TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

April 18, 2013

In my cups: I love (these) coffee cups

Filed under: food,shopping,tea,tea accessories,Tea sites,teacups — by JanisB @ 10:27 am
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I don’t drink coffee. While I absolutely adore the aroma, it seems to me that the aroma promises more than the taste delivers. Far more. In fact, I really don’t like drinking coffee at all.

I drink tea.

And I don’t like drinking tea out of the clunky mugs or heavy cups designed for coffee. No, I much prefer delicate teacups — with handles, without handles, and preferably made of glass. Because a large part of the enjoyment of tea is the visuals — the unfurling of the leaves, the play of light on tea liquor, and the multitude of colours that made tea encompasses.

blog-glass-coffee-cups-largeWhenever I go into a tea shop, an antiques shop, a tableware shop, or any shop that has cups on offer, I’m immediately drawn to the one/s made of glass. Which is how, a good fifteen or so years ago, I came upon my first teacup that was really a coffee cup. I’ve since learned that its proper designation is cappuccino cup, with cappuccino being some sort of coffee affair topped with whipped cream. Inasmuch as I wouldn’t know a cappuccino from a concertino, I bought the tea cup and added it to my collection.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that teacups are generally tapered, with a smaller bottom opening to a wider rim. This is true of both Asian and Western style teacups. Unlike coffee cups, which normally have straight sides so the bottom of the cup is about the same as the top. I’ve been told that teacups have wider tops so the tea cools more quickly at the top; I’ve also been told that it’s so you can enjoy the aroma while you’re sipping.  The cappuccino teacup is similarly small at the bottom and wider at the top, which is pretty much why I presumed it was a teacup.

It was immediately put into service to showcase the many shades of black teas, from ebony to chestnut to auburn to burnt sienna to topaz to gold. While I could have used it for any kind of tea, I tend to drink my black teas from a larger cup than other types of teas — greens, oolongs, white teas.

blog-glass-coffee-cups-smallA few years ago I was shopping at a beautiful homewares shop in Bucuresti, Romania that specialized in Spanish and Italian imports. And there was a cup of the same funnel-like shape as my cappuccino teacup but about one-fourth the size. Yes! Now I had the perfect cup for my green, oolong, and white teas. Even if I have since learned that its proper designation is espresso cup — espresso, again, being some sort of coffee preparation.

The two cups are now amongst the most often used of my good-sized collection of glass teacups. I like everything about them: the size(s), the shape, the handle that lets me hold it when a glass handle, or a handle-less cup, would be too hot.

In my not-so-humble opinion, these cups were mis-named to start with, and I have in fact elevated their status by using them for tea rather than for coffee!

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All content Copyright 2013 JP Badarau; all rights reserved.

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March 1, 2013

Review: Taiwan Tea Crafts … flowers or florals? (AND a special offer!)

A few days ago I posted a review of Taiwan Tea Crafts’ exquisite Jade Oolong … a very floral green oolong, or pouchong.

Their lovely Alishan High Mountain oolong lot #144 is a delightful example of what I refer to as “flowery” oolongs. Let me explain.

As noted in the previous review, floral teas envelope 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.

And that’s what I love about this very fresh and very enjoyable tea. It’s like having your flowers and drinking them too!

~ ~ Special Offer for TeaGuide readers! ~ ~

Taiwan Tea Crafts very kindly invites you to try their teas by offering a 10% discount. This offer is good until March 18, 2013 and includes their already-discounted teas. Enter the discount code TEAGUIDE at checkout — and you can even use the code multiple times until the expiration date.

So if you’re a lover (or aspiring lover!) of beautiful oolongs — whether green, roasted, oxidized, aged, or scented — the elegant black teas of Taiwan, and lovely tea ware, do stop by before the offer expires!

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February 15, 2013

Turkish teapot and cups

Tea is an important aspect of life for people around the globe, and most cultures have created a specific ritual for their tea drinking. There’s the British four o’clock tea time, the Japanese tea ceremony, and the Chinese practice of gongfu tea service, to name a few.

One set of customs that I knew little about was that of Turkey. I have visited Romania – which was under Ottoman rule for over three centuries – many times. The Turkish influence is readily observable there in language, music, architecture, and cuisine,  including tea. But still my knowledge was lacking.

It’s been said that if you want to learn about a subject, write a book about it – or a blog article! So here goes …

During one of our first trips to Romania, back in the late 1990s, we visited the city museum of Romania’s capital of Bucuresti, where I first saw some typical tea ware from Turkey. On our next trip we discovered a Turkish-owned grocery store just down the block. Amongst the many interesting foods was a big barrel of large-leafed black tea: Turkish tea. As loose-leaf tea was not yet readily available in Romania, I happily bought a half-kilo (a little over a pound). Unfortunately it turned out to be vile stuff, and I gave most of it to my in-laws to use as garden mulch.

On the same trip, I saw a nice Turkish pewter teapot in a downtown antiques shop, and purchased it on the spot. When we returned home, I found Turkish tea glasses for sale in an international grocery in Queens, New York, and promptly bought a set. Pretty, yes, but I still didn’t know much about them, although I did like to use them from time to time.

Turkish teapot and cups

My Turkish teapot and cut-glass teacup set. The scrolled front of the teapot features a blank medallion, perhaps for adding a monogram. The lid is attached and flips open with a light touch.

Well, I recently did some research into Turkish tea customs. First, there’s the stacked teapot and “kettle” pot, that as a set is utilized similarly to a Russian samovar: water is boiled in the bottom pot and added to tea leaves in the top pot to make a very strong, concentrated tea. The tea is served by pouring some of this concentrate from the top pot into the tea glass and then filling it up with water from the bottom pot until it reaches the desired strength, adjusting the ratio of tea to water depending on how strong you like it. (You must periodically replenish the water in the bottom pot.)

Turkish tea is made from black tea leaves, and – as they do in China – Turkish tea drinkers refer to their tea as “red” tea. The stronger the tea, the redder it is in the cup. The tea glass’ elegant hourglass shape is derived from the shape of the tulips that grow profusely in Turkey in the spring. When the tea glass is full, it is reminiscent of red tulips, a local favourite.

One never adds milk to Turkish tea, tho’ sugar or lemon are perfectly permissible. When either one is added, there is great ceremony about stirring it loudly into the tea with the accompanying silver or gold spoon, which is then placed on the accompanying high-sided saucer. The cup is filled to about an inch from the top so it can be held between forefinger and thumb without scalding as the tea is sipped.

Oh yes, and I learned one other thing: As with oolong tea, Turkish tea is “rinsed” with water from the bottom pot before it is steeped. This awakens the leaves as well as removes any harshness from them, resulting in a smooth, drinkable cup that is consumed at all hours of the day, and in almost any social situation. Now if I had only known that before I gave away all that tea for mulch …

Turkish teapot sets, as well as Turkish tea glasses, in styles ranging from simple to ornate, are available via import shops both online and traditional.

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