invites us to slow down and be with the tea, and with our sipping companions.  (Here is a simple primer on one gong fu method.)  You may have heard of those tiny yixing pots; those are perfect for Gong Fu brewing, but porcelain and glass work well, too - as does a gaiwan.

Tell me, my tea friends, do you enjoy oolong teas?  If so, which ones and why?  And if you're just beginning to explore this style, please feel free to ask me questions.  I am by no means an expert, but I am a diligent student and can share what I've learned from those far more experienced than I, and from my sipping experiences.  And that sipping is the best way to explore and learn!