Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Thar Be Leather Couches

One problem with being a drinker of fine teas is that if you fall (or are pushed by the state) out of your comfortable routine it's hard to get the day right, from a tea perspective at least. Yesterday I wound up at the Prince Georges County Courthouse with about 400 of my fellow citizens to judge my peers. I'm not complaining, just stating fact. Anyway, it turns out some of my peers are none to bright - the defendent in my trial was caught in possession of a tractor trailer full of leather furniture. There has got to be a better way to make a few thousand dollars than stealing a truckload of leather furniture. Most would agree furniture is one of the most pain-in-the-ass things to haul around, even if it's legit. Add police surveillance to the mix and you've got trouble. Fur coats are pretty light, as are most drugs, necklaces, sneakers, bootleg DVDs and so on. Cars are heavy but they have wheels and engines built-in for easy mobility. Furniture is gateway contraband. Next thing you know the kid is stealing freight cars full of construction materials, tractor motors, refurbished dumpsters. Live and learn, I guess.

All this is beside the point, as the point I'm making is it's hard to get a good cup of tea in a place like a jury assembly room. I even had the presence of mind at 6:30 AM to bring a few bags of Rum Punch Pirate Tea from the Metropolitan Tea Company. The tea is fine but luke-warm water and a styrofoam cup guarantee marginal results. I am complaining now.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Big Red Sun, Y'all

I've managed to take the entire summer off from writing this, inadvertently illustrating two key principles of tea culture: 1) tea drinkers are spontaneous and 2) what's the hurrry? There's really nothing that's going to happen in the "tea world" that anybody needs to hear about right away, if at all, so relax, have some tea.

So anyway, here's what I did this summer: drank tea. In fact, the hotter it got the more I put back so I've got lots to tell you about. I think the number one find was Harney & Sons Big Red Sun, which is a blend of Kenyan and Ceylon teas. Harney & Sons have done a very good job of creating a brand that looks English and old-fashioned while in fact being New English and old-fashioned up in lovely Connecticut. Big red Sun is one of their "HT" blends, a series of unconventional blends designed to keep up with all the hip and happening urban teas that keep springing up in severe, designy tins and vegan pop star-owned tea houses. I guess it's more Sons than Harney. What it is, though, is all business. I drank that stuff so fast I can barely remember what it tasted like. Shortly before I blacked out I recall thinking it had a honey sweetness reminiscent of a high grade Formosa Oolong but the nice fullness you get from an Assam. Perfect first cup of the day tea. Also high marks for the appealing flat-finish red tin because looks do matter.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Stems & Seeds

I've been enjoying some Hojicha green tea from Teaism that manservant Erik provided for me. If you haven't tried it you are missing out on some bold nuttiness as it is indeed quite nutty. It's basically bits of stem and the like that have been toasted so the brew smells like shredded wheat. I use a little basket to submerge my tea in water and this Hojicha floats like the fallen trees and other flotsam that clog rivers and streams after natural disasters:

small trees clog my cup
a discovery channel
of my very own

Nostalgia and tea go hand in hand. I am reminded of my days playing in an acoustic rock band in San Francisco. One of the downsides of playing in an acoustic rock band (or living in San Francisco) is the high probability that some gnarly old dude will opt to "sit in" with the band for a few (hours) tunes. Without a wall of amps any band is prone to ad hoc personnel changes, and one night we were joined by a guy who sang with us the greatest song he ever wrote, a long-form ballad called "stems and seeds." The song explored the rocky terrain of a life that is filled up with the blues and capping this mountain of sorrow it must be noted that he was "down to stems and seeds again." You get the idea. I will never un-hear that song.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Revenge of the Fruit

I've been pretty busy lately trying to figure out ways in which the new Star Wars movie is going to suck. I'm thinking the most likely scenario will involve the Wookie planet/gourd-drum & pan flute/animal-tooth necklace/pre-teen Wookie threat but I can't ignore George Lucas' formidable talent for coaxing really bad performances out of decent actors. There are at least two decent actors on the bill and while I'm confident Kenny Baker will nail his lines as R2-D2 the rest of the cast are up against overwhelming odds of failure. The flip side is that all the new toys are great and assembling Lego battle vehicles (for my son, of course, which means frequent re-assembly) took my mind off the long wait for my latest shipment from Peet's. When it finally came it was like reunion weekend at the Andrews house as we welcomed back Earl Grey with Lavender for the lady and Black Currant for me.

There is one fruity tea in this world that belongs in my cup and it's the Black Currant blend from Peet's. It is truly astonishing how fruity it is. If they made black currant Kool-Aid (and they should) it would smell like this, but since it's blended from some pretty hardy stock it manages to maintain its tea-ness. You're probably thinking what I'm thinking, which is that it would be great iced, and I'm sure it is but I'm lazy and the extra step of brewing and then cooling before drinking seems like a hassle. Besides, I grew up before the age of realistic video games and MTV so I can use my imagination to approximate the enjoyment I would get out of putting this tea on ice without requiring a tactile demonstration. I can assure you it's great lukewarm.

Bye for now!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


It's hard to care much about tea when the temperature is in the 70s and springtime is going nuts, but that's exactly what I'm doing - caring about tea. Sometimes I think I care too much. Despite my growing resentment for Teaism I had to pay a visit to the man so I could get some more Dragonwell Lung Ching. Why? Because I can't get enough of that buttery-corn sweetness. Damn, I am a fool for butter/corn nuance.

I figure I make 20 - 30% of my purchases at retailers I dislike or resent because like most of America I'm a pussy when it comes to putting ethics before sweet impulse buying. Bump it up to 65% if you include utilities, but that's cheating. Right now I'm on hold with AT&T/Cingular wireless about one thing, and emailing another branch of AT&T about another. That's a double-play. The statistics get all skewed in the summer when I go to the beach because WalMart is all there is, at least as far as cheap crap that I need is concerned. So it goes.

Friday, March 25, 2005

B Green

Who wants some B Grade tea? I know I do. It can't all be fine tea so I've been hitting a bag of Gunpowder Green from the World Market, formerly Cost Plus. In general, green tea doesn't have a very long shelf life which was a problem when shipping was a business of creaky wooden ships and caravans featuring mules. Gunpowder Green's leaves are very tightly rolled so it could stay fresh on long trips from one side of the world to another, hence its popularity in the West. These days the market is crowded with refined green teas because we've all web-enabled our e-commerce platforms to bring the world to our doorsteps 24/7, but Gunpowder Green is still a pretty common variety. Personally, I like it for the way it looks kind of like Nerds (tm) candy. It also resembles Cocoa Pebbles (also tm) and in a pinch you can sprinkle it around your kitchen counters if you need to give someone the impression that you have a rodent problem. It also tastes fine when submerged in hot water.

Also, please people, pay attention here, it really makes a difference if you brew it correctly. I'm not ordinarily a purist about method but with the greens there is a world of difference between right and wrong. Let the water cool down before you add the leaves and let it steep for 2, maybe 3 minutes tops. You'll feel like a champ when you've done it right.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


I was in a bad mood yesterday after getting jostled by the lunch crowd at Teaism. There I was, just an honest, tea-drinking guy trying to get some tea in a sea of expensive-pants-wearing, pseudo-pan-Asian-lunch-ordering people who were all positioned between me and the not very helpful staff. They didn't have the tea I wanted anyway. Today is different, in part thanks to my ipod churning up Boston's Hitch a Ride right as I got off the train. There is plenty to like and dislike about Boston, but Hitch a Ride has one of the greatest, totally overblown guitar solos of all time. Pardon me, guitar duet. Anyway, it improved my mood.

Since I couldn't get the Dragonwell tea I was hankering for I fell back on the Jasmine Green tea from Ten Ren that my secret santa gave me. Ten Ren, based out of Taiwan, is a big operation with stores all over the U.S. and a heavy presence in the tea aisle at your local Asian supermarket. Seems like most of their tea falls into that comfortable B grade which is a solid step above regular commercial grade but not fine tea either - Outback Steak House, not French Laundry. They do offer some very expensive teas but I've never tried them. I enjoy visits to the Ten Ren store in Rockville, MD, partly for the bubble tea but mostly, honestly, for the staff who are all beautiful, young, Asian women who entice customers like me with great big canisters of loose tea and good attitudes. I like this jasmine tea - it does the job with no questions asked. I especially appreciate the detailed information on the package:

Degree of Baked: (Totally Dried)

The recommended brewing time is one minute and 50 seconds. No more, no less.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Green Tea Linked to Football Violence, Hooliganism

According to this article green tea might have some genuine cancer fighting properties afterall. Real science giving the props to the tea. Oddly enough, this story was hiding in the "Oddly Enough" category of my Yahoo news feed which is usually reserved for articles of the "Norwegian Scientists Uncover Remains of Wolf-Boy" and "Man Mistakenly Chops Off His Own Penis While Watching Football Match" variety. No matter, news is news.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Loving Yunnan is Easy...

I'm back on the horse today, thoroughly enjoying some Golden Yunnan from the Tea Spot. Yunnan was sort of kind of like my first "real tea" so it has special place in my cupboard. There are just so many things to like about it - the sweet clay smell, the total lack of bitterness, the way you can brew the same leaves again and again and never get tired of it. It has a gentle, enduring strength. I am in love with this tea, plain and simple.

Friday, March 04, 2005


I can't stop with the silly teas.. Spring is almost here and I've placed an order with the Tea Spot to deliver to my door, in plain brown wrapping, discreetly labeled, a half pound of good old-fashioned self-drinking tea. (If you're not hip to the lingo, the term "self-drinking tea" is used in tea circles to describe high quality tea that can stand up on its own without blending. That's not to say that teas in blends aren't high quality or anything like that. It's just a thing tea people say while waiting for the kettle to boil). In the meantime I am over the edge, looking down into another cup from France.

In the cup is Les Classiques from Betjeman & Barton. It's a nondescript black tea which has been heavily flavored with caramel and vanilla. In fact, there's so much flavor I can't taste the tea. It is weird to encounter caramel flavor in liquid form because it smells great but tastes like nothing. I suspect this is why you don't see a lot of caramel sodas on the market. I tried sweetening it and adding milk and brewing it really really strong and even rebooted but it was still missing the buttery richness my nose was expecting. It works fine in certain situations, like with sorbet after a big meal, but a nice Darjeeling would fare just as well if not better. Overall, I'm a little disappointed. I suppose I had unrealistically high expectations for caramel tea.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Girlie Tea

This cold, gloomy weather has driven me to the brink of violating all my personal rules regarding the consumption of flavored beverages. Gripped by a February malaise, I've been haunting gourmet shops lately and bringing home tins with fancy lettering on the outside, fru-fru tea on the inside. Before having kids I used to spend much of this time of year brooding & listening to old-fashioned symphonic music, but coming up with the odd hour and a half for Mahler to make his point (and he does have one) is getting harder and harder to do. These days I settle for a pot of tea and a good long stare out the kitchen window.

Today's flavor is Eden Rose, another fine offering from Betjeman & Barton in France. It's pretty sturdy for an afternoon-grade girlie tea from France and there are two things in particular that I like about it: one, it smells like truffles (the chocolate kind) which tend to smell nice and two, it tastes like tea (you know, tea) which often tastes good. That's a winning combination. The base tea is a decent, non-controversial, jeans or slacks-wearing, regular haircut type and it's wearing a t-shirt that says "rose, lavender and a bit of vanilla." In French, of course.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


A friend recently returned from Argentina and brought me an ornate little yerba mate gourd & bombilla set as well as some yerba mate "tea" bags. If nothing else it looks great and lord knows we never have enough gourds in the office. The beverage itself was pretty satisfying. I'm not sure what was yerba mate and what was gourd pulp but what the hell, it was fine. Come to think of it, by about the fifth infusion I was desperately sucking on the bombilla (straw) for one last sweet drop. It reminded me of the Pu-Ehr tea I tried a while back - sort of earthy, but much less intense. According to the internet yerba mate is even more nutrient-rich than green tea and it has some caffeine (or something) which provides stimulation without the jitters, hallucinations without the paranoia, you know. Nutrition: Feel the Buzz! I think it might also increase penis size and help you find information about anyone, anywhere. I drank it with the same keen awareness for sensation that I had when I tried smoking bananas and nutmeg in my youth with about the same results, minus the headache. Very curious to try the loose leaf. I love the little hookah-like bombilla. Makes me feel good.

Friday, February 11, 2005


All this delicious, delicately scented tea I've been drinking lately has made me very curious about the process of making blends like the Pouchkine that I can't shut up about. What I'm looking for is details, details, details about the process itself, which is relatively undocumented in the public forum. I read that John Harney uses a small cement mixer to make his blends (duly noted, and very manly) but that's all the info I've got. How exactly do you apply bergamot or other oils, for example? Do you put it in a spray bottle and spritz the leaves? How much oil can you use without making a soggy mess? Do you just let it air-dry or do you fire it up to seal in the flavor? I'm sure I can figure it out by trial and error but I'd rather be told.

Please advise.


Monday, February 07, 2005


I've been using this Tea-in-Mug brewing/drinking contraption each morning for the past few months and today I managed to drop the mug. Sad face.

Instead of dwelling on my failure and loss, however, I'm going to use this as an opportunity to try out some other technology vis-a-vis tea brewing. The all-in-one mug solution is nice but it's also pretty anti-social. A nice teapot might serve as a beacon for guests, a steamy welcome to my little corner of the world. Everything's gonna be better from now on, I can feel it.

PS. Football season = 7 months from now. Crap.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Shut Up About the Pouchkine Tea Already

Still mulling over my aged tea theories of late. I've decided to put one of the Pouchkine tins deep in the back of a cupboard so I'll forget about it for a few years. About the time we re-do our kitchen I'll stumble upon it and brew up a big pot to share with the workmen while they're on break, smiles and laughter all around. I'm sure they'll enjoy it and reward me by finishing the project ahead of schedule. Implied in this is the hope that I'll be smart enough by then to hire experienced professionals to do major home renovations as opposed to the usual idiot-husband-learning-as-I-go routine. Besides, I'll be a tea millionaire with other things to do like outfitting my Escalade with a samovar.

Meanwhile, Erik and I have plans to visit every Williams Sonoma in the DC area in search of 'expired' tea. And cranberry-walnut pancake mix.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

More Tea and Aging

I've dispatched Erik to San Francisco this week to check out all the teahouses there and generally sniff out the state of things tea-related in the West. If he doesn't get too distracted by the latest offerings from Apple Computer, Inc., I expect he'll come back with lots to tell. I'm sure we're all looking forward to that.

Since I went so nuts for Betjeman & Barton's Pouchkine tea over the holidays my loving wife cleaned out the shelves at Williams Sonoma so I will never be without it again. Man, that stuff is good, but here's something: the original tin I received has a best before October 2003 sticker on the bottom. The new tins have a 2006 date. I'm not a scientist or anything but I would surmise that there's a 3 year age gap somewhere in there. The thing of it is, the tin that I should have enjoyed a long time ago tastes a lot better and I'm trying to figure out why. A blend is a blend so it might just be a different crop of tea or an off day for the tea blender or something, but these are established, old-school, probably not stoned tea merchants and one would think they would aim for (and achieve) a consistent product. The international tea community demands no less. So it's got to be some sort of accidental aging process in which the tea itself loses a little flavor, the added flavors step in to fill the void but lose enough of their original character (orange-lemon-bergamot) to create a new flavor that is better than anything, even the New England Patriots. Not that there's anything wrong with the newer tea, it's top shelf, but it tastes like the description on the tin - a blend of black teas with citrus flavoring. The older stuff tastes exotic, mysterious, sensual, like a wet kiss from a virgin bride who's just eaten a fruit from another planet and all that crap. Go figure.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Vive La France!

I'm pretty materialistic when you get right down to it so I tend to judge the holidays by the amount of loot that's scattered about the floor on Christmas morning, or in my case, protectively heaped on the couch next to me. Yeah, it's shallow but what the hell. This year yielded a rich bounty including the best tea I have ever had. Really. I got a tin of Betjemen & Barton's Pouchkine and it just knocked me flat. I'm not sure how to describe a sipping double-take but that's exactly what I did when I first tasted it. The cartoon version of me did one of those little moves where my legs swing up off the ground and my eyes bulge. If it hadn't been piping hot I would have chugged it. Maybe I'm exaggerating a little but I really like this tea. It's an old-school blend that reeks of refinement. Makes those groovy west-coast tea blenders look like chumps. Vive la France, baby! I've seen it at Williams Sonoma (uncomfortably close to the premium pancake mixes) and I'm sure it can be found wherever the wealthy send their help to buy food.

Drink it.

Lick the cup when you're done.