TeaGuide: Reviews and Ramblings

March 25, 2010

Ramblings: Welcome to the Tea Party!

Filed under: food,history,tea party,Tea sites — by JanisB @ 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 4, 2010

Ramblings: En-gendering tea

Filed under: food,friends,men drinking tea,Tea sites — by JanisB @ 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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August 17, 2009

Ramblin’ about iced tea

Filed under: cooking,food,recipes,tea — by JanisB @ 2:06 pm
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Now that we’re in the “dog days” of August — so named for the ascending dog star, Sirius — everyone is asking the same important questions:

What’s the best way to make good iced tea?

And what tea/s make the best iced tea?


Well, it depends on who you ask.

Now if you ask me, I’ll tell you that the cold infusion method (also known as “refrigerator iced tea”) produces the tastiest and clearest iced tea you’ve ever tasted. Not to mention that it’s so-o-o-o easy to fix, you don’t have to worry about bacterial contamination (as you might when drinking “sun tea”), and as an added bonus it’s almost impossible for cold-infused tea to get bitter from over-steeping.

All you need are tea, disposable filters if you’re using loose leaf tea, a covered pitcher or large jar, and cold water. No need to boil the water — remember that I told you this was simple! It’s even safe enough for kids to fix.

pitcher_teaHere’s what you do: Put the tea into the pitcher or jar, fill with cold water, cover securely, and place into the refrigerator. (I personally favour using an empty “Simply Grapefruit” juice bottle — the wide mouth allows easy addition and removal of tea, and its convenient size fits on the ‘fridge door.) Let it steep for at least two (2) hours, or put it together in the late evening and let it steep overnight. When you’re ready to serve, remove and discard the tea (bags or filters), and pour into a glass in your favourite style: “as is,” over ice, with frozen strawberry “ice cubes,” mixed with lemonade, mixed with pineapple juice, accented with lemon and/or sweetener, or with a drop or two of pure vanilla … The possibilities are endless, limited only by your own taste buds.

As far as which tea you should use for iced tea, a lot of people will tell you to “just ice whichever teas you drink hot.” The idea being, of course, that if you like the taste of a particular tea hot, logically you’ll love it just as much when it’s icy cold.

Well, I’m here to tell you: It ain’t necessarily so. Some teas are good no matter what temperature they are when you drink them, but a lot of teas simply are not switch-hitters.

customblendimageThere are plenty of teas that I’m just crazy about when they’re served hot, but cannot abide when they’re cold. Case in point: smoky teas. The (tea) world is divided into those who hate smoky teas, and those who love a hot cup of Lapsang Souchong or Russian Caravan, especially on a damp, chilly afternoon. Happily, I’m in the latter group. So, following the “conventional wisdom” of iced tea preferences, I have on a couple of occasions tried an iced smoky tea. Never — I say never — again! “Yuck” would be the kindest description I could come up with to describe this swill. And yet, there I am at tea tastings, happily finishing off the almost-full pot of hot Lapsang Souchong while all around me are desperately trying to get rid of the “swill” in their cups.

Several other very enjoyable hot teas just do not make it in iced teadom. Gen mai cha, a lovely gentle green tea mixed with roasted rice, is awful when chilled. Most white teas, when iced, simply leave me cold. As big a fan as I am of Darjeeling and oolong teas, frankly a lot of them can’t handle the transition from hot to cold. Matcha and gyokuro teas, two very strongly flavoured Japanese green teas, are wonderful hot but almost gag-inducing when cold. And let’s not even get started on pu-erh …

And then there are the teas I enjoy iced that I would never (or hardly ever) drink hot. Unless I were absolutely desperate, I’d never put a teabag of Wissotsky or Canadian Red Rose black tea into a teapot or cup and drink it hot, and yet these are my two favourite iced teas. Both have a clear, strong, “tea-y” flavour, and are great alone or for mixing with juices. I’m not real big on flavoured teas when they’re served hot, but chill ’em and pour ’em over ice and they are tasty and refreshing. There are also a few green teas that I find too grassy when they’re served hot, but when cold infused they develop a surprising springtime sweetness.

So how exactly do you choose which tea/s to drink iced? The same way you choose your hot tea favourites: drink a lot of different kinds, then winnow out the ones you don’t care for and stick with the ones you do like. Remember that it’s tea, not rocket science. You identify teas that appeal to your taste by sampling a variety. Whichever one/s you prefer become your own personal “best iced teas.”

orangeglassesYes, you’ve got to go with your own taste on this, but I will recommend one tea blend that I like both hot and cold as a jumping-off point. Start with either a neutral or “nectar/honey” type of Assam; it’s not as successful with “malty” Assams. (Orangajuli comes to mind, but there are plenty of others.) Then add a sprig or two of fresh dried linden leaves and flowers to the infusion. Linden is also called lime blossom; in French it’s tilleul, and in Romanian it’s tei.) I’ve been drinking this combination for some weeks now, ever since I bought and dried a kilo of fresh tei in Bucuresti. Everyone I’ve served this blend to so far — both in Romania and USA, where I managed to bring home about a half-pound of dried herb — has enjoyed the combination, both hot and iced. Linden has a lovely fragrance and a natural sweetness that complement a “basic black” tea like Assam.

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