Thursday, February 20, 2020

How To Do Your Own Tea Meditation Any Time Of Day

It's tough to find mindfulness in our busy lives. I try to set aside a few minutes for tea and quiet every day, but often there is only time for a few sips. Taking just a short few moments from the day to pause, make tea and breathe will help the day improve. Here are a few tips on how to create your own form of tea meditation no matter where you are, or what you have with you.

Tea Meditation- Stay In The Moment
First, it's important to point out that no matter what you do, staying in the moment is key. I personally look at it as a moment for myself, and nothing else. It doesn't need to be anything greater than this!

I've been slowly reading the book Every Day a Good Day by Noriko Morishita which is about the author's 25 year journey of learning chanoyu (the Japanese way of tea), and how it has shaped her life. One of the main things she learned is to always stay in the moment, and fully experience.
Morishita is constantly reminded by her sensei "When you sit in front of the kettle you have to be in front of the kettle...pour your heart and soul into each and every movement". We can bring this concept to our own tea meditation, no matter how casual. If you're having tea, even if it's just pouring hot water into a mug with a teabag, you can slow down, and be present while it steeps.

Tea Meditation- The Setup
As I mentioned before, you don't need any special tools. Whether you have a full gongfu set up or just a mug and some hot water, go with it. The main thing is to pause your day and try to focus on your moment. This isn't time to multitask, or take tasting notes. Just be with your tea!

If you can find a quiet place, great! If not, go with what you've got. Maybe you're in a cubicle in a large office or a similarly noisy environment. If you have headphones, I'd suggest using them. If not, just try to be in the moment and breathe (and try to ignore Janet from accounting).

A Sample Tea Meditation
As I mentioned, it's important to go with what you've got. Maybe you don't even have a few minutes for a full tea meditation. I often pause in the middle of a workday for just enough time to grab some hot water and steep my tea. I'll use the precious seconds while my tea is steeping to breathe, enjoy the tea's aroma, and clear my mind. Even if it's brief, give it a try.

If you can spare a few more moments, here is a sample tea meditation that you can use as a guide and tailor to you own needs. The key is to do everything mindfully. Be aware, focus, and try to clear your mind of everything else (if you can- and if you can't, just acknowledge how you are feeling).

If you have a hot water kettle, let's start there. While you are heating the water, take a listen. What do you hear around you? Can you focus on the different sounds the water makes as it starts to get warmer? Can you slow your breathing while you wait for the kettle to boil?

If you are near a window, maybe take a few moments to observe. What's the weather like? How does it make you feel? Can you hear anything outside? If you're in a crowded area, it's important to still stay in the present. Focus on where you are, and the act of making tea.

When you add your leaves (or tea bag) to your vessel, take a moment to observe. How do the leaves look? Smell? Feel? You can take your time with this, or simply give it a quick glance, whatever time allows.

Add your water to the leaves and observe with all your senses. Enjoy the aromas and warmth of the vessel. Observe the tea and how the colors and aroma change while it steeps.

When it's time to taste, observe the flavors and aromas and how they make you feel. Enjoy the warmth (or refreshing cold, if you have an icy brew). Do the flavors remind you of anything? Particular foods or past experiences?

All of this can take a few seconds, or much longer, depending on what you can spare.

Tea Meditation- Take a moment to reflect
Once I've taken a few sips, observed, and perhaps taken a few slow breaths, I like to focus a moment on gratitude for the tea. Thankfulness to all aspects of tea- from the plant, to the earth, to the people growing, plucking, processing, shipping, etc. You can of course show gratitude for whatever you like. Or don't... like I said, do whatever works for you in your tea moment.

Tea Meditation-Go Easy On Yourself
To be honest, I'm awful at meditation. I have a hard time clearing my mind and sitting still. But I find that through a tea meditation I can briefly calm my nerves, stop the world, and focus on mindfulness. I don't approach it as zen meditation or connecting with a higher universe. It's just to give time back to myself. And fully enjoy a good cup of tea. It's a time to be with yourself, and push the world out of your mind for a few moments.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The History Of English Breakfast Tea

English Breakfast Tea, no milk or sugar for me

Chances are you've had English Breakfast tea before. Its a staple in many restaurants and often the only black tea choice on the menu. But have you ever wondered why it's called English Breakfast tea? Is it because it came from England?

Tea didn't become a breakfast beverage until sometime in the mid eighteenth century. Up until this point tea was a pricey beverage, reserved for afternoon tea affairs. But when prices lowered it became more of an 'all day' drink. Also, it's recorded that around this time Queen Anne started taking tea instead of ale as her morning drink, which started the fashion of tea at breakfast.

If you think about it, if English Breakfast tea was named in England they probably would have called it 'Breakfast tea', not 'English', right? So maybe it makes sense that the name for this blend was actually coined elsewhere, perhaps in the United States. But was the actual black tea blend itself created here, or elsewhere? Well, various sources seem to have differing opinions.

English Breakfast: NYC, or Scotland?
Many sources point to tea merchant Richard Davies having invented 'English Breakfast' in New York City in 1843. Davies was a British immigrant working in NYC and supposedly combined Chinese teas to create the famous blend. Later, in 1884, American Robert M. Walsh published A Cup of Tea, and mentions breakfast teas:
They are a distinct variety, differing in color, liquor, and flavor from the Oolong species, and known to trade in this country as “English Breakfast” tea, from its forming the staple shipment to England. They are produced in the province of Woo-e-shan, and derive their name from the Bow-ui (bohea) Mountains, where they are grown...bohea teas comprise Capers, Pekoes, Souchongs, Pouchong and Congous.
This quote indicates Chinese black and oolong teas were often enjoyed for breakfast at this time, but it doesn't really help us figure out if Davies coined the phrase. It's important to note green tea was also widely consumed during this time, but it seems that 'breakfast' teas were mostly black or oolong. A typical English breakfast during this time period was savory and meaty, so black teas would have worked well to balance out the richness.

Some sources say 'English Breakfast' was actually a Scottish invention by Scottish tea merchant Robert Drysdale in 1892 (which would also make sense, since it's called English Breakfast and not just Breakfast tea). From Breakfast: A History by Heather Arndt Anderson
Most credit the invention of so-called English Breakfast Tea goes to one Scottish tea master called Drysdale, who purportedly developed the blend of  Ceylon, Keemun, and Assam leaves to market as "Breakfast Tea" in the late 1800s.
Sources say Queen Victoria sampled this blend during her stay at Balmoral (the Scottish royal residence), and she returned to England with a large supply. Thus it was renamed as 'English Breakfast Tea'.

Irish Breakfast Tea, no milk or sugar for me

English, Irish, and Scottish Breakfast
If you look around for breakfast teas you'll see English, Irish, and Scottish breakfast blends. They all vary in flavor and strength (with Scottish supposedly being strongest). Even though English Breakfast started out as a Chinese tea blend, all three blends may contain teas from China, India, Sri Lanka and Africa (and sometimes other areas). Since there isn't a standard formula out there, it's tough to know what you're going to get.

No matter where the name comes from breakfast teas are created to stand up to milk and sugar, so they're often heavy on strength and lacking in nuanced flavor. But that's not always the case. I've found a few breakfast blends that I really enjoy and often brew them up in the morning.

I look for blends that are full loose leaf tea, with a nice balance of flavors. When you get a good one, milk and sugar isn't necessary. Since you never know how a breakfast blend is going to taste, it's best to try as many as possible!

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Interview: Nazanin Yousefnejad of Tea Thoughts

Nazanin Yousefnejad, Photo Courtesy of Tea Thoughts

Tea people are the nicest people I've come across, and today's interviewee is no exception. You may have seen Nanzanin of Tea Thoughts on Instagram posting her beautiful tea photos, or perhaps you've visited her adorable online store (I love her pins!!) or ordered her Steep It Real box. I'm so pleased to present our interview!

I had the pleasure of receiving January's Steep It Real box, and I've been enjoying it all month long. I love that the tea themed products are all useful, fun, and high quality. She even includes hand-made items. There was only one tea included in the box, but it's a full-size package and very high quality. I much prefer this over boxes that give you many sample sizes of lower quality teas and blends, many you don't really want.

Learn all about Nazanin and her passion for tea, her wonderful creative side, and her personal tea rituals in the interview below.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Review: Tea: A Nerd's Eye View

There are tea nerds, and then there are Tea Nerds. The folks that get into the details of the leaf and then go deeper into the science of tea. The new book Tea: A Nerd's Eye View by Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace brings together information for Tea Nerds of every kind. Everything from tea chemistry and plant biology, to how our senses perceive the flavors in tea. Below is a little bit about the book, and what I thought while reading it.

Who Is The Book Really For?
This book is for anyone curious about the science behind tea, from leaf to cup. It may seem daunting to open this book and see so many chemical diagrams and charts, but Virginia does a great job of taking her wealth of knowledge and break it down for readers to understand. This is a book for anyone interested in getting deeper into tea. And it's enjoyable to read!

Flavor And Perception- Personal and Botanical
Flavor is of course key to enjoying tea. As tea drinkers we talk endlessly about flavor and aroma, what we like and don't like. The book goes into depth on flavor- how we as humans perceive it, and how it's created both within the plants and through processing. Virginia touches on how taste perception is super personal, and genetics plays a huge role.

I may perceive something as bitter but enjoyable, but someone else may find it repulsive. I may notice something as sweet, but someone else may find it pungent. I love how she discusses the perception of flavors, and how our personal memory and knowledge will change how we taste a tea.

The book also focuses on how flavors in tea are manipulated from the grower but also the tea brewer. When we brew at home, our parameters have an effect on the flavor we taste in the cup. This is all quite logical, but not something I normally sit and deeply think about. Virginia gets into the science behind all of this, and she keeps easy to follow.

Plant Biology
The book really gets down to the tea leaf on the cellular level. The plant biology is fascinating and even though I didn't understand every concept, I gained an understanding of how the plant's survival influences the development of flavors.

Virginia examines the different flavor compounds in tea plants, and how they present differently in each type of tea. She discusses basic chemistry properties in tea leaves, and I think it really helps in understanding the flavors we taste in our tea.

Caffeine content in tea is such a misunderstood thing and I'm glad Virginia covers both how it's produced, and how it may change during processing. And if anyone tells you delicate green and white teas have less caffeine than other teas, just tell them this:
Caffeine is a poison for many insects that would otherwise consume tea leaves. The younger more tender leaves are easier for herbivores and insects to attack, so younger leaves produce a greater quantity of caffeine. Older leaves are stiff and hard, thanks in particular to their greater content of woody compounds such as lignin. They are much less inviting to insects so they don't need as much caffeine to defend themselves.
Processing And Brewing
The book goes through the chemistry involved in each step of tea processing, and how it changes the flavors and aroma. It then examines how the brewing process changes the flavors as well. Virginia says that out of all the ways to brew tea, there is really only one main thing you need to have...
What is fascinating to me now is how many acceptable ways there are to brew tea, and how few true imperatives there are- in fact there is really only one absolute imperative: you must use good water. Or modify your approach if you have poor water.
Traditional brewing techniques are discussed such as tea ceremonies around the world, and how everything from the vessel, to the cup shape, to the brewing parameters will change the flavors in the tea prepared. She also writes about water temperature at length (for both hot and cold brews) and even touches on the tea serving temperature.

I think Tea: A Nerd's Eye View is a fascinating read for the tea lover looking to learn more about the science of the leaf. This book does get quite scientific with everything covered, but it's all very digestible. And, if you're not really interested in the nitty gritty of the science, it's easy to skip paragraphs and jump around the chapters. It's a great book to have on hand as a reference, and for learning more about flavor and chemistry.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

A Little Bit About Korean Teaware History

Cup and Teapot by GiJin Song

Teaware is an integral part of the tea experience. I love learning about teaware and teaware history. When I went on my Korea tea adventure this fall, we learned a little bit about Korean pottery and had the pleasure of meeting some incredible potters.

Korean pottery has a long, very interesting history which has influenced Korean's modern teaware artisans.

A Little Bit About Korean Pottery History
Philosophy, spirituality, and geography shaped Korean teaware history. When you think about Korean teaware, you may imagine something made with a celadon glaze with its distinctive jade-green color. Celadon (Cheong-Ja) is an important part of Korean pottery, and is one of the earliest glazes used. Celadon was originally inspired by Chinese Yue-ware in the early 900s and artisans worked to create a new, specifically Korean style. From Korean Arts:
    The Koryo Dynasty, which lasted from 918 to 1392 AD had a strong Buddhist influence which shaped many of it's cultural achievements.  Buddhist temples flourished during the Koryo period, and with them grew a need for fine vessels to be used during the many ritual ceremonies. In the middle of the 10th century Korean artists, some who had been schooled in China, began creating celadon by using inlay and copper glazing techniques which were developed first in China but only fully developed and perfected by Korean artisans. 
Celadon Ewer, photo from The Metropolitan Museum Of Art

Delicate celadon creations were originally used by Buddhist monks, royalty, and wealthy aristocrats. By the 15th century artists started creating 'brown porcelain' (Bun-Cheong) which was rougher than celadon and made for daily use for everyone, not just the monks and higher classes. White porcelain (Baek-Ja), was developed in the 16th century, also for the masses and not just the upper class. Confucianism was the popular philosophy of this time and artists used austere, simple lines and forms to reflect this.

Japanese pottery was influenced by Korea
History has also played a role in shaping Korean pottery. In 1592 during the Japanese invasion of Korea, entire villages of Korean potters were forced out of the country and relocated to Japan. The Korean artisan pottery industry took a huge hit at this point, as all of the masters were sent to Japan.

Pitcher, Cup, and Teapot by Chi Heon Lee

The Korean masters worked in Japan and influenced the Japanese styles of pottery. In fact, Japanese tea master Sen no Rikyū used Korean style pottery as he perfected his style for the Japanese tea ceremony. Not only did the Korean styles influence Japanese pottery, but the kilns were used as well. From
The noborigama (chambered climbing kiln) was introduced from Korea to Japan -- via Karatsu -- in the 17th century and forever changed the ceramic landscape. It allowed various glazed wares such as madara-garatsu (speckled straw-ash glaze), chosen-garatsu (Korean-style, two-tone glazing), e-garatsu (painted) or kuro-garatsu (black) to be created on these shores.
If you'd like to learn more about the Korean influence on Japanese pottery, you can search for info on Hagi ware, Satsuma ware, and Arita ware.

Teapots and tea boat by Chi Heon Lee

Back to Nature
As I've mentioned in previous posts, nature plays a huge role in Korean culture and is reflected through pottery. Form, shape, and color are all borrowed from nature. Before the 17th century, Korean potters looked for perfection in their creations. But then the style became to cherish the imperfect, as it is found in nature. 

Potters I met on our trip used traditional ideas and forms, with a modern twist. If you look at the first photo above, you can see how ceramic artisan GiJin Song uses organic elements in his work. And right above you can see the delicate, gentle lines with traditional forms and interesting glazes found in Chi Heon Lee's work.

Do you own any Korean teaware? Before my trip I didn't know anything at all about how diverse Korean teaware styles can be. This post only scratched the surface on the history and artistry. I can't wait to learn even more about it, and keep my collection growing.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Korean Yuja Byungcha (yuzu stuffed with black tea)

I'm sure you've had tea with citrus flavors added in, but have you tried a citrus stuffed with black tea? I had many interesting kinds of Korean tea on my recent trip, and it was tough to pick which one I wanted to share with you first. Given the holidays and frigid temps, I think it's the perfect time of year to talk about Yuja Byungcha. A Yuzu stuffed with black tea.

Yuja Byungcha tea has an amazing natural citrus flavor and aroma. The steeped black tea with crushed bits of yuzu rind is a lovely warming tea for winter, and the flavor is quite festive for the holidays. I've been drinking this tea almost every day, I find it flavorful and invigorating. When I had a sore throat, drinking this with a bit of honey was incredibly soothing.

Please note, this tea is different from yuja cha, which if you search online usually brings back recipes for a delicious herbal recipe for yuzu, honey, lemon, and often ginger, to keep in the fridge all winter long. I actually have a jar in my fridge and have been drinking it in the evenings. Now, on to the byungcha...

Making Yuja Byungcha Korean Yuzu Stuffed Black Tea
This tea has two basic elements, yuzu and black tea. The yuzu are harvested at the end of November. They are washed, and the inside is scooped out and juiced. The juice is reserved and used to flavor the tea. The tea used is black tea (referred to as hong cha or balhyocha) harvested and processed in the spring. The processed leaves are sprayed with the yuzu juice, just enough to soften the leaves and filled inside the hollowed out yuzu. Byung means to bottle, which makes sense since the black tea is basically bottled inside the yuzu.

About 30-40 grams of tea fit inside one yuzu. Once filled, the top is put back on and the yuzu is tied with twine. After the yuzu are prepared with the tea, they go through a steaming and drying process 6 times, and each time the twine is tightened. Then they are left for a final drying outdoors in the breeze and sun. 

In my previous post. I mentioned how Korean tea is deeply tied to nature, and this is no exception. Drying the tea outside in the natural elements in a crucial step. The whole process takes about 2 months. This is a slow process that allows layers of flavor to build inside the tea. The finished product is about 1/2 the size of the original fresh yuzu!

crushed yuzu and black tea

Steeping the Yuja Byungcha
To prepare this tea, you need to crush up that beautiful tea-stuffed yuzu. Do not steep the whole thing in a pot! First, remove the twine from the yuzu and take off the top. Then place the yuzu on its side on a paper towel, and gently crush it. You shouldn't need too much force. The citrus will break into pieces, and the black tea will spill out. You can crush the yuzu into smaller pieces as well. 

Add 3-4 grams total of tea and small bits of yuzu in about 200ml of water that's just off the boil. I steep mine for about 3-5 minutes. This can be re-steeped about 5 times. Take the rest of your yuzu tea and put it in an opaque, air-tight canister for later. You can also age the yuzu whole, if you can avoid temptation and wait!

It's tough to find these teas for sale in the US. I have been able to purchase them at World Tea Expo, but an internet search doesn't come up with much. Right now Screen Tea is selling a few, she was on the Korea trip with us and she brought them back for sale. I'm waiting to hear from another source that may be selling these teas soon, and will update the post with a link when that happens.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Interview: Zhao and Ronald of Tea.L

Zhao and Ron (photo courtesy of Tea.L)

As I've gotten older, I've become picky about my skincare. I'm always looking for natural products that don't have any harsh ingredients. Recently the folks from Tea.L reached out to see if I'd like to try their tea-based skincare products. A company that sells natural products made with tea? And we're talking, real, loose leaf tea with minimal processing? I was all-in.

I've been using the eye cream, face lotion, and body lotion for a few weeks, and I've really enjoyed them. I love the texture and scent (they really smell like tea!), and my skin feels super-soft. Over these last few weeks questions about the products have popped into my head, so I thought it would be fun to do an interview with founders Zhao and Ron. Below you'll find out all about why they made tea-based skincare products, the importance of using real tea, and the beauty of tea and self care.