TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

March 25, 2010

Ramblings: Welcome to the Tea Party!

Filed under: food,history,tea party,Tea sites — by teaguide @ 1:53 pm
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Question: What’s the difference between a tea party and a TEA Party?

A tea party comprises a group of people with shared interests engaging in peaceful (usually) chat.

A TEA Party comprises a group of people with shared interests engaging in peaceful (usually) protest.

Some folks seem to be upset by the current TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Parties taking place around the USA — and even a few around the globe. They say that political tea parties are not compatible with the serenity of sipping tea (Camellia sinensis), or that associating tea with politics damages the tea industry.

Throughout history, however, tea has often been associated with political activism. More than a hundred years ago, Susan B. Anthony planned strategy that resulted in the vote for women — at a tea party in New York. Even more well-known, of course, was Sam Adams and The Sons of Liberty’s dumping of English tea into Boston Harbour to make an important political statement in 1773. This was followed by the dumping and burning of English tea throughout the thirteen colonies who were to become the nascent United States of America.

Following the example of the colonial tea parties — namely, demanding that our taxes pay for true representation in our government — seems quite reasonable to a growing number of American citizens, taxpayers, and voters.

The way I see it, attending a TEA Party event isn’t all that different from attending a tea party in a tea room. Both are, in essence, about paying someone to provide us with the services they have stated that they offer.

At a tea room, if the menu says they serve tea and fresh-baked scones, but you actually receive wheatgrass juice and dry toast, wouldn’t you ask what’s going on, why they’re not providing you with the the products they promised? If the tea room owner tells you “I know what you ordered, but I want to serve you something else because I think it’s better for you,” wouldn’t you feel that the tea room had misrepresented itself? And perhaps that they had no respect for you?

Likewise, if we put someone into public office because they told us they’d look out for our interests, and then when we tell them what we think is right for us they in turn tell us “I know what you asked for, but I want to give you something else because I think it’s better for you,” wouldn’t you feel that the “representative” had misrepresented themself? And perhaps that they have no respect for us?

When a tea room (or a tea seller) does not live up to their promises, and will not provide us with those things we have asked for, we simply take our shopping dollars and go elsewhere. That privilege is inherent in our free-market economy. In fact, it’s our responsibility not to pay for poor quality, to ensure that low-quality goods and services are pushed out of the marketplace by products that maintain higher standards.

Similarly, when our government does not deliver what it promises, and will not provide us with those things we have asked for, the U.S. Constitution endows American citizens with not only the right and the privilege but also with the responsibility to speak out against misrepresentation and malfeasance.

Political TEA Parties encourage citizens to involve themselves in maintaining the good order of our fair republic — just as the country’s Founders envisioned it. And yes, once again, tea is their emblem of protest. Far from damaging tea’s image, however, it seems to me to be quite the opposite. TEA Parties recognize tea as a symbol of a strong democracy, of a robust citizenry, and of freedom, liberty, justice … and of course good health. Now, what could be more elevating than that?

Several tea companies have in the past offered to provide tea at no cost to their local TEA Party organizers. I invite tea companies — retail and wholesale — who will make these donations to email their business name, contact information, and details about which geographic locations they will supply with tea. Links to websites of all tea companies who respond will be posted here, also at no charge.

If you object to TEA parties mainly because web searches so often return political stories rather than material about tea itself, not to worry! While this can indeed be frustrating, here’s how to avoid the problem: When you’re searching on “tea,” just add a minus sign before the words “party,” “parties,” or any other words you want the search to ignore. By the way, this works with any web search ;-).

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March 11, 2010

Ramblings: Smell ya later!

Filed under: food,tea,Tea sites — by teaguide @ 3:44 pm
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As all tea drinkers know, there are so many pleasurable aspects to tea beyond the actual drinking. Of course taste is important, but it would be a mistake to neglect your other senses when enjoying your favourite cuppa.

While it is a given that the taste buds must be tickled and gladdened with each sip of tea, the eyes must also appreciate the beauty of the dry leaf, the colour in the cup, and the teapot and teacup you choose. The shape, size, weight, and texture of your tea ware must appeal to the touch of your hands and fingers. The sounds of a whistling kettle, and of water being poured over leaves, must whet our expectations.

Possibly the most potent and powerful aspects of tea are its aromas: the cool smell of the dry leaf; the warm tang of boiling water; the first wafting fragrance of the leaves as they are doused with water in the teapot; the shifting aromas in the cup as the liquid morphs from hot to warm to cool.

If you prepare your tea gong-fu style, perhaps you use an aroma cup to capture and concentrate the elegant tea perfume. But you don’t need any special accountrements to enjoy tea’s myriad of fragrances. (More on gong-fu style tea preparation in a future post.)

Liquid tea tends to leave a lingering aroma on any surface it touches. Once it dries, these remnants often yield the most intense fragrances of all.

Don’t believe me? Try this: After your tea cup is empty, allow it to dry — this shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. Lean over the cup, and cup your fingers around your nose and the cup. Now breathe in. Aaaaahhhh! Can you smell it? Isn’t the aroma more intense than the fragrance when you were drinking the liquid?

Next, take a spoon — metal or china — and stir it back and forth in the cup before you drink. Don’t add sugar, lemon, or milk — just stir the tea itself. Then place the spoon aside as you sip. In a few moments, when the spoon is dry, lift it up and gently smell the back of the bowl for a wonderful sense of the tea’s fragrance.

The most intense aromas of all emanate from your teapot, which serves as a super-sized aroma cup, concentrating and intensifying the tea’s fragrance to the nth degree. After you’ve finished your tea and emptied the pot, leave it covered (with or without its cozy) until the residue dries. This might be a few minutes, or if you forget it could be hours or even overnight.

Be sure that there is no more liquid in the pot, so you don’t risk scalding yourself with steam. With your face just above the teapot, quickly lift the lid and inhale the rich bouquet. Let yourself discover nuances that were not discernible in the liquid — perhaps a touch of spice, or a honey-like sweetness. They’ll all be there … and they’ll all be exquisite!

Scientists tell us that of all the senses, our sense of smell is the most evocative. Images, textures, sounds, and flavours will certainly bring back memories. But aromas touch the unconsciousness and trigger emotional responses that are beyond our control. I always tell new tea drinkers: never wash your teacup, spoon, or especially your teapot before it has shared its tea story with you. And now I’ve told you, too.

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March 4, 2010

Ramblings: En-gendering tea

Filed under: food,friends,men drinking tea,Tea sites — by teaguide @ 1:05 pm
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There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the phenomenon of men drinking tea. No longer regarding tea as just a prissy quaff for be-hatted and gloved ladies, apparently men are suddenly discovering the pleasures of what Cowper described as “the cup that cheers but never inebriates.”

A sudden phenomenon? I beg to differ. Since its discovery nearly three millennia ago — by a man, I might add — the majority of tea drinkers have always been men, especially in Asian countries and Asian communities around the world. Not to mention that who ever saw a British gent without his favourite cuppa?

No, the only culture where men have been slower than women to catch on to the pleasures of tea, and tea time, is here in the USA. It has taken them since the “tea parties” of the 1770s, but it looks like men are finally getting caught up with the ladies.

At one time, a lot of men (my dear husband included) would rather have eaten quiche than drink a cup of tea. Well, that’s been changing. My dear husband now drinks two six-cup potsful of his favourite Soderblandning tea on weekend mornings, and usually joins me in a pot or two of India tea in the afternoons. This former pooh-pooher of all things tea can now discern between different types of teas, and even between first and later Darjeeling flushes. Quite a turnaround for a man who, when we were first married, poked fun at my growing collection of teas and tea paraphernalia. Now he has his own Chatsford teapot, a Stump teapot for yerba mate, and a favourite glass teacup.

Men are discovering not only the chemical health benefits of tea, but also the less quantifiable benefits of relaxing with friends over a fresh pot of tea. Certainly it’s better for the mind and body to chat while sipping cups of Assam and sencha than by swilling mugs of beer. (Hey, I like beer too, but I’m just sayin’ …) Yummy traditional tea treats — scones, crumpets, finger sandwiches, tiny rich pastries — are also as much a draw for men as they are for women.

There are even men who arrange “guy time” at their local tea house, like this group in Philadelphia. Similar groups can be found in other cities, and of course in Britain, Asia, and many other countries.

The one thing all male tea drinkers seem to have in common, however, is an aversion to frilly, feminine type tea parlours that so many of my dearest friends prefer (and that I often enjoy with them for our “girl time”). From the beginning, my dear husband made it clear that he would indulge my love of tea by accompanying me out to tea, but not to his concept of a “girly” type tea room. No problem. I’m quite content at a no-frills tea room myself.

Our favourite tea spots include the spare, Japanese style TeaBox at Takashimaya in New York City; the elegant tea service (with a glass of sherry) overlooking the Saint Lawrence River at Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec; Camellia Sinensis’ contemporary tea house in Montreal; the eclectic book-store setting of the tea room at Carturesti in Bucuresti, Romania; and the veddy British style Victoria Tea Room in Anderson, South Carolina (my husband particularly likes the chocolate cheesecake they often serve at tea time). There is usually a balanced mix of men and women — and sometimes kids — at these tea venues.

The online tea world is, as you would expect, a mirror of the “analogue” tea world. The international membership in our Teamail tea discussion group, initiated in 1998, has always been more or less evenly divided between men and women. The percentage of male tea room owners in our Tea Entrepreneurs Association business networking group, on the other hand, is expanding against the growing number of female tea room owners. Men are apparently discovering not only the delights of drinking tea, but also the pleasure and profitability of selling and serving it.

As always, TeaGuide Worldwide Tea Directory is way ahead of the trends. If you want to locate a tea room where men can enjoy their tea without having to worry about crooking their little pinky fingers, just look for tea rooms with the notation “Male-friendly – decor and service are comfortable for everyone.”

Tea is good for you, in both body and soul. It’s healthful, it’s social, and it’s pleasurable. But gentlemen, if you still need a reason to drink tea: It’s a great way to meet ladies! ;-)

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