Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What is Green Tea?

Chinese Huangshan Maofeng tea
Photo taking during the
Asia Tea Tour

Green tea is diverse!  From sweet to tart, mellow to brisk, nutty to roasty, grassy to vegetal, twisted to flat to rolled to hand tied, I believe there is a green tea for everyone.  Truly, there is an entire world of green tea for you to try!  The fun comes in finding the ones you love.

The two basic categories of green tea are Chinese and Japanese, though you'll find most tea-producing countries making green teas.  In fact, it's green tea that most of the world knows, loves and drinks.

Chinese Green Tea
China has been producing green teas for over 5,000 years!  Chinese greens are a good place to start if you're just venturing into the world of green tea.  They're milder, sweeter and less likely to make you pucker on first sip. 

Chinese green teas are picked and then heated to stop the oxidation and preserve the chlorophyll.  (This process is called "fixing"  the tea.)  There are myriad of ways to fix the tea, but common techniques include heating in a wok, in bamboo baskets over charcoal, or in heated ovens.  The amount of variation within Chinese green tea is staggering - taste, appearance, aroma.  There are thousands of small batch tea makers, each with his or her own technique.  

Famous Chinese green teas include:  Dragonwell, Gunpowder, Bi Lou Chun, and Huangshan Maofeng (shown above).

Chinese Beauty Rings
An example of beautiful hand shaping

Japanese Green Tea
Japanese green teas are well known for the bright jade liquor produced in the cup, with a bit of sediment at the bottom.  This sediment is intentional, nothing is wasted.  The particulate is added back into the leaf to give it a brothy essence.

Japanese greens are steamed to fix the leaves and then shaped (this can have several cycles) and finished in a hot oven.  Most of the picking and processing of teas in Japan is mechanized.  Don't let that turn you off; it's just how it's done in Japan. 

Famous Japanese green teas include:  Sencha, Bancha, Gyokuro and Matcha.  (We'll look at matcha separately.)
Japanese Sencha

Japanese Bancha

Many Chinese and Japanese greens never make it to our shores.  They are swooped up by local consumption, and increasingly, in-country connoisseurs.  But don't despair - there are many, many available to us and if you tried to taste them all, you would find a major undertaking! 

Buy green teas in small quantities and drink them up quickly.  They don't keep as long as oolong and black teas will, due to a higher moisture content.  I prefer to drink mine within 3 months ideally, 6 on the outside.

I tend to brew my green teas - both Chinese and Japanese - in a gaiwan, but you can also use a teapot.  Use water between 160 and 180 degrees, and start tasting quickly.  I find the window for most greens to be between 1 and 3 minutes.

What are your tips for greens?  Or your favorite green teas?

Sunday, January 27, 2013


This is a sweet for the Japanese Tea Ceremony.  Sweets have poetic names, I love that!  Sweets for usucha (thin tea) are often named with a nod to the season.  Names for the koicha (thick tea) sweets are more zen or abstract.  I have learned that poems are a great source for naming both, though there remains still an art to selecting just the right name.

I learned to make this sweet on Saturday.  The base is a sweetened white bean paste (which took my sensei all day to make!).  We added in a bit of pickled plum paste and a touch of gold flake.  I call it Anticipation.  The daffodils have begun to push out of the earth, their golden heads I long for.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Red-Orange Pants

Blame it on the train...

I'd just missed it and had another 20 minutes to wait.  I was near the mall and so I popped into Eddie Bauer, just to browse and stay warm.  These wool pants were in the sale section.  They were 60% off an already marked-down price.  Have I mentioned that orange is my favorite color?  I'm particularly fond of this red-orange hue.  Surprisingly, the pants fit perfectly.  I didn't even need to hem them!

I missed the next train, of course.   

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Vintage Embroidered Tea Tablecloth

I received this vintage embroidered tea tablecloth as a Christmas gift.  I love it!  There is a vignette on each corner, with crocheted-edge lacing all around. 

I enjoy thinking of the woman (I assume) who did the beautiful needlework.  Did she make this for use in her home or as a gift?  What drew her to these colors?  How long did it take her to complete?  Did she ever prick her finger?  My questions go on and on...what a story I can imagine!
It was very fun to find things I owned to accent the tablecloth.  It became a table setting full of memories.  I pulled out a tea tin that the DH and I had purchased (full of jasmine tea) on our honeymoon in San Francisco.  :-)  The candlesticks are from a potter in New Mexico. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Frosted Rose

Frosted Rose

You seek no audience
As you turn imperceptibly toward the sun
Lifting your face
Melting the crystals

Frozen tears of joy and loss
Catching my eye in their beauty
Resting on your tender petals
Glittering your vibrant color

I love you more for knowing
Within the hour this will be gone
Ichigo Ichie
"One time, one meeting"

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Freedom in Mistakes

Hishaku, water ladle
I made tea for a number of guests last night using one of the Japanese Tea Ceremony procedures I'm learning.  I made lots of mistakes.  LOTS.  I put utensils in the wrong place, I handled the hishaku all wrong - oh my!, I forgot the procedure, I used the wrong words.  In short, I bumbled along.  And it was wonderful!

I have excuses, of course, but they don't matter.  I made many mistakes and it was fine!  As a recovering Type A, living through this is profound.  I loved the experience even though my hands were shaking and I made a "mess" for myself.  The sky didn't fall, I didn't get in trouble, and most importantly, the guests enjoyed their bowls of tea.   

Handling the hishaku has been one of the most difficult things for me to learn
Here's the irony:  I am so motivated to try again, in a child-like gleeful way.  Please, please, please let me do it again!   I know where at least some of my mistakes were and I bet I'll avoid them next time.  It was a breakthrough moment because it allowed me to live through fears of my making.  The mistakes didn't hurt.  Learning chanoyou is partly about learning the procedures and partly about learning to trust

In fact, many of the guests thanked me for the beautiful demonstration.  They weren't criticizing my every move, but rather being present in the moment with me.  Isn't that a wonderful gift!?!  I am honored to have shared my less-than-perfect making of tea with these generous guests.  Through it all, I kept reminding myself to focus on the big picture, a good bowl of tea.

"The Way of Tea is naught but this: first you boil water, then you make the tea and drink it."  
~Se no Rikyu

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

What is White Tea?

Yin Zhen and Bai Mei, both white teas

Delicate is the best word I can find to explain the experience of white tea.  The aroma, liquor, flavor - they're all delicate.  When I drink white tea, it invites me to pay careful attention.  To experience it fully, I must block out the attractions/distractions of the world.

White tea is made from the buds (unfurled leaves) and in some styles the tender leaf of the Camellia sinensis tea plant.  The tea gets its name from the little baby hairs on the buds that look like down. 
An air dried white from PDXTEA, a mix of downy bud and leaf

White tea hails originally from Fujian, China and was a lovely Chinese secret for many centuries.  Over time the secret got out and other tea growing areas began to process in this style.  Around the millennium white tea stepped confidently onto the global stage.  You've probably seen white tea in everything from nutritional additives to cosmetics.  I believe the excitement has subsided a bit in the past few years, but the research into white tea continues - research is always good!  One thing that has been cleared up by research is that white tea isn't always low in caffeine, as was often promoted in its early days of US popularity.  The caffeine content depends on the tea varietal, the processing and how it's brewed (among other things). 
Silver Tips and Bai Mu Dan, two very different styles of white tea

White tea is very minimally processed.  The leaf is picked by hand, allowed to sit and wither a bit, then dried.  That's it!  Straight forward, yes - but it takes an expert to know how to manage the tea within each stage. 

The taste, honestly, is one of the hardest for me to describe.  Like I wrote at the top, it's delicate.  Sometimes floral and sometimes sweet, it's elusive and I like that.  You will also find scented white teas (jasmine or other aromas).  White tea carries these aromas well because the down retains the aromatics. 

White tea is on the pricier side because it's hand picked, made from only the baby bud and tender leaf and picked during a very narrow window of time.  Expect to pay ~$10-12 for an ounce of Silver Needle.  White tea is fairly forgiving as you brew it.  It does particularly well brewed in a gaiwan with water at 160-190 degrees for about 3-5 minutes.  Some can even take a steep up to 7 minutes.  Experiment with brewing times and temperatures.  I start with a very short brew and hotter water, then increase the time as the water temp cools.  You'll  need to use more leaf than you think because white tea is fluffy.

Do you like white tea?  What tips or experience can you share?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Candied Yuzu Peel

Yuzu is a citrus prized in Japanese and Korean cooking. It's a special citrus because it's tolerant of cool temperatures as it grows.   I learned the experimental way that the insides are full of seeds with minimal pulp and juice, and so (on the good advice of someone more in the know), I decided to make candied peel (recipe).  The fruit is highly valued for its aroma. 

I'd never made candied peel before.  While the process was a bit lengthy, it was not at all difficult and I'm very happy with the result.  I'm taking these lovely and colorful candied rinds to a tea tasting and Chinese New Year party this afternoon.  I think they'll go very well with tea.  In addition, I've kept the simple syrup solution (now a light orange) and look forward to experimenting with that.

Do you know of yuzu?  If so, how would you suggest using it?  Or have you ever made candied fruit peel?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hazelnut Cocoa

The DH found hazenlut milk (non-dairy) at the grocery recently, and it makes THE BEST hot cocoa!  The hazelnut milk lends that wonderful nutty, rich flavor to the beverage.  I've been enjoying this on a regular basis.  Please note that the hazelnut milk is lightly sweetened and so you'll want to adjust your cocoa sweetening. 

Have you ever heard of or tried hazenlnut milk?  It's a real treat for me.

Bunny ears thanks to the DH, dear hubby

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Winners Are...

Congratulations to Loralie and Lillian!  You've won my blog giveaway.  Yippee!  I'll be in touch. 

Loralie wrote:  "I share tea by giving it as gifts. Both daughters & both daughters-in-law receive tea and/or tea accessories for birthdays & Christmas."

From Lillian:  "I just found your blog, so that is one new tea adventure I'm having this year. Also, I'm working on the habit of having tea every afternoon when I get home from work, which will be another adventure in changing my busy life! I just found some new teas from Teavana, but I don't know much about tea at all, so I'm thankful to find your blog and I wish I'd win this contest! Happy 2013!" 

The nice folks at Ineeka Teas have provided me some samples and I'll be including a tin in the packages headed to Loralie and Lillian.  Two specialized tea bags come in each pretty little tin.   

Here's how you brew the specialized tea bag:

Congratulations Loralee and Lillian!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

What is Tea?

Top row, left to right:  White tea, Green tea, Yellow tea
Bottom row, left to right:  Oolong tea, Black tea, Pu-erh tea

For the first of my Tea 101 series, I thought I'd begin with the basic question, "What is tea?"  Technically speaking, tea is only tea when it comes from the Camellia sinsensis plant.  All of those other steeped/infused beverages are most correctly called herbal infusions or tisanes. 

In current classification, there are six basic categories of tea.  A simple way to think of the difference among the categories is by amount of processing, from least to most.  (Of course, any rule of thumb like this has exceptions.)  In addition, the processing methods are unique for each category.
  • White
  • Green
  • Yellow
  • Oolong
  • Black
  • Pu-erh
I'm excited that I have samples of each category in my tea drawer right now.  I typically have five of the six available, but yellow teas are quite rare and just beginning to become accessible from US vendors.

Within each of these categories, there are many variations.  For example, the macro difference between Japanese and Chinese green teas is very distinct.  Within the Chinese green family, the micro differences are too many to number.  Multiply that by the many teas in the other categories, and you can relate to this quote: 

"One life is not enough to learn the names of all the teas in China."
~Chinese Proverb
How many of the six categories of tea have you tasted?  Perhaps an awesome 2013 goal would be to expand your tea tasting experience by at least one new category. In future Tea 101 blog postings, I will discuss each category of tea on its own.  Happy sipping!

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Thank You, Welcome and Tea 101

I've been blogging for over seven and a half years, and some of you have been reading all that time.  I want to say THANK YOU for sticking with me!  This blog and my life - around tea and in general - has grown in ways I never imagined when I began. 

I've had a flurry of new readers lately, and to you I offer a warm WELCOME!  Please feel free to leave your comments, these brighten my day.  No tea experience necessary.  ;-)

I love getting questions from readers and I've been inspired to start a new series, Tea 101.  I'll post on occasion about this topic to share the fundamentals of tea as I understand them.  I hope you'll enjoy!

My blog readers vary greatly in tea preferences, experience and interests.  This keeps things interesting for me.  I hope to offer you an occasional something of interest, to encourage you to try a new tea or brewing technique, to find a tidbit here that inspires, to have some fun and to learn about tea along with me.  There is always more to learn about tea!

To begin, here are a few older posts you may enjoy exploring:

  • If you come to this blog with an interest in Afternoon Tea, click through these posts
  • Go here to read about tea rooms/shops I've visited.
  • Interested in the Japanese Tea Ceremony?  Read more.
  • Want to learn more about tea in China or India?  Follow along on my totally amazing tea trip.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Happy x2 and Giveaway!

Happy New Year and Happy National Hot Tea Month!

To celebrate, I'm hosting a giveaway to include:  three tea samples, a homemade treat and a surprise!

What new teas do you plan to try in 2013?

To enter, leave a comment on this post anytime between now and  Jan. 10th, answering any one of these questions:
* What new teas do you plan to try this year?
* What new tea adventures do you plan?
* What do you hope to learn about tea in 2013?
* How will you share tea with others?

How will you share tea with others this year?

Please submit your comment by end of day on Thursday, January 10th.  I'll announce the winner on Friday the 11th.  And Happy New year!