Thursday, May 16, 2019

Iced Earl Grey Tea Cocktail

Since the weather is finally warming up, it's time for another iced tea cocktail! Lately I've been thinking about refreshing cocktails that have cucumber, basil, and gin. I find this combination incredibly delicious and cooling. I decided to also add earl grey tea, as the bergamot gives it a citrusy zing.

Fresh flavor of basil is a whiff of summertime. It's easy to find in the market and also easy to grow in any type of garden or on a windowsill. I grow large amounts of basil every year on our small Brooklyn patio, and it grows quickly and vigorously. For the cucumbers I like using the small persian ones, but any old cuke will do. Just be sure to remove the seeds before using it in the cocktail. I added a bit of fresh lemon juice as well, to increase the citrus quotient.

Tea Happiness' Iced Earl Grey Basil Cooler
Makes 1 cocktail

Earl Grey Simple Syrup (instructions below:1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, 3 tbsp Earl Grey tea)

1 oz. Gin
1-2 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 cup cold earl grey tea
About a 2 inch piece of fresh cucumber, seeded and cut into cubes
A few small basil leaves

First, make the simple syrup: bring 1 cup of water to a boil, turn off the heat and add the 3 tbsp of earl grey tea. Allow to steep for 5-10 minutes and strain. Bring brewed tea back to a medium heat and add in the sugar. Stir until completely dissolved. Allow mixture to cool, and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Can be stored for about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Now, brew a small pot of earl grey tea as you usually would- you can use hot tea that you've cooled in the fridge, or cold brew, your choice.

In a medium-sized glass, muddle the cucumber and basil together until it becomes aromatic. To the glass add 1/4 cup of the brewed earl grey tea, gin, and lemon juice (to taste). Finally add about 1.5 tablespoons of earl grey simple syrup to taste. Start with about a tablespoon, and then add more as needed. Top up the glass with ice. I like to garnish with a slice of cucumber and a sprig of basil.

This cocktail is perfect for lazy summer days. It's refreshing and cooling thanks to the cucumber and basil. I find the lemon to be thirst-quenching as well. It would work nicely as a late afternoon sip, or pre-dinner cocktail.

To imbibe in a fizzy earl grey drink, check out my early grey champagne cocktail. Tea cocktails are super versatile, and you can play around with types of tea, herbs, fruit, whatever you're feeling up for. If you'd like to consider other herbs you can grow at home, check out my post for herbs you can grow for tisanes. Cheers!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

How To Use An Aroma Cup Set

When tasting teas aroma plays a huge role in the overall flavor profile. A fun way to concentrate the perfume of your tea is to use an aroma cup. I've been getting more questions about how to use one so I thought it was time to do a 'how to'.

I've written about using an aroma cup set before (have a look, since I even posted a nifty video), but I wanted to lay out the steps a bit more clearly.  In my previous post, I discussed the importance of using your nose, which is something to keep in mind:
Think about how you perceive flavors with a stuffed-up nose- flavors appear muted or non-existent. According to this article (and quite a few others I stumbled upon), 80% of what we're tasting is actually coming from our sense of smell. Even without the research, the gorgeous aroma of a lightly oxidized oolong needs to be appreciated just as much as the flavor. Whenever I'm handed a plate of food, I always smell it first. I love getting a first impression through the aromas, and the same is true for tea. Without the aroma, you're not fully tasting the tea. 
What Is An Aroma Cup?
The aroma cup is actually a fairly recent creation. Reportedly invented in the 1970s in Taiwan, the Taiwanese government was trying to stimulate more interest in Taiwanese tea. The cup created a new way to enjoy the tea's perfume, and is a handy tool to help evaluate the aroma. The elongated narrow shape of the fragrance cup concentrates the aroma around your nose. 

The long shape of the fragrance cup is what sets it apart. A standard drinking cup is short and wide, so it doesn't really capture the aroma of the tea. The narrow aroma cups holds the fragrance long enough to sniff and enjoy. The cups are reminiscent of whiskey tasting glasses that have a tall neck to concentrate the scent. 

The tasting cup (left) and fragrance cup (right)

How To Use An Aroma Cup: The Gear
A set (wen xiang bei) comes with two pieces: the regular sized tasting cup, and the longer cup to capture the fragrance. There are many aroma cup sets on the market, and they're easy to find online. I have a simple white set that was gifted to me, but this set is inexpensive, and does the trick. The sets here are a little more decorative, if that's what you are looking for. If you'd like a few for a group tasting, this set is a good choice.

How To Use An Aroma Cup: The Steps
First, brew your tea. Aroma cups are usually suggested for fragrant oolongs such as the floral, high mountain varieties (Like those you'll find in Taiwan, where the cups were invented). But really you can use them to evaluate any type of tea you'd like. Prepare the tea with your method of choice, but choose a vessel that will easily pour into a smaller cup.

Once your tea is ready, fill the long fragrance cup to about 3/4 full. You don't want it all the way to the top, as you will get leaky when you try to turn the cups over. 

doesn't it look like a tall mushroom?

When your fragrance cup is filled correctly, place the tasting cup on top. The whole thing will look a little bit like a tall mushroom (photo above). Let it sit like this for a few seconds, to capture all of those beautiful aromas inside.

When you are ready, flip the cups upside down- hold that cup firmly (see the above photos for where I put my fingers)!! This takes a bit of practice, but there is no need to be afraid- the hot tea creates a bit of a vacuum seal, so it's not easy to spill if you've filled it correctly.

Once you've turned it over, it's time to lift up the fragrance cup. Again this can get a little splashy,  but with a little practice you'll get the hang of it (although if you visit my Instagram page, you'll see I still often make a mess). Once the cup is empty, get your nose right in there to experience the aroma. Close your eyes, inhale, and enjoy. 

When you're ready, you can drink the tea! 

Does An Aroma Cup Really Work?
To be honest, I'm not sure how much more aroma you're really getting by using an aroma cup, but it's a fun way to get more interactive with your tea. Is it totally necessary? Not really, especially if you're using a gaiwan. But if you're doing a tasting for a few people and you don't want them to all stick their nose in your gaiwan or teapot, an aroma cup is a great way for everyone to experience the changing aromas of the tea. It's also a nice interactive element to add to a group tasting.

What do you think? Is this something you'd like to use as part of your tea ritual, or maybe as an occasional way to help enjoy your tea? I like to pull out my aroma cup when I have a really fragrant tea, and it's also fun to use with friends.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Getting Kids Interested In Tea

I've written a little bit about teaching kids about tea through tea parties, and as I watched my 9 year old son sip on a cup of chamomile tea, I realized I should post another article in this series. Kids are naturally curious about everything, and it's never too early to start teaching them about tea. There are so many interactive things they can get involved with to start forming a relationship with the leaf.

Tasting Tea
If the children are old enough to hold a cup independently, you can let them taste! Due to the caffeine I can't really promote giving them camellia sinensis to taste (but I admittedly give my kids sips of pure tea), but there are so many other things they can taste that will encourage their love of tea.

Herbal tisanes are perfect for kids. You can pick things that are fruity, sweet, and floral. Even if a tisane isn't naturally sweet, adding a little honey or other sweetener of choice is totally fine. I'd recommend having them try the brew without sweetener as well, so they can get an idea of what the infusion really tastes like.

The tasting process is really a lesson in mindfulness. The kids get to clear their mind, and focus on the flavors. Ask them what they are tasting, what it reminds them of, and how it makes them feel. You'll be amazed at the words they use to describe the brew. Children have a unique and unbiased perspective.

To get them even more involved, consider growing your own herbs that are great for teas. The kids can help your herbs and flowers grow, pick them when ready, and learn how to brew the tea. This is a great way to get your kids involved in the entire seed to cup process! Herbs such as mint, lemon verbena, and lemongrass are easy to grow and make great tea, and there are so many others.

Learning About Tea Rituals
Once children are a little older (around 1st grade), it's fun to teach them about tea rituals. Cultural tea practices such as gongfu cha, british afternoon tea service, and Japanese chanoyu are just a few ways of combining social studies with tea. I've done a few classes at my daughter's school on tea rituals around the world, and the kids are always fascinated. I love how many hands go in the air when I ask questions!

Let's take the Chinese gongfu tea preparation as an example. To get my kids started with gongfu preparation, I explained a little bit about the process and history, and we watched a few brewing videos on YouTube.

whole dried chamomile flowers in the gaiwan

The most exciting (and frustrating) part is learning how to use a gaiwan. To find a tisane for my children to try brewing in a gaiwan, I looked for something with fairly large pieces. I wanted to prevent too many bits escaping into the sharing pitcher and creating more frustration. Many large leaf herbs would work, but I settled on whole chamomile flowers, since they are fun to look at and taste sweet. The large size of the flowers are easier to keep in the gaiwan and out of the sharing pitcher.

Teaching the gongfu tea method to my son turned out to have a second benefit, which is dexterity. My son has issues with motor skills, and learning how to hold and pour a gaiwan has been a fun way to get him to use his hands. I selected a small gaiwan that holds about 60ml. It's inexpensive and easy for a small hand to hold.

As you can see from the first photo in this post, I started the practice by having my son place his hand on top of mine, to get a feel for the movement of holding and pouring a gaiwan. He's still not pouring independently, but he loves the process and he's learning yet another important skill, patience.

These are just a few ways to get your kids more interested in tea. Whatever ways you choose to, it'll be a rewarding experience for everyone involved. You'll open their minds to new flavors and experiences, and they get to learn about different cultures. They'll even learn a little bit about themselves along the way.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

How To Grow Tea Pt. 2: From Inside To Outside


I've been growing tea at home, and my little camellia sinensis seedlings are ready for the great outdoors. The seedlings are nice and established so it's time to get them outside, and in larger pots. Spring is here, and the weather is perfect for planting.

I decided to bring most of my plants outdoors, and keep a few in larger pots inside. In making all the preparations I've learned quite a few important things I wanted to share. Before your plants make the big move, here are things to consider:

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Infused in History: A Tea Exhibit

One of my favorite things to write about is tea history. I love immersing myself in the traditions and and culture of tea, especially teaware. I get completely swept up in imagining what drinking tea was like during various time periods. Recently, friend and fellow blogger Lynn Karegeannes reached out to see if I could write a few panels for a tea exhibit she's helping to curate at the Smith-McDowell House Museum, a historic house in Asheville, North Carolina. The exhibit is titled Infused In History: A Tea Exhibit.

The Exhibit
Infused In History opens April 24th and runs through September. From the Smith-McDowell House website:
Beginning April 24, come to the Smith-McDowell House and add TEA to your TOUR! Each of our exhibit rooms will feature tea-related items and educational panels about the history, use and practice of taking tea. We have searched our collection and will have some ‘new’ treasures to display as well as some ‘on loan’ items of interest.
Lynn asked if I would contribute two panels for the exhibit, and I decided to write one on the history of European porcelain and the Meissen factory, and another on the development of handles on tea cups. Bruce Richardson of Elmwood Inn Fine Teas is the historical consultant for the exhibit, and it was so exciting to have him read my panels.

European Porcelain History
I've posted about the history of teacup handles before, so I thought I'd write a little bit about what I learned about European porcelain, perhaps to spark your interest in the exhibit.

I thought the origin of the word 'porcelain' itself was quite interesting. The word was first used by explorer Marco Polo, who encountered the material while traveling through China. The delicate, material reminded Polo of a seashell, and so he described it using the Portuguese term porcellana, a type of cowrie shell.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, Europe was crazy for the porcelain teaware exported from China starting in the 1700s, and many artisans and entrepreneurs were desperately trying to recreate the material without much success. But with the amount of teaware Europeans required, it was crucial to find a way of manufacturing it closer to home.

So, when did Europe finally discover the 'white gold'? German alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger is credited as discovering a formula for hard-paste porcelain in 1708.  Böttger was originally trying to create gold (he was an alchemist, after all) when he attracted the attention of Augustus the Strong, the gold-hungry Elector of Saxony and ruler of Poland. Augustus ended up imprisoning Böttger in the hopes of forcing him to create gold, but through his experiments Böttger ended up making porcelain instead. It’s difficult to pinpoint which manufacturer started creating porcelain first, but in 1710 Böttger’s discovery led Augustus The Strong to establish the Meissen factory in Germany, which became the first to manufacture porcelain in large quantities and unrivaled quality.

Learn More 
If you're as crazy for teaware history as I am, I hope you can check out the exhibit! Please do report back if you get there, and let me know what you think. Be sure to check out Lynn's blog to learn even more about this exhibit. Also have a look at the calendar of events for the exhibit, as there are some interesting things happening, including a lecture by Bruce Richardson. If I lived closer, I'd be in the front row!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Interview with Ashley Lim of Mansa Tea

Ashley Lim, photo courtesy of Mansa Tea

I recently had the chance to meet Ashley Lim, Founder of Mansa Tea after sampling a few of her pu'er teas. Her story was quite intriguing and she kindly agreed to an interview. Learn all about how growing up in a family of tea enthusiasts has shaped her love of tea, and continues to influence her company, below.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

What Tea Means To Me

I recently had the pleasure of co-hosting a British tea event with Ting of Mojoosh. We discussed British tea history and customs while sipping various teas in delicate porcelain cups, and nibbling scones with clotted cream. The discussion quickly turned more personal, with everyone sharing when they first experienced a sip of tea, and what it meant to them. Ting recently gave me her take on this special afternoon, saying:
Every photo I saw when we were studying, every story I heard during our discussion was like a wakening for me that the love of tea is truly universal through time, in spite of all the schemed plays in the history. So once for a while, why not have a nice cup of tea, in the English way, clotted cream, marmelade, scones, with some friends, old and new. This is delightful in our life.
Hearing these personal tea experiences inspired me to reach out to other tea friends and see what they had to say about their personal relationship with tea. I decided to create a post with a few of the responses, as they were so lovely to read. To get things started, here is what tea means to me, which includes a fond tea memory:

My experience with tea occurred while sitting at my grandparent's kitchen table, listening to the grown-ups talk about grown-up things. I was very close to my grandparents, visiting them about once a week. During those visits we often ended up with cups of tea and conversation. As a very young child I hated sitting still, forced to listen to the adults chat while they sipped mugs of hot tea. I wasn't usually offered tea at that age, but I did manage to sneak a sugar cube or two from an old chrome sugar caddy; the coveted prize dissolving on my tongue while I pretended there was nothing in my mouth. The sugar canister now sits on my kitchen shelf as a bittersweet reminder of precious memories.

The Sugar Caddy From My Childhood
Even though I didn't have much to add to the adult conversation, the ritual of taking tea with my family was lovingly etched in my mind. Just as it was back then, it's a moment to pause the day, share with loved ones, and enjoy a few special moments together. My love and knowledge for tea has grown since the days of stealing sugar cubes from my grandparents' table, but it remains a deeply personal experience. I try to savor every cup I make each and every day. I love sharing tea with family, friends, and co-workers, and capturing those moments on the blog.

Here are a few words from Susan Hamovitch, who attended our British Tea event:
One of the most pleasurable memories of tea is the ritual that formed around it, a purely personal family ritual, involving my mother or me saying, after we’d finished dinner, and my father had left the table and the dishes had been done, ‘would you like some tea?’ This was back in the 60’s so after one of us boiled the water, we whipped out a tea bag of some kind and poured the water directly into our small mugs, over the bags. (people did use loose tea in those days, with a vengeance in fact, with tea balls or strainers, but this was the suburbs, and it seemed, tea balls hadn’t made their way to these parts yet) We always added a dollop of whole milk. Mum was from Canada and had inherited this British custom.

And the way some people’s hearts and souls and mouths are lubricated with alcohol, ours was with tea. It seemed to warm and loosen our innermost thoughts and feelings. We would talk, just the two of us, about almost whatever we were thinking about — often for over an hour. The content of our conversations has blurred over these many years, but I remember how trusting, full of humor, and laughter, these tea-times were.

From Alexis Siemons, tea consultant and writer at Teaspoons and Petals:
Tea has become the constant in my daily life, however, it still remains a special ritual that I hold near and dear to my heart. The best way that I can express tea's meaning in my life is via the Japanese idiom, Ichi-go ichi-e, which translates to "for this time only" as it describes respecting a truly unique and unrepeatable moment. I treasure each tea leaf and understand how precious every sip is, as it reflects the terroir of the land where it was grown and yet becomes immersed into that very second where I am steeping it in my world (am I am home curled up by the kettle on a wintry day or listening to the spring birds sing beyond the sunny open window). I am grateful that tea carries such special meaning in my life, with the ability to anchor a moment and ground me in the present to truly be appreciative.
By Maria, who also attended the British Tea event:
When I was living in London tea was part of my daily life. Black tea with some milk (no sugar) always makes things look better. If you feel down "a cup o' tea" will take the worries away. And the secret? It's the best cure for hangovers!!

Words from Nicole Wilson, tea writer extraordinaire at Tea For Me Please:
Tea has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It started with sharing milky, sweet mugs of Red Rose before bed. I treasured the time spent with my mother and it made me feel a bit more grown up. I also loved collecting the little figurines that came in each box of teabags. My early love for tea turned into a real passion during my college years. That road led me to start my blog and to work in several tea shops over the years. Since then tea has been a connective force in my life, opening doors to new experiences and meeting new people from across the world.

From from Kevin Gascoyne, tea writer, adventurer, and co-owner of Camellia Sinensis Tea House:
The leaf of this unique Asian tree strengthens our systems and balances our processes, enhances our days with soothing and stimulation, and improves our lives through cure and invigoration like no other. For me the ultimate tea experiences are those rare moments when we manage to summon all our focus. We block out the distractions of intellectual preconception, ignore our knowledge of region, manufacture and cultivar. We separate all that noise and centre in on the sensorial experience of the tea’s chemistry as it stimulates our senses, becoming completely immersed in the visceral effects of the mouthfeel, the body feel and the inner world of the flavour-profile. A precious connection with the essence of this fabulous plant.
All of the comments seem to revel in the magical feelings tea brings them, and those they share it with. I love how everyone had a different perspective but their love for tea is a common bond. I could go on and on, asking everyone I know what tea means to them, but I'd have a blog post the size of a novel (hmm...). I'm thinking of at least doing one more installment of this series, as there are many more people I'd love to ask.

So, what does tea means to you, dear readers? I'd love it if you'd leave your words in the comment section below! Perhaps they will inspire the second installment of this post...