TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

February 8, 2016

Tea is for toddy

Filed under: food,green tea,tea,Tea sites — by JanisB @ 4:31 pm
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“If you are cold, tea will warm you.” ~ W. E. Gladstone
“If you have a cold, tea will warm you even more.” ~ TeaGuide

It’s been a while since I last updated this blog. Various life complications, including a car crash and resulting injuries, are to blame. I will, however, attempt to keep up to date from this point forward.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat’s the cure for the common cold? Although there is none, most medical professionals recommend treating a cold with plenty of bed rest to preserve your strength, along with eating lots of hot soup and drinking lots of hot liquids to loosen congestion. One of the most healthful liquids to drink, especially when you have a cold, is hot tea.

Even better than plain tea is what my mother used to give us when we were sick: a hot toddy. This comprised tea mixed with lemon (also eases congestion), honey (soothes a scratchy throat), and a few drops of whiskey (to help us sleep). She usually gave us the toddy accompanied by toast spread with more honey, so it was almost like having a party when we suffered from colds, and that in itself made us feel better.

As with most things we grew up with, I still find this a very comforting, not to mention healing, combination.

Although I prefer my “sick” toddy made with a hearty black tea, it really doesn’t matter what type of tea you choose so long as it’s hot enough to steam open your nasal passages and sweet enough to make it seem like a treat rather than a remedy!

For example, you can try one of my favourite “non-sick” toddy combinations: Japan Sencha green tea mixed with Midori – a melon-flavoured liqueur also from Japan.

Experiment with various types of alcohol. A bit of cognac in your tea gives it a touch of elegance, but a splash of moonshine, if you are so inclined, will have the same therapeutic effect.

If you don’t consume alcohol, choose any tea, perhaps a flavoured tea, then stir in plenty of lemon juice and honey. I’m sure you’ll feel better in no time!

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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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January 29, 2015

Ramblings: Intuitive about tea

tea-teaspoonWay back when I first started getting serious about high-end teas, I bought every tool, gizmo, and gadget in order to “properly” prepare the tea. My collection included several kinds of measuring spoons, a gram scale for metric weights, a small postal scale for avoirdupois weights, and an instant-read water thermometer. I’d obsess over exact measurements of water and tea leaf and precise water temperatures, and set both digital and analogue timers to ensure that the tea steeped for just the perfect amount of time.

That, as they say, was then, and this is now. All of those tools are somewhere in my tea room, mostly gathering dust.

Water kettleNowadays when I want a pot of tea, I “measure” the leaf in my hand. Water temperature? My clear electric kettle lets me see when it’s at a rolling boil (for most black teas), forming a string of pearl bubbles (for most oolongs and pouchongs), making crab-eye or fish-eye bubbles (for most green teas), and completely flat (for most white teas). These visual cues encompass various familiar ranges of temperatures.

And I say “most” because sometimes the prescribed water temperature doesn’t seem quite right for a particular tea. So I might pour string-of-pearls temperature water into a pot of Nepal or Darjeeling black tea. Certain teas seem to ask for less, or more, heat. After a while you get to know which ones.

Similarly, not all teas conform to the measuring spoon or weighing method, and these days I simply eyeball it. When it looks and feels more or less like a good amount it goes into the teapot. If it’s not right, I’ll add or subtract a little when making the next potful. Eventually you get the feel for each tea.

Trust your tea intuitionAnd forget about timers; I rarely even look at the clock. Instead, I let the tea steep while getting various little jobs done. I’ll practice my 24-form tai chi while a pot of black tea infuses. Emptying the dryer, folding the laundry, and putting it away gives white teas enough time to do their thing. By the time I’ve peeled a hard-boiled egg and sliced a piece of cheese for our dog’s breakfast my green tea is ready. Are these activities exactly five minutes, twelve minutes, and two-and-a-half minutes long? Don’t know; I’ve never checked them against the clock. And the tea usually comes out right.

The only times I hover over my teas are when they’re being prepared gong-fu style. Even then I can get the dishwasher mostly loaded or unloaded during the several consecutive steeps.

Sure, it’s important to get that initial understanding of how tea works. I imagine, tho’, that after a while most serious tea drinkers dispense with the fuss and bother and just relax about their tea-making. Some may call it sacrilege; I see it as perceptive intuition. Give it a try – you might be surprised at how in tune you are with your tea.

We’re pleased to announce that our posts are now included in the Tea Blog Posts at World of Tea!

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