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.

Follow TeaGuide on Twitter @TeaGuide1

Friend TeaGuide on Facebook

Contact us by email about reviewing your tea or tea-related product, or to be interviewed.

We love to hear your comments!

All content Copyright 2007-2015 JP Badarau; all rights reserved.

March 5, 2015

Review: Little flower oolong, Bingley’s Teas

Filed under: exotic tea,food,oolong tea,pouchong,tea,tea review — by teaguide @ 3:09 pm
Tags: , ,

In a couple of oolong/pouchong reviews from just about two years ago (here and here), I gave my definition of “floral” versus “flowery” as

“… floral teas envelop the drinker in the sweet scent of flower perfume from the first whiff to the last lingering finish on the palate. Flowery oolongs, on the other hand, are more like the flowers themselves rather than the perfume and aroma. Well yes, they do exhibit both perfume and aroma, but they go somewhat beyond that.
“Have you ever eaten a flower? Edible flowers have a distinct taste of sweet spices that generally intensifies in the finish. So flowery means that the aroma and perfume of flowers are there, along with the sweet spiciness of the flowers themselves. Like eating a flower.”
Bingleys Little Flower oolong

Little flower oolong. Photo courtesy of Bingley’s Teas Limited.

Recently I received samples of two lovely teas from Bingley’s Teas, and reviewed the first of these in January. This is the second of the two teas — a flowery pouchong with the lovely and very appropriate name of Little Flower Oolong.

Steeped up gongfu style with water at string-of-pearls temperature, this tea gives forth the aroma of a spring garden: honeysuckle, daffodil, and a brief whiff of lilac. Carried into the cup, it is quite like sipping a spring bouquet, with a blend of sweet flowers and spices, along with a hint of warm almond cookies — you know, the kind you get at a Chinese restaurant. Complex, yet at the same time palate-friendly.

I preferred the results when, in later steepings, I slightly reduced the amount of the beautifully rolled leaf from the quantity I used in the first steeping. This is probably a matter of individual taste; it’s a gentle tea and I enjoyed it more when I treated it gently. Less leaf seemed to elicit more of the almond cookie quality in relation to the flowery qualities. Leaves can be re-infused at least four or five times, with subsequent infusions eliciting less “cookie” and more flowers.

Spring will be here (finally!) in a few weeks. Little Flower Oolong, IMNSHO, would be an ideal tea for ushering in the new season. Or any season.

Follow TeaGuide on Twitter @TeaGuide1

Friend TeaGuide on Facebook

Contact us by email about reviewing your tea or tea-related product, or to be interviewed.

We love to hear your comments!

All content Copyright 2007-2015 JP Badarau; all rights reserved.

February 26, 2015

Ramblings: Vegan variation on a scone

Had to take off a few weeks to tend to a very sick kitty. Now that I’m not constantly running to the vet’s office and we’ve got our daily routine of food preparation and tube-feeding organized, days are more relaxed and I can go back to one of my favourite things; namely, writing about tea and tea “stuff.”

afternoon teaDuring the fifteen years (1997 to 2012) when I was editing and publishing TeaGuide Worldwide Tea Directory, it was a rare tea room review we received that did not include a detailed evaluation of the scones that were served: whether they were too small or too large, too hard or too doughy, or happily just right. Scones are arguably the most popular component of a traditional afternoon tea, and tea drinkers do expect them to be just the way we like them!

The first scones were cooked up in Scotland in the early sixteenth century. These were essentially griddle-baked raised oatcakes, formed into large rounds and cut into wedges for serving. Nowadays scone bakers more often use wheat flour and cut the scones into rounds with a biscuit cutter or drop-shape them into rounded mounds.

Recipes for scones generally call for butter and either milk or cream, and are served with clotted cream, butter, and jam. Someone once told me that the whole point of scones is to provide a foundation for holding as much cream and jam as possible!

While this pleases most tea lovers, those of us who follow a purely vegetarian, or vegan, diet – abstaining from all animal-based products – often find ourselves having to pass on eating scones. This, however, is changing, as more people turn to a vegan diet, whether for philosophic or health reasons. Even former President Bill Clinton – once the poster boy for double bacon cheeseburgers – not only joins daughter Chelsea as a vegan, he is very vocal in his support for this cholesterol-free dietary plan. (Please note that this is not a political endorsement, just simply an observation about a well-known American.)

scone1aA growing number of restaurants, including tea rooms, either offer vegan menu choices or will alter dishes to suit. Before you visit a tea venue be sure to either read their menu online to see if it includes vegan dishes, or give them a call to discuss your dietary preferences and see if they will accommodate you. In my own experience, more often than not the answer will be “yes.”

Vegans — or anyone who is watching their cholesterol intake, is lactose intolerant, or is allergic to eggs — can make our own scones by substituting vegetable shortening and non-dairy milk for the dairy products. I prefer using coconut or palm oil shortening (Spectrum Organics makes several varieties that are available in natural food stores and many supermarkets) and plain soy milk, although you can use vegan margarine, light vegetable oil, rice milk, and almond milk.

If you prefer a scone mix, be sure to read the ingredients carefully; many incorporate dairy products. I like the mixes from Victorian House Sconesespecially their oatmeal variety. The VHS website even features mixing instructions for a vegan variation, provided by yours truly. I also like that these scones are baked in the original wedge shape.

The following recipe for scones came to me from my friend ~Sophia. Whether you’re a vegan or not, give it a try – they’re absolutely delicious! And remember: One properly eats a scone just as one eats a dinner roll: break off a bite-sized piece, add “embellishments,” and pop it in your mouth. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat!

~Sophia’s Maple Scones
Makes about a dozen

2-1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
4 Tablespoons vegan shortening, vegan margarine, or light oil such as sunflower
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped fine
3/4 cup plain, unflavoured soy milk
1/3 cup maple syrup (preferably Grade B, which has a richer flavour)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 375° F.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment baking paper.
  • Mix together the flour and baking powder.
  • Cut in the shortening, margarine, or oil with a pastry cutter until the texture is crumbly.
  • Stir in the walnuts.
  • Add the milk and maple syrup, stirring until blended to a soft dough.
  • Knead the dough for a minute or so on a lightly floured board until smooth.
  • Pat or roll to a thickness of one-half inch.
  • Dip a large biscuit cutter (or the rim of a ten-ounce drinking glass) into flour, cut out rounds, and place each round onto the parchment. Shape any leftover dough into a round with your hands.
  • Bake for twenty minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm with your favourite topping.

I like to accompany these flavourful scones with an assertive tea such as a rich nectar-y Assam. Fortunately, 2014 was an excellent year for Assams, like this tippy Meleng estate tea. If kitty’s health keeps improving I’m hoping to present a round-up of my favourite Assams in the next week or two. Meanwhile, if you decide to fix a batch of these scones, do let me know how you like them.

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

Follow TeaGuide on Twitter @TeaGuide1

Friend TeaGuide on Facebook

Contact us by email about reviewing your tea or tea-related product, or to be interviewed.

We love to hear your comments!

All content Copyright 2007-2015 JP Badarau; all rights reserved.

Next Page »

The Toni Theme. Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 54 other followers