This is embarrassing. I’m writing this in a

This is embarrassing. I’m writing this in a coffee shop. I am drinking a soy hazelnut latte. It is delicious. (EDIT: As I wrote this blog post I got to the end of the latter, and decided it wasn’t actually that great)I am a traitor.

I moved recently and have yet to settle back in, but this time I am very. serious. about creating an ideal tea space. We are going to have floor cushions, you guys. We are going to have a shelf devoted entirely to teaware. We are going to have more teaware, because dammit, I am not moving again until some cosmic gardener comes to uproot my feet and gently transplant me. Even then, I might put up a fight.

I want to talk about what it means to drink tea in America. Hoo boy, you say! That’s a lofty aspiration. Damn right it is, but is there a more perfect place to talk about tea drinkers in America than while sitting in a coffee shop?

Because coffee is our national drink. It sustains our cops and our grad students. It makes us tick. It’s a dessert, it’s breakfast, it has the highest number of addicts of any socially acceptable problem. Moreover, it is distinctly patriotic to drink coffee. You may remember a certain revolution we had where a tax on tea that we as Americans did not particularly appreciate, to the extent that we had a salty tea party in Boston Harbor. In what would now be called a slacktivist boondoggle (“freedom fries”, am I right?), the colonists switched to coffee. Each bitter sip was a middle finger to the monarchy. They opened a bunch of coffee houses, and the coffee house reigned supreme, and then Seattle and Starbucks happened, and here I am  at Zeitgeist Coffee. It’s the default American drink, which is weird, because it is really damn expensive.

And as an American, coffee is my default drink. Honestly, it is still my default drink, in the sense that it is a means to an end, whether chemical or social. So how did I get to become an American who says to people, “I prefer tea.”?

Honestly, to be an American who drinks tea is to be a bit of an oddball. It takes effort. It can be a little like being a vegan or not owning a television–they will always tell you without being asked. It’s a kind of pretentious, deep-seated hipsterism. I’ve met plenty of tea drinkers like this. They want to be different. They want to be original. They think having an interest makes them interesting.

That is not to like disparage these lifestyle choices, especially as a vegetarian/person who does not own a television. But one can attest that there are usually a few try-hards ruining it for the rest of us, and tea has the same problem.

It’s hard for me to reconcile my own preferences with the snobbish and superior attitudes of people who make it a point to prefer tea. A lot of the worst offenders are on the Internet,  bickering about water temperature and whose gaiwan is too big and who buys tea from Safeway. Wokka wokka wokka. BUT ask them if they realize how insufferable they are being and they’ll say, “Of course not! I just genuinely love this hobby, and want everyone else to enjoy tea too.”

Which is exactly what I would say, if someone asked me if I knew that I was being insufferable.

I think the people that do this are in a way getting off on the fact that they are different or more old world or unique or they get this idea in their head that tea is what refined people drink because they imagine British accents to also be refined. So how do I like tea without making it a Thing that I like tea? Without getting on my high horse about the superior taste being a tea drinker must give me, since I’m not like these crass Americans? Because there’s another element there that is in my humble opinion the worst part, a desire not only to embrace tea but to distance oneself from the norm of coffee and by extension one’s Americanness.

Honestly, I never meet these people in real life. It’s funny how they never turn out with their own tea shop or at a tea convention or as part of a tea club. They are mostly sad people from the Internet, so my answer to the above question is this: steep yourself in tea culture, not in tea-lovers culture. One is lovely, the other is about who can be lovelier. Do what you like! If you like it, it is (probably) good. That is all. We can go home now.

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Spring has sprung

Got a call on Friday saying that the 2013 Ben Shan is in, so I bought some! You guys, I am spending too much on tea. In the shop, I tasted an A Li Shan and a Li Shan, which were excellent. I also met a man who sings in the Beijing Opera, I think! My Chinese is hell of rusty and his English was nonexistent, so what I gathered may not be entirely accurate. 

Anyway, here it is, and here I am blogging while I taste it. I go for these teas over the Li Shans, etc., because it is grown at a lower altitude in Taiwan and consequently has a milky, smooth taste that is preferable to the floral, lighter flavors. What I actually like are dark, charcoal roasted teas, and so I generally avoid mountain teas entirely, but the flavor we describe as “milky” is one I particularly like and will pay for. 

I usually throw in just a little bit of tea, but whatever, tonight I am throwing in a bunch. Let’s stuff this gaiwan. I’m also going to hit it with some boiling water that I cool once in the cha hai. I get nervous with a new tea, especially a lighter flavor, and too-hot water. I’ve also busted out the aroma cups. Generally they are pretty, but sort of a pain in the ass unless I am particularly interested in the tea’s aroma, but even then I feel like I get more out of stuffing my face into the gaiwan just after brewing the leaves. 

This tea is not so smooth as what I have had before, but maybe in a few steeps. It is super delicate though. I might drink it for summer, or offer it to a friend disgusted by my own choices (Philistines). These teas always come off as sweet to me, but I can’t imagine why, I mean, chemically, that would be. 

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Using a gaiwan for fun

But not much profit. I made this for a class on instructional design and I think it is rather suited to this blog. I might make my summer project a foray into recording tea tastings and more instructional material.

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Crypto-teas

The plan is to get back to this. A combination of finals and La Boheme has made it impossible to post anything. If I’m not wrong a lot of tea bloggers are also students, so I imagine there is a drought at this point across many a tea buff’s RSS feed. But I have a lot of plans for this blog! Such as:

1. Another tea photoshoot with candied ginger and a tieguanyin that I am scared to brew.

2. An overall overhaul of the layout and appearance of this blog. This includes tagging everything–it is damned embarrassing that I am in library school and do not generate even the most skeletal metadata. Also, the appearance, which, I think, gives off the feel of a classroom or tea-themed hospital.

3. Something very long and rambly and sad, which may either capture my experience of the years 2011-2012 or turn into a washed up kid squinting at tea leaves to make them look like something other than plants.

4. A post about curation, because I said I would. Curation + tea + the opportunity to rant about misappropriated words? Why wouldn’t I write that?

Four things, which I swear to deliver soon or as soon as they are of the quality I expect to deliver. Meanwhile, look at what I said to Jei D. Marcade in The Silverfish last month.

Today the tea is dong ding, again, which I find is a way to invigorate myself on those days when I need invigorating but don’t need to be kicked in the face. As for the chocolate smell some people identify, I agree that as far as a roast goes, Dong Ding is one of the classier ones. Rather than the wild flavors of other roasted oolongs, this one somehow comes out with a little cleaner, brighter taste. It tastes dark and heavy, but not because it is…how do I say this? Well, some oolongs taste like wild animals, creatures whose motivations and secret dreamings are unknowable because they are too base for us. The earthy or grassy or darkly roasted varieties give me this sensation. And although the roast of Dong Ding also tastes “dark,” even though it isn’t really “dark,” it isn’t the same kind of mysteriousness. It’s a little colder, I might say. The difference between navy and royal blue (the introduction of color into a description of tea flavors might give you an indication as to why I do not review people’s teas). And some little fast pictures:

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I think Pinterest is making me stupid.

Or maybe I was always stupid and was just being steered away from low tide by generous and concerned instructors and compatriots this whole time. But I will say that I didn’t start to feel dumb and full of writer’s block all the time until I got onto to Pinterest. Ironically, I started my Pinterest account in the hope that I could gather the images and inspiration required to build a tea den, although the ethos of Pinterest is the antithesis of tea culture. I you’re interested in how that’s going you can see the board here. Pinterest is the ultimate gathering tool. Some people call it curation, but one major component of curation is that you  don’t forget about the things curate immediately after grabbing them. That seems kind of important, somehow. We can talk about what curation means in the next blog post. Pinterest actually seems to have more in common with productivity software, where you put something in and then you forget about it until you pull up your planner or your Pinterest board and there it is, all the stuff you need to do today/with the rest of your life. The idea is that you dump things and look at them later for commonalities to emerge, and bam, there’s your tea den. It is no-effort interior design.

This is not how tea works. A life with tea is a lifetime of pure curation, especially if you are buying Puerh cakes. With Pinterest, your returns are truly immediate, though the longer you pin, the more useful your boards can become. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t just buy any tea or teaware that I happen to like and then see how it fits with my setup. Maybe if I had more storage (and money), okay, but for now I evaluate things before they come into the collection. This is probably why I have very few teas and other things. You don’t buy tea to look at it! You buy tea to drink it! You savor it with your friends and loved ones and you remember it years later because no tea is ever the same, even from year to year. No brew is the same from brew to brew. And when it is gone, it is truly gone and unrestorable, and so we do not treat tea lightly here.

And this  is probably why Pinterest doesn’t allow for that. Every image is replicable, and, more importantly, nothing on Pinterest is real. Oh, it may be real to the schmuck in the picture (seriously, where do you find people this good-looking and happy for stock photos), but by the time it gets to you, it has mutated hundreds of times. The people or the things in the pictures have become totally abstract notions–blank spaces where you fill in your own life. It is one hundred percent aspiration, which is to say that, much like a certain red-spotted planet, it is mostly hot gas. Somehow this hot gas only matters because it belongs to you. This is not curation. This is not even digestion. This is Slimfast for your brain.

think you are thinking more about Pinterest than Pinterest is thinking about you. 

This is almost definitely true. Have a good day.

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A tea party

About a week and a half ago I had a tea party. Unlike those of old it did not feature stuffed animals drinking air, but I can assure you that if my childhood doll Kirsten had been able to make it she would have had the seat of honor. It was good time spent with friends, and lots of tea, which I know is what you’re really interested in. It included lemon cookies and the the batter eaten in handfuls, among other things, so you might expect it to be excellent. It was.

I brewed my oolongs Dong Ding and Wuyi Shuixian, as well as an oolong brought by one of the guests that was unidentified (mystery tea!) but received a name as soon as I saw the leaves. Bai Hao does not hide in plain sight, which might be why its other name is Oriental Beauty.

We also had matcha and Japanese green teas, brewed by another guest who knows a considerable amount more than I do about Japanese tea. This is the post where I admit I know nothing about Japanese teas. There is one with rice in it? Matcha is ground up tea leaves and you whisk it? It is typically steamed rather than fired to stop the oxidation process? There you go, we’ve exhausted my knowledge. I am not what you would call a hater but I have to say my interest in the Japanese tea ceremony is basically non-existent. It has all the elements of any good ceremony and yet I am extremely bored by it. I know that I like matcha and I like watching it turn into tea but I don’t think I like making it ritualistically or otherwise. I do not feel bad about this. Number one, there is no accounting for taste. Number two, there are plenty of tea bloggers out there covering the Japanese tea world including the tea ceremony so I do not feel like I am neglecting to make people aware of it.  That is not to say that the purpose of this blog is to bring awareness of any other tea ceremonies to people, especially Gongfu cha, just that I know my contemporaries have it covered so I’m going to write what I want to write.

That came out more tangled than I intended. The teas were delicious.

Word of advice for those of you wanting to throw tea parties: you can either drink a little bit of tea and taste all of it in the purest, or you can drink so much tea it stops tasting like anything and you have a little bit of a tea hangover the next morning and instead of getting up and brewing more tea you lay in bed wondering if you got any homework done last night during your tea buzz (I did not). We chose the second, which I…mildly regret. I would do it again but I would try to think before I drink, so to speak.

And now, the pictures, lifted from one of my guests’ facebook because I am terrible and never, ever take pictures. This will hasten my second death rapidly but I do not do what you might call, “thinking ahead.”

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The end of an era

This is the last tea I have left that I got at Puget Sound. It came from a professor turned friend. I never identified it and it is a green tea, unusual for me.

Teas are for drinking, not hoarding. Down the hatch it goes.

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