Saturday Morning Tea

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As our weather changes over from the warmth of summer to the crispness of autumn, I’ve been thinking about exactly what is the most ideal weather conditions for growing tea.

A study conducted at Zhejiang Agricultural University on famous tea growing areas in China came up with these ecological climactic characteristics:

“…more amounts of clouds and fog, less percentage of sunshine, abundant rainfall and high relative humidity in the air, temperatures that rise and fall slowly, daily and annual temperature ranges that are smaller, more days that are suitable for tea growing and low wind speeds in the lee-sides and valleys of mountains. All of these factors are favorable for growth of tea trees.”

It appears that high humidity, abundant rainfall, and a smaller range of temperature variables that rise and fall slowly are key to producing the best quality tea.

Another reason I was thinking about the weather is that the conditions in the Assam tea growing region in India this year were not ideal. Drought conditions resulted in a smaller crop and tea that has a harsher, much more intense and astringent flavor to it.

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My morning tea is a black tea called Meleng estate Assam. The Meleng tea estate, founded by a Mr. J.E. Jood in 1852, takes its name from a river that runs through the garden. Tea is planted on both sides of the river.

I find myself gravitating towards darker teas as the weather gets cooler and the light levels fall. Why is that, I wonder? Darker weather, darker tea?

With the more intense, astringent flavor in mind, I steeped my Assam leaves in 212 degree F (boiling point) water for only 3 minutes instead of my usual 4-5 minutes.

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I was delightfully surprised by how much the astringent factor was mellowed out at the shorter steeping time. The flavor was much smoother, revealing a whisper of cocoa. The leaves have a rich, malty aroma and, after steeping, a cooked sugar note wafted up from my teapot.

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The deep russet color of the tea blends with the glorious blue sky reflection in my teapot resulting in a dreamy lavender patch.

I love the colors of tea.

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I drank the whole pot of tea without a drop of milk. That said, my second pot will be steeped longer and enjoyed with milk.

Ah, the variations and joys of tea experimentation…

Only the heart knows how to find what is precious.

~Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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Dancing with the Rainbow

Perhaps the rainbow that guided us out of Albuquerque and along the road to Taos was more than just a good omen for our stay there. I believe my future was being revealed to me.

I just found out recently that one of my color heroes, Lindly Haunani, will be giving a workshop in CT, facilitated by the Southern Connecticut Polymer Clay Guild.

It’s called…………….. “Dancing with the Rainbow”.

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Lindly has recently co-authored a book with Maggie Maggio, another one of my color heroes. Dripping with page upon page of color eye candy, it is also filled with color exercises designed to help you find your own color voice. I devoured its pages as I winged my way to New Mexico, determined to start the exercises upon my return. Now I find myself looking forward to studying with the master herself and I will savor every moment.

Taos Journey – Day 2

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Every morning we carefully stepped our way across the cobblestones to the workroom where we  settled down in our own individual cozy spot, picked up our pointy sticks and let the yarn flow from them in colors that spoke to us of the gorgeous Taos landscape.

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Jane showed us various stitches that would aid us in manifesting our impressions and made suggestions on what would work well with the different yarns that each of us had chosen for our project.

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Many of the participants chose to create a Feather and Fan wrap which starts at the bottom and blossoms open across circular needles to the top. I chose to create a shrug which is worked side to side, from one wrist to the other, increasing to the center and then decreasing down the other side.

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Perhaps you might have noticed the smiling man in the upper left hand corner of the workroom? A few of the ladies smuggled him in one evening. He is a cardboard man. They named him “Ford”, perhaps because it rhymes with “board”? Anyway, he looked pretty good modeling Jane’s shrug.

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After lunch on our second day, we were invited to go see a recently constructed straw bale home. I know, I know. I was scratching my head at first, too. Wha?? The concept is really neat though. The Taos climate is arid enough to allow for straw bales to be used inside the walls of the constructed home. It’s a superior insulation material. The walls are plastered over the bales in an adobe style and a window is placed along an inner wall showing the straw inside. You can read more about this kind of home construction here. Fascinating.

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One of the houses was located on a windswept plain, literally in the middle of nowhere and completely “off the grid”. This is their front yard. How amazing is that?!! I was simply mesmerized in learning about this way of living, so much the opposite of  my own suburban environment back home.

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A secret garden.

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On the way out to the house, we passed the Earthship community of sustainable and unique biotecture housing and drove across the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, spanning the 650 feet deep gorge. Sweaty palms on that bridge, I’ll tell you.

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We finished the day with a sumptuous feast at a fabulous restaurant called Lamberts. If you only had one eating place to choose in Taos, it has to be this one. The food was beyond delicious and the service was impeccable. I had the potato leek soup with crème fraiche and chives, served hot, and the marinated roasted beet salad on greens with goat cheese and pumpkin seeds. The meat eaters of our group enjoyed the grilled Filet Mignon with horseradish crème, steak fries and grilled asparagus. I had to try their dessert, too, oh twist my arm – a warm apple & almond crisp with white chocolate ice cream. I wish that I had taken pictures of the feast but I was just so enthralled by my food that I completely forgot.

If you’re ever in Taos, it’s simple – treat yourself and go to Lamberts.

Stay tuned for more Taos adventures…

Taos Journey – Day 1

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Despite getting a late start on the road from Albuquerque to Taos and also leaving during the height of rush hour traffic, we were graced with a very good omen that traveled along with us for quite some time. As I drove along, I just kept thinking how different and, even somewhat alien, the landscape seemed in comparison to my home in New England. But oh, how lovely it was with the shifting patterns of light and the towering mountains shadowing our route. The spirit of this landscape was speaking directly to my soul.

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First rule of thumb when traveling and driving to an unknown destination: plan your arrival during the daylight hours! Our drive to Taos took approximately 2 1/2 hours and, yes, we did arrive just as it was getting dark. Of course, we got a little lost but we finally pulled into the driveway of the Mabel Dodge Luhan House around 8pm, just in time to attend a welcoming gathering in the Main House.

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Mabel was a writer, social activist and patron of the arts. She moved to Taos in 1919 and purchased this 12 acre property. For those who saw the recently debuted Lifetime movie on Georgia O’Keeffe, another famous resident of New Mexico, it was to Mabel’s home that Georgia fled after her husband, Alfred Steiglitz, had an affair with another woman. You can read more about Mabel here. She has written several books on her life in Taos. One in particular, “Winter in Taos”, is at the top of my reading list.

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The next day dawned clear and bright as it always seems to do in Taos. As the day progresses, the clouds roll in and gather over the mountaintops in spectacular sweeps and shapes.

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After a delicious breakfast spread, our morning knitting session commenced. Our teacher and fearless leader, Jane Thornley, shared her philosophy of knitting with us, telling us that it was important to listen to your inner creative voice and let the yarn flow and come together in a free-form, or free range, way. We could choose to make a wrap, a shrug or a scarf, whatever was calling out to us.

You can see Jane’s gorgeous wrap called “The Road to Taos” here. Jane is an avid traveler and the harmonious flow and beautiful color palettes of her creations are inspired by the landscapes and nature she comes across in her travels.

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After lunch, we took a field trip to the yarn shops in downtown Taos, La Lana Wools and Weaving Southwest.

All I can say of that adventure is – oh my!

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It was a feast for the eyes for a color freak like moi.

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We finished our day with a lovely meal at the Dragonfly Cafe, a European cafe and bakery that uses seasonal, locally grown fresh produce, most of it organically produced. We sat in a cozy, cushioned alcove, a comfortable place to end our very busy day.

Stay tuned for my Taos Journey – Day 2…

“Of all the worlds that Mabel tried to create, her dream of turning Taos into a paradise regained speaks to us most clearly today, and not just because it was a modern reincarnation of the oldest American myth.  She addressed the issues that still challenge us; the possibility of our survival in an individualistic world, in a country where community is rarely found, in a land that slowly chokes itself on the effluence of its industrial processes.”

~Lois Palken Rudnick, exerpt from Mabel Dodge Luhan, New Woman, New Worlds

Saturday Morning Tea

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Hello friends! It’s wonderful to be back, sharing a cup of tea with you again. It seems that while I have been away in New Mexico, Fall has arrived on our doorstep and established itself here in New England.

While in Taos, I purchased a lovely lotus plate to display my tea leaves. The color reminds me of melted caramel, all ready to drizzle on a crisp red apple. Mmmm…

This morning I am sipping a cup of China green tea called Dong Yang Dong Bei.  The intact leaf sets show the fine plucking and meticulous hand crafting that takes place during its processing.

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The tea is grown at approximately 2500 feet above sea level in Dong Yang county in Zhejiang Province in China. It is picked in the spring months of April and May right as the tea bushes are coming out of their winter dormancy.

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I steeped the leaf for 3 minutes in 180 degree F water. As I lifted the lid of my teapot to remove the steeping basket, a delicate, floral aroma greeted me. As you can see, the tea liquor is quite pale.

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The first word that came to mind as I poured my first cup was “soft”.

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Everything about this tea is so soft – the color, the aroma, the taste. It is the kind of tea that brings you fully into the present moment to enjoy its wonderfully delicate qualities. I detected sweet and floral in the flavor notes. As there is only a whisper of vegetal quality, this would be a perfect tea for those tea lovers who don’t especially enjoy a pronounced vegetal (green) flavor.

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After being constantly on the go during my 10-day vacation and then returning to work the day after my evening return, today is a good day for resting, relaxing and enjoying a gentle cup of tea. Or two. Or three.

Stay tuned, dear friends, for tales of my Taos journey…

There are only two ways to live your life.  One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle.

~Albert Einstein

Saturday Morning Tea

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The hint of fall that was in the air at the beginning of the week has now left us and we are finally blessed with a perfectly glorious summer weekend, not too hot and humid, not too cool, juuuuust right. Even though it is officially considered the last weekend of summer.

Many are celebrating this weekend by going away or getting together with friends and family. As I shared in my last post, I am doing both. This time tomorrow I’ll be on my way to sunny New Mexico to visit my son and his family and also to attend a knitting retreat.

This morning’s tea is a black tea, a second flush Darjeeling from the Castleton estate, one of the most esteemed and well known tea gardens in the Darjeeling tea growing district in northeast India.

A “Castleton” is always a special treat.

“Second flush” is the summer harvest of the tea plants, after the leaves “flush” back from the “first flush”, or spring, harvest. The leaves of this tea are larger than normal with a rich variegation of color.

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Speaking of rich color, I am enchanted by the harvest pumpkin color of the chrysanthemum flowers I picked up yesterday to adorn our backyard deck. I must be on a color kick because I picked up that exact color in a skein of yarn while shopping with my daughter last night. I am a color slave. But I digress…

I steeped the leaves for 3 minutes in 212 degree F water (boiling).

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The steeped leaf is another gorgeous fall color. As the leaves are allowed to oxidize during their processing, they turn a dark reddish brown from their original deep green color. I wrote about second flush Darjeelings from other tea gardens here and here.

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The tea liquor is not quite as dark as last week’s China black tea but it comes pretty close, sharing that same reddish brown hue. It leans more towards amber, I think.

The aroma is fruity with a hint of tropical ripeness, reminiscent of a sweet pineapple. How perfect to go along with the CD I’m listening to this morning – a collection of Hawaiian music.

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The fruitiness carries through into the taste, with a pronounced sweetness, but what strikes me the most about this tea is its incredible smoothness, without a hint of that bright, astringent “bite” so characteristic of a Darjeeling tea.

So silky smooth, mmm…

I am sorry to say that I will not be able to join you for Saturday Morning tea next Saturday as I will be away from internet access while in the mountains of New Mexico. That said, I look forward to joining you once again to share tea and stories in 2 weeks.

Enjoy your holiday weekend!

It is good to have an end to journey towards;

but it is the journey that matters in the end.

~Ursula K. LeGuin

A Trip to New Mexico and a Knitting Retreat

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With each passing day, my anticipation and excitement is growing and expanding as I think about my coming journey to New Mexico. 2 more days!

The first half of my trip will be spent in Albuquerque visiting with my youngest son and his family. And, yes, my precious little granddaughter! So, I will get some “Ella time” which is always welcome with wide open arms. Heaven.

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The second half of my trip will be spent in Taos where I will attend a Jane Thornley free range knitting retreat. We will be creating a garment of our choosing, a wrap or shrug, using the Feather and Fan stitch and an assortment of colorful, textured yarns in colors reflecting the southwest nature palette.

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I was also very excited to be able to complete my “Come Spring” vest so I can wear it on my trip.

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After I finished my vest, I couldn’t resist starting my granny squares. Here’s a peek at what’s done so far.

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I am just loving choosing different color combinations for the squares so that each one is unique. With 16 different colors and 4 rows for each square, the possibilities are many.

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Now that I’m officially a “granny”, how perfect is this?

I will take loads of pictures on my trip and look forward to sharing tales of my adventures upon my return!