Thursday, March 5, 2015

An Evening Of Matcha And Meditation

At any given moment I have thoughts zipping through my brain, crisscrossing like train lines on a subway map. I use tea-focused moments to pause the commotion and mindfully taste the brew I've prepared. Tea and meditation pair up in a matcha meditation event at The Shinnyo Center I recently had the pleasure of attending. The event consisted of a Japanese tea ceremony, guided meditation, and a tasting of matcha with a sweet biscuit.

The tea ceremony was presented by members of the Urasenke Chanoyu Center (a place I've wanted to visit for years). Every movement had grace and intent, sending a wave of fluidity through the room. Watching each gesture I felt a flutter in my tummy. Respect, intention, mindfulness, gratitude. There is so much skill and knowledge needed in order to conduct a tea ceremony, it would take a lengthy article to discuss it all. This link gives a good overview. The matcha was whisked effortlessly yet with precision. I was hoping we'd learn more about the matcha served, but we were just told matcha from Kyoto was used. I wonder if it's from Ippodo?

After the ceremony we had a guided meditation with Qalvy Grainzvolt who led us through a 20 minute session where we started off with 'staircase breathing'. We took a breath for each count to 10, and down back to 1. After a few rounds I was very relaxed, and when it was time to visualize a pleasant place with warm sun, I felt my body getting warm, and even started sweating! Afterwards I felt lightness of mind but with a heavy relaxed body. Similar to how I feel after a yoga class but far more intense.

After our meditation we were given a Japanese sweet, also from Kyoto. It was thin and crispy with a nutty, bean-like flavor. It had a design that looked like a ginko leaf. We were instructed to eat the biscuit carefully, making sure any crumbs we created were wrapped in a small white paper (you can see it in the above picture). After the sweet, we all received an artful chawan with matcha. We were instructed to turn the chawan twice before observing and enjoying the tea. To learn more about the etiquette of the Japanese tea ceremony, please see this link. The matcha was light, smooth and subtle, with a wonderful frothy texture. As part of the etiquette, we were told to slurp the very last bits of tea in the bowl. This helped me get every last drop!

Qalvy explained that tasting the tea and the biscuit should be done as a walking meditation, which is basically meditation in action. We brought our awareness to every flavor and movement as we tasted. We examined how the tea interacted with our body. Bringing mindfulness to tea is something I try to do whenever I have a tasting session. It's hard to carve out time to do this, but even 5 minutes to observe, taste, and reflect brings more awareness to the day.

The Shinnyo center is offering two more matcha meditation sessions, March 17th and 31st at 7pm. The cost for the event is $20. You can find out more information and purchase tickets here.

Thank you so much to The Shinnyo center for inviting me to such a memorable evening. I look forward to deepening my meditation practice.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Interview: Joseph Uhl of Joseph Wesley Tea

Photo Courtsey of Joseph Wesley Black Tea
Have you explored the teas from Joseph Wesley Black Tea? The teas offered on the company's site are carefully curated, high quality single-estate black teas. I've had a few of them and I keep going back for more. Founder Joseph Uhl hopes to change Americans' views on tea. He's 'One dude living in Detroit who has a crazy delusional idea that people could greatly benefit from embracing the subtle, complex and often paradoxical nature of tea'. Who wouldn't want to learn more about him after reading that? Joe agreed to answer a few questions for us. He has some very interesting things to say about his experience in the world of tea.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How to Take Better Photos of Your Tea

One of my favorite blogs is Oh How Civilized by Jee Choe. I love her combination of tea, luxury, and travel. Every time I read one of her posts I'm amazed by her gorgeous photos. She has a great eye for design and placement. I often wonder how she gets her photos to look so perfect, so I asked. Jee has been kind enough to share her top photo tips with us! Here are her four expert tips on taking better photos:
Having taken many, many photos of tea for my blog Oh, How Civilized and for Instgram, I've picked up a few tricks and tips on how to get the best shots. I want to share with you four tips that I find to be the most useful.
[1] Natural Light
I always aim to take photos in natural light. Setting up your tea near a natural light source is already going to set you up for a great photo. It's good to have just one light source to get the best shot. If I'm taking the photo at home, I'll make sure all indoor lights are shut off so I don't get any weird shadows.
 [2] Three Angles
I like to take multiple shots and select the one I like the most. I'll always take at least one shot straight on.
Then another at a 45 degree angle.
And finally, one overhead.
 [3] Rule of Thirds
I like to follow the principle of rule of thirds. Instead of putting the focal point in the center of the photo, place it at one of the four intersecting points as shown. Your camera will most likely have a option to turn the these grid guides on to help you figure out where the focus should be placed.
[4] Focus, Focus, Focus
You can ruin a great photo by not having the primary focal point in focus. I've taken many photos where I think "FOCUS FAIL!" I try to combat this by taking a couple of shots per angle to make sure I can get at least one photo that is super sharp. The part of the photo that you want to draw the eye to should be in focus. If it's not, take another.
Hope these tips help you take better tea photos!

Very helpful tips, thank you so much Jee! For more of  Jee's gorgeous photos check out her blog and instagram page. Now get out there and start snapping your own gorgeous photos!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tasting: Palais des Thés- Long Jing Premium

This brutal winter has me longing for everything green. Outside everything is gray, grayer, grayest, with some white thrown in. Lately I've been staring at our house plants long after watering them, trying to soak up some of their color. 

I've been greedily clinging to the green teas in our cupboard, hoarding vibrant colors. Recently Palais des Thés sent their new grand cru green teas to sample, and the little envelopes felt like a sunny life preserver thrown into a sea of frozen numbness.

For this tasting I decided to try the Long Jing Premium. The leaves are a shade of green that sing springtime. The dry leaves are vegetal and grassy, slightly nutty. The brewed tea is extremely subtle. It has a gentle mineral flavor, a slight bitterness and a green vegetable flavor reminding me of steamed asparagus.The flavors slowly opened up on the palate and lingered for a very long time.

A note on the designation of 'grand cru'. I've previously mentioned this is a term used for wine. One thing I hadn't thought of before is how randomly this term can be thrown around. I recently read a post from JAS eTea about it, and found it interesting that in the tea world grand cru seems to be a subjective label. It basically means the tea is exceptional. I'm curious to see if this term will become more widely adopted in the tea industry.

I don't doubt that this long jing is very high quality. It may not be for those that are looking for a tea to loudly cheer its flavor, but very nice for those that enjoy a subtle green tea that slowly reveals its flavors. It's a peaceful sip that reminds me spring is just around the corner.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Visit: T-Shop

On one of the coldest days of the year Jee and I decided to venture out to T-Shop, a recent addition to NYCs growing tea scene. It was so cold, even walking a few blocks from the subway felt like traversing a snowy tundra. I was frozen to the bone but once through the door at T-Shop I felt an immediate calm. The serene, minimal room is focused solely on tea. You are here to take a tea adventure, and learn quite a bit along the way. Our trip was the right decision.

 T-Shop's owner Theresa is a peaceful presence, and guided us through our tea journey with grace and knowledge. Tasting Table has a nice little piece on Theresa, which you can read here. We asked her to recommend the tea, and started with a high mountain black. She chose this tea for us because it has a warming quality perfect for the season.

Her tranquil preparation of the tea in a simple gaiwan was meditative to watch. The tea was perfect for our occasion. Earthy and malty but with a sweetness that creeps up on you. After a few rounds of this tea, I felt as if I was glowing from the inside. My body had a comforting warmth as if I were wrapped in cashmere blankets sitting in front of a crackly fire. Theresa carefully laid out the beautiful leaves for us to admire. I silently thanked them for giving us so many flavorful steepings.

We enjoyed the first tea so much, we knew another selection was necessary. How could we leave such an oasis of peace when the angry wind awaited us outside? Theresa suggested the charcoal roasted  cui feng oolong after our warming black tea tasting.

Theresa told us the charcoal roasting of this tea created more complex flavors. The tea was sweet, yet toasty, floral, and a bit tangy. Lots of umami on the palate. The roasted flavor from the charcoal was layered within the others, and did not dominate. Such a nice contrast to the first tea. This is a tea I could drink all year round. Soothing and surprising in the winter, refreshing in warmer months. I was a bit tea drunk and forgot to pick up some leaves to take home. I'll definitely be back for some.

We were lost in an afternoon of tea fueled conversation, the weather dissolving into distant memory. I can't wait to return to T-Shop and go on a new tea exploration. I'm so thankful Theresa decided to share such a special place with the world.

T-Shop: 247 Elizabeth Street (rear store), NY, NY.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Spotlight: Rajiv Lochan, Doke Tea Garden

Rajiv Lochan and family
If you are a tea fanatic, chances are you've heard about Rajiv Lochan. Working in the world of tea since 1974, Rajiv is a legend in the tea industry. He used all of his tea knowledge to launch Lochan Tea Ltd in 1991, where the focus is sourcing teas that will heighten the consumer's experience of drinking tea. In 1998 after feeling the potential of a lush area of Bihar by the Doke river, he created the Doke Tea Garden.

Many people believed this site in Bihar wasn't appropriate for a tea garden, and said the land wouldn't produce quality tea. Rajiv and his family have worked hard to prove the naysayers wrong many times over. Rajiv and his family tirelessly ensure a quality product at Doke. The hand-processed teas at are at the top of many tea drinkers' favorites lists.

Rajiv is often traveling around the world, spreading is passion and knowledge for tea. Lucky for us, he took some time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions. Even through a few words over email, his dedication and knowledge is quite clear. Here is out interview:

I’ve read so much about Doke, and how you are a unique estate. Please tell us a little bit about the farm, and its values. will tell more and its uniqueness comes from its location in Bihar which is a non-traditional tea growing area in India.

How did you get involved with tea, and when did you start Doke?
By a quirk of fate I landed in tea immediately after my formal schooling in 1974 and in 1998 I started Doke when the local government invited us for investment there.

You are extremely passionate about tea. How do you bring this passion to the consumer?
thanks for finding us so and we bring this passion to our consumers by the completeness of our involvement with everything related to consumer himself and tea.

What teas does Doke produce, and how did you decide to process these particular types of tea?
We mainly process black, green & white teas - lots of experimentations and our association with China helped us decide what to do with our green leaf.

Your business model is ecologically friendly. Tell us how you are respecting the environment and the individuals working on the land.
It was a luck that the outlet of a hydro-electrical plant got discharged into a dry riverbed which flow thru our tea garden which entirely changed the micro-climate there.

Tell us a little bit about the teas you offer through Lochan teas- how do you choose what to sell?
We mainly offer all the Indian teas and Darjeeling is our passion - we choose by the needs of the customers - being basically sourcing agents.

I see that Doke hosts students to have a hands-on experience at the farm. Tell us a bit about this program and what the experience is like.
Since 2004 we got involved with this and basically French student internees are enrolled into this which is completely free and we enjoy doing this. 

I read that you are an ‘ambassador of tea’ to China. What do you learn in your trips to China, and how do you apply this knowledge to your company?
Ha ha, not really, but we enjoy being bridge between these two major tea producing countries..the keen observation done in China to the leaf is applied by us during manufacture. 

What has inspired you lately?
America - right from Canadian top to the Chile’s lower bottom - has a vast potential with its 1 billion people for healthy tea drinking - and it is a revolution. 

What are your own personal tea rituals?
Ripe Pu’er is my personal favourite and drinking it in its traditional Chinese way is my tea ritual. 

A huge thank you to Rajiv for answering a few questions for us. Keep an eye out, because this is the time of year for the first flush teas to start popping up! You can learn more about Doke by visiting their website. Tealet has visited the region and has some great information here.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Steep Thoughts: Masala Chai and Cute Photobomb Edition

Cutest Masala Chai Photobomb
The weather is frigid here in the NY area, and since I drink hot tea year-round, I look for something with an added kick of warmth and comfort when the icicles form in the subway system. Masala chai is my go-to, with warming spics and comforting creamy sweetness. I usually make my own from scratch, which is my favorite way to go.

See, icicles in in the Times Square subway station!
I was recently at Patel Brothers, a large Indian grocery store in Jackson Heights, Queens, where I made a beeline for the tea aisle. This wasn't easy to do given all the tasty distractions along the way, but I was on a mission. The tea aisle consisted of different varieties of black tea (bagged and loose), and a few types of instant masala chai. I was intrigued and ended up taking home a mix that was loose tea with added spices and flavors. I was skeptical, but curious.

The ingredients list in order: tea, ginger, black pepper, long pepper, nutmeg, cardamom, clove, cinnamon. It also says 'contains added flavor, natural masala'. The ingredient list is promising, and I like that you can see tea. The leaves are CTC processed, which I believe is common in masala chai.

I boiled the tea in a cup of water, added the same amount of milk, and let the whole thing reduce for a few minutes until the water cooked out a bit. A few teaspoons of sugar at the very end, and the tea was ready for its close-up.

I was surprised at the result. It tasted like my idea of a good masala chai. Spicy, humming with caradmom, ginger, and cloves with a peppery finish. I could even taste the cinnamon. Not as nuanced as a homemade version, but still satisfying.

For under $5 a container, this was a good purchase. The large container will last a long time. The 'natural ingredients' give me pause, since I don't like mystery additives in my tea. But this is a tea I'll reach for when I'm craving masala chai and missing the proper ingredients.

If you are looking for alternative ways to create masala chai quickly and cannot get to an Indian grocery store, you can prepare a loose masala chai mix with milk and sweetener similar to what I did above, try powdered Tipu's Chai or use delicious Dona Chai if it is sold in your area.

Cozying up with a mug of warm masala chai and my favorite little photobomber and the Littlest Tea Critic is my idea of a perfect winter afternoon. Even when they steal large glups of my tea. What's your favorite tea to sip when the temperature is unbearably cold?