Books About Tea

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Dearies it’s been so cold lately, all Kat wants to do is stay home, curl up and read a good book. Can you blame her? I certainly can’t. I always make sure to add a nice warm cup of tea to accompany her reading. The other day I noticed just how many tea books she has on her shelf! It made me wonder, do all of your lovely readers have favorite tea books too? If you are interested in starting a tea book collection, here are a few that Kat and I recommend:

The Art and Craft of Tea by Joseph Wesley Uhl: This is one of Kat’s newest favorites. The book has bold graphics, and gorgeous photos. It gives information on tea from all around the world and even has wonderful tea-centric recipes to make at home. This book has great information on tea growing, processing, and drinking all around the world.

The Ultimate Tea Lover’s Treasury by James Norwood Pratt. Mr. Norwood Pratt is one of the most interesting and important living tea experts. This book combines beautiful prose, tea history, tea facts, and tea drinking culture from around the world. It’s a lovely book to pick up and read something new and interesting each time you open it.

Tea: History, Terroir, Varieties by Kevin Gascoyne, Francois Marchand, Jasmin Desharnais, and Hugo Americi- This has been Kat’s trusty tea handbook for years. This book has detailed explanations about all the tea growing regions. Learn all about how tea is cultivated, and processed. It gets into detail on the importance of terroir- the climate, soil, and unique characteristics of each tea growing region- and how this changes the taste of the tea. This is a perfect book for the tea lover that wants to deepen their knowledge.

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There are also books that specialize in types of tea. For example if you’d like to learn more about Puer, you should try Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic by Jinghong Zhang. Puer is a very different variety of tea, and this book will take you through how it’s processed, where it is grown, and give you lots of interesting historical facts. A must for anyone that wants to learn more about puer!

For something tea related but a fun fiction read, you can try the Tea Shop Mystery series by Laura Childs. This mystery series centers around a charming tea shop in Charleston, South Carolina and the vivacious owner.

Enjoy your book and tea reading, Dearies! It’s the perfect time of year to cozy up

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Ask Tippy: What is Genmaicha?

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Dearies, it’s time for our next installment of ‘Ask Tippy’! This is where you the readers get to ask me anything you like about tea! Our latest question comes from a reader named Betty.

Q. Tippy, what is genmaicha? I was in a Japanese restaurant over the weekend, and it was on the menu. Is it a green tea?

A. Very good question, Betty! Genmaicha is in fact a Japanese tea blend that includes green tea. The tea is usually bancha or sencha, with roasted and popped brown rice added in. This is a common tea to find in Japanese restaurants, as it’s a mellow, every day drinking tea.

The quality of the genmaicha depends on the green tea used. As I mentioned it is commonly found with bancha or Sencha. Sencha is the most popular Japanese green tea and varies in quality based on the season it is picked. The tea is steamed rather than pan fired, and produces a lovely green hue and deeply vegetal flavor when steeped. Bancha is quite similar but produced from both leaves and stems of the tea plant so the quality is a little lower than Sencha. But both are lovely when blended with the roasted rice. To create the rice for the tea, the rice is soaked, steamed, and then dried and roasted. The rice used can be white or brown, but usually white rice is used. It looks brown from the roasting process.

In Japanese, genmai means roasted rice. Cha means tea. When you first open a bag of genmaicha you may be surprised by the nutty aroma. The roasted rice gives the blend a deliciously earthy, nutty scent that pairs very nicely with the vegetal green tea. The other thing that you may notice is something a bit unique for tea- popcorn? It’s actually popped rice! On occasion the rice will pop while it’s roasted, which makes it look like popcorn!

In some cases it can also have some matcha mixed in. This blend will usually be a bit more expensive than typical genmaicha. If you’re not sure if there is matcha in your genmaicha, you’ll be able to easily tell once you open the bag. The roasted rice will have a greenish hue from the matcha, just like in my above picture.

If this tea sounds interesting to you, definitely seek it out! It’s widely available and is often offered in Japanese restaurants. Enjoy!

Tea For Diwali

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Dearies, I was checking out the kitchen calendar and noticed Diwali is Sunday October 30th. Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights. I remember when Char and I were in Malaysia during the festival. It’s such a joyful time of year! Little twinkling lanterns were everywhere and there were the most beautiful firework displays. The lights create such a magical atmosphere! During Diwali clay lamps are lit to symbolize spiritual inner light. In fact, the word Diwali translates to ‘row of lamps’. The holiday marks the last harvest of the year. There are various cultures that celebrate the holiday, and the central meaning is celebrating good triumphing over evil. When Kat was first learning about Diwali, she noticed that there is a theme of gathering together, and celebrating with friends and family.

I of course have decided Kat and I need to drink as many Indian teas as possible during the 5 day holiday! My motto is, if there is a crowd, tea must be served! Tea is the perfect accompaniment for the various savories and mithai served throughout the Diwali holiday. I’ve rounded up our stock of Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri teas, and will be brewing up a pot of my masala chai. We also have a few new teas to add to our Diwali preparation list!

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Just the other day Kat’s friend Sima introduced her to a line of delicious Tea India teas while they were starting to prepare for Diwali. Sima served Kat a few cups while they were applying beautiful henna designs to their hands. I just love how the henna dries into amazing wearable art! The teas they shared combine rich Assam tea with delicious Indian flavors. Kat’s favorite right now is the ginger chai. This time of year she reaches for warming teas and the spicy ginger is the perfect thing. Add a touch of sweeter and this tea is a lovely way to begin your Diwali festivities. The cardamom chai is also in our heavy rotation. The cardamom flavor is perfect alone, or you could add your own spices to personalize the tea even more. Kat has started enjoying the masala chai when she’s craving that sweet and spicy flavor. Brew up a bag, add milk and sweeter of choice for an easy and authentic masala chai. These teas are a great choice for Diwali, and of course any time! They’ve got strong black tea to add a spring to your step, and spicy flavor to enjoy with every sip. You can find these at your local Indian grocer, and head over to amazon.com to purchase them online!

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While I was learning a little bit about Tea India teas, I noticed they are running a fun contest for Diwali! If you go to the Tea India Facebook page every Friday before Diwali, you can find a beautiful picture to color and submit to win a tea prize pack! I’m heading over there today to see what we can color this week! Kat loves coloring! She has a few different coloring books and often says when she adds in a cup of tea, it’s an incredibly relaxing experience.

We are excited to bring on the festivities, food, and sweets of Diwali! Dearies, you know I’ve got the tea ready and waiting. When you gather for your Diwali celebration, what teas will you serve?

Behind The Leaf: Matcha

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We all love matcha, don’t we? It tastes delicious and is quite energizing. It has a natural sweetness and is balanced out by slightly bitter and vegetal notes. You can make it the authentic way or just shake and go. You can even cook and bake with it. It’s quite the versatile tea! No wonder it’s so popular. But do you know really what matcha is, and why it’s powdered? I’m happy to tell you a little bit more about this elusive tea.

As you probably know, matcha is ground green tea. You may also know it’s used in the Japanese tea ceremony called chanoyu. But Japan wasn’t the first to use powdered tea. It was actually brought to Japan in the 12th century by Buddhist monks. Grinding tea to a powder actually began in China and it was consumed this way before it became popular in Japan. Whisking powdered tea in a bowl eventually went out of fashion in China, but Japan has kept this traditional alive.

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Before you purchase that magical ground green tea powder, much needs to happen. Leaves are picked by machine, then withered and steamed. Steaming the leaves is unique to Japanese tea which gives it that vibrant green hue. The teas are then dried and rolled. After this process the leaves are carefully sorted, and the tough veins are removed. The processed (but not yet ground) leaves are called Tencha. The tencha is ground to create the fine matcha powder.

The highest quality matcha can be found in the Uji region, using leaves that have been shaded before plucking. The shading causes an increase in chlorophyll and creates a more intense, sweet vegetal flavor. Higher quality matcha will have a smooth, sweet taste with just a touch of bitterness. Lower quality tea will be more bitter and won’t have that lovely smooth texture. When you’re buying matcha you should look for a bright dark green vibrant powder, not a light green or pale green powder. The shade grown leaves are darker and vivid green, and will have more sweetness and flavor. But if you are on a tight budget please select the matcha that’s best for you! It’s still a lovely tea experience, no matter what grade you choose.

Behind The Leaf: Indian Black Teas

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India is known for some of the most delicious black teas. I’m sure you’ve had many of them in blends and didn’t even know it! They can be bold and brisk, or delicate and nuanced. India is also starting to produce white, green, and oolong teas, but for today we’re going to stick with the black teas that grow all throughout the country.

There are three main growing regions in India: Assam, Nilgiri Hills, and Darjeeling. These three areas make delicious black teas that taste very different from one another. That’s due to terroir. The climate, altitude and soil all have an effect on the flavors. Also the plant cultivars used also change the flavor.

First up, let’s discuss Assam- This region is in Northeast India near Burma. It is a tropical region that has about 900 gardens! The elevation is about sea level, and the weather is mild and can get very hot during monsoon season. Much of the tea grown in this region is processed as CTC (cut, tear, curl) tea. Small cut leaves that create an even stronger brew that steeps up quite quickly. The cultivar that grows here is camellia sinensis var. assamica and was of course named after the region. The tea is brisk and malty. It can commonly be found in English Breakfast and English Afternoon blends. It’s made to steep up strong, as the Brits like to add milk and sweetener to their cups. This is also a tea commonly used for Masala chai.

Nilgiri is a mountainous region of southeast India and the 3rd largest tea growing area. Growing here started in the mid-19th century. The teas are well balanced and quite dark with a bit of fruit and spice. The climate is tropical and ideal for year-round growing. Many of the plants here are of the Assamica variety, and most of the teas are processed using the CTC method. Can you believe there are more than 30,000 gardens in this area?? That’s an immense amount of tea!

Finally the area most tea lovers know, Darjeeling. Teas here are grown in the Indian Himalayas. The first plantation in Darjeeling was started in 1856, and today there are about 86 tea gardens. The gardens are planted on the slopes of the Himalayan foothills, which help the plants drain well from the heavy rains that pass through the region.  There is just the right amount of cloud cover high at this altitude to give the plants the perfect amount of sunlight. The frequently foggy atmosphere creates a beautiful mist that hydrates and protects the plants while keeping them at an ideal temperature. The plant variety here is different from Nilgiri and Assam. It’s mostly comprised of camellia sinensis var sinensis, which is a smaller leaf than Assamica and actually is native to China. The British brought seeds of the plant to the region in 1841 and realized it was a perfect climate for growing. To learn a little more about the picking seasons and flavors of Darjeeling teas, you can check out my previous post here. To really appreciate the beauty of Darjeeling tea, it’s best to find teas grown and processed from just one estate.

Dearies, next time you drink a black tea blend, you can think about all of the beautiful areas of India where your tea is grown. I hope you try as many varieties as you can to learn how they differ.

Behind the Leaf: Yellow Tea

 

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Dearies we’ve discussed all kinds of white tea, oolong tea, and black teas. But did you know we missed a category from the camellia sinensis plant? Yellow teas are harder to find, but they are a tea type that you all must try.

Yellow tea is more time consuming to process, than other teas which makes it less available. There are only three regions in China that process it, Hunan, Sichuan and Anhui provinces. It is processed like a Chinese green tea, but then after firing they go through a controlled oxidation. The leaves are steamed under wet cloth or thick paper, and often the process is repeated. This process can take a few days, and creates a mellow yet aromatic cup of tea. It also has a nice bit of sweetness.

Because this tea is given a heated fermentation, it’s type is a mix between a green tea and a puerh. Yellow teas were originally considered tribute teas, which means they were exclusively grown and picked for the Emperor! How very special.

Because it is similar to a green tea, you can brew this the same way you would your Chinese greens. I recommend using a gaiwan, going grandpa style, or using a small teapot with multiple short infusions. Yellow tea isn’t as prone to bitterness as greens are, so you can use a water temperature a bit higher, from 160-175° F.

The most famous yellow tea is Junshan Yinzhen, from Hunan province. This tea can also be called Mount Jun Silver Needle tea, as the leaves resemble the white tea called silver needles. This tea is picked only from late march to early April, a very short window of time. This tea consists of tender, fuzzy buds, similar to white silver needles. This is actually was a favorite of Mao Zedong which is why it is so well known.

Two other yellow teas you may come across are Meng Ding Huangya from Sichuan province, and Mo Gan Huang Ya from Zhejiang. Be sure to purchase your yellow teas from a reputable source that is knowledgeable in these leaves. As I mentioned, these teas are hard to find, but worth the effort.

As a teacup I’m of course going to promote any and every tea I can. But I must say Dearies, yellow tea is really special. If you come across it, do give it a try. You’ll be quite pleased!

 

Behind the Leaf: Chinese Green Teas

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Dearies, do you know where your green tea comes from? I did a post about popular Japanese green teas recently, and now I’m going to discuss some popular Chinese green teas. I remember traveling through China with Char. The big cities are so very interesting, and the rural areas we saw were just beautiful. Travel was a bit tough at times and I constantly worried about chips and scratches, but it helped that we were offered amazing tea everywhere we went. Chinese green teas vary depending on region and processing. Here are some of the more common types you’ll find:

Long Jing- grown in Zhejiang Province. In English it’s referred to as Dragonwell. This is the most well known tea in China, and because of that it’s also the most copied. Be careful and know your source! Why is this called Dragon well? According to legend, a Taoist monk came across a dragon hiding in a well. There was a lack of rain and drought in the area,  so the villagers prayed to the dragon to come to their aid. After the prayer it started to rain!  This tea has a flat shape. You’ll taste marine notes such as seaweed and ocean. It also has a lovely cooked veggie flavor that reminds Kat of steamed green beans. There is even a hint of sweetness in this tea. It is the most popular tea for a good reason!

Anji Bai Cha- also grown in Zhejiang. The word bai actually means white, but this is definitely a green tea. The white refers to the leaves which are so pale, they are practically white!  The leaves here are thin and long. The flavor is grassy, floral, and vegetal. It has a surprising tanginess as well. It’s a lovely, complex tea.

Mao Feng- grown in Anhui province. This pretty tea has lots of fine buds. It has a green bean fresh veggie flavor. But it’s more like raw veggies and not cooked like long jing. The freshness makes it mild and quite sweet.

Liu An Gua Pian- grown in Anhui province. This tea means ‘melon seed’ because of the shape of the leaves. They’re flat and a bit oval. This tea uses the second leaf, not the buds. Using these more mature leaves is very different from most other Chinese green teas that use the buds and young leaves. Since the leaves are a bit more mature, they have a more concentrated flavor. This tea is not delicate or vegetal. It has a toastier flavor due to being fired in the wok multiple times, with a nice floral finish.

Bi Lo chun (spring snail)- grown in Jiangsu province. These trees also produce Dong Shan tea, which is harvested after the bi lo chun season. This tea is called spring snail because it’s rolled into a spiral that looks like a snail and of course harvested in the spring. This tea has a delicate taste and floral aroma.

These are just a few of the many glorious Chinese teas you can find. All of these teas can be brewed in a gaiwan, grandpa style (loose in the cup/bowl), or also in a western style teapot. We like using a gaiwan as much as possible for these teas, as it extracts a large amount of flavor and you can get multiple steeps.

How many types of Chinese green tea have you tried? Dearies, they are all a bit different, so get out there and taste as many as you can.

Tippy Interviews Asya, the Turkish Tea Cup

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Dearies, I’ve decided it’s time to add a new series to the blog. As you know, I’m a traveling tea cup, and have been all over the world. I meet so many interesting pieces of tea ware, and it’s time that you started to learn their stories. Today, I’m interviewing Asya, a tea cup from Turkey that now lives in the US with one of Kat’s friends. I hope you enjoy!

Tippy: Please introduce yourself to my readers. Asya: my name is Asya, I am a glass lotus-shaped tea cup from Turkey. I was created in Turkey but now reside in a kitchen in the US I am a very busy tea cup, I get used all day long. I don’t have a particular saucer to call my own, my owner will pair me with whatever saucer she feels like using that day. She has quite a few colorful options. I love spending time with people, giving them lots of delicious tea to sip.

When are you used most? well, as I mentioned, I’m really busy all day long. Turks take their tea very seriously! I am used during breakfast, when company comes, for mid-afternoon work breaks, and after-dinner relaxation.

What kind of tea do you usually hold? In Turkey, lotus tea cups hold mainly bold, black tea. We refer to tea as çay. We brew our tea very strong, and then dilute it in the glass with hot water. Sugar is available as Turkish tea loves like tea sweet. We even have special tea kettles to prepare the tea.

Can you tell us a little more about the special tea kettle? Yes, we use a special double tea kettle, which is similar to the Russian samovar. It basically looks like one teapot stacked on top of a second one. Black tea is brewed in the top pot, and water is boiled in the bottom. The water is used to dilute the tea for each individual glass, so everyone can drink the tea as strong or as weak as they like.

Where do the tea leaves come from? The tea we prefer to use is grown and processed in Turkey on the coast of the Black Sea. Not many people realize that we grow tea in Turkey! We are actually the world’s sixth largest producer of tea.

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Everyone has heard of Turkish coffee, but is tea really that popular in Turkey? Yes, tea is really quite popular in Turkey. It is always offered to guests and visitors as a sign of hospitality. As I mentioned I am used multiple times a day at home, and people also consume tea in cafes.

Is the custom to drink the tea by itself, or add any milk, sugar, or anything else? We usually drink our tea without milk. As I mentioned you can add sugar, often two lumps will be sitting on my saucer ready for use. You may add the sugar to your tea, or people in some areas like to put a sugar cube between their tongue and cheek, and let it slowly dissolve with each sip. The only other thing that may be added is a slice of lemon.

Can you tell us one of your most memorable tea experiences? Well, when my owner Natalie was visiting her family in Turkey, she was taught how to brew tea using our special kettles. One afternoon she was alone in the house when a family friend dropped by. After greeting the friend, Natalie offered her something to eat, but not any tea! After a little while I was able to get her attention and explained that she must offer her guest tea. When her parents came home, she was reprimanded for not immediately offering her guest tea. It’s considered very rude not to have tea ready for guests! Everyone was laughing at Natalie’s mistake, but she was quite embarrassed. I am actually fond of this memory, because it’s the first time I was able to help Natalie out with tea time.

Thank you so much Asya for the interview! See Dearies, I’m not the only chatty teacup! I hope you enjoyed the first interview in our series. If you have any questions for Asya, let me know in the comments!

Drinking Tea In Bowls

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Dearies, it seems everywhere I look these days, people are posting pictures of food in bowls. Noodle bowls, rice bowls, breakfast bowls with all sorts of healthy ingredients. Dearies, I’m proud to be a cup that is of the larger variety- you can wrap your hands around me as you sip, just like a bowl! Kat loves using both hands while she drinks, she says she is comforted by cradling the warmth of the tea in both hands.

Did you know that drinking tea from bowls dates all the way back to Lu Yu’s The Classic of Tea, written during the Tang dynasty? Lu Yu actually lists a few different styles of tea bowl and prefers the beautiful celadon glazed bowls best. Tea cups did not get handles until the 1700s!

For all you matcha lovers out there, do you have a chawan? A chawan is a Japanese tea bowl. It’s used in the Japanese tea ceremony, and is essential in making a traditional matcha. Chawan are wide, with enough room to whisk up your matcha. Matcha bowls can range in design and be quite minimal, or have beautiful artisanal pottery glazes. Kat and I often get lost in online searches for handmade tea bowls. I often have to stop her from purchasing every one she sees! If you study the art of the Japanese tea ceremony, you’ll learn all the proper ways to handle the tea bowl, and how to present it to the drinker. It’s quite beautiful. You can learn a little bit more about the tea ceremony in my previous post here.

Kat thought it would be funny to have an ‘all bowl’ brunch for her friends. Perhaps a yogurt and granola bowl, fruit bowl, and of course a bowl of tea! A bowl of fruity tea-infused sorbet would be a lovely ending to the meal. Have you tried making any of the ice creams or sorbets in my post about DIY tea ice cream?

Dearies, isn’t it comforting to have a large, satisfying bowl of tea? Please don’t tell anyone I said that, the other teacups in the kitchen might start to ignore me! Don’t get me wrong, I do love my handle. But sometimes it’s nice to just have that warm bowl nestled in your hands.

Presidential Tea Drinking

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Presidents’ Day is coming up soon, and it had me wondering about our nation’s great leaders and their tea drinking habits. Char was a big history buff and used to read endless books on our founding fathers. I remember her telling me that George Washington was a quite the tea fan. I was curious to learn more, and also see if other Presidents enjoyed our favorite beverage.

After a bit of research it appears that George Washington was definitely the biggest Presidential tea drinker. He drank 3 cups of tea every morning. George and Martha had many lovely tea sets and drank a range of teas. His first recorded presidential tea order was for six pounds of hyson tea, and six pounds of green tea. Other teas they are recorded to have during their time at Mount Vernon was: bohea, congou, green, gunpowder, and imperial. Many of these have old fashioned names we don’t use anymore. Here is an article that explains them a bit.

Tea events became popular with the First Ladies. Abigail Adams often held afternoon tea functions for her acquaintances, and Dolly Madison often took tea with every meal. At a local used bookshop Kat found a wonderful book called Tea With Presidential Families by Beulah Munshower Sommer & Pearl Dexter. In it she learned that Mrs. Madison had a tea room adjacent to her bedchamber! That’s my kind of house! The book has photos of teaware throughout our presidential history. It’s a hard book to find so if you ever see it in a shop, be sure to pick it up.

Did you know that President Theodore Roosevelt liked to add mint and lemon to his sweet black tea? Mrs. Roosevelt also frequently entertained with weekly social tea functions that were a coveted invitation.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt were also frequent tea drinkers. They were both raised taking afternoon tea, and Eleanor had so many tea events that she often had more than one in a day! Oh to be a teacup on that tea table!

President Lyndon B. Johnson loved his beverages so much he had four buttons installed in the oval office so he could order them when the mood struck. One of those buttons was of course for tea! He drank tea so frequently that the First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson once wrote ‘How many things are launched under the name of a tea!’.

Our current Commander In Chief is also a known tea drinker! If you look at photos from interviews, he’ll often have a cup of tea in hand, or close by. President Obama is a huge fan of two bottled teas- a green tea and flavored black tea. There has been mention of his bottled tea habit in a few different newspaper articles. I often read the newspaper when Kat leaves us together on the kitchen table.

As a teacup, I feel so important knowing that tea and teaware are a significant part of our nation’s Presidential history! All you history buffs out there, do you know of any other interesting Presidential tea tidbits? Have you ever had tea with a President? I’d love to hear your stories!