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!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Day of the GIRL!


Today is the International Day of the Girl, a call to action on behalf of our tender world.  And I say world because when we educate our girls, the world benefits.  Over 66 million girls are out of school today, simply because they are girls.  They carry water and care for younger children, they forage through trash for metal, they work as "bonded" servants - little more than slaves, they are married very young, or worse.  In fact, I learned last night that the leading cause of death of girls ages 15 - 19 in developing countries is childbirth/pregnancy complications.  Yet we know that when we educate a girl, even one more year, she is full of benefit not only for herself, but also for the community and ultimately our highly connected and fragile world.  "Providing girls one extra year of primary school education can increase future wages by 10 to 20 percent, and an extra year of secondary school increases future wages by 15 to 25 percent. Secondary school also offers a valuable opportunity for girls to learn healthy behaviors. In some countries, for example, AIDS spreads twice as fast among uneducated girls."  Source:  Educating Women and Girls, US Department of State (see previous link). 

I watched the Girl Rising film last night.  It's full of both nightmare and dream.  It's a film made to move us to action, as it  highlights girls who have chosen to continue toward an education despite their significant challenges.  Like Suma (above), who lives in Nepal.  This beautiful woman was once a small child who became a servant at an extremely young age.  Her parents, destitute themselves, thought it would be a better life for her.  But she suffered severely.  Through the help of social workers, she was eventually removed from her role as a bonded servant and rejoined her family.  Today, she is helping to do the same for other girls.

If you get the chance to see this film, please do.  (Disclosure:  I am proud that my employer is a sponsor!)  The film is being dispersed in a non-traditional way....once enough people sign up to view it in a particular venue, it's brought there.  There are also options for hosting home and organizational viewings.

So let's be grateful for the little girls in our lives - those we hold to us each day and those who need us to hold them in our hearts and actions.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

NW Tea Fest 2013 Summary

NW Tea Fest 2013
Click image to enlarge

The NW Tea Fest has become an annual highlight of my tea life.  This year's event was wonderful.  And by event, I mean not only the actual Tea Fest, but also the surrounding visits with Seattle tea professionals and the in-person meeting of blog friends from far away.  It's a weekend of sipping and sharing and wonderfulness!  

Visit some of my friends in the tea biz (listed alphabetically by first name):

Asia Pacific Cultural Center:  Korean Tea Ceremony
Darlene: Tea Lover's Archives, I loved meeting this blog friend in person!
Jeffrey: McIntosh Teas (unfortunately, the late night tea drinking photos didn't turn out)
Roberta: Experience Tea (not shown in photos; Roberta helped bring in the Korean Tea Ceremony)

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Tea Euphoria

Guitian preparing tea

Living the tea life at the NW Tea Fest!  Euphoric is the right word. Tasting all day and drinking tea with friends late into the night. Above, a moment of beauty and transcendence with Guitian. http://www.guitiansteaclub.com/ 

Thank you dear tea friends. 

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

My Little Tea Fairy

Fairy House

I recently had the great pleasure of spending several days with my niece.  F-U-N!!  We had glorious early fall weather.  We built a fairy house and used acorns for tea cups.  
Aprons by my dear friend Sweetcakes

We made scones for a tea party, wearing these matching tea cup aprons.  By the way, we used Cup4Cup gluten-free flour and it was great!  The magic ingredient to the scones was to top them with pink sugar sprinkles.  

And I couldn't help myself.  I made matching outfits.

Making memories for a lifetime!