Saturday Morning Tea

After a damp, cool week, today dawned bright and clear and dry. A perfect weekend to be outside, soaking in the brilliant colors of autumn.

In the second week of my series on Japanese tea culture, today’s tea is a Japanese green tea called Fukamushi Cha, meaning “deep steamed tea”.

Almost all Japanese green tea is steamed for 30-45 seconds in the first step of processing. This halts oxidation of the leaf and sets the distinctive, brilliant green color of the Japanese green tea leaf as well as giving it its pronounced vegetal flavor.

Fukamushi Cha undergoes a deeper, or longer steaming time.

Just look at that gorgeous green leaf.

Tea drinking in Japan can be traced back to the 8th century when the Emperor Kammu dispatched several diplomatic missions to China to learn about and better understand their culture.

As in China, tea drinking was only practiced in Japan among monks, the nobility and the imperial court for many years.

It wasn’t until the 12th century when Myoan Esai, a Japanese Buddhist priest, encouraged all Japanese citizens to drink tea for their health, writing the first Japanese book on tea entitled Kissa Yojoki which translates to “Tea Drinking Good for the Health”.

I steeped my Fukamushi Cha for 3 minutes in a lower temperature water, 160 degrees F. The aroma is feather light and vegetal.

The pale spring-green tea liquor is very sweet with a light pungency which refreshes my palate. A pronounced vegetal flavor embraces the sweetness.

Over time, tea became elevated to a fine art in Japan, culminating with the development of the Japanese tea ceremony known as Chanoyu. I had the privilege of attending a tea ceremony 3 years ago and wrote about it here.

This weekend will be a fall cleaning, staying at home kind of weekend for me. Perhaps I’ll even find some time to spend in my studio!

Please join me next week when I will be sharing my review of a Japanese gyokuro tea.

“Make a delicious bowl of tea; lay the charcoal so that it heats the water; arrange the flowers as they are in the field; in summer suggest coolness, in winter, warmth; do everything ahead of time; prepare for rain; and give those with whom you find yourself every consideration.”

~Sen Rikyu, Zen tea master (1522-1591)

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Saturday Morning Tea

Even though we are on the cusp of autumn and the temps are dropping rapidly here in New England, especially at night, I’m still in the mood for a light tea.

I introduce you to Huangshan Mao Feng Supreme, a beautiful, spring harvest Chinese green tea. Perhaps springtime in a cup can banish away the gloominess I feel on this dark, cloudy day.

The leaf is from a very fine plucking and careful processing resulting in an amazingly intact leaf set. I loved watching the leaves dance in my glass teapot as they infused.

Just the tips, the very new growth, are plucked to create this special tea.

I have read that Huangshan is another name for Mount Huang, located in the Anhui province of China. It’s a place of  granite peaks, hot springs and beautiful sunsets and sunrises. An optical phenomenon known as Buddha’s Light occurs a couple times a month there with the sunrise. Sounds like an amazing place.

This tea is quite pale in color with a vegetal whisper in the aroma.

I chose this particular teabowl because the pale liquor allows me to see the beautiful texture inside the bowl. The flavor is light yet fills my mouth with its soft, fruity sweetness. Mmmm….

As I sip my tea, I watch the gray blanket of sky and contemplate the seasonal changes to come. My cup of springtime seems to hold back the thickening clouds as it releases the scent of new growth with every sip.

“Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday Morning Tea

Yesterday my company moved from our facility in Hopkinton, MA, where we’ve been for the last 9 years, to a new facility in the nearby town of Holliston. So, needless to say, it was a day of fixing up, hooking up, learning a new phone system and settling in to our new space. Not to mention moving all of that tea. Literally, tons of it. The good news is that we’ve been moving things over to the new space, bit by bit, over the past several months but it was still a big undertaking yesterday nonetheless. Whew!

When I first joined my company in 1995, it was a very  small operation and our packing and shipping areas were in close proximity to each other. The phones were nearby so we could stop to answer a call as we packed and boxed the tea orders. Now, each department has its own huge space and we need to take a bit of a walk to visit each other. We have evolved to have a separate Customer Service department as well as a Purchasing department in a large office area. All that said, the spirit of our company has remained the same no matter how much we grow, with the primary goal of providing our customers with the best tea and service we can. And you will always get a live person whenever you call us during our hours!

This morning’s tea is a first flush Darjeeling from the Makaibari estate. A biodynamic estate located in the Darjeeling district of northeast India, it produces some of the finest Darjeelings I’ve tasted. In all of my years of drinking and enjoying Darjeeling teas, I haven’t met a Makaibari that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed.

The leaf is resplendent with a profusion of tips which I find smooths out the crisp pungent flavor of a first flush tea. I steeped the leaves at my usual 3 minutes in boiling point water.

Look at that gorgeous color. Yum.

The fragrant aroma has a faint note of juicy citrus and the crisp flavor fills my mouth with notes of a muscatel grape.

I just had to enjoy this tea in a white teabowl so I could keep gazing upon that amazing color.

The muggy humidity has left us here in New England and we are blessed with a clearer, cooler day today. I’m going to find some time to spend in my studio, getting back to my experimentations with acrylic paint and polymer clay.

What’s in your teacup this weekend?

“Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast.”

~Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday Morning Tea on Sunday

Yesterday was a very special day for me. My parents arrived from Michigan for a visit and to see my new place. They were due to get here sometime in the afternoon but arrived in the morning just as I was sitting down to do my tea post! As we are having so much fun chatting and visiting, I will quickly leave you with my photos from yesterday’s cuppa, a Chinese Oolong called Tie-Guan-Yin Second Grade. With its woodsy, nutty flavor and notes of honey, it’s the perfect tea if you’re looking for a “Chinese restaurant” type of tea. Enjoy!

“Surround yourself with people who are going to lift you higher.”

~Oprah Winfrey

Saturday Morning Tea

My morning tea today is not a tea at all but an herbal which has a long history of many uses worldwide: culinary, medicinal and as a delicacy. The dried root of the ginger plant also makes a wonderfully spicy beverage when infused!

Technically known as the rhizome of the ginger plant, Zingiber officinale, this was grown in the Jinxuan Province of China. Ginger cultivation began in China and Southeast Asia and then spread to other parts of the world such as the Caribbean and Africa.

Its characteristic odor and taste comes from the volatile oils found in the root.

I steeped the ginger pieces for 8 minutes in boiling water. As it brewed, the water became cloudy, giving my glass teapot a mysterious, underwater appearance.

The aroma of the infused “tea” is fresh and spicy. Sometimes, herbals can be confused with real tea which comes from the camellia sinensis plant. Just like tea, each herbal comes from its own specific plant. Almost all herbals, not tea, are caffeine free.

The frosty, lemon-colored liquor tastes quite zesty with tart notes of lemon. Ginger “tea” is often used to soothe nausea and motion sickness. I am enjoying it for its delicious flavor.

Ginger has a distinctive warming quality to it, making it perfect for sipping on a cold winter’s day. That said, its warmth also has a refreshing quality that is cooling me down on this hot, muggy morning.

Try adding a splash of infused ginger to your next glass of iced tea and spice it up!

“In the sacred traditions, the first thing you do in the morning is ask for blessings from the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. Because all of the work you are going to do that day will change the universe.”

~Laura Esquivel, Writer

Saturday Morning Tea

I feel like a kid in a candy store at this time of year with the first flush Darjeelings arriving freshly plucked from different tea gardens. Oh joy!

This morning’s tea is from the Arya estate, an organic tea garden located high in the Himalayan mountains of northeastern India.

I’ve read that it was started by a team of Buddhist monks who carefully developed their tea plants from Chinese seeds. They practiced Aruyvedic medicine and their original house may still be found on the grounds of the estate.

I imagine a beautiful place nestled in the shadow of great towering peaks where, if you listen very closely, a rich history whispers its secrets.

Many first flush Darjeeling leaves are very green even though they are processed as black teas (allowed to oxidize and turn dark).

This first flush of spring growth doesn’t want to give up its greenness, the essence of spring and rebirth.

I steeped the leaves for 3 minutes in slightly less than boiling point (212 F) water. The green leaf is transformed into a glowing liquid amber.

A fresh, sweet aroma wafts up from my glass teapot as I quietly lift the lid to remove the infuser basket. The only sound at this early hour is the sweet song of the birds outside my window.

The flavor is bright and astringent, waking up my mouth with sweet, fruity notes that linger, linger, linger…

Last weekend’s adventure in my little patch of garden involved an all day affair with a stubborn yew stump that finally had to be ripped out with a heavy chain and large pickup truck. Thank goodness for the generosity of new neighbors! Now that the stump is removed, I have a gathering of shade plants – astilbe, coral bells, bleeding heart, impatiens – that are patiently waiting to be planted in their new home.

“Solitude – walking alone, doing things alone – is the most blessed thing in the world, the mind relaxes and thoughts begin to flow and I think I am beginning to find myself a bit.” ~Helen Hayes

Saturday Morning Tea

I awoke this morning to rumbles of thunder and teeming rain that have continued on into the morning. A sudden cool breeze lifts my curtains from the windows revealing sharp flashes of lightning that dance across a low sky filled with bruised clouds. As I wrap myself in a warm robe,  I reach for a black tea but not a typical black tea. It is a black tea that actually tastes like an Oolong tea.

From the Jun Chiyabari estate in Nepal, its leaf designation is one that I have never seen before, GHRHT. Meaning Golden Hand Rolled Himalayan Tips, the picking is of only the first two leaves and a bud from the end of the stems, the tender new growth. The tea is created from a secret process that results in a black tea with the characteristics of a fine Silvertip Oolong tea.

Since the tea is grown in the Himalayan mountains in the same part of the world as Indian Darjeeling tea, I steep the leaves for 3 minutes in boiling point water.

As I lift the steeped leaves from my teapot, a rich, fruity aroma greets me. Mmmm…

The wet leaves reveal whole intact leaf in various stages of unfurling from the hand rolling that was done during their processing.

The deep amber liquor is quite sweet with notes of apricot and peach and a whisper of rosemary in the finish. A colleague of mine, with a very fine palate for tea tasting, has also detected fennel notes in her cup.

For this special tea, I bring out my teamug purchased in Arroyo Seco, NM last fall. You can see the fingertip imprints of the potter on the side of the mug from when they dipped the mug in glaze. That is my favorite part of this beautiful russet and charcoal teamug.

While I had originally thought that I’d be able to work on removing a bush stump from my garden today and prepare the soil with some loam for planting, it looks like it’s going to be an indoor day. Oh dear, I guess I’ll just have to play in my studio then!

Happy Mother’s Day!

“Women need solitude in order to find the true essence of themselves: that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of a whole web of human relationships.”

~Anne Morrow Lindbergh