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November 27, 2005

Prince Vladimir

Prince VladimirAs long as we're in a Russian mood, let's quickly review Prince Vladimir, a beautiful aromatic blend by the old Franco-Russian company Kusmi Tea. Russian blends are typically Chinese teas mixed with a various citric scents. This tea is a bit more complex. It is a blend of China teas but with natural scents of bergamot, lemon, grapefruit, vanilla, cinnamon and cloves. The combination of citric fruits and spices makes for a fresh but warm flavour very evocative of ... winter ! A great tea for these short, cold, wet days of November ;-)

November 24, 2005

Tea-Time by Vladimir Egorovitch Makovski

Tea-TimeThis very nice picture, entitled Tea Time and painted in 1883 by Vladimir Egorovitch Makovski, will be up for auction tomorrow at Drouot in Paris. This painting, in the midst of the hype surrounding Russian Art (due to the great exhibition currently on display at the Musée d'Orsay), even though it has a restored gash in the middle, is expected to fetch quite a price as it's estimate is 20 000 to 25 000 €.

Let's take a closer look at this quite poetic picture. The gentleman depicted is inspecting his preparations for tea-time and he is obviously expecting a lady. He has set the table with his fine china and in the middle of it, in typical Russian fashion, proudly stands his samovar. The teapot is ready and kept warm on top of it. In front of the samovar, a little bouquet and gift are arrayed in a precise fashion ready to welcome the lady for whom this gentleman has gone through all this trouble. It's a warm, intimate, domestic scene typical of Russian painting of the late nineteenth century. It also shows the timeless value of sharing a cup of tea...

November 16, 2005

The four types of tea

Tea is harvested after each flush - the sprouting of the top two leaves and bud. The top two leaves and bud are hand plucked and then processed into any of the four types of tea, which are Black, Green, Oolong, and White.
Black tea is withered, fully oxidized (fermented) and dried. Black tea yields a hearty, amber-colored brew. It is the type of tea most consumed in the West. Some of the popular black teas include English Breakfast, and Darjeeling.
Green tea skips the oxidizing step. It is simply withered and then dried (sometimes roasted). It has a more delicate taste and is pale green / golden in color.
Oolong tea, popular in China, Taiwan and Japan, is withered, partially fermented (between 30% and 70%), and dried. Oolong is a cross between black and green tea in color and taste.
White tea is the least processed. A very rare tea from China, White tea is not oxidized or rolled, but simply withered and dried by steaming.
The main chemical substances in tea are essential oils, caffeine, and polyphenols (mistakenly known by many people as tannins). The essential oils give us the aroma of the tea, the caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, and the polyphenols account for the much publicized antioxidant and anti-disease properties.
Tea is not to be confused with herbal infusions. Herbal infusions are packaged like tea, infused like tea, and enjoyed like tea, however the herbs do not come from the camellia sinensis bush and therefore are not teas (see previous article). Herbal infusions are made of grasses like lemongrass, barks like cinnamon, fruits like orange peel, flowers like chamomile and hibiscus, and many other botanicals.

November 15, 2005

All tea comes from a single plant ...

camelliasinensis.jpgAll tea comes from a single plant, the "Camellia sinensis", an evergreen shrub that may grow up to 18 meters in the wild. When cultivated for harvest the tea bushes are kept to a height of about 1 meter (by constant picking). There are over 3000 varieties of tea each with its own specific characteristics. The naming and growing of teas has many similarities to wine. Just as Bordeaux wine is named after the Bordeaux region in France, Assam is named after the Assam region in India, and Keemun is named after the Keemun region of China. Like wine, tea comes from one bush, and where the tea is grown, the climate, soil conditions, and how the tea is processed, determines the flavor characteristics of the tea.

November 14, 2005

Long Jing, the Dragonwell tea

longjing.jpgLong Jing, which translates as dragonwell, is one of China's most celebrated green teas. It is grown in the mountainous regions of Lion's Peak of Hangzhou, Zheijiang province. Like other famous teas (notably Darjeeling), the notion of "flush"(time of picking i.e. spring, summer or autumn) applies to this wonderful tea. First flush Long Jing, which is picked once a year by hand when the leaves and buds are at their smallest and most fragrant stage, is immediately roasted and has a characteristic shape of leaves folded flat along their length. This is a premium tea and highly prized as such in China. It is difficult to find in export as it's mostly consumed by the local market and it isn't cheap. Long Jing is very delicate and fresh tasting, has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor and a lasting buttery finish. It's a very healthy tea with a high vitamin C content and many of the anti-oxydants that are usually present in green tea. It is good for any moment of the day except maybe evening where it might a little too stimulating and so prevent sleep. This tea doesn't store very well (green teas are best drunk fresh). Green teas can be stored for 1 year in a dry, air- and light-tight container.

November 13, 2005

Shen Nung and the origin of tea in China

Shen NungLegendary emperor Shen Nung is said to have discovered many medicinal properties of plants. Worshipped as a god for the many gifts he gave to China, the discovery of tea is attributed to him and even dated to 2737 B.C. The story goes that one day, while resting under a tree, Shen Nung, who always boiled his water, saw a few leaves fall into the pot. When he drank the resulting brew, which he found delicious and refreshing, he "discovered" the stimulating beneficial properties of the tea leaf.

Where the word "tea" comes from...

Chinese Junk ShipAll tea comes originally from China so the word "tea" comes from there as well. Tea, in mandarin, is called cha but the dutch traders who first brought back tea in the early 1600s, bought it from traders on junk ships from the port of Amoy in Fujian province. In the Amoy dialect tea is te (pronounced "tay"). Hence the Dutch called it thee and, as they were the first importers of tea, they spread the word as well as the product. From there on, the French called it thé, the Germans thee, it became te for the Spanish, Italian, Danish, Norwegian, Hungarian people, tea in English, thea in Latin, tee in Finnish, teja in Latvian, tey in Tamil and thay in Sinhalese.

For those countries where the tea trade was either originally or mainly via the caravan routes over land, its the Chinese "cha" that is the most common root. It is cha in Japanese, Hindi and Persian, shai in Arabic, ja in Tibetan, chai in Russian and chay in Turkish.

November 07, 2005

Review : Design For Tea by Jane Pettigrew

Jane Pettigrew is a very knowledgeable author when it comes to tea (and anything remotely connected to tea). We will be reviewing several of her works on this site. In this book, she explores essentially British tea wares, why they developed and how we have come to us them as we do. In some ways, it's the history of tea through the objects associated with it. The use of anecdotes, panels on social and economic aspects of tea, etymological explorations, tons of illustrations and plenty of wit make this quite serious book a lot of fun to read while remaining hugely instructive. The approach is very methodical and every category of tea ware is covered : teapots, spoons, cups and saucers, caddies, tables and trays etc... Form and function are influenced by history, economics and social realities, and while Design for Tea manages to cover it all, it remains at all times interesting and very readable.

On the less positive side, this book doesn't shine by it's (rather pedestrian) layout. The artwork, while functional, doesn't in any sense convey the beauty that objects dedicated to tea often present. Also, it's focus is really British. Any foreign objects are only discussed if they made it at some point in time to the British Isles. This important reservation is somewhat counterbalanced by the fact that the British are, and have been for a long time, the biggest consumers of tea on a per capita basis and they have had a huge impact on the development of tea consumption and tea ware throughout the world.

Clearly the book lacks some of the "Zen" of tea but it makes up for it in erudition and so we do highly recommend it !

November 06, 2005

The Festival du Thé 2005 in Paris

festivalthe2005.jpgThe first Festival du Thé is taking place this weekend and until the end of tomorrow in Paris. The goal of the event is to introduce the general public to the enormous diversity that is to be found in the world of tea and to explain that tea is much more than just Lipton Yellow Label tea bags. To that end they have organized several tracks to present what they call a world of scents and colors (the various types of tea), a world of origins (countries of origin and specifically Sri Lanka, Japan, China, India and Kenya), a world for today (when, where and what to drink as tea in today's world) and last a world of spirituality and happiness (beauty and health benefits, relaxation, stimulation).

This event is organised by the French Tea Comitee and amongst the participants are all the Tea Boards of the countries enumerated, several french tea companies, Twinings, KusmiTea and also... Lipton ;-) You can also find the complete press release here (in french).

We will be visiting this event tomorrow and will try to review it here.

About this site

aboutteacup.jpgThis site is dedicated to tea. Everything and anything about tea. This will include customs, history, economics, social impact, varieties, grades, objects, cultivation, destinations, news, events, recipes, how-to's, stories, art, literature, legends, book reviews, glossaries etc... etc...

Tea is a universal beverage. It is a symbol of hospitality in many countries. With that in mind, welcome to this hopefully fascinating journey through the world of tea.