Sunday, June 1, 2014

Tea tramp

Charlie Chaplin enjoying a tea break during filming, surrounded by nymphs of some sort.

Just because.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Kettle's on, soup's on

Every now and then, I run into posted recipes for tea soup. The variations are myriad, but the best ones, in my experience, center on green tea and salmon.

This is the one that crossed my path recently, a quickie from Samovar which trims away some of the traditional Japanese ingredients in favor of a few extra steamed veggies. The one that's always worked for me is this one: blanching some veggies, poaching the salmon, then steeping the tea in the broth. A little matcha for presentation is a fine idea.

Of note: there's also an old meat-fish-and-potatoes soup colloquially referred to as Fisherman's Tea, though tea is not an ingredient.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

All you need is tea

John and Yoko met in May 1968, a spring romance. Lennon was a regular tea drinker. One of my favorite details of the film "Two of Us" features Jared Harris, as Lennon, making tea for Aidan Quinn, as Paul. (Superb, underappreciated film, a speculative narrative. Check it out.)

A few years ago, Yoko wrote a lovely remembrance of "John Lennon: The Teamaker," including this little turnabout:

“Yoko, Yoko, you’re supposed to first put the tea bags in, and then the hot water.” John took the role of the teamaker, for being English. So I gave up doing it. It was nice to be up in the middle of the night, when there’s no sound in the house, and sip the tea John would make.

One night, however, John came up with “I was talking to Aunt Mimi this afternoon and she says you are supposed to put the hot water in first. Then the tea bag. I could swear she taught me to put the tea bag in first, but…”

“So all this time, we were doing it wrong?”


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tuesday tea TV: A very. Serious. Movie.

In what looks to be at least partially and unintentionally hilarious, yet another biopic of Rikyu has been made. Based on the 2008 novel Rikyu ni Tazuneyo by Kenichi Yamamoto, "Ask This of Rikyu" retells the tale of the teamaster from fish shop to the palace to ritual suicide.

Here's the trailer, which defies the basic tenets of teaism with exaggerated drama, a thundering symphonic score, and many furrowed brows ...

Monday, May 12, 2014

Crafty projects to dye for

Years ago, I monkeyed with tea-dying fabrics — with varying results. At first, I couldn't figure out what the attraction was to taking a nice, white piece of muslin and turning it, well, dingy brown. Then I learned how to get a little more creative.

Two things changed my outcomes: using a resist to make patterns, and using different liquids.

The resist: Dye the fabric, but beforehand apply a compound in words or patterns that will block the dye, leaving the pattern in the fabric's original color. Some instructions suggest using Elmer's glue; it's often not as easy to remove in the end as is suggested. I've used wax before — I used some beeswax I had on hand in a work bench, but you can buy wax sticks for this purpose, seen here. Crayons work, too, and look here for a nifty technique using bleach to white-out patterns.

As to the other liquids, nearly all tea-dying instructions you'll find discuss the practice in terms of black tea. (And use something inexpensive, of course. Don't waste your fine keemun on the drapes!) I suspect, however, that green tea would provide interesting, if subtle, results, too. I also suspect — having had the misfortune of spilling some on a carpet once — that strong herbals such as hibiscus would also work well. The trick: play around with different dyes on the same fabric. One project I enjoyed a while back: I dyed a set of white napkins with tea, but then I dyed their edges (an inch or two, by suspending them into the liquid with clothespins) with coffee, so there was a nice tea tint to the whole napkin plus ribbons of darker brown at the edges.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Tea in the pot — in the garden

At long last, I'm growing tea.

Unable to find the special varietals created for San Diego's particular climate, I ordered a Sochi tea plant from Nichols Garden Nursery up in Oregon. It arrived in splendid condition, a small plant well-established (a foot tall) and moist.

This Camellia sinensis Sochi variety originates, yes, where the Winter Olympics just took place — and one of the northernmost, historic tea-growing regions of Russia. This strain was developed to be especially winter-hardy, which I won't require in southern California, but we'll see how it does.

I've planted her in a firm mound within a half wine barrel salvaged from some debris on this property. I mixed some sphagnum moss, hopefully to aid in holding moisture in the soil (crucial here, especially during last week's awful spell of hot, dry wind). I've rigged a watering system throughout the garden, and it'll feed a dripping irrigation spout at the base of the plant, as well as a fogger I hope to run in the mornings. She'll have dappled shade from a nearby Scotch pine, and some late afternoon sun.

This is a hobby venture, not necessarily a productive one. I can't imagine I'd actually harvest and process any leaves — perhaps on a one-cup basis! Given the opportunity of this wonderful garden, I simply had to try to grow the plant that, on the other end of its life cycle, is so instrumental to my daily life. We shall see.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Smoke and sweetness

Magazine recommendation: Imbibe. It's a well-made, well-edited bimonthly for discriminating lushes like myself, but it doesn't skimp on the coffee and tea features.

The latest March/April edition features two items of note. First, there's a great profile of Steven Smith, the founder of two of the country's most influential tea brands, Stash and Tazo. It's a smart profile of the entrepreneur and his latest, sourced-tea venture.

Second, with the issue's focus on the Pacific northwest, there's a crazy cocktail recipe tacked onto a short feature about Clear Creek Distillery's liqueur made from Douglas fir trees. The cocktail — which sounds insane, great, and insanely great — is called Smoke Signals: bourbon, lemon and orange juices, the fir liqueur, plus a "lapsang souchong tea syrup" (which is just a half cup of the tea, sweetened).

I've used lapsang souchong to add smoke to meats and stews. It's so much better and more effective than liquid smoke. An actual simple syrup made with the piney tea would open up new avenues for flavoring, say, ice cream, apple, anything with maple, maybe subbing for some of the Karo in a pecan pie...?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: Bein' green

Spotted this attractive embroidery on Twitter recently. The Green Man has always been a favorite totem — I used to have a clay Green Man hanging on a tree trunk in a previous garden — especially in spring and summer.

Reminds me of a favorite XTC album track, too. A stretch for the Tuesday tea theme; just pretend Green Man loves his sencha ...

Monday, May 5, 2014

Hi, ho, Hario!

Hario is a nearly century-old glassware company in Japan, and they've generated excitement in recent years with new pour-over coffee makers. Now they've added teaware to their innovating.

Dig this Hario Chaor 4-Cup Tea Maker — a nice, big pot, with heat-resistant glass. The best part, though, is the roomy (important) strainer basket that retracts into the lid with a slide of the handle. Perfect.

Even better, if you're (understandably) averse to confining strainers, is the Hario Largo Tea Dripper, a twist on the coffee designs. The tea brews in the top glass bulb, floating free, then drains and strains into the glass pitcher below. Too bad there are no lids in sight.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tuesday tea TV: 3,2,1 ... tea bag!

I've been reading a lot of physics lately — the quantum kind, yegods — and I've read before some discussions of the physics of tea. Here, however, is a nice time-killer: a quick physics principle demonstrated by setting a tea bag on fire ...

Monday, April 28, 2014

The accidental teaist

Travel days, brought to you by crappy tea.

I know, I should bring my own bags and just ask for the not-hot water. I have, however, neither the foresight nor the chutzpah to do either. So I slump in my seat with the tray table down and ask the alternatingly cheery/brutish flight attendant for a cup of hot tea. No cream , no sugar, thank you.

On Southwest, there is no uniform tea policy. Sometimes you get a cup with a bag already brewing; other times, you get an elaborate delivery of artifacts — paper cup of hot water, tea bag, empty plastic cup (for the tea bag once spent, and it also can double as a heat-saving lid), small red plastic stirring stick. The tea, however, is always the same: a dusty little bag of Mother Parkers, a "beverage services" brand hailing from that renowned tea country, Canada.

It gets me by
while I fly.
Then the hotel room coffee machine,
tasting of latrine,
makes me wonder
why I wander.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

With great tea comes great responsibility

In his off hours, Spider-Man likes a cup of oolong, who knew? Too bad he's using a bag — though I suppose he's partial to the strings.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: Far out, man

This is either the kind of marathon tune you'll enjoy, chilling with a hot cup, or one that will have you shouting, "This is my happening, and it freaks me out!"

The band is Gong, Australian proggers from exactly the era it sounds like. The track is the title composition from the 1973 album "Flying Teapot," a concept narrative about "a pig-farming Egyptologist called Mista T Being sold a 'magick ear ring' by an 'antique teapot street vendor & tea label collector' called Fred the Fish. The ear ring is capable of receiving messages from the Planet Gong via a pirate radio station called Radio Gnome Invisible."

Like, heavy ...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Stay strong: the origins of 'weak tea'

The other day I referred to a politician's less-than-inspiring declaration as being "pretty weak tea." It's one of those colloquialisms that slips in, often unawares. But I thought: where'd that come from?

The phrase is utilized commonly to denote "something watered down compared to the alternative" and is often defined in reference to the diluting of our beloved beverage, "from the practice of adding boiling water to normally brewed tea to create a drink with less flavor and/or caffeine." Wordnik has added "an unconvincing argument" to the definition of "weak tea," which otherwise is "a dilute solution of tea."

One of my favorite things to do these days is spelunk through the Oxford English Dictionary. Alas, the OED doesn't define "weak tea" by itself, but it has tracked it within a few other definitions and quotations, all of which refer to actual poorly brewed tea rather than a metaphorical letdown.

Still, some good lexical fun ...

The earliest usage of "weak tea" as a pejorative beverage is 1825, in Robert Forby's Vocabulary of East Anglia, in reference to the word "lap," as in: to lap up your soup. Here, though, it's as a noun: lap being a diluted sustenance such as "thin broth or porridge; weak tea, &c." The same book applies the phrase to another, wilder one: "water bewitched," a colloquialism "used derisively for excessively diluted liquor; now chiefly, very weak tea." Years later, in an 1874 slang dictionary, "water bewitched" also had this note: "Sometimes very weak tea is called ‘husband's tea.’"

Weak tea being something that makes one miserable (adj.), it's also equated to miserable (n.), first in a description of the "miserable Mrs. O'Grady had prepared" (from Handy Andy: A Tale of Irish Life, 1842 — of course, the Irish would loathe a brew they could see through), and later in a kind of half-adjective, half-noun usage in a 1900 novel: "There was only a miserable tea left." The use of "miserable" as a noun, the OED reports, is "now rare."

A particularly situated usage of the phrase first popped up in an 1897 Journal of American Folklore as "switchel," a word used in and around Newfoundland for "a mug of weak tea given to the sailors between meals when at the seal fishing." But nearly a century later the term had about-faced, appearing in a 1974 National Geographic as "a ‘cup o' switchel’, as they call strong tea."

In the 1950s, weak tea could be referred to — in certain rougher circles, perhaps — as "gnat's piss." The OED has a ’66 definition of "gnat's piss" as "cider, near beer, weak tea or any drink." That's from a book called The ABZ of Scouse (which you can still find), a kind of guide to the dialect particular to the environs of Liverpool in the UK. (A while back, I wrote an appreciation of the late radio DJ John Peel, in which I referred to him, a Liverpudlian, as "a scouse." A brief back-and-forth with the fact-checker resulted in a footnote.) A Glossary of North Country Words, from 1846, also includes the word "wou," defining it first as "the worst kind of swipes" but then "also applied to weak tea, or any other worthless liquor."

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Egg hunting? Try Chinese tea eggs

As Easter weekend arises, no doubt many of us have eggs on the brain. The kind of egg dying I prefer to do as an adult, however, involves cracking the shells and boiling them in tea.

Chinese tea eggs are typical mixtures of beauty and nourishment. Here's a good recipe for the tasty snacks, fairly easy to make — though, in my experience, a skill requiring some finesse.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday tea TV: Irani teahouses

Interesting short documentary here: a look into some tea cafes in Iran. They're called coffee houses, but they don't serve coffee. Dig all the stunning urns and samovars!

"In Iran, taking a break without a hot cup of black tea would be meaningless." See, not so different.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Happy tea cup art

Just a bit of merchandise spotted at Disneyland recently —

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tea pot and cup rings

This photo of these adorable rings has been kudzu-ing along Twitter and Pinterest in recent weeks, but without any source information (like where to buy). If you know, do tell.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tuesday tea tune: Spring into tea

Spring has sprung, spring classes have begun, the world is looking up. Here's a chill celebration titled "Spring Tea Ceremony" by Oliver Shanti ...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Billions and billions of tea leaves

We've been enjoying the newly revived "Cosmos," on Sundays, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. That this show, which celebrates science (at the just expense of creationist loons), airs on the Fox network is surprising, but welcome.

I'm old enough to remember watching the PBS original, with Carl Sagan. That calm inimitable voice opened new vistas of wonder — the perspective of that "pale blue dot" amid all those "billions and billions" of stars. Sobering, and inspiring. I read his novel, Contact, as a young boy; I still think the belated film adaption holds up.

So I'm pleased to see that Adagio sells two signature tea blends celebrating Sagan: one is called Carl Sagan's Day Off, an intriguing mix of white teas and blueberries; the other, Carl Sagan's Apple Pie, a galaxy of black tea and billions of spices (way too many). The Day Off sounds perfect for a weekend "Cosmos" marathon ...

p.s. If you've not heard it already, don't miss this great song featuring an AutoTuned Sagan.