TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

April 27, 2015

Ramblings: “Mastering” tea?

 

A good percentage of my friends on Facebook are people involved with tea, whether professionally or as an interest. Recently I got a request from someone who had identified as “Tea Master So-and-so.” I was expecting to see an old wrinkled face as their profile photo, and was surprised when the person looked like they were in their 30s. This was a”Tea Master?” Really?

 

I didn’t accept the friend request, altho’ I’m sorry now that I didn’t because I would have liked to have asked this person what exactly made them a Tea Master. Clearly it wasn’t a long lifetime spent learning, working with, and perhaps teaching, all aspects of tea. So where did the designation come from and what did it really mean?

 

Some years ago, someone who was a member of my now pretty-much defunct online tea-business discussion group contacted me about a business he was part of, teaching classes and seminars about tea and the business of tea. He told me that they conferred the title of Tea Master on their student/clients who successfully completed the course of study. He also referred to himself as a Tea Master. I asked him who had given him that title — what individual or organization? His response was that he had “taken all the courses” and had the experience necessary to be a Tea Master, and refused to answer my questions about the origins of the title because he felt that I was “too judgmental.” I finally drew my own conclusion that the person had simply chosen to apply the designation to himself. (I still have the email exchange filed away lest anyone doubt the accuracy of my memory. And I would still welcome a response to my question.)

 

A couple of years later, I was reading about a person in their twenties who had become America’s youngest Tea Master and had opened a tea salon. I suspected that there was some relationship between the two “Tea Masters”, and it turns out that the younger had been the student/client of the older (or more experienced?). One of the comments in the article — actually a public-relations matte written by a publicist — was: “[This person] can even discern the difference between a first-flush Darjeeling and a regular [sic] Darjeeling.” Now, while I’m aware that there are several flushes of Darjeeling pluckings between early spring and mid-Autumn, I’m not aware of any of the teas from any of these flushes being referred to as “regular” Darjeelings. I had never heard the term before and have not heard it since.

 

In fact: It has been my experience that pretty much anyone who tastes a first-flush Darjeeling can perceive the difference between that tea and teas from later flushes. This was one of the first things I learned about fine tea, graciously explained and demonstrated to me at the Harney tasting room by John Harney himself. I also mentioned this comment to my dear husband, who enjoys tea but will be the first to tell you that he knows very little about it; he observed that even in his limited experience he can spot a first-flush Darjeeling essentially from the first sip. Not only do neither of us claim the title of Tea Master for this un-extraordinary accomplishment, we’d be shocked if anyone suggested that this had earned us the title!

 

You want to know the difference between a master and a beginner? The master has failed more times than the beginner has ever tried.

Image courtesy of TheSpiritScience.net

My purpose for writing this is not to denigrate anyone’s knowledge of and skill with tea, nor to suggest that anyone should not parlay the love and knowledge of tea into a profitable business. It’s just that “Tea Master” seems a rather grandiose and presumptuous title to adopt, or confer, as a result of taking courses, passing tests, and perhaps visiting some tea-growing, tea-processing, and tea-service facilities on a more or less tourist basis. There are people who have worked on tea plantations all their lives, and who have mastered many aspects of tea production and usage, who do not identify as Tea Masters. It is not a title to be bandied about lightly, nor conferred on anyone who has not spent a long lifetime involved with tea.

Again some years ago we had a discussion about this very topic amongst the members of my (still active) online tea discussion group Teamail. One of the points made was that the title “Master” should be conferred by consensus of others in the tea world who are familiar with a person’s skills, knowledge, and achievements. Or, as another member — a member who is, by the way, extremely knowledgeable and experienced in all things tea — suggested, perhaps the title of Tea Master is one that should be awarded posthumously.

 

None of the tea people I’ve come to know, either in person or through their writings, that I would consider a Tea Master has been willing to accept this designation. Some of the more accomplished amongst them, people who have spent a lifetime immersed in all things tea, have even been quite vehement in their refusal.

Back when I was studying psychology in college, one of our profs explained to us the requirements for being an expert witness in a court of law. To be accepted as an expert witness, a person must convince a judge and opposing counsel that s/he has more knowledge of a topic than the average person; this is done by demonstrating that they teach, consult, write about, or otherwise make their living or are recognized in the community as having this kind of experience and expertise. According to that definition, I am quite willing — as I suspect most of us are — to grant that anyone who has spent a significant portion of their time learning, teaching, consulting, writing about, or otherwise making their living in any area related to tea is indeed a tea expert. But “Tea Master?” No indeed. I admit that I subscribe to the “posthumous” designation for this title, and am unable to respect anyone who identifies themself with the title.

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August 3, 2011

World Tea Expo — June, 2011

Filed under: exotic tea,green tea,tea classes,tea seminars,Tea sites — by JanisB @ 10:44 am
Tags: ,

My previous posts (part 1 and part 2) detailed the experiences of a first-time exhibitor at WTE. I also had the opportunity to step out of my booth and walk the aisles, check out all the other booths, view exciting new teas and tea products, and meet with and talk to some of the most knowledgeable people in the tea industry.

Read the full article at English Tea Store Blog.


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March 21, 2011

Ramblings: New to tea

A cup of teaHelp! I’m a newcomer to the world of loose leaf tea. I’ve been drinking tea made with teabags and I’m ready to move on. What are your suggestions? Where do I start?

All tea lovers had to start somewhere, and it helps to have a little guidance as you start your journey through the many choices of high-quality loose leaf teas that are available.

Where to begin? One suggestion is to start within your “comfort zone:” look for teas of similar types to the commercial teas you’ve been drinking, and then branch out.

For example, if you drink iced teas made with black tea, try hot black teas. If you prefer fruit-flavoured iced teas, try hot fruit-flavoured teas. Do you sweeten your iced tea? Try sweetening your hot teas.

Loose leaf teaBut don’t stop (or even linger) there. Next you’ll want to sample unsweetened and unflavoured hot teas.

If you’re drinking black tea made from commercial teabags, look for similar teas in loose leaf form. If you drink green tea from teabags, step up to a light green loose leaf tea that’s friendly to the palate.

But, you ask, how to choose from the seemingly endless variety of loose leaf teas on the market? Many drinkers of black tea find that the flavour and aroma of Ceylon teas most closely approximate the teas they are comfortable drinking. Or sample an English or Irish breakfast blend — these mixtures of mostly India teas produce a heartier cup that stands up to milk, lemon, or sweetener. The taste and aroma of a loose leaf tea will invariably be superior to that of commercial teabag teas, while at the same time there is some familiarity when you choose loose leaf tea that’s a variety similar to your teabag tea.

Teacup and tea leavesThere are two teas recommended for new drinkers of loose leaf green tea. One is genmaicha, a Japanese blend of light green tea and roasted rice. The warm toasty flavour and aroma generally appeal to newly-developing tea palates. Another “newbie-friendly” green tea is Gunpowder Green, which may be sourced from Taiwan or China. The dry leaf is rolled up in a tight ball that opens into a full leaf when hot water is added. The gentle flavour and aroma won’t overpower your palate, and you’ll enjoy the visuals too.

These recommended “beginner” teas are widely available and reasonably priced.

When you’re ready to move on from these “comfort” teas, go ahead and try more exotic black teas, oolong teas, other green teas, and white teas. Maybe even a pouchong or a pu-erh. Try one type, see if it appeals to you, then try another. Continue drinking the teas you like. Move on as quickly or as slowly as you like when sampling new teas. There’s no rush, and there will always be good teas available when you’re ready for them.

How do you find high-quality teas? If you are lucky enough to have a good tea room or tea shop nearby, stop in and talk to the people who work there. Ask for their recommendations. See if you can taste samples before you buy. (For a comprehensive list of tea rooms and tea shops see TeaGuide Worldwide Tea Directory).

You can also shop online. A list of links to some of the best tea vendors’ websites can be found on our Favourite Links page.

Don’t be shy about calling tea companies on the telephone. Good tea merchants will always be willing to chat with you about what types of teas you might enjoy so they can steer you in the right direction.

Whenever possible, start by ordering sampler packages. Sample sizes are a good choice because they allow you to try a number of teas before making a big monetary investment. When you find the teas you like, order them in larger sizes. And if you don’t care for a particular tea, you won’t feel guilty about not using the remaining leaves if you haven’t spent much money. Most tea sellers offer sample sizes at very low prices, so you can choose several. Some merchants even offer sampler-sized “variety packages” of their teas at reasonable prices.

When you talk to tea sellers, either in person or by telephone, be sure to ask them for their suggestions on how to prepare the teas you purchase. Although everyone’s taste is different, they should be able to give you a few guidelines and thereby save you from too much trial and error — which often results in simply giving up in frustration.

Tea leaves in a dishIf a vendor says “use three teaspoonsful and steep for 2-1/2 minutes in water just under a full boil,” remember it’s a recommendation, a jumping-off point, not engraved in stone. Start with their suggestion, then if necessary adjust the “recipe” to suit your own taste. Add more leaf to the pot, or maybe use less; increase or decrease steeping time or water temperature according to your individual preference.

Use your teas up as quickly as possible, especially sample sizes that may not be packed in airtight containers. Nothing turns a potential tea lover off teas as quickly as a pot of stale tea. Keep in mind the four “enemies” of tea: light, heat, moisture, and time. Store your tea in a cool, dark spot in an opaque airtight and watertight container such as a tea tin or in the airtight package it was in when you bought it. Keep teas far away from the stove or other heat sources. And don’t store tea near spices or other aromatics; tea is very absorbent, and will pick up flavours and aromas.

Don’t feel that you have to like every tea, or that there’s something wrong if you don’t like a tea that someone else recommends. Taste is a very personal issue. Whatever tea you enjoy is the right tea for you. Drink your teas English style with milk and sugar; Asian style with no additions; Russian style with jam mixed into the cup; or invent your own style!

Chatsford teapotThe equipment you use to prepare your teas is just as important as the tea itself. Be sure to get yourself at least one good clay-based teapot — china, porcelain, or stoneware — preferably with a built-in filtering system. The most common complaint among newcomers to loose leaf tea is that it’s such a nuisance to clean out the teapot, and this type of teapot will make both steeping and cleaning much easier. After the tea is steeped, you simply lift the filter out of the teapot, dump the leaves in the garbage (or the garden), and rinse it off. There are a number of teapot styles available that come with built-in filter baskets. I personally prefer Chatsford teapots because the filter baskets are large enough for the tea leaves to move around in the water and infuse properly, but you may prefer Bee House, Stump, or some other type of teapot with a filter basket. The photo above shows a Chatsford teapot; that red thing sticking out under the lid on the right is the handle for the filter basket. Teapot, lid, and filter all fit together perfectly.

Avoid dangly infusers!You can also purchase reusable tea filter baskets that fit into the teapots you already own. Many types of tea filter baskets are dishwasher safe. Most tea vendors stock a variety of teapots and filters.

Avoid those cute little dangly infusers on the end of a chain or shaped like a spoon. These are too small for loose leaf teas. Tea needs room to swirl around in the water in order to steep properly. Save these devices for herbal infusions or to hold a bouquet garni for cooking purposes.

Never prepare tea in any type of plastic teapot or mug unless you’re absolutely desperate; plastic does not hold heat well enough to maintain the temperature required to steep tea. And depending on the type of plastic, it may leach out into your tea, causing an odd, “off” taste (or worse). Porcelain, china, and stoneware are the best materials for teapots. Steel, silver, glass, and ceramic teapots are lower on the list. If you want to serve tea from your beautiful silver tea set, steep the tea in another teapot, then decant into the silver pot.

If possible, invest in at least two clay-based teapots of different sizes — perhaps a two-cup and a four-cup to start — and use each one when you want to prepare at least the specific quantity of tea it holds. Don’t use a four-cup teapot, for example, to prepare only two cups of tea; the extra air in the teapot cools the water down too quickly so the tea doesn’t steep properly. Always choose the right size teapot and fill it up. You can always make more, and you can always ice any leftovers. (Or add it to your cooking — we’ll be posting more recipes here for cooking and baking with tea.)

Popover tea cozyAnd don’t forget a nice, thick tea cozy that will keep your teapot — and your tea — warm. Choose a cozy that matches your teapot, your linens, or your mood. A good cozy will keep your tea hot for at least a half hour — plenty of time to finish the potful. But never use a cozy while there are tea leaves in the pot, because they’ll cook and stew, getting very bitter. Steep the tea, then remove all tea leaves before placing the cozy on your teapot.

Or keep your tea hot with a tea light teapot warmer. These devices, made of decorative metal, china, or glass, hold the teapot over a tea light candle, and cast a lovely glow on your tea table. The flame is just enough to keep your tea hot without singeing the bottom of the teapot. Be sure to remove the empty teapot from the warmer so it doesn’t crack. And do be mindful of the open flame around children and pets.

Asian teapot on trayAs you get more comfortable with different types of teas, you may want to try all kinds of interesting teapots and teacups: Japanese tetsubin or kyusu; Chinese Yixing; gaiwan or ceibei. Maybe a glass teapot, a samovar, or a Russian tea glass. And all different types of teas — not only from India, Taiwan, Japan, and China, but also from Nepal, Republic of Georgia, Kenya, Vietnam, or Korea. Be warned that you may find yourself spending a lot of time (and money!) shopping for new teas and “tea things.”

Once you get “into” fine loose leaf tea you will discover that there is an almost unlimited variety of teas and many, many ways to prepare and drink them. Your journey has just begun, and it will last a lifetime. Enjoy it!

If you have more questions about tea, or would like to chat about tea with other tea lovers, we invite you to join us at Teamail™ This posting is an update of an article originally published in Tea Digest.

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