Thursday, February 16, 2017

Tasting: Tillerman Tea Spring 2016 Dong Ding Roasted Oolong

February is always a tough month. The skies are often grey and dull. It's cold and dark when I wake up and return home from work. It's too cold to take long walks with the kids, so weekends are fidgety and anxious. For these and many other reasons, it's been a tough winter.

One of the bright spots is sharing tea with friends. It's amazing how much lighter and airy things feel after a few shared steeps. We try to cultivate this convivial feeling in the office with our weekly Tea Club meetups. We've recently tried to pay more attention to our tea and snack pairings and this week we had a successful go at it.

I love a good roasted oolong and decided to serve Tillerman Tea's Spring 2016 Dong Ding Roasted Oolong for our Office Tea Club gathering this week. We were doing a Valentine's Day theme with peach heart gummies and chocolates. I thought the roast and apricot notes would work well with the sweets. It's also been cold and snowy here and I find roasted oolongs to be super soothing and cozy in winter (but really I love them any time of year).

Dong Ding (can also be written as Tung Ting) translates to 'frozen summit'. Makes sense since the tea is grown on its namesake mountain. The Tillerman Tea website helpfully tells us the tea was grown by Chen Fang Yan with the oolong cultivar Qing Xin. It's 20% oxidized, and roasted.

The dry leaves were nutty with hints of caramel and wood with a pleasing sugary sweetness. I noticed a light floral aroma as well. I'm not well versed in flowers so I couldn't tell you what kind. The first infusion was super roasty and comforting. Almonds, apricot, and nice crunchy toast came to mind. The tea is also quite sweet, which everyone found enjoyable. Subsequent steeps found the toast and apricot flavors sticking around, and each pour was super smooth and sweet.

I tasted one of the peach gummies that had been splashed with tea and it was delicious! The toast and apricot flavors in the tea seemed to highlight the juicy sweetness in the gummy candy. I had to dunk one right in my cup after that. Anyone want to create a peach oolong candy for me?

My potpourri

I have to confess-I kept the infused leaves on my desk for a couple of days, because they smelled so good. I may have taken a sniff here and there to boost my mood. Perhaps like a toasty, fruity tea potpourri. Or aromatherapy. I'll definitely need to purchase more of this tea since it did such a nice job of dissolving my winter blues.

To learn more about Tillerman tea, check out my interview with founder David Campbell, and check out their website. Thank you to Tillerman Tea for the samples.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Steep Thoughts: David Campbell of Tillerman Tea

David Campbell of Tillerman Tea
I'm excited to bring back interviews to the blog, and I've decided to call them Steep Thoughts since we get to go behind the scenes and learn more about folks in the tea industry.This week I'm excited to present David Campbell and his company Tillerman Tea.  The company features beautiful Taiwanese teas from growers that are sustainable and environmentally friendly in their practices. Learn a little bit about David's experience and passion for tea in our interview.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Tea And Women's Suffrage

Photo taken from this site

I've always been interested in history, particularly when it involves tea. Lately I've been curious about US tea history and have done a little digging for previous posts. I recently ran into information involving tea and women's rights both here and in the UK. This post skims the surface on the subject matter, as I don't want this to get too lengthy. But I think it's interesting and quite relevant to today. This post has a political slant to it, but it's all in the name of tea and humanity.

In the late 1800s, British women didn't have many choices when it came to informal gatherings. It was considered inappropriate for a woman to be seen eating or drinking alone. During the suffrage movement it was difficult to find places to discuss ideas unless it was in their own homes or large formal meeting spaces. Emerging suffrage groups discovered they were able to meet in tea houses, which had become 'acceptable' places for women to go on their own to socialize. From the site Women's History Network:
There may be those who scoff at the idea of investigating ‘Suffragettes and Tea Rooms’, but political movements need sheltering spaces in which views can be exchanged. During the 19th century women attended hundreds of suffrage meetings in Britain’s town halls and assembly halls – and, if suitably couth, in the drawing-rooms of the better-off, but there were few places outside the home in which they could congregate informally.
Tea shops gave women a place to gather and helped the suffrage movement strengthen and develop a voice. Fundraisers were held at tea houses, and teaware was even created to fuel the movement. In the UK the Women's Social and Political Union (WPSU) commissioned tea ware with their logo and other symbols for fundraisers. Sylvia Pankhurst, a noted daughter of a suffragist leader designed much of the teaware. From A Social History of Tea:
The WSPU commissioned a tea set from her in 1910 for their refreshment stall at the Scottish WSPU Exhibition in Glascow, and another set by her featured an image of the Hollaway Prison Badge that was awarded to women who were locked up in the prison for their militant pro-suffrage activities.
Sylvia Pankhurst designed quite a bit of teaware for the movement, including the set you can see below. This set was designed for sale at the the Women's Exhibition in 1909. If you are interested in learning more about china commissioned for the movement, this article is a good place to start.

The Angel of Freedom tea set designed by Sylvia Pankhurst. Photo from Museum of London

Tea played an important role in British women's history, and it was also influential in the United States. Just as most First Ladies held tea in the White House as social events, suffrage leaders gathered over tea to discuss action. In 1848 tea played a significant role in the movement. Five important suffrage leaders (Lucretia Mott, Martha Wright, Mary Ann McClintock, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Jane Hunt) met for a history-changing tea in upstate NY. Once again from A Social History of Tea:
Lucretia and Elizabeth had, in London several years previously, vowed to hold a convention about injustices suffered by women, and so while the tea party probably started as a calm affair, it quickly became the launch pad for nothing less than the Seneca Falls Convention.
The Seneca Falls Convention was the first US women's rights convention. Decades later in 1914, tea continued to foster the fight for women's rights when well-connected and dedicated Alva Vanderbilt Belmont hosted a 'Conference for Great Women' and commissioned porcelain tableware including a teapot with 'votes for women' emblazoned on the front (you can see a photo of the teapot at the top of this post). The table ware was used as part of the luncheon at the meeting and also for a tea party held later that year. The events raised money for the suffrage movement and guests and each event took home 'votes for women teacups and saucers. Tea was literally helping to get the word out! The tireless efforts of these strong women were rewarded in 1920 with the addition of the Nineteenth Amendment granting women the right to vote.

As I mentioned there is much more that can be said on this topic. There are so many more diverse, strong and influential women that haven't been discussed. But what can we learn from this history? Tireless work, dedication and hope, along with gathering together (over many pots of tea) is needed now more than ever to activate change. I hope tea continues to bring women of all cultures and backgrounds together to fight and get our voices heard. Can tea really help create change? It's easy to fall into the 'tea is about sharing and being mindful and at peace' camp, and that's beautiful but it's just not enough. I know many of my own politically charged conversations have taken place over cups of tea. Perhaps it is the way to open up the discussion. It is inspiring to read about how tea fueled these influential women in history, and I do hope it can inspire us take action.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tea And The Presidency

Washington and Lafayette at Mt. Vernon, painting from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Since tomorrow is inauguration day I decided to take a look back at past US Presidents and their tea drinking habits. I'm going to try as hard as possible to keep my own political views out of the post. Let's just get into history and tea!

Awhile back I was perusing used books and found Tea With Presidential Families and couldn't resist it. I had no idea past Presidents drank enough tea to have a whole book dedicated to it. The book has loads of photos of presidential teaware and facts about the presidents and first ladies that enjoyed tea while in office. The book starts with George Washington and goes through Bill Clinton (it was published in 1999).

The book has many interesting facts but first, let's start with President Obama. Did you know he drinks tea instead of coffee? If you ever noticed photos of him holding a mug or hot cup, it was most likely tea he was sipping on. His preference for tea was mentioned in this article from the Boston Globe from 2014 which states,
"Scour through a series of photos of him — in the Oval Office, aboard Air Force One, inside the Situation Room — and he almost always has a cream-colored, gold-trimmed porcelain cup in front of him. We don’t know exactly what’s in those cups, but aides suggest they’re filled with tea."
The same article shows him in various coffee shops, drinking tea (in a couple shots you can see a teapot). He is also documented as drinking quite a lot of bottled iced tea. Our 44th president certainly has good taste in beverages.

Let's take a look back at US Presidents throughout history. I've mentioned colonial tea drinking in a previous article (tea water pumps!), and during the research I came across the above picture of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette meeting at Mt. Vernon and having tea (you can see Martha Washington pouring tea in the background).  Young Lafayette, eager to fight the British met General George Washington when he was recruited to the continental army in 1777. The two bonded and the rest can be read in history books (Washington was sworn in as President in 1789). Washington was known for his love for tea. He drank tea every morning and records show that he frequently ordered teas such as bohea and hyson.

A modern example of bohea tea

Despite the aversion to taxed tea from England, tea was a part of how colonial Americans socialized, so it makes sense that early presidents frequently sipped it. John Adams drank tea before and during his presidency. He and Abigail were the first in the White House, and records show they brought teaware from China with them and hosted many tea parties. There is a recipe for Abigail's 'rose petal tea' that she'd serve to guests in the 1960s White House Cookbook which contains recipes from various first ladies.

Thomas Jefferson is documented to have enjoyed tea, so much so that he built a tea room at his home at  Monticello. It's reported that he drafted the Declaration of Independence in his tea room in 1776. When he became president, there were many recorded orders for tea. From Tea With Presidential Families, "Although his first recorded order was for Bohea, Jefferson's taste later changed to Hyson,  which became his favorite from 1809-1816".

I decided to pull a few more interesting tidbits throughout history from from Tea With Presidential Families:

--The Van Burens were of Dutch descent and as Dutch New Yorkers they added herbs and saffron to their tea. I found this very interesting and it may warrant further research and a blog post!

--President Andrew Johnson brewed tea every day in a teapot shaped like a steam train. Supposedly it was given to him because of his interest in the railroad. I think my son would be more interested in tea if we had a teapot shaped like a train!

--President Rutherford B. Hayes had a hand in developing US tea growing! When he was sworn in as president, he appointed William LeDuc as Commissioner of Agriculture. LeDuc was impressed by tea plants distributed by the patent office growing in the south, and ended up leasing two hundred acres in Charleston for his experimental US tea farm.

-- President Garfield was a tea lover, and had two favorite tea recipes. Spice tea that had mint, orange juice, lemon, allspice and black tea, and his own herbal tea blend that included catnip and pennyroyal.

--President Lyndon Johnson " Drank only tea and Fresca. Lady Bird Johnson remarked in her diary, and we agree, 'How many things are launched under the name of a tea!'"

--President George Bush (Sr.) was known to frequently drink green tea.

Photo from Tea With Presidential Families

--During the Clinton administration, " On a visit to Belfast, Ireland, Mrs. Clinton encouraged politicians to sort out their problems by getting together over many cups of tea".

Many first ladies were known to host social teas, which the book well documents. It became customary for the first lady to invite the incoming first lady to tea. I'm sure many of you read about the tea Michelle Obama hosted for Melania Trump.

This post may have contained more presidential tea info than you bargained for, but there you have it. I felt compelled to share since I was surprised at just how much tea was consumed by US presidents and first ladies. The phrase 'make tea not war' comes to mind. This is a phrase I will keep in mind in the months ahead.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Tasting: Origins Tea Oriental Beauty

Oriental Beauty is a well known Taiwanese oolong. One of my favorite versions is served iced at Té company. It has a sweet honey-like flavor and the nuances hold up to the icing. Oriental Beauty is highly oxidized which brings out the sweet and fruity notes. The oxidation process actually starts right before it is harvested, when munchy little critters feast on the leaves.

I recently received a few teas from Origins Tea, a company that specializes in high quality tea from Taiwan. I'm honestly not sure why I decided to try the Oriental Beauty first, but it is a tea appropriate for the chilly weather. This tea is grown in the Emei township of Hsinchu county, which is in northwestern Taiwan. It was harvested in Summer 2015. The dry leaves are sweet, quite fruity. The fruit reminds me of sticky dried fruits like cherries and apricots. The leaves are a striking mix of colors which you can see above. Note the presence of the fuzzy white buds- this tea is also referred to as bai hao, which I believe translates to 'white tip'. 

the infused leaves
After a quick rinse the leaves exhaled a woodsy aroma with bits of dried twigs and leaves, along with those dried fruits I mentioned earlier. The woodsy notes remind me of kicking through piles of dried fall leaves. I was presented with images of a chilly day fall day and a warming cup of tea. As I mentioned, quite appropriate for the time of year. Although these days we're getting falling snow instead of leaves.

some of the white tips of the infused leaves

The first infusion had a fruity aroma with a soothing flavor. It was super smooth and woody, with that dried fruit (more apricot than cherry this time) and some added honey notes. It made me crave dried apricots for a snack! Serving a bowl of dried fruits and nuts with this tea might be a nice compliment. Subsequent steeps highlighted the honey, and the apricot was still present but more muted. The woodsy flavors hang around as well.

I served this tea to our Office Tea Club and everyone enjoyed it. It's a sweet pleasing brew, easy to drink and is quite full-bodied. The flavor lingers on the palate for ages. I love drinking full-bodied teas in the office-when I enjoy the tea then run to a meeting, the flavor stays with me. Comforting me through the fluorescent haze.

Thank you to Origins Tea for the sample! We all enjoyed it. Stay tuned for more reviews of their teas.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Getting My Tea Groove Back

Happy New Year everyone! The last few months of 2016 set up obstacles I'm finally starting to stumble through and I've emerged with a more positive attitude. With this change I'm hoping to recharge the blog  a bit. The weather is getting colder and my body wants to hibernate, but my mind is ready for writing. I'm hoping give the blog more focus this year, and get back to a few of the things I started out to do. What are some of those things, you ask?

-I'd like to get back to discussing local tea spots. There are a few that I love but haven't written about. That needs to be fixed as quickly as possible!

-I want to resurrect the tea industry interviews, I think those are informative and helpful. Anyone you'd like to see featured?

-I'm working with two tea friends on a possible fun new blog feature, so you may see that in the coming months. I know it seems secretive to keep it so vague, but honestly we haven't ironed it out yet.

-I was asked to do an American tea history presentation to The Littlest Tea Critic's class later this year. Hopefully I'll be able to follow through and blog about what I'm learning. I'm not very good at public speaking, so this will be quite a challenge. Even to a room of 9 year olds! I find that children are more accepting, but they ask the toughest questions.

-There is a personal project in the works as well that is a bit tea-related. If I can manage to get it out of my head, I'll definitely share it. I know this also sounds mysterious and slightly irritating, but I hope that if I put it here in writing it means I'll make it happen!

-I also sorely need to catch up on tea reviews. So hopefully you'll start seeing a bunch of those. I think reviews are extremely subjective, but I enjoy writing about the flavors and stories I can tell through a tea. So expect to start seeing a few more.

Is there anything you'd like to see covered on the blog this year? I'm always open to suggestions! Happy New Year, and thank you for being a patient reader of the blog.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Tasting: Art of Tea Oolong Rose

I have quite the backlog of reviews to do, and I haven't had much time lately to do them. I've been sidetracked by a few things, but I'm trying to finally sit down and taste some teas. I like to taste a tea a number of times before I review it, to make sure I get a good feel for the leaves.

For this festive holiday week I bring you a review for Art of Tea's oolong rose. This isn't a tea I'd normally gravitate towards because I'm not a big fan of rose in any sort of food or drink preparation. But, I've been recovering from a medical procedure and the idea of soft, fragrant rose petals felt soothing and uplifting. It's also been very cold and grey outside so thinking of vibrant flowers helps warm the spirit. So, oolong rose went into the pot.

The tea leaves are tightly rolled and on the greener side of oolong. There are pretty pink petals laced throughout the tea. The dry leaves smell mostly of sweet rose, which is a scent that I enjoy but also find to dominate any situation.

The brewed tea smells fuzzy (I've decided that yes a tea can smell fuzzy), comforting, and warm. I'm getting a bit of vegetal flavor but not much else. Very smooth without any astringency. It's hard to tell if the floral flavor belongs to the tea leaves or is all coming from the rose petals. This is a very pleasant tea, even though it's not something I'd often choose for myself. It's a nice choice for an intimate gathering, and would make a nice hostess gift.

As I anticipated, this tea feels soft and gentle. It's a soothing sip that comforted my body. This is a delicate tea and really only for you if you love drinking the flavor of roses. The rose does get a bit overpowering for me, even though the aroma is quite alluring. I loved inhaling the lingering scent.

Thank you to Art of Tea for the sample. I have a few more to try, so stay tuned. I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season! Best wishes to you all!