A Complicated Progression

From Baked Beans . . .

Last week, using my mother-in-law’s bean pot and last fall’s navy beans, I made a terrific batch of authentic baked beans—the real thing. The beans that bake slowly for hours, melding flavors into perfection, and that are always great with something off the grill­.

My husband and I purchase our dried beans (navy, red, black) from the Cooperative Elevator Company that is located in Michigan’s Thumb and owned by over 1,000 farmer producers, including several friends of ours—who have ribbed us for buying many, many pounds of beans at a time!

We know the farmers and their farms; we know how the crops are tended, harvested, stored; we know about the joys and the risks of farming; we are close to the source of our food.

This, however, is not the case for other things that we buy and consume. Michigan is ideal for growing beans, cherries, apples, berries. But bananas, cacao, tea? Not so much.

Having ready access to foods and goods that have been produced from across the globe is an amazing privilege. And too often I don’t take the time to think about the origin of things that I use. But I should.

To Tea . . .

Oppression and exploitation are always disturbing to read about, all the more when we see little that we can do to effect change.

I feel this way about a June 12 story reported by the NCA News. A group of ethnic Palaung (or Ta’ang) have fled their village and are taking shelter in a Buddhist monastery in northern Shan State, Myanmar. This beautiful, hilly, and heavily wooded area seems a paradise. But the usual culprits—violence and the drug trade—have disrupted the lives of people who seem hopelessly entangled in tragedy.

According to the news report, these villagers used to support themselves by growing and selling tea. However, they lost this means of livelihood when:

1. Cheaper tea became readily available from China.

2. Land was seized and apportioned to others, for commercial agriculture.

To Poppies . . .

So with their tea values next to nothing and with the loss of their land, the villagers were vulnerable to drug traffickers. Poppy fields now flourish in the area, supplying jobs during harvest times. And with the drug trade come competition and fighting, precipitating the village residents to flee from their homes.

To . . . What?

So what to do? Simply being aware is a start. Looking for avenues to help—and those range from supporting groups and individuals that can make a difference to changing how we live our own lives. We can support those businesses that source their products ethically, with social responsibility, and that treat their workers fairly. We can pay attention to where and how things are produced, and make our decisions accordingly.

A whole lot of individual changes can eventually lead to a tipping point, to a change that does make a positive difference for humanity.

Again I am reminded that “it’s more than tea”—it’s about someone’s culture and livelihood. And it’s complicated.

Where’s the Leaf? Or, Brewing Terrific Tea!

“This tea is really good!”—slightly surprised, pleasantly—was what I most often heard when handing out samples at a local market. “Teabags?” would generally follow.

No, teabags will never give the full-bodied flavor and multiple nuances of a loose leaf tea. To truly get every bit of flavor (and gorgeous full color) from a tea leaf, it must fully unfold and be able to circulate as it steeps. The tiny broken bits of tea leaf (fannings or dust) in a commercial teabag fall short.

When we use loose leaf tea, we often have pretty large pieces of (or complete) tea leaves. We can especially see this with those teas that have been minimally processed—after brewing, unfurl a wet leaf and you will see that it is indeed most or all of a leaf!

To allow for the optimal unfolding of the leaves, we don’t want to constrict them. When using a tea ball or other enclosed infuser, or when making our own loose leaf tea bag with a paper filter, we want to use a large enough one to allow maximum leaf expansion. These brewing techniques work best with teas that have been processed either by the crush-tear-curl (CTC) or the orthodox methods because the tea leaf pieces are already small and will easily fit into the tea ball without breaking. Plus, you can get the correct amount of tea into the tea ball without needing to use one that is so large that it takes up too much space in the teacup or teapot.

However, for green, oolong, white, or tippy (those that contain more leaf buds, or tips) black teas, it is best to use something that allows plenty of room for the larger leaves to fully unfurl and move about.

For a teapot whose spout has a “web” to keep the leaves in the teapot as the tea is poured out, simply put the tea loose into the teapot.

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Other teapots are designed with removable strainers/infusers/brewing baskets that hold the tea leaves, yet are roomy enough for the leaves to open up. Variations of these open infusers also work well in a large mug. In travel tea mugs or thermoses, try putting the leaves under (rather than in) the filter basket.

Or just measure your tea into a liquid measuring cup or beaker, add the hot water, and then pour the brewed tea through a brewing filter, or even a kitchen strainer, and into your teacup. Easy!

So if you want to brew the best possible tea, consider how to best allow for leaf expansion. To help you out, TeaHaus carries a complete line of brewing supplies—even compiling a very handy Brew Kit Box that includes a tea measuring spoon (its deep bowl makes it easy to measure out bulky teas), glass liquid measuring cup, timer, and reusable Finum brewing basket. I highly recommend the tea measuring spoon and the Finum brewing basket! The basket, with its fine mesh, works great for tiny slivers of rooibos tea as well.

And when you make tea, you too can say, with no surprise: “This tea is really good!”

Want to Make Friends and Influence People?

I grew up drinking tea: sometimes loose leaf, sometimes teabag, the stronger, the better. Liquid comfort food for body and soul! And so, gatherings at our home—especially in our frigid Michigan winters and chilly springtime!—are never complete without hot tea. Conversations seem to flow more easily when people are sipping hot beverages, and I have long surmised that hot tea truly does have both physical and psychological benefits.

And science has borne this out—and I don’t even mean ingesting the beverage, but simply holding it!

iced_hotTouch (haptic sensation) is the first of our senses to develop, and although we generally focus on sight, hearing, and taste, we may be unconsciously responding to touch far more than we think. Intriguingly, many researchers have investigated how merely holding a warm object shades both our perceptions and our actions.

When we are physically warm, we can project that feeling to both people and objects. So when, for example, we hold a cup of a hot beverage, we may more generously view other people, believing them to have a “warm” personality. In fact, in first impressions, we partly evaluate others with a “warm-cold dimension,” with “warm” encompassing, as you would expect, positive qualities such as trustworthiness and friendliness. We transfer—without being aware of it—physical sensations to the psychological. Further, holding a hot object makes us more likely to be more generous, more prone to selecting a gift for a friend rather than for ourselves. As explained in Science (322:606–7), the same part of the brain processes “both the physical and the psychological versions of warmth information.”

Other fascinating research (nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/05/29) indicates that people who might otherwise have negative feelings (in this study, if they were in an “excluded” versus an “included” group) instead had more positive feelings if they were given a warm cup of tea to hold. Additionally, the “excluded” were more likely to request warm rather than cold beverages, presumably to make themselves feel less an outsider. And, again, those who held hot objects were more willing to trust others.

Viewing others more generously, and treating them more kindly, is always a worthy goal. And if a cup of our favorite hot tea helps us along that path, that just gives us yet another reason to indulge in our favorite brew.