Saturday Morning Tea

Good morning, dear tea friends! It’s that time of year again when not only are the first flush Darjeelings being harvested in India but the Pre-Chingming teas are being harvested in China. In my cup this morning is a Pre-Chingming Lung Ching which I am happy to introduce to you.

Chingming, or Qingming, is a festival in China, usually celebrated on the 15th day from the Spring Equinox, or April 5th. It is a day for going outside to enjoy the return of greenery and tend to the graves of departed loved ones. So, Pre-Chingming refers to the tea being plucked before this festival time. This particular tea was harvested in China within the last few weeks.

Lung Ching tea, a very popular and well known tea from China, has a distinctive flat shape to the leaf after processing. This flat shape is intentionally caused by the motion of the pan when the leaf is heated to stop oxidation. Its name means “Dragon’s Well”, referring to the place where it has been traditionally grown. Legend has it that a Taoist priest in the 3rd century advised the local villagers to pray to the dragon of a local well to bring rain and end their drought. It worked and the well was named after that dragon. The Dragon’s Well monastery still stands in that spot to this day.

The color of the leaf while steeping is such an amazing spring green, don’t you think? I steeped the leaves for 3 minutes in 180 degree F water.

Seeing such an intact leaf is a gift. I imagine a field of women deftly plucking the delicate leaf and tossing it into the baskets strapped to their backs. They methodically make their way through the rows in the crisp spring air.

The tea liquor is so pale, like straw, with a whisper of green tinge. It’s as delicate as a white tea with a complexity of flavor showing its high quality and care in processing. The aroma is slightly nutty with a note of fresh early corn.

So very pale and delicate yet so very flavorful with notes of sweet nectar, melon, a hint of grapefruit and that delicious note of sweet corn. A very special tea indeed.

I’m so excited that my son is on leave for the next week and has come home to be embraced by his family once again.

Enjoy your week and your tea!

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Dragon Bangle

In anticipation of the second season of my beloved Game of Thrones series starting this Sunday, I thought I’d share with you a bangle of “dragon scales” I wove last year.

Years ago, when I was just learning all of the different beadweaving techniques, I was a faithful reader of bead magazines. I think that they’re a wonderful resource for learning and inspiration.  After awhile though I found myself drawn to create my own designs so I stopped buying the magazines and started following my own voice. A good thing, too, because at that point, the magazines were taking over my studio floor!

That said, about a year ago, I was browsing around our local bookstore, cup of Chai tea in hand, when I spied the latest issue of Super Beadwork magazine. The cover featured this bangle created by Nancy Jones of Tiny Dog Seed Beads in Houston, TX. She was using a kind of bead that I had never seen before – a 4x7mm long magatama bead. To me, each individual bead looks like a tiny shoe but when woven side by side like this, they look just like dragon scales. Or what I imagine dragon scales would look like. I was quite entranced with the design so I purchased the magazine and went to work creating my own bangle.

I used a matte metallic color, antique bronze AB, for the “scales” and the inside beads are a size 8 seed bead called “Green Tea”, one of my favorite colors and the name oh so appropriate for me. I purchased the beads at my LBS but I saw several online sources for them when I googled.

The bangle is created using brick stitch for the length and peyote stitch to zip up the strip into a tube shape. If you’re familiar with these bead stitches, it works up quite easily. The problem I ran into was in the sizing. I made it way too big for my wrist. The challenge with a bangle like this is to make it big enough to fit over your hand yet not be too big for your wrist. I achieved the first challenge yet failed on the second. Oh well, now that the bangle is done, I wonder how I can make it smaller without it being a big production. Any ideas?

The link I found for this issue indicated that they were all sold out of it but I bet if you contacted Nancy Jones directly, you might be able to purchase the pattern from her.

As always, thanks for visiting and happy beadweaving!

Saturday Morning Tea

Oh joyous day! In celebration of the arrival of spring, I have a very special treat for you today. Here’s a hint for those of you who have been reading my tea posts for awhile? What do I look forward to with great joy and anticipation every spring???

If you guessed a first flush Darjeeling, you are absolutely right! This particular selection is an early first flush offering from the Tindharia estate. It was just picked this month. Look at that gorgeous variegated leaf with white tips, green bits and brown leaf.

The Tindharia tea garden is a bio-organic estate, located in the South Kurseong area of Darjeeling district. I’ve read that the town of Kurseong, whose name means “Land of the White Orchids”, is a quiet hill station. A hill station is “a town in the low mountains of the Indian subcontinent, popular as a holiday resort during the hot season.” At elevations of 400-1000 meters, it sounds like a great destination for cooling off during the hot summer months.

Despite its leaf appearance, this tea has been processed as a black tea. I steeped the leaves for 3 minutes in water just under the boiling point (212F). The first thing I noticed as I removed the infuser basket from my glass teapot was the incredibly fresh aroma with just a delicate hint of flowers.

The tea liquor is a pale glowing amber. As I take my first sip, the fresh flavor fills my mouth with its freshness and hints of green grapes and flowers. It is surprisingly smooth for a first flush tea but there is a bright tang that lingers in my mouth. I could drink this tea all day long.

This special treat has succeeded in lifting my spirits today. I was heartbroken to learn just this past week that my polymer clay guild has been dissolved. While the friendships will still remain, I am feeling so sad that my days of creating side by side with these ladies is at an end. I’ve lost my tribe, creatively speaking. So, I will look for another local artistic group to connect and create with. Any ideas on where to start?

Happy Spring, my dear tea friends!

“Is the spring coming”? he said. “What is it like?”…

“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”

~Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

Saturday Morning Tea

Happy St. Paddy’s Day! Top of the mahrnin to one and all. I’m celebrating this day with a rich Irish Breakfast blend in my cup. A blend of hearty Indian Assam tea and brisk Ceylon tea, it’s called River Shannon Breakfast Blend, a perfect blend for today.

It’s a broken leaf selection so it’s best to steep the leaves for 3 minutes when drinking it plain. I wanted a little tang in my cup so I pushed the brew time to 4 minutes. It’s dark and stout with a hint of malt and a bright whisper of lemon.

When I visited Ireland back in 1999, this was the kind of tea served at all of the B&Bs we stayed at. It was a wonderful respite from our busy touring schedule to sit down and enjoy a “cuppa”, always served with a tray of delicious scones.

The deep amber tea liquor would go wonderfully with a spot of milk and a little sweetener.

Aside from a teapot of Irish style tea, I’ll be celebrating today with a long walk along the bike path and then some precious time in my studio. How are you celebrating?

Let’s all raise our teacups to the Emerald Isle and enjoy the day!

City Lights

A couple of years ago, I was experimenting with translucent polymer clay and silver leaf to create a button for my Winter Woods Vest. Besides the button, I also created a cabochon and a long, thin focal bead from that design sheet.

Using a dab of E-6000 glue, I affixed the cab to some Lacy’s Stiff Stuff backing and it sat there on my work table for a year as various designs percolated in my mind. That’s the way I like to work. I create a component that I’d like to bead and/or use in a jewelry design and then I just let it sit there in my studio where I can gaze on it periodically. The component image imprints on my brain and in my imagination and, as I go through my day-to-day experiences, it changes shape and grows.

My first inclination was to orient the cab as a vertical pendant. I knew that I wanted to use silver beads and grey pearls and played around with several designs but nothing felt quite right to me. At this point, I had added the silver beading around the cab. I liked the way the sparkly silver seed beads set off the silver leaf peeking out from under the translucent clay. Around that time period, I was driving into Boston a lot and images of reflections on the city streets, wet from newly fallen snow, joined the beaded cab image in my mind.

One day my intuition told me to turn the cab to a horizontal orientation and, at that moment, something clicked inside of me and the design started to fall into place as I peyote stitched the silver tubes. I think that the clean lines of the long thin tubes contribute a quiet, reflective, zen feeling to the piece. Underneath that hushed quiet glows the heart of the city.

Now that this piece is finished, my thoughts turn to the long, thin focal bead for another piece. I think I just might go with the same horizontal orientation. What do you think?

Saturday Morning Tea

Even though I reviewed a Yunnan black tea very recently, I just couldn’t resist this morning’s tea. Just enjoy gazing upon that gorgeous leaf filled with warm golden tips, named quite fittingly Golden Tip Yunnan.

As evidenced by the intact tip, this tea is plucked and processed meticulously by hand. It shows that very special care.

In steeping the leaf, I used boiling point water (212F) for 5 minutes.

Ah, there are those little swords again except this time in a black tea. I know I’ve said it many times before but it constantly amazes me how many different kinds of tea can come from one kind of plant.

In Yunnan province, ancient tea plants have grown into large trees producing enormous sized leaves. These leaves are traditionally used to produce Pu-erh tea. I imagine a grove of venerable old trees having seen many changes around them over the centuries.

The tea liquor glows like a sunset in my glass teapot. An aroma of sweet peach nectar arises as I pour my first cup. My first sip is like ambrosia on my tongue with notes of peach and spice. Full-bodied and complex, the rich flavor lingers on my tongue like a fine wine.

It has now been one year since the earthquake in Japan and I honor them by enjoying my tea in one of my Japanese mugs. The cherry blossoms symbolize new growth and hope for continued healing in their country. I have heard positive reports for the 2012 tea harvest over there and hope that I will have the opportunity to review some new Japanese teas here soon.

Time to go pour another cup! Enjoy your week, dear friends.

“I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest.  I do not judge the universe.”  ~Dalai Lama

Excavations

I’ve always been drawn to digging. When I was a kid, I made several attempts to dig to China, much to my mother’s chagrin. I didn’t get too far though, probably about a foot down into the earth. Obviously, I didn’t make it to China but I did find all sorts of neat things buried in our backyard – earthworms, old rusted bottlecaps, sticks and stones and roots. I think that’s when my love of gardening was born. I loved the feel of plunging my hands into the dirt and smelling its rich, earthy scent. Finding what was below the surface of things resonated with me then as it does with me now.

Many years later, my love of digging led me to pick up my carving tool and start experimenting with digging into multi-colored layers of polymer clay. I gouged through the layers both before and after baking the clay to reveal what’s hidden below the surface. The gouge marks leave jagged edges which I don’t smooth by sanding. I leave the clay rough which speaks to me of the organic process of a spiritual journey and digging into/peeling away the layers of the psyche to discover your inner core. The process can be sharp-edged and painful at times but what is ultimately revealed has a beauty all its own, rich and colorful and unique.

To create my bracelet, I chose a color palette that made me happy and then mixed my colors in polymer clay. I always like to mix my own colors as I feel it lends a uniqueness to my piece. Plus I just loooove mixing colors! I made a sheet out of each one of my mixed colors and then cut some circles out of each sheet. I randomly stacked the circles and then loaded the “log of circles” into my clay extruder. I extruded the clay using a round die and then cut the resulting snake into equal pieces which I lined up horizontally on a sheet of polymer clay. I apologize that I don’t know who originally invented this extrusion technique. It has become quite popular in creating canes. When you cut the snake into equal size pieces and then bunch the snakes up, the cut ends reveal bulls eyes in color variations of your chosen color palette. What I was interested in here, however, was not the cut ends but gouging into the length of the snake.

An unexpected and delightful surprise occurred when I cut the tall thin rectangles for my bracelet components. I discovered that there were small gaps where the snakes abutted on the clay backing, perfect for stringing a cord through. To finish the bracelet, I did a little beadwork over the silver crimps and attached a multi-strand tube clasp. The silver clasp was so bright that I immersed it in liver of sulfur to darken it. It’s still not dark enough for my taste so I’ll repeat that again very soon.

I created other components from my excavation work that day. I’m working on a necklace right now and will happily share my results once it’s finished. I’m so happy to be sharing my artwork with you once again! As always, thanks for stopping by.