Thursday, October 15, 2009

My Other Favorite Mug

Some of my friends just got back from Ireland. Knowing me oh-so-well, they brought me back a mug with cute little Irish sheep on it -- and a box of authentic Irish Breakfast tea bags! The tea is rich and full-bodied and the mug -- while it won't replace Tweety -- has made it onto the display shelf where I am forced to put all the mugs and teacups that won't fit into any of my kitchen cabinets. (I do not have an addiction. When we have friends over in the winter, we regularly offer tea, so all my teacups are well-used).

If you are considering starting a winter tea-as-welcome tradition, start with strong flavors, which alway seem more acceptable when it's frigid out, and semi-medicinals to help ward off colds. You might consider having a tea caddy filled wth:

Orange Spice

Black Tea with Cinnamon

English or Irish Breakfast


Lemon Herbal or Chamomille

Flavored Green Tea (for the tea-drinker who won't try anything else)

Regular visitors to your home will soon tell you thier favorites -- and may even bring them along for you to have on hand!

My Favorite Mug

I've been ill for almost a month now. First I got the flu (no, I didn't get tested to find out if it was H1N1 or not), which turned to bronchitis, which has now mutated into some hideous sinus thing. In short, I've been living on orange juice and tea. This month nothing has made me feel better than hot Earl Gray in my favorite mug. It's not a teacup. It's not even an elegant mug. It's bright pink, oversized, really heavy, and it has a picture of Tweetie Bird on it. I guess when you're sick, there's really nothing like comforts remembered from childhood.

But there are legitimate reasons for drinking tea when you're sick. The American Society for Microbiology confirms tea's antimicrobial effects (and yes, that includes plain old black tea), which folk-remidists have long suspected. The article states that tea only inhibits certain kinds of bacteria, but they include some of the things that cause stomach problems and the bacteria that causes strep throat. The Society for General Microbiology has gone a step further, stating that green tea, when taken in conjunction with antibiotics, can increase the effectiveness of the antibiotics up to "99.99%." I guess that means that I'll have to switch from Earl Gray to the delicious strawberry green (As an added bonus, strawberries have tons of Vitamin C!) I got in Austin a couple of months ago. But I'm not switching the mug!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tea Tour of Austin

I went to Austin over the weekend for a writer's conference. We got there Thursday night, which gave us all day Friday to explore. I mentioned to the hubby's relatives (who we were staying with) that I was interested in visiting the city's best tea rooms, and we were off. After one disappointing stop at Momoko, a Tokoyopop memorabelia store where you are supposed to be able to get the best bubble tea in town but which was closed when we stopped by, we had a great time.

We went to the Tea Embassy, which is more about loose tea and merchandise than prepared tea or a food menu (although they have special tastings one weekend each month -- we just went on the wrong weekend) . It's housed in a historic building on Rio Grande steet. They have several teas available for free sampling. When we went, there was a peach flavored red rooibos, which was amazing. They also were offering samples of Thai tea. I bought a very nice chocolate mint rooibos from the very knowledgable Jake (pictured below).

From there, we went to the Steeping Room, which was very up-scale and offered a full restaurant menu. Note that in the picture, it is right next door to a Starbucks, which I find a bit ironic. They had a whole wall of loose teas. I liked the way each had an open sample cup so that you could look at the quality of the leaves and smell the blend. I bought what turned out to be a very light strawberry green tea, which had large chunks of dried strawberries mixed with the leaves. The guy at the counter mentioned that that was one of the day's featured iced teas, but I couldn't bring myself to pay $2.50 for one iced cup of the brew when I'd just bought 2 oz. dry.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Water's The Thing

There have been reports for a long time about the effects of overchlorination, bacteria and other problems with tap water. Now, where I live, they're finding traces of antidepressants in treated water. But that's not what really has me worried.

They've installed a new water tower. Now, the water in the whole neighborhood tastes just a little bit like mud, and when it comes out of the tap, THERE ARE VISIBLE FLAKES IN IT. I've been drinking filtered water from the fridge for years, but most of the time, I get lazy and fill the kettle from the faucet. I'm so creeped out by this new development, I'm getting one of those faucet-filter things this week.

But it got me wondering what effect water quality has on brewed tea. There's a debate going on over at Helium where nearly seventy percent of responders say filtered water improves the taste of coffee and tea. One of the most sensible comments says that the improvement is going to be relative to the quality of your tap water, so if you actually like the taste of your tap water, you may be fine.

E-how has a video where they say to use spring, bottled or filtered water -- but not distilled water, because it tastes flat. Several other sites claim that you can make distilled-water tea palatable by adding minerals or brewing it in certain kinds of stone teapots.

The other thing intersting thing about using filtered water for tea: bottled/filtered water often lacks the flouride cities add to tap water. Tea leaves, on the other hand contain more flouride than most other plants. So, if you drink a goodly amount of your filtered water as tea, it may just all balance out.

image courtesy of Stock Xchng

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Tea obsessed and have nothing to do next weekend? I say ROAD TRIP! The only active commercial tea farm in the United States, the Charlston Tea Plantation, is hosting its annual First Flush Festival on May 16. (In case you're wondering, the plantation is owned by Bigelow Tea). They're promising music, food, fun and games . . . and a chance to see how tea is produced.

Interesting, that there is only the one "local" plantation (and a small tea-growing collection of farms in Hawaii), given that tea consumption is going wild. There were other attempts at getting tea to grow stateside, dating back to the colonial times. The British were trying to establish domestic tea in the colonies as early as 1744. A number of failed attempts were made to establish the plants in both Georgia and South Carolina. Early German settlers to Texas also had a try at it. Over time, though, tea drinking faded from popularity. Now that it is back . . . who knows?
Photo courtesty Stock Xchng

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tea for One

While I love throwing tea parties, I also like making tea part of the quiet times in my life. To remind myself to do this, I have started collectinge tea for one sets. I like using a pot with an infuser rather than just dunking a tea ball in my cup because it feels a little more elegant, I don't have to figure out what to do with the ball, and -- this may be psychological -- tea just tastes better coming out of a pot.

These are my two favorites:

They are not expensive peices, but I like the simple styling and size of the cup on the white one, and I like the old feel and floral pattern on the other one.

We tend to think of tea-for-ones at kitshy modern inventions, festooned with puppies and bows or shaped like ladybugs. And there's a place for that. But stacking teapots have a long and elegant history. Royal Wilton has been making these sets since the 1930s, mainly in floral chintz patterns.

They harken back to the French villeuse, which literaly means night-light. Popular in the 1800s, these decorative pieces included a stand (often translucent) which held a candle or a container filled with vegetable or nut oil and a wick. Stacked over this stand would be a teapot. They were usually small, holding a demitasse-sized teapot just right for one final cup of tea before bed.

I've seen other antique stacked sets, some out of metal, from Turkey and Russia. I'm guessing that the elaborate Russian tea ceremony, with its need for a number of pots, coupled with the need to save space, gave rise to these examples.

So, as I sip bush tea out of my discount tea for one, I still feel connected to all this history.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Infuse My Life

In The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot writes,

"For I have known them all already, known them all:
--Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;"

He's talking about a jaded, worn out man whose life is focused on the mundane tasks of just getting through a day. Those coffee spoons are what give him the artificial energy to keep going. Coffee, as it is consumed during early morning commutes, costing as much per cup as an hour of some people's workday, is a perfect symbol for the modern age.

Tea, however, is connected with looking to the past, where times were simpler, and people had time to reflect on life and renew themselves. I've let tea infuse my life. Which is not to say I don't enjoy the occasional cup of coffee, as a social activity. But when I'm alone, I choose tea. Through the course of this blog, I hope to share why.