Thursday, June 27, 2019

History of Tiny Tea Sets

I was recently gifted a vintage tiny tea set. The amazing attention to detail on the set had me wondering when these little sets became popular, and how I could start collecting more. As I learned about these beautiful little tea sets, I realized there was an interesting history to share.

History Of Tiny Tea Sets- The Dollhouse 
Miniature tea sets are too small for traditional dolls, but the perfect size for a beautiful dollhouse. So to learn more about them, I started looking at the history of dollhouses. Sure enough, these sets were made for tiny houses. I was lucky enough to have a dollhouse growing up, and my daughter now has the grand Victorian house, hand build by my artistic father. Dollhouses can be little slices of history, and can take dozens of years to build and furnish.

Miniature Dragonware Tea set and photo provided by Jo-Ani Johnson
I've written about the history of children's tea sets before, but these sets are much smaller. The first dollhouse tea sets weren't actually meant for children at all, but for adults. The history goes back to the 16th century, where Dockenhaus (small houses) or 'baby houses' were collected to display wealth. Just like early porcelain teaware, dollhouses were created to flaunt the riches of the owner. They could be replicas of the owner's home, or just beautiful houses in their own right. The rooms were furnished with painstaking attention to detail. Tea sets weren't a part of dollhouse collecting until tea became popular in Western Europe. From Forbes magazine:
Tiny tea sets or pieces of furniture weren't originally made as children's playthings, even though their small scale shares a natural affinity with the proportions of childhood. Miniatures have been made and collected in Europe since the 17th century, when miniature pieces of silver became one of the first great collecting crazes.
In Holland and other European countries these dollhouses looked more like grand cabinets, with rooms to display the treasures and trinkets acquired by their owner. Up until the mid 19th century, these 'baby houses' were costly as they were custom made for each owner. The tiny houses were also used for young women to learn how to manage the household.

miniature tea pots and photo provided by Jo-Ani Johnson

Miniature tea sets for dollhouses were created for grand collectors in silver and fine porcelain, but they start to pop up more frequently in the Victorian era, where they can be found in brass, porcelain, clay, and wood. Mini tea sets were mass produced in the 19th century which made them more affordable.

Once industrialization began, dollhouses became less expensive and were considered toys for children. At the time, if a child owned a dollhouse, they were encouraged to create the miniatures to furnish them instead of just purchasing premade pieces. Later, mass-produced furniture and houses became the norm.

Frans Hals Museum dollhouse. Credit Sailko, website
If you're interested in viewing doll houses from the past, there are many museums that have them on display. Next time I'm in London I may need to see Queen Mary's Doll House from the 1920s. It was commissioned to have every detail of the royal home, including running water and flushing toilets! And my favorite part, from this Medium article:
The Strong Room contains a complete set of miniature crown jewels; a flowery trellis on the ceiling of the King’s Bedroom includes the opening bars of the National Anthem in its design; and the Saloon holds a pair of miniature throne chairs. The Queen added her own items to the House, too, including a miniature dolls’ tea service in copper (presented to Queen Mary by her mother) and a small model of a mouse made by the firm of Faberge.
Collecting Miniature Tea Sets
So, where to start collecting your own miniature tea sets? First you'll want to focus on a time period. This will also determine the quality you'll find. Pieces from the Victorian era and earlier are more likely to be handmade and have fine details. Anything post war through the end of the 20th century will more likely be mass-produced. But there are still hand made pieces to be found in all time periods, and really you should collect what speaks to you. It doesn't matter if it's mass-produced or hand made, look for things you enjoy. If you're purchasing online, you'll find sets of all sorts of quality on etsy, ebay, and ruby lane. Sets can run a few dollars for a 20th century set made in Japan, up to the thousands for an antique French porcelain set. You can peruse antiques stores and local auctions to find miniature sets as well, but they may be a bit difficult to find. Dollhouse stores sell new sets, and there's no reason why you can't start there. New sets such as these are lovely to look at, and aren't a huge investment.

Mini yixing and mamma pot, photo provided by Jo-Ani Johnson
I'll definitely be keeping my eyes open for more vintage miniature tea sets in the future. Just like standard-sized teaware, once you're bitten by the collecting bug, it's tough to stop! If you have your own special miniature tea sets, I'd love to hear about them.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

World Tea Expo 2019- Memorable Vendors

Brewing Zuo Wang's Zheng Qi Tang

Last week I had a blast at World Tea Expo. So much happens during the Expo and it's tough to document all the excitement into a blog post. This post is dedicated solely to the vendors that really stood out. I was so busy that I didn't get photos of every vendor, or even try every sample. I had a more relaxed vibe this year and I focused on enjoying time with my tea friends, instead of cramming in everything and just skimming the surface. Here's a rundown of the vendors that stood out the most:

Avocado Leaf Tea- We're starting with an herbal infusion! Crazy, right? I had no idea that you could make an herbal tea out of avocado leaves, and was skeptical that it would actually taste good. But the Avocado Leaf Tea was really interesting. I'm not usually a big fan of herbals, but I could see myself drinking this one now and again. The leaves are from avocado groves in Temecula, California. I enjoyed the earthy flavor of the natural leaf, but they also have blends available. Now you know!

Bitaco Tea- I've been a fan of the Bitaco Colombian teas for a few years. This year I sampled the White Tea Especial, which was quite notable. I don't remember trying this tea in years past, and I really enjoyed it. They also have a more traditional white tea that was also delicious. I recommend trying out their teas if you haven't already. Their cacao kisses is a tasty crowd-pleaser.

The T-Master, photo courtesy of Rachel Carter

Cha T-Master - The Cha T-master is basically a smart brewer, but looks far more interesting. This nifty little device garnered quite a bit of attention at the Expo. I tried to take a video of it in action, but I couldn't get a good angle. It's basically a smart brewer that calculates the right way to brew your tea of choice. With all the tea brewers on the market this doesn't sound notable, but it plays music while it brews, talks to you, and even warns you that the tea may be hot. I like that it's a compact size as well. You can visit the website for more information. It looked like a 'smart gaiwan' to me, but the website calls it a teapot. We were desperate to get our hands on one, but they aren't available for purchase yet. The company also displayed the T-Nova smart bottle for travel brewing. The bottle vibrates when it's done brewing, which had us asking all sorts of questions... Thank you to Rachel of IHeartTeas for sharing her photo of the brewer!

Guizhou green tea just released into the water

Guizhou Green tea in a bottle- This nifty RTD grabbed my attention because of how the tea is stored and brewed. The leaves are stored in the cap, and with a twist they are released into the water. Wait 10 minutes, and the tea is brewed! A super fresh, cold-brewed tea. It's such a cool idea, but it was tough to get much information about the product. Everything was in Chinese (including the pamphlet I picked up) and it isn't sold in the US. But I was given a sample bottle which I have to say was quite refreshing. The green tea flavor really comes through in just 10 minutes, and it can be re-steeped once, although the second steep wasn't as flavorful. To see a video of the bottle in action, visit my instagram page, where I pinned a video to my profile.

I loved all of the Korean tea displays

Korean Teas: A few Korean vendors, particularly from Boseong had booths- Korean teas are usually underrepresented, and it was nice to see a few vendors. They all had beautifully decorated booths, and I enjoyed sampling various teas. I ended up purchasing a tea-stuffed yuzu, because I missed out on it last year. There was also delicious tea jam to sample, but it wasn't available for purchase. It was quite delicious, and I'll definitely keep my eye out if it's ever available in the U.S.

Sara's Gyokuro Imperial, being held by Jo Johnson

Sara's Tea Caddie: Sara's Tea Caddie has exquisite Japanese teas. We made ourselves very comfortable at her booth and tasted some of the most memorable teas of the Expo. The Gyokuro Imperial was so deep, savory, and satisfying, it really created a memorable moment. A few of us even got a bit misty-eyed over the experience. As in years past, we were kvelling over the white leaf Kiraka, which is so good that I make sure to have it every year I'm at the Expo. I'm hoping to order some of the teas we tasted so I can do a more in-depth post about them.

Dark Tea Cookie from Teagather

Teagather- The folks at the Teagather booth were super friendly and eager to talk instant dark tea (anhua heicha). I was intrigued by the idea of instant dark tea, and even more interested once it was mixed into warm instant oatmeal and presented to me. Would it taste good? It sure did. And, it gave me a burst of energy. I have a few samples of the instant tea, and I can't wait to brainstorm what to do with them. I didn't get a photo of the tea, but I did snag a picture of the dark tea cookies. I did get a sample (pictured above) which I have been saving. I will report back on how it tastes! Keep an eye on my instagram stories for more.

Puerh from Zuo Wang

Zuo Wang Tea- I found myself gravitating towards Zuo Wang's booth, which had a large crowd of tea friends gathered around. I soon found out why- they were brewing up puerh teas with style. I tried both a sheng and the Zheng Qi Tang (photo in the beginning of this post) and they were both very enjoyable. Zuo Wang means 'to sit and forget everything'. I was certainly able to focus on the tea I was sipping, forgetting I was in a massive convention center. Based in Portland, OR, the company is new to me and I look forward to learning more about them in the future.

As I mentioned, these are just a select few of the vendors that really grabbed my attention. There are so many incredible people I spent time with, many seminars I attended, and even the Tea Bloggers Roundtable event. But I'll have to save all of that for another time! If you noticed anything in particular that you'd like to learn more about, please let me know.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Interview: Shalini Agarwal of Glenburn Tea Estate

Photo Courtesy of Shalini Agarwal

This week I am pleased to present my interview with Shalini Agarwal, who leads the wholesale operations for the Glenburn Tea Estate as the president of Glenburn Tea Direct. Learn about what it's like to grow up surrounded by tea, the challenges of selling Indian tea in the US, and find out about the seminars she's participating in for next week's upcoming World Tea Expo, below.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Herbal Iced Teas To Make With Kids

Herbal iced teas are perfect for kids, and creating them is a fun summertime activity. Over Memorial Day weekend I noticed my 9-year old son picking some of the herbs in our garden and nibbling on them. My daughter then asked for some iced tea and I realized that I should combine the two into a fun family activity.

Creating herbal iced teas together is a fun and interactive way to get kids more involved in their food. You can create drinks that are low in sugar, and all natural. Kids can experiment with interesting flavor combinations, and learn a bit about herbs and tisanes in the process.

Herbal Teas For Kids- Getting Started
To create your herbal iced teas, of course you'll need some herbs. You can use whatever herbs you can find, or grow your own in a garden or windowsill. Certain herbs such as rosemary and tarragon can be quite strong, but let the kids taste each herb and decide what they'd like to use. I find that children have an amazing sense of taste, and will create delicious combinations an adult would never think of.

Now, get a selection of fruit. I like to use seasonal summery fruits such as berries, peaches, cherries (just be sure to take out any pits), cucumber and melon. A citrus or two is also a good addition. If you can, let the kids pick out the fruit they'd like to use.

Finally, you'll need something for the base of the tea. Decide with the kids what base you'd like to use. I'd recommend narrowing down the options to herbal ideas like rooibos and tulsi (you can do flavored if you'd like), and floral teas such as hibiscus or chamomile.You could even make a ginger tea base if they like a little spice. You can cold brew the tea the night before, or just make the hot tea and chill it in the fridge. Mint tea is also a nice option, although it can be a little overpowering if you're planning on adding other herbs to the tea.

Create An Iced Tea Buffet
Make the process as visually interesting as possible and all the kids will want to give it a try. Lay out a colorful selection of teas, herbs, fruits, flowers, and any other additions you'd like. Make it playful and fun by adding patterned paper straws and colorful cups. Let the kids taste every component before they decide on what they'd like to add.

Have the tea bases standing by in pitchers, and also a little bit of sweetner. You can use honey, agave syrup, or create a simple syrup of your own that'll keep in the fridge for a few weeks. Be sure to let the kids taste their creations before adding sweetner, they may like it without the extra sweetness!

Give each child a sheet of paper and colored pencils, so they can write down their recipes and even draw a picture to go with it.

Making The Herbal Iced Teas
Before adding the tea to the glass, let the kids pick out the fruit and herbs. Then, give everyone a wooden spoon and let them gently muddle the components together (younger children may need more help with this process). Gently mash up the fruit in the glass, releasing all of the tasty juices into the tea. Once that's done, add some ice, the liquid, and then let the kids pick a garnish or two.

You can also add a dash of fizz- seltzer or sparkling water adds a bit of bubbly fun to the tea. But this is an optional addition.

Fun Combinations To Try
If you need a little help getting started, here are a few combinations that are popular in my house:

Rooibos + Thyme + Fruit
Hibiscus + Mint + Berries
Tulsi + Lemon + Strawberries
Lemon + Basil + Cucumbers
Chamomile + Basil + Peach

The combinations are endless, and the kids can really use their imaginations. I'd love to hear about some extra special combinations your little ones come up with, so please be sure to let me know! You can also tag me in your photos on Instagram, I'd love to see them. Happy summertime sips, everyone!

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.