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.