Monday, January 14, 2019

Cozy Tea: A Day to "Shop my Shelf"

Yesterday was a cold and rainy day in Asheville, North Carolina. So, rather than going out I decided to stay in and “shop my shelf,” meaning my bookshelf of course! I pulled out some old favorites that feature quiet and cozy aspects of taking tea. 

First are two books by Diana Rosen: Taking Time for Tea: 15 Seasonal Tea Parties to Soothe the Soul and Celebrate the Spirit and Meditations with Tea: Paths to Inner Peace. These are lovely books full of ideas about slowing down and enjoying meditative time with tea.  Diana Rosen’s author page at Workman Publishing states that she has a special interest in “practices that enhance spirituality in everyday life.”  Apparently taking tea is one of these practices, which is no doubt a part of the reason I enjoy her writing so much. 

The third book that I pulled off my bookshelf today is a collaborative effort between Shelley and Bruce Richardson of Elmwood Inn Fine Teas fame. This book, called Looking Deeply Into Tea: Thoughts and Prayers, is dedicated to "the families living in tea gardens in India and Sri Lanka." From Shelley’s heartfelt “Introduction” at the beginning of the book, to Bruce’s “Photography Notes” that close the pages, it is apparent that this project was a labor of love. Each page spread features a beautiful photograph by Bruce accompanied by prayerful thoughts written by Shelley.

If you are a book collector, like I am, you will find that cold winter days are a great time to “shop your shelf.” To accompany these books, I drank a tea that had been given to me as a Christmas gift, “Black Orchid” by Mariage Frères. As the package states, “Black Orchid” is a “smooth black tea…dotted with notes of vanilla and spice.” As I steeped the tea, its fragrant scent filled my kitchen and invited me to some quiet time with tea and books.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Old Tea Pot by Ella Hergesheimer

Ella Hergesheimer. The Old Tea Pot. The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Digital image courtesy of The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina.

On my trips to Spartanburg, South Carolina, I often enjoy stopping into the gallery of The Johnson Collection. This private collection, which generously shares its holdings with the public through rotating exhibits in numerous locales, features artwork chronicling the “evolution of the American South.”

On a recent visit to The Johnson Collection, I was thrilled to find Ella Hergesheimer’s painting, The Old Tea Pot, on display as part of the current exhibit entitled The Kindred Spirit: William Merritt Chase and HisSouthern Students. Because of my educational background in art history and my interest in tea, I am drawn to artworks which have ties to tea culture.

Hergesheimer (1873-1943) lived during a time which saw the development of the tea bag and the popularization of iced tea. But these icons of modern tea drinking in the South are nowhere to be seen in her formalist still life, The Old Tea Pot. In this painting, Hergesheimer presents a solid rendering of a scene which falls squarely within the traditional still life genre.  Her arrangement of objects which, along with a tea pot, includes apples and a peaked white cloth, brings to my mind the still life paintings of French artist, Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), though I have no references noting that Hergesheimer had ever seen his work.

Paul Cezanne. Dish of Apples. c. 1876-77. New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Digital image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art open access initiative.

Paul Cezanne. Still Life with Jar, Cup, and Apples. c. 1877. New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Digital image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art open access initiative.

I am charmed by Hergesheimer’s painting, The Old Tea Pot, simply because the tea pot symbolizes what, in my mind, is an icon of culture, refinement, and relaxation.  The painting brings to mind quiet times spent conversing with friends over a pot of tea. In that regard I find it pleasing.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Tea Craft Tuesday: Paper Camellia Sinensis

I made this floral arrangement a while back. The flowers and leaves are supposed to resemble those of the camellia sinensis plant. The contemporary container makes a nod to the blue and white china  that has long been popular in Europe and North America, as well as a nod to the clipper ships that played an important role in the 19th century tea trade.

To make the flowers and leaves of this arrangement, I used paper punches. I assembled the punched pieces on floral wire using the instructions in the book, Fanciful Paper Flowers by Sandra Evertson.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Tea at the Museum

Jean-Etienne Liotard. Still Life: Tea Set. c. 1781-1783. Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum.
Digital image courtesy of the Getty's open content program.

We are so lucky these days that many museums and other public collections have digitized the images of their holdings. If you wonder, "How do I find fine art or decorative arts images to use with my writings on tea?" Or, if you want to look at tea-themed images to simply enjoy them - take a look here below where I highlight the tea-themed holding of six major cultural institutions here in the United States.

Some of these digital images are available for both commercial and non-commercial use, others for non-commercial use only.  You will have to explore each institution's website to find which is the case for each image that interests you.

The search interface differs at each website.  But they are all quite user-friendly.

I entered the general keyword search term "tea" into the search box at each of these websites. I have noted the number of "hits" or records that came up with each search on the keyword "tea."  Most of the search interfaces allow for more specific searching.  For example, you might want to search for paintings only or for a work by a specific silversmith.  But I have begun here with just the very general keyword search term, "tea."

The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1,424 records; 1,104 records with images

The J. Paul Getty Museum
226 records; 155 records with images

The New York Public Library Digital Collections
542 records

The Art Institute of Chicago
919 records

The Museum of Fine Arts Boston
2,373 records; 2,038 records with images

The National Gallery of Art
131 records; 121 records with images

I really love doing this type of online searching.  It calls upon my education in art history and library science - in service to my love of tea. I plan to continue this approach to research by looking into the digitized image collections of other museums.  Stay tuned!

Griffen, Smith and Hill. Teapot. c. 1880-1889. New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Open Access initiative.

Happy New Year 2019

Monday, December 31, 2018

2015 Nuo Mi Pu-Erh from Harney & Sons

Pu-erh is a type of tea that is relatively new to me, but ancient in its origins. Wanting me to branch out in my tea explorations, my husband gave me a tin of the 2015 Nuo Mi Pu-Erh from Harney & Sons as one of my many tea-related Christmas gifts. I am drinking this pu-erh as I write and am enjoying the third infusion of this rich, earthy brew.  Take a look at the Harney & Sons website to see a range of tasting notes on this tea along with recommended brewing methods and times.

Pu-erh originated in the Yunnan province of China thousands of years ago. It has a history that is closely entwined with that of the tea trade between China and other nations. The story goes that this tea was originally compressed into bricks or other shapes for easier transport. At some points in its history the compressed tea "bricks" were used as a form of currency.

Today, we classify Pu-erh in the category of "dark" teas which are fermented and aged, as opposed to solely oxidized, teas. According to the Yunnan government's definition, pu-erh is tea that must be made with a certain large leaf variety of camellia sinensis grown within a certain geographic region.

The drinking of Pu-erh, like many other teas, is reputed to carry health benefits.  Take a look at this WebMD article for a brief overview of such health benefits which include weight loss and improved LDL cholesterol levels.

My take away from this experience with brewing and drinking pu-erh is that it is a tea as complex in flavor as it is in its history and production.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Exploring the Asheville Goods "High Tea" Gift Box

I wrote an earlier blog post about the Asheville Goods “High Tea” Gift Box to give you an idea of what makes up this carefully curated collection.  Now, I will open up the packages and tins, have a taste of these teas and goods, and share the experience with you.

The teas in this gift box collection are selected to carry you through the day. If you follow my way of doing things, you will begin your morning with the brisk black Rwandan tea from TimaTea.  You will drink Dobra Tea’s green tea as a gentle afternoon pick me up, and then wind up your day with the soothing tisane from Asheville Tea Company.

First let’s talk about how to brew these loose teas.  Using the cute infuser which is enclosed in this gift box (pictured above) you will want to follow the brewing instructions on each tea package as your starting point for knowing how much of the loose tea to use and how long to infuse it in order  to brew a cup of tea.   

I drink a great deal of tea, so I generally brew my tea by the pot rather than the cup.  For a pot of tea, you will want to calculate out how much dry loose tea to use depending upon the size (cup capacity) of your tea pot. I use a tea pot with a built in infuser basket.  If you do not have this type of tea pot, you could use paper infuser bags such as those pictured above.  They work great.

Now, I want assure you that you are always free to experiment with both the amount of loose tea and the brewing time used to find the combination which suits your taste.  The suggestions on the packages are just a starting point.  So experiment and really taste your tea.  Each of these teas is a high quality tea that you will no doubt enjoy.  So if the first cup is not to your liking, experiment!

If you enjoy a sweetener in your tea, try the delicious wildflower honey from Mikell’s Farm which is included in the gift box. And if you enjoy a sweet something to eat with your tea, you will certainly love the lavender shortbread cookies made by Asheville’s Ivory Road Café& Kitchen.  The cookies freeze beautifully, so if you do not plan to eat them within a few weeks of purchase, pop them in the freezer to maintain their delicious, lavender-enhanced buttery flavor.

I drink a pot of black tea every morning with my breakfast.  This morning I brewed the black tea from Tima Tea of 3 Mountains which worked for me as a great morning wake up! This medium-bodied brew is slightly astringent and carries a distinct flavor profile which Tima Tea describes as being the flavor of the Rwandan terroir.  I like a fairly strong brew in the morning, so I steeped this tea for 5 minutes rather than that recommended 3.5 minutes.  Even with my  slightly longer than recommended brew time the tea did not taste bitter to me.  I look forward to enjoying this tea again with my morning meal.

The Green tea from Dobra Tea hails from the Yunnan province in China.  I find green teas to be a little less forgiving when it comes to modifying brew time because they can become quite bitter if over brewed. So I would definitely start with the 1 minute brew time recommended for this tea.

I brewed today’s afternoon green tea, called “Dian Lu Eshan” as directed.  I used the small pot and cup combination that had been given to me by a Chinese friend of my daughter. This small pot is perfect for brewing teas which call for multiple infusions with short brew times.  If you do not have your own small teapot, do not worry. The infuser included with this gift box will be perfect for brewing this tea one cup at a time.

Once brewed, this tea is light and fresh in body and flavor.  And because you can brew multiple infusions from the same leaves, which is to say that you can pour hot water over the same wet leaves time and time again, this tea will go a long way.

At the end of a long and busy day, the relaxing properties of the Lavender Chamomile tisane from Asheville TeaCompany are just what is called for.  This naturally caffeine-free blend, with its light body and slightly sweet flavor, is the perfect addition to your evening routine.

You can brew this herbal blend for as long as you like.  It does not get bitter with an extended brewing time. (This is a useful note for the forgetful ones among us.) I brew this blend for 5 minutes before drinking, but that is not mandatory.

So today I enjoyed the full range of items offered in the Asheville Goods “High Tea” gift box.  I recommend this collection as a gift for yourself or for any tea lover in your life.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Asheville Goods "High Tea" Gift Box

Asheville is a unique place - and Celia Naranjo of Asheville Goods has been around long enough to have an insiders’ knowledge of what makes the city special. Asheville’s artisanal food producers, organic farmers, hand crafters, and independent small businesses give the city its special character.  Celia includes products from each of these categories of makers in the creative gift boxes that she offers both online and in person at Asheville Goods.  From the Pritchard Park coffee and chocolate box to The Laurel body and bath box, her Asheville Goods gift boxes represent the city at its best.

So what about tea? You are asking. Asheville Goods now offers a tea-themed gift box called “High Tea” which includes products from each of Asheville’s tea-related independent businesses.  In this gift box you will find a tisane from the Asheville Tea Company, blended by owner, Jessie Dean, from locally grown botanicals. Next is a green tea from Dobra Tea’s Andrew Snavely who travels and sources his teas from throughout Asia.  Sara Stender’s Tima Tea loose leaf black tea from Rwanda rounds out this gift box’s tea offering.  As accessories to the three tea selections you will find a fun tea infuser with lavender shortbread cookies made by Jill Wasilewski of Ivory Road Café & Kitchen. And to sweeten the mix even further you have Mikell’s Farm wildflower wild honey from hives that abut the Pisgah National Forest.

Each of these makers is a significant figure in the Asheville tea “scene.” So, in order to get an insider’s view and taste of tea in Asheville, you need to try the “High Tea” gift box from Asheville Goods. It is the perfect gift for yourself or the tea lover in your life.

Those of you in the Asheville area, will have the opportunity to meet some of these characters from the Asheville tea “scene” at a Saturday, October 27 pop up shop. Join me, Celia, Jessie Dean, and whoever else shows up from 2-7 p.m. at the Asheville Goods and Asheville Tea Company brick and mortar shop at 7 Brevard Road. This is located just off of Haywood Road in West Asheville.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Story of Robert Fortune in Tea and Books

Today, I have been sipping Upton Tea Imports’ black tea blend called Robert Fortune Blend 41.  Naming this blend after the Scottish adventurer, botanist, and plant hunter is apt as the blend contains both Chinese Yunnan and Indian Darjeeling tea. The life and exploits of Robert Fortune created a symbolic bridge between the worlds of China and India, and this unique tea blend does as well.

The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by Mary Lou and Robert Heiss describes Yunnan black teas as “lush, thirst-quenching treats.”  This same book describes spring Darjeeling teas as being characterized by “fresh exuberance” while later flushes of Darjeeling are described as “rich and smooth.”  In either case, Darjeeling, known as the “Queen of Indian teas,” adds a lighter note to the Chinese Yunnan and results here in a lovely, balanced black tea blend.

If you would like to read a lively account of the life and exploits of Robert Fortune, take a look at For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History by Sarah Rose.   The short version of the story goes something like this: Robert Fortune, as an “agent” of the East India Company, shipped/smuggled tea plants, seeds, and eight Chinese tea experts from China’s tea lands into India where they formed the foundation of what later became the Indian Tea Industry.

You can find bits and pieces of information about Robert Fortune in any of the books pictured here above. (Click on image to enlarge it.)  And if you are somewhat business oriented and interested in knowing more about the East India Company, you might want to look up a 2012 book called The Corporation that Changed the World: How the East India Company Shaped the Modern Multinational.

(Disclaimer: The tea discussed here was provided to me by Upton Tea Imports.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Peach Black Tea from Upton Tea Imports

It may be the season for everything pumpkin flavored and scented in stores, but my mind goes back to thoughts of the peaches of this past summer. When given the opportunity to taste and review some teas from Upton Tea Imports, I chose to sample the “Naturally Flavored Peach Black Tea with Fruit Pieces” as one of my choices.  Why? I chose to sample peach tea because I grew up in the upstate of South Carolina which might otherwise be known as “peach country.” I have tasted many a peach in my life.  So I thought I would be a good judge of the authenticity of the peach flavor in this black tea blend.  And I have not been disappointed.

Upton Tea Imports’ “Naturally Flavored Peach Black Tea with Fruit Pieces” is delicious. The brew is rich and smooth and carries an authentic and natural peach flavor.  For a cup or pot of hot tea, I used boiling water on this tea blend and found that the steep time that worked best for me was 4 minutes.  I also tried a cold brew of this tea. For the cold brew tea I placed 1 tablespoon of tea in a pint of water.  I left this mix in the refrigerator to steep for 24 hours.  The result was a delicious, light bodied iced tea with a hint of peach flavor.

Whether you are looking for a hot or cold tea blend, the "Naturally Flavored Peach Black Tea with Fruit Pieces" from Upton Tea Imports is a great choice.

(Disclaimer: The tea discussed here was provided to me by Upton Tea Imports.)