How To Have an Informal Do-It-Yourself Tea Tasting

Surprise packages are the best!

And those containing a tin of tea—a blend created by friends—even better!!

tea leavesMy dear friend Susan and her son David recently visited TeaPort, “Home of the Original Nanaimo Bar Tea Blend,” and sent me the results of their personal experiment in tea blending.

Gather the troops and break out the teapot—

My family promptly agreed to taste test this intriguing—and very pretty—blend of black tea from Sri Lanka, calendula, jasmine and sunflower petals, coconut flakes, real maple syrup, butterscotch pieces, and natural flavors.

and first consider the leaves and make some speculations

We wondered how on earth Susan and David came up with this combination! When we read the ingredient list, we didn’t think any of us would really care for this tea. I thought the blend smelled too much of butterscotch (not a favorite flavor of mine) while others picked up fruity and caramel. The choice of both butterscotch and maple syrup was a bit baffling.

And all of us believed that the tea would be very sweet!

On to brewing—

susan-wet-leaves-webWe measured out 5 teaspoons of the tea into a one-quart teapot, added boiling water, and brewed for 2 minutes (no specific directions were provided by TeaPort so we used standard brewing for black aroma teas).

and then tasting—and describing—the brew

First off, we nailed the amount of tea and brew time!

However, predictions of flavor don’t make something true. We all agreed that we could taste a sweetness but the tea was not sweet! Rather, it was smooth.

And with five of us, we came up with different descriptions of the same tea:

  1. No one flavor dominates; more astringent, like a second flush, than full bodied. A bit of floral with creaminess behind the floral.
  2. Smooth, creamy, balanced.
  3. Fruity, toasty, and creamy.
  4. Caramel and smoky.
  5. Caramel with very smooth aftertaste.

susan-brew-web
Well, we learned several things:

  • our predictions were very unreliable
  • each of us picked up different flavor nuances
  • this is FUN!!!
  • and we love the tea!

THANK YOU, SUSAN AND DAVID!

Anthropomorphic Gay 90s Teapot: Creepy or Charming?

montage-hz_web

So I inherited this Gay Nineties (Lady) anthropomorphic teapot from my grandmother.

makers-mark_webMy 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 Reference

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.

The Face

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.


Source: Nauert, R. “Why do we anthropomorphize?,” Psych Central. 2015.

Aaarrrghh! Can Tea Rescue This Day?

There are days and then there are days and then there are those days! And we’ve all had them. You know the drill.

I am going to quit my job and leave my family and sell my possessions and get rid of my car and start a new life in a new place and be a minimalist so that I don’t own anything that ever has to be repaired or that requires reading an owner’s manual that I don’t understand and I never have to answer another question and I never ever have to figure out why Alexa never understands the question I am asking her.

Yep, those days.

SO, CAN TEA HELP?

YES!!!!!!!! (Sometimes, you just need a lot.)

desk and tea

An Intriguing Persian Ware–Made in Germany Teapot (Now, How the Heck Do I Use It?)

teapot-upright-profile

A friend handed me this incredible teapot—which I puzzled over for a bit. How the heck was it used?? The clue: those little feet on its back.

teapot_open

You place the teapot on its back, supported by its legs, and then put the tea leaves in the top part of the pot, above the strainer. Add hot water and let the tea steep.

teapot_lying-down

To serve the tea, simply put the pot back upright and pour, and the strainer along with the plug of the cover will keep the leaves safely in the top part of the pot.

Persian Ware, Made in Germany

makers-markCurious to learn more about this teapot, I tried investigating Persian Ware that was made in Germany. . . . and came up with . . . not a whole lot.

I did, however, locate Stuart Federhart Holland, who researches this ware, and who very graciously shared the following information.

The makers mark found on the teapot’s base is an import mark for the United States. While this ware was manufactured in Germany in the years between the two world wars, it was intended for Germans who had immigrated to the U.S. Thus, this ware is found primarily in the States.

Some of the designers of this ware were connected to the Bauhaus movement (Bauhaus was an influential German modernist school of art that melded creativity and manufacturing, fine art and craft).

And the name, Persian Ware? Some of this ware’s patterns draw on nineteenth-century Persian motifs.

And who thought up this original teapot design? Absolutely no idea.

But it’s truly a conversation starter!

An Amazing Tea Table, with or without Tea

When you write about tea, it seems you see the word everywhere, even when you are not looking for it. Last week, my family and I were in upstate New York, visiting Letchworth State Park with its many trails and spectacular Genesee River gorge and waterfalls, and really not thinking about tea in the least.

waterfalls

But then, while driving through the park, we spotted this sign. Curious, we stopped to find out what the “tea table” was.

tea table sign with backgd

Not an actual table, it turns out. Nor was any tea available.

Rather, this region was called Tea Table Rock because flat sandstone once overhung the deep river gorge, providing the perfect “table” on which to sit and take in both the view and some refreshments. As the interpretive sign puts it,  this was the place to “picnic or have ‘a spot of tea.'”

Now a “spot of tea” could mean an actual cup of tea, or tea along with sandwiches, or simply the sandwiches—but any excuse to sit and linger in a pretty place works for me!

However, that jutting sandstone slab no longer exists. Today’s visitors stand on more solid ground, delineated by utilitarian fences and by picturesque stone walls built long ago by the CCC.

But picnickers are faced with a dizzying choice of amazing stone picnic (or tea!) tables!

Some, like this table nestled in a stand of mature trees, captivate—inviting a cozy tea break.

table 1 crop bkgdOthers, like this giant slab, stand ready to host an entire party!alissa at table bkgd

So although we were nearly 400 miles from home, we felt welcomed. Yes, parks belong to everyone and, yes, picnic tables everywhere invite us to sit awhile and enjoy a meal. But there is something about “tea table” that feels particularly special—that draws us in, that encourages us to converse and enjoy each other’s company, that begs us to appreciate anew the surrounding loveliness.

We had our spot of tea sans actual tea. But there was lots of conversation and plenty of terrific scenery and an incredible table! Everything that the “Tea Table Area” promises.

Tea and Weather Pairings

Spring flowers have come early to our neck of the woods, always a welcome thing.

But that also means that for those of us who lispring flower:teave in this Great Lakes state, we face weeks of vacillation—dare we put away snow shovels and winter clothes and flannel sheets? How long can we put off cleaning up the yard?

And while weather in Michigan is always (always!) in transition, these early spring months are especially fickle. Shorts and tee shirt and grilling outdoors one minute—and then tugging on a heavy coat and mulling over gloves and scarf!

Winter months here definitely require hot teas that are substantial and comforting. But the wild weather fluctuations of early spring call for flexibility: a solid breakfast tea on today’s 38° morning but a light and fruity blend for the 60° afternoon.

irisThat is the magic of tea! There are endless options—black or oolong; green or white; rooibos, herbal, or fruit. Hot, iced, carbonated.

Tea and food pairings might be all the rage, but tea and weather pairings are decisions that we make on an hourly basis!

Irish Tea and Shamrocks

shamrock flowers

Shamrocks

Last fall, my husband rescued a couple of purple shamrocks from our outdoor flower pots before the frost hit. Well the plants weren’t particularly grateful and didn’t care for the change in environment, rebelling with paltry growth—or perhaps telling us that they needed to go into dormancy, but we didn’t get the message.

Anyway, one of them finally gave up on our ever figuring out their care requirements and decided to produce some lovely leaves and delicate flowers. Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day!

According to Bridget Haggerty:*

 It wasn’t until the 17th century that it became the custom to wear the shamrock on the feast of Ireland’s patron saint; until then, the Irish wore a special St. Patrick’s cross, made just for the occasion. Then, in the late 18th century, the shamrock was adopted as an emblem by the Volunteers of 1777. But it didn’t really become widely popular until the 19th century, when the emerging Nationalist movements took the shamrock, along with the harp, as one of their emblems.

And Tea

962 leaves close up_low resSo as I gaze on the shamrock, I sip tea, of course, because the Irish are among the world’s top per-capita tea consumers. I am trying two versions of the same type of tea—a black tea mixed with cocoa pieces.

Now I am only recently a fan of aroma teas, having for years preferred “just tea.” When my daughter first brought home a tea & chocolate blend, I didn’t even want to try it. However, I have found that I was unnecessarily limiting my options as well as missing out on some terrific tea experiences!

In these blends, the cocoa melts into the robust black tea base—creating deliciously warm notes of whiskey and cream.

So have a cupan tae on this St. Patrick’s Day!


Emerald Isle teaThe first tea is Emerald Isle tea from Cupan Tae in Galway, which was brought back from Ireland for me. This full-bodied brew, with its hint of whiskey creaminess, is satisfyingly bold.

 


962_low resThe second is  O’Connor’s Cream from TeaHaus, which also yields a dark and full-bodied cup. I find the chocolate and creamy notes more pronounced in this blend, giving it greater warmth.

While I think that both these teas are wonderful as far as flavor, I was unable to find any tea sourcing information for Cupan Tae. All TeaHaus tea, whether grown organically or conventionally, is tested for heavy metal and pesticide residue in Germany, which has strict quality control standards.


 

*”Emblems of Ireland: The Shamrock,” by Bridget Haggerty, Irish Cultures and Customs, http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/AEmblem/Shamrock.html