Thursday, September 19, 2019

History Of The Teapot

It may seem as if teapots have been around as long as tea itself, but that's not actually the case.  We all use them, but do you know when they originated? Let's get a little deeper into the history of teapots.

Teapot History- Song Dynasty to Ming Dynasty
Teapots may not have been around as long as the tea steeped in them, but the design is still quite ancient.  We need to look to Chinese tea history to learn more about teapots, as the leaves themselves shaped the need for a steeping vessel.

During the Song dynasty (960-1279) tea leaves were not processed they way they are today. Leaves were steamed, ground, and molded into brick forms. In order to prepare the tea, pieces of the brick were broken off and boiled in cooking vessels.

A little later during this time period tea was pulverized into powder form and whisked, just like matcha. Since the leaves were either boiled or whisked, a teapot-like vessel wasn't needed. Porcelain was invented in the Tang dynasty (618-907) and was largely the material used for tea cups and bowls used for tea, but teapots hadn't been in use yet.

You may be thinking you've seen teapots from this time period in books or museums, but these were most likely ewers used for water or wine. The shape of these vessels will play an important role, however.

It appears that the teapot was created during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) when changes in tea processing style led to steeping loose leaf tea. From the book The True History Of Tea:

Instead of the age-old custom of steaming the leaves, the monks on Songluo Mountain in Anhui province discovered that stir-roasting them in a dry hot wok improved the color, fragrance, and flavor of the finished tea. 

Tea production in the Wuyi mountains used the new method the Songluo monks created, and after much trial and error semi-oxidized oolong teas were born. The loose leaves needed a vessel for delicate brewing, in order to extract the right body and flavor of the tea. Through this necessity, the teapot was born.

Teapot History- Yixing 
Small teapots resembling the ewers I mentioned earlier were developed in the city of Yixing, in Jiangsu province of China around 1500. It seems likely that the water and wine vessels were used as a model for tea.

If you're a Yixing pot collector you know the vessels are made from reddish or purple 'zisha' clay (zisha translates to 'purple sand pot'). The clay has a special mineral composition that makes it ideal for brewing tea, and creates a porous material perfect for capturing the essence of the tea. The teapots were very small (and still are today), made for personal use. Small porcelain cups were used to sip with, but I've also seen mention of people drinking directly from the teapot's spout. I need to give this a try! Maybe at home when no one is looking...

It's actually tough to say for certain if teapots were really created in 1500, as the great James Norwood Pratt argues in the New Tea Lover's Treasury:

It strains credulity to believe so inventive a people as the Chinese never thought to brew tea in their so-called wine ewers.
That makes sense, doesn't it? Since teapots look so much like an ewer, wouldn't someone have thought to use one for tea before 1500? But, I'll leave that for Norwood to debate.

Chinese Ewer, image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Teapot History- Western Europe and Beyond
Once Chinese porcelain started making its way to European countries (to learn more about the history of European porcelain you can check out my previous post), Europeans couldn't get enough of the beautiful porcelain. They raced to figure out how to create their own porcelain, which eventually led to designing teapots and other teaware.

The pots originally exported to Europe were small with straight spouts, similar to the Yixing styles. The large porcelain and silver styles seen today came much later, when tea drinking became part of  the European lifestyle.

There is so much more to learn and discuss about teapot history and design, but it'll need to be saved for later posts. Next time you use a teapot think about how it evolved and where it came from. Maybe even have a sip from the spout!

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Matcha Watermelon Cocktail

It feels like the summer is officially over, but you can keep the warm-weather feelings alive with a Matcha Watermelon cocktail. Freshly blended watermelon juice is combined with a boozy, matcha-y, citrusy elixir that is delicious and refreshing. The additions of basil and a touch of salt make this more than just your average matcha cocktail.

I was recently sent a can of a bright and vegetal organic Yabukita Matcha Sesui from Nio Teas, and decided to use it in a cocktail. After a few recent family gatherings I noticed we had an abundance of watermelon in the refrigerator, and the lightbulb went off. I knew I had to pull out my cocktail shaker and start recipe testing.

Matcha Watermelon Cocktail- The Backstory
I wanted to make a matcha cocktail that was naturally sweet, and watermelon juice is sweet enough without the addition of any other sweeteners. The recipe took a bit of time to refine, however, because I just wasn't getting the right balance of sweet, tart, and smooth.

My husband helped me taste each concoction I made, through all sorts of ingredient combinations. I decided to use vodka as the spirit, as it has a clean flavor. Eventually we hit upon the perfect additions- watermelon, matcha, lemon, lime, fresh basil, and a very important pinch of salt. Without the basil, the drink just wasn't smooth and soft enough, and the pinch of salt really brightened the whole thing up.

Matcha Watermelon Cocktail- The Pour
It also took me a few tries to figure out how to add each ingredient in, so the whole thing doesn't look like a foamy mess. After some trial and error, I discovered the right sequence to give it the most pizzaz. 

Matcha Watermelon Cocktail- Tips
Be sure to use cold watermelon for this recipe for maximum flavor and refreshment. No need to freeze the watermelon though, as that will change the texture.

When adding the basil, make sure it's a little bashed up- I like to knead it a little with my fingers, to bruise it and allow the flavors to be released.

As you can see from the photos I didn't get too fancy with my pouring skills, but if you're up for it you can get some interesting swirly designs if you pour the matcha elixir slowly and carefully. Don't try to stir everything together, or you'll lose the nicely defined colors.

Tea Happiness' Matcha Watermelon Cocktail
Makes 1 cocktail

2 cups cold watermelon, cubed and seeded

1 oz. Vodka
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
2-3 fresh basil leaves bruised up a bit with your fingers
1/2 tsp. matcha
pinch of salt

Tools you'll need: Cocktail glasses, a cocktail shaker, a blender.

First, take the two cups of cubed watermelon and blend it until smooth and frothy. It doesn't take very long and you'll get something a bit thicker than watermelon juice, with a nice liquid consistency.

Pour about 3/4 cup of the watermelon juice in your cocktail glass, and set it aside.

In the cocktail shaker combine the remaining ingredients: vodka, lemon juice, lime juice,basil leaves, matcha, and salt. Shake vigorously. The more you shake it, the more incorporated your matcha will be.

Gently pour the mixture into the watermelon juice but do not stir. Serve as is, or garnish with a few basil leaves, or fresh watermelon.

There you have it! The watermelon juice naturally sweetens the drink, and the matcha, citrus, and basil really come through. A sip of summertime any time of year. Cheers!

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Interview: The Renegade Tea Estate

Georgian white teas, photo courtesy of Renegade Tea Estate

I love learning about the many passionate tea growers and producers around the world, and today I'm excited to present an interview with a fairly new tea company, Renegade Tea Estate. Western Georgia (the country, not the state) used to be a large tea producing region before the industry collapsed in the 1990s. But the passionate young tea growers of Renegade Tea Estate are trying to rehabilitate Georgian tea. Read all about this new tea venture, the challenges they faced in rehabilitating a tea farm while learning how to grow and process tea in our interview below.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Depths of Infusion at Camellia Sinensis Montreal

Saying you're taking a 'tea class' at Camellia Sinensis really isn't the right turn of phrase. It's really more of a 'tea experience'. Yes, there is learning (quite a bit), and yes there is note taking (at least for me, the obsessive note taker). But this comes wrapped a relaxing sensory experience, getting lost in the leaf. Hours fly by unnoticed while you smell, taste, and feel the tea.

This is an intensive tea class, and I mean intense. As a group of 10 people we tasted nearly 60 teas over the course of two days, and some had multiple infusions. I was surprised that the amount of tea never became overwhelming, nor did it make me too caffeinated or tea drunk. This probably speaks to the calm atmosphere of the class, and the quality of the teas (and the tasty snacks).

I'm not going to get into the specifics of all the teas we had or curriculum we discussed, that would just be too much for anyone to read. But if you follow my Instagram page, I pinned a 'TeaSummerSchool' highlight, and I'll also be posting photos of many of the teas over the next week or so with a bit more information. I honestly didn't get that many photos (at least for a photo-obsessive like me), I wanted to try and focus on the experience
Kevin Gascoyne making the tea

The Class
Over two days, the class was led by three of Camellia Sinensis' best: Kevin, Sebastien, and Alexis. Each instructor brought their unique knowledge and perspective, and had their own teaching style. I love that everyone was laid back, focused on the flavors and feeling of the teas while still conveying history, culture, terroir and processing (among other important tidbits). They gave a good foundation on each tea, and I enjoyed all the tasting notes everyone in the class shared.

The Tastings- Day 1
The class consisted of different types of tastings. We did group cuppings of multiple teas side by side, we sampled teas poured for us into small cups, and we infused others ourselves in gaiwans and gongfu pots.

We started the first day with a short group tasting of teas ranging from light to darker in flavor and color. The teas had a natural progression from delicate to dark and full bodied (they consisted of white, green, oolong, and black teas). When I asked Kevin why he put this varied group together, he said he chose them for the diversity of flavor and texture, but also as teas that weren't featured in the main part of the class. I appreciated the opportunity to taste these teas which, as Kevin mentioned, had a had a natural progression; similar to listening to songs carefully compiled onto a 'mix tape' (yes, I'm old enough to have made mix tapes. Many, many of them). They were very different, but worked well as a whole.


We then had a presentation on Darjeeling teas, Kevin's specialty.  We tasted a bunch of teas from different gardens and flushes, young gardens vs. old, seeds vs. clonal. One of my favorites from the group was a first flush from Singell, a garden planted from seed in the 1860s. It's an open, Chinese style garden with leaves manufactured from each separate patch grown, to keep the flavor profile intact. This tea was surprisingly complex, energetic, and vibrant.

From Darjeeling we went to Japan, and Alexis guided us through an immense amount of information with ease. We talked about cultivars, culture, serving styles, growing, plucking, and processing. One interesting tidbit I learned was that gyokuro and matcha are 'aged' for a minimum of 3 months before finishing. We tasted some memorable teas, with the Gyokuro Shuin being the standout for me. It reminded me of slow-cooked kale, collards, and mustard greens, without any bitterness but all the deep green flavor and umami.

The Tastings- Day 2
We started the day examining Taiwanese and Chinese oolongs. We slurped down a line from light to more oxidized and roasted. I usually find myself gravitating towards darker oolongs, and that day was no exception. I appreciated the greener oolongs but found myself in love with a mucha tie guan yin that was roasted for 60 hours (slowly and carefully of course). My love for Wuyi yancha continued to be fueled by Bai Rui Xiang and Rou Gui Ma Tou. The Rou Gui stopped me in my tracks with its complexity. Spicy, sweet, floral, so many different things to feel. 'Ma Tou' refers to the specific rock formation where this tea is grown- it looks like a horse's head.

dark teas

After the in-depth oolong discussion we went to black teas. We had a chance to get hands on with brewing and also did a side by side cupping for a few of the teas. My favorites were a super floral Chuan Hong that tasted as if it was scented with roses and peonies. It was sweet and delicate. I also loved the Mei Zhan Zhen, which was complex and surprising. I kept tasting all sorts of things, from lemon to lavender, to chocolate. I brought some of this tea home and I hope I can replicate the experience.

We finished the day with many steepings of dark teas. Pu'er, Liu Bao, and other dark teas are the ones I have the least experience with. I was happy to sample so many teas, and taste all the complexities. By this point in the day, my notes are super spotty, as I  became more and more relaxed with each sip of pu'er. We discussed where you feel the tea as you drink it depending on the age of the plant (mouth feel, vs throat) and I was really able to notice the difference. And of course, that lingering kick of sweetness after the tea is gone.

Xiaguan 1986

We delved into teas with different storage, various ages, and of course different processing styles. There were many memorable teas but as I mentioned, I didn't note much with my pen. I do remember the Xiaguan 1986 as a standout, and it's a tea we were given to brew ourselves with a yixing pot. A 1994 7542 was also pulled out for us, and we all got lost in multiple infusions, taking us to new levels of flavor.

Having the opportunity to get deeply into these teas was quite a treat. The three instructors all used a good mix of fun, education, and flavor. They each had unique perspectives and the teaching was relaxed but very clear. I liked the balance of different ways of tasting the teas, from quick cuppings to more in-depth infusions. My one criticism would be to have more time with some of the teas. Since the class is only two days long, there is so much to get through. If it was possible to add a half-day to the class, I think it may allow for a bit more breathing room. But that also isn't easy for people to schedule.

A quick note on Montreal- it's a beautiful city that's very walkable, and super approachable. Everyone is friendly and most people speak both English and French. The food is also not to be missed.

Our tea group of 10 was a perfect size, we were able to get to know one another. I'm looking forward to staying in contact with many of my new tea friends. If you are curious about this program, feel free to send me a note and I'd be happy to talk more about it. I'm already wondering when I can go back!

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.