Are we talking iced or hot? For guests or just myself? Tea or tisane?
For gulping while running-out-the-door-late-as-usual or for savoring?
Green or black or oolong or white? Classic or aroma? Traditional or unexpected?
And then there’s the weather!!! Gotta match tea to weather!
This is just asking too much of me!
And I am tempted to just go with “Earl Grey.”
But wait, maybe—
there are several teas that I keep reaching for, and TeaHaus’ Hong Cha Java is definitely one of them.
Java is a long, slender island situated between Asia and Australia. Mountains and volcanoes, supporting rainforests and bamboo woods, run along its spine.
In the Sukabumi Province in western Java, a small, private tea plantation grows at an elevation of around 4,000 feet. In the dry season, the tea leaves are plucked and then processed with traditional Chinese methods.
The orthodox black tea, Hong Cha Java, boasts of long, very dark brown leaves that beautifully unfurl during brewing.
And if you’ve ever wondered why black tea is called red tea in China, consider hong cha. Its name means red tea, and it yields a gorgeous, vibrant coppery red cup!
This tea is expressive and complex, with earthy and fruity notes.
I usually make a really large mug of this tea and then end up drinking the last half of it cold—and I really can’t say whether I prefer it hot or cold because the flavor is rich and pronounced either way.
If you want a tea that makes a statement and yet is not overpowering, this tea is for you. In fact, I think that coffee drinkers will particularly like this tea for its earthy complexity. Plus, this tea is never bitter.
And it definitely ranks as one of my black classic faves.
For these photos, I brewed one heaping teaspoon of Hong Cha Java, available at TeaHaus, with 8 oz of boiling water for 4 minutes.
Do I serve green tea or black tea? What the heck—serve both. In the same pot!
Is this not perfect?
Evidently it’s not, because there is a positive dearth of two-spouted teapots. And this design has probably always been more of a novelty than a serviceable teapot.
Even back in 1690.
This lovely melon-shaped porcelain teapot from China is partitioned down its center, and each spout has one straining hole.
Dating to 1690, its round base and lid are characteristic of many early seventeenth-century teapots, whereas its notched lid (meaning it fits on the pot in only one way) is more similar to later seventeenth-century teapots.†
So was this teapot really used to brew black and green tea simultaneously?
According to scholar Shirley Mueller,† it is possible.
She notes that this teapot is similar in shape to a later-dated Yixing teapot that has “‘Green’ and ‘Bohea’ engraved on the silver gilt mounts,” seemingly indicating that one side held green tea and the other bohea (which is black tea).
But that doesn’t necessarily seem like a good idea. . . .
That’s because in the early seventeenth century, Europeans would have been drinking something akin to today’s gunpowder green tea—and intensely smoky lapsang souchong black tea (bohea).
There is no way that I would put these two teas together in one pot! The aroma of the lapsang would completely overwhelm the far more subtle smoky flavor of the green tea.
This alone would be a really good reason for this teapot to be a novelty and not intended for serious brewing.
In addition, this teapot would be more difficult to ship without breakage, and early trade—requiring turnaround times of years—was all about minimizing loss and maximizing profits. This too supports the notion that this was a novelty item.
As a quick Google search proved, you can indeed still find the occasional double-spouted teapot, including reproductions of the charming example from 1690.
And you can indeed brew two teas simultaneously. I do, however, suggest that you use teas that comfortably nestle together!
*Photo fromThe Luxury of Tea and Coffee: Chinese Export Porcelain, Highlights from the Shirley M. Mueller Collection, exhibit by Shirley M. Mueller and R. Craig Miller, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana, 2016. †Mueller, Shirley Maloney, “17th century Chinese export teapots: imagination and diversity,” Orientations 36(7). 2005.
Tea pictured is available from TeaHaus.
The world of loose leaf tea can be intimidating—so many choices! And how do you decide how much to buy?
Those pesky grams . . .
It doesn’t make it any easier that bulk tea is often sold in grams or in odd amounts of ounces.
That is because most of the world uses grams, and the U.S. equivalents end up being an odd amount. So a nice round 50 grams of tea ends up being 1.76 ounces in the U.S.
But how much IS 1.76 ounces?
For some comparison, a single-serving Hersey’s chocolate bar is 1.55 ounces while a Snickers bar is 1.86 ounces.
But 1.76 ounces of loose leaf tea gives you roughly 15 to 20 cups of tea.
The range of cup yield is because you will use a different tea leaf to water ratio depending on the type of tea you have.
Some teas need one level teaspoon per 8 ounces of water, whereas others need more—especially for light, bulky teas such as Silver Needle white tea (incidentally, those are more accurately weighed rather than measured by teaspoon, but expediency rules for most of us!).
And making tea an even better bargain—
Unlike coffee beans, which can be brewed only once, tea leaves can often be reused.
Most oolong teas and many green and white teas can—and often should—be rebrewed. The leaves will continue to release flavor, and successive brews may even be more flavorful than the first infusion.
So 1.76 ounces may actually give you anywhere from 30 to 60 cups of tea!
When thinking about the price of high-quality teas, even an expensive tea may not be so costly when you consider the number of brews you can make per teaspoon of tea leaves.
Compare the premium Japan Gyokuro (which can be rebrewed) to a bottle of wine.
For about the same price, you can get fifty grams of tea or a decent bottle of wine. The wine bottle will give you 5 five-ounce servings, but the 50 grams of tea will give you at least 30 to 40 eight-ounce servings!
So how much to buy?
Here is a handy chart (this is assuming an 8-ounce cup and a one-time use of the leaves):
50 g = 1.7 oz = 15–20 cups
100 g = 3.53 oz = 30–40 cups
250 g = 8.82 oz = 75–100 cups
500 g = 17.64 oz = 150–200 cups
While tea keeps for months and even years, for optimal flavor you will want to buy only what you will use up in a reasonable amount of time.
Diaries. The word alone conjures up dreams, disappointments, secrets, confessions. . . .
When my husband found his grandmother’s diary, we felt guilty opening it—as though we were violating her privacy, although she passed away decades ago.
But after reading—repeatedly—that the day’s laundry dried well, we didn’t worry so much about the ethics. Because her words didn’t offer much insight into her as a person.
Yet the mundane details that she recorded provide a snapshot of everyday life in a Midwestern farming community in the 1930s.
And much more exciting travel journals can serve a similar function.
In the early 1930s, inveterate adventurer Walter N. Koelz traversed—by yak and by horse—the rugged western Himalayan mountains, maintaining his diary throughout.
Taking incredible adventures (and multiple mishaps) in stride, his mission was to collect zoological and botanical specimens—as well as Tibetan objects—for botanical gardens and museums.
Avidly seeking out artwork and jewelry, Koelz also amassed household items, including teapots and tea tables.
Offering us a window into the ordinary while on an extraordinary journey.
In his 1931 diary (p. 121), Koelz notes that he
bought an ancient curiously carved tea table. . . . The carving is bold and graceful and of a totally different character from that of the tables nowadays manufactured. The top was soaked in generations of butter imbibed from the tea that had been spilled by the guests of the ages and the gay paint that the people in this country apply to all carvings has been toned to grey-black by similar agencies.
For those who lived in this cold and rugged mountain range, adding butter to their tea contributed much-needed nutrition.
The butter would have been high-fat-content yak butter, with a consistency closer to cheese. Using a churn, the tea and butter would be frothed and then drunk with milk, a practice still followed in some Himalayan regions.
In the early 1930s—as today—tea and hospitality intertwined.
Throughout his diary, Koelz mentions both serving and being served tea, as well as both offering and receiving tea as a gift. On July 2, 1933, he was offered tea and tsampa, “a staple Tibetan food of roasted barley flour, usually served mixed with butter and tea” (Sinopoli 2013).
And tea was everywhere.
Koelz met caravans of mules carrying tea through the mountains. He writes of:
bricks and cakes of Tibetan tea and a cake of HR tea;
buying Kangra tea in July—at Kulu’s October prices (today, Kangra and Kulu are districts in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh); and
seeing walnuts ground so that the oil could be added to tea.
He bought teacups and teapots—of wood, a Lhasa teapot, some made in Spiti (located between Tibet and India), a copper teapot of “Mongol design.”
He bought tea tables—including one in which “a little bedbug village had located itself” (Sinopoli 2013)! (In case you’re wondering, he put the table in the sun to draw the bugs out, where they died.)
And as it still does today, tea—and water—quality varied.
Complaining on October 30, 1933, that their “Lipton tea had a drugstore taste,” Koelz used prianku (a high alpine, lemon-scented perennial herb that grows in the Himalayas) to add flavor; he goes on to say that they “bought a cake of Tibetan tea that didn’t have any taste. Our herb remedied that too” (Sinopoli 2013).
On January 19, 1934, he writes that their “water makes bad tea so we bought a jugful from a well a couple miles away”; on the following day, when they located “drinkable” water, they drank “tea copiously” (Sinopoli 2013).
In modern America, it’s unlikely we need to add prianku to our tea, adding butter is definitely a personal preference, and we probably don’t have a dedicated tea table.
BUT, we continue to serve, be served, buy, give, and enjoy tea. Because it is always more than just the tea.
It’s community, hospitality, friendship.
–Koelz, W. N. “Diary of the 1931 Expedition to Western Tibet,” Journal of Urusvati, Himalayan Research Center 2:121. 1931.
–Sinopoli, C. M. The Himalayan Journey of Walter N. Koelz, Ann Arbor: Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan. 2013.
Tea pictured above is available at TeaHaus.
Somewhere in time, after teabags became ubiquitous, the idea evolved that making tea with loose leaves is complicated. Or time consuming. Or best left to someone more experienced.
But really, truly—you can quickly make a great cup of tea!
As far as what you need, you probably already own it. Nothing fancy required here!
Measuring out your tea
Better—use a teaspoon from your drawer:
Best—use a tea measuring spoon, which has a deep bowl that is designed to hold bulky tea leaves:
Making the tea
This works—measure your tea leaves into anything that holds hot water and simply eyeball the amount of hot water that you add.
However, for optimal flavor, it’s better to at least somewhat measure how much water you add so that your tea to water ratio is correct (and reproducible).
Best—here I’ve put green tea (China Gunpowder Temple of Heaven, from TeaHaus) directly into a glass measuring cup (which allows a lot of room for the leaves to unfurl) and added the hot water:
Alternately, measure the tea leaves into a filter, pop the filter into a cup, and then add the hot water.
Many types of filters are readily available, including disposable paper filters (I use the paper filters to make my own tea bags, convenient for traveling).
A round tea ball is fine with CTC black teas—those that consist of chopped tea leaves, which won’t expand a whole lot and therefore can be contained in a small space. Even so, you don’t want to cram too many leaves into a tea ball because you do need room for the leaves to expand so that you get all the flavor that you should.
Teas that are whole leaf really need a lot more room to expand. Any type of basket filter works with these teas.
I personally prefer this Finum filter (which also is terrific for when you have tiny slivers of rooibos):
Keeping track of brewing time
This works—totally guess.
But if you ever want to replicate—or change—your results (and get the best flavor), you’ll want to watch your brewing time.
Better—count, as in:
1 Mississippi 2 Mississippi 3 Mississippi . . .
Filtering out the tea leaves
This works—if you’ve brewed the leaves loose in a cup or measuring glass, anything that holds the leaves back will work (even a fork will work with large whole leaves).
So I inherited this Gay Nineties (Lady) anthropomorphic teapot from my grandmother.
My first reaction? A definite Eww!!
But my husband recognized the pattern, having seen it in antique stores.
Indeed, this seems to be a collectible that people do collect. Since my vintage teapot was never used (the built-in strainer is pristine), it was strictly for display.
This handpainted teapot was made in Japan sometime between 1949 and 1961, by the Miyao Company (now Miyawo) under the PY trademark, and probably sold through an American distributor.
The Gay Nineties—an American expression—refers to the 1890s. The expression began in the 1920s and was widely used during the Great Depression in the 1930s as people looked back to a supposedly happier time.
Yet although this nostalgic term evokes an era of gaiety—and assuredly many of the upper and middle classes did prosper—the decade of the 1890s was anything but. An economic crisis began early in the decade, worsened by the Panic of 1893, which brought unemployment, business failures, bank closures, a stock market plunge, and a depression.
So why would a teapot be anthropomorphized?
Well, the hairstyle and hat do evoke an earlier era, making the teapot a fun, nostalgic tchotchke. It definitely makes serving tea to a guest memorable!
But according to Rick Nauert (2015),
thinking of a nonhuman entity in human ways renders it worthy of moral care and consideration.
Maybe this is just as much advertising as nostalgia. Maybe the human face compels people to purchase it. And once it is in your house, those eyes make it difficult to throw the thing out.
Because it is still in my house. And it is growing on me.
Earlier this week, my husband and I drove through mid-Michigan mucks—historically, prime land for growing mint. In fact, at the turn of the 20th century, our state supplied 90% of the world’s supply of mint oil!*
Along with North America, this aromatic herb is native to Eurasia, southern Africa, and Australia, and since antiquity has been valued for its heady scent and invigorating flavor. Mint was tossed into baths, drunk and eaten, and used medicinally.
Mint’s MOA: Scientifically and Culturally
Menthol is the essential oil that gives mint its cooling effect. When menthol binds to receptors on sensory neurons, calcium ions move into the cells, sending a “cool” message to the brain.†
No wonder mint is so popular in the southern, sultry states of the U.S.—in the form of mint juleps—and in Morocco in northwest Africa, where sweet mint tea is embedded in the culture.
Mint, in fact, means hospitality in many regions (think “hospitality mint”!). In Morocco—with African, Arab, Berber, and European influences—the architecture emphases community, and mint tea signifies family and hospitality.
Mint Melded with Tea
Tea apparently was introduced to Morocco in the 1700s as trade between Asia, Africa, and Europe grew. By the 1800s, China green gunpowder and Young Hyson teas were being imported into the country.
Moroccan mint tea is traditionally made in a silver teapot and then poured out while holding the teapot high above the glass. This both cools and froths the tea.
The sweet brew—made of green gunpowder tea, mint leaves, and sugar—is served in beautifully decorated glasses.
While I didn’t pour my Moroccan Mint tea into a Moroccan glass, I did make sure to brew it at 194°F for 2 minutes and enjoyed it hot on this chilly morning.
This tea is also excellent iced—especially cooling on a hot, sunny day, and perfect to offer to family and friends!
*Schaetzl, R. “Mint,” Michigan State University.
†Cotton, S. “Menthol,” Uppingham School, Rutland, UK. The Moroccan Mint tea and Moroccan glasses shown above are available from TeaHaus