Sunday, November 13, 2011

Yelp reviews

 Here are the 5 star yelp reviews that Yelp has filtered.  I am forever grateful for these wonderful reviews.  I am of the opinion that you can tell what kind of parents a person had from reading their Yelp reviews.  One of the most important things a parent can teach... "If you don't have anything nice to say..."
Once again, thank you!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eugene Weekly Revisits J-TEA

Our iced teas have been catching on.  The article outlines our new plan for pedalin' tea.  Check it out and let us know what you think.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Local potters inspire

Jayme Allen of Firebug Pottery writes: "As a potter, I’ve spent many hours looking at tea wares, mainly from China and Japan, researching their history, function, philosophy, use, and the processes that brought them into being. During all this, I tried to uncover what made these wares so much different than the ones being currently produced by most potters in the world, and I truly believe that it starts with materials. Modern pottery is often made from clays bought from a store, in a plastic bag, and are overly processed, and the glazes are not much better, also made of overly refined and processed materials that are produced by industry for industrial use. In contrast, these Chinese and Japanese wares that I was admiring were created from clay that was local to the area, glazed with other local materials, usually including wood ash, feldspars, quartz, and limestone, all of which were mined, processed, used, and fired in the same area. It was this rich sourcing, coupled with the overall spirit of Eugene, which is strongly inclined to using local and re-sourced materials, which influenced me to start my pots by collecting my materials locally, and then processing those by hand myself, and developing both clay and glaze in the way of the old craftsman. It was shortly after arriving at this decision, and having started using local materials with some success, that they started the excavation of the new basketball arena at the university. Being a student there, I kept an eye on the progress of the excavation, which slowly cut its way through a thick layer of brown sandy clay, then a smaller layer of smooth red clay deep in the ground. I was eventually able to secure myself several hundred pounds of each layer, and after working with each, discovered that the red clay from the deepest layer made a fine clay with the addition of silica (quartz), and the brown clay a fine black glaze with the addition of silica and wood ash that I collected from forest thinning burns, ultimately rejoining the two geologic layers as I had found them, but now in the form of a tea bowl. The clay, being similar in appearance to both Yixing, China, and Tokoname, Japan clay bodies, influenced me to make naked clay teapots, which not only demonstrate the beauty of the local clay, but also carries the same physical properties that make the Yixing and Tokoname teapots so special- High iron content, and slight permeability. I really enjoy the concept of working with both ancient tradition, and the current ideology of environmental awareness, to create tea wares that truly reflect our local area."
Find Jayme's work at J-TEA or contact him directly at his online studio.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Upcoming Class: Aged Oolongs

Saturday May 21 and Sunday May 22, 10 am-12 pm, Cost: $36

Aged tea settles both the mind and soul in a gentle and soothing manner. It offers a window into the past and these teas bridge the gap between traditional and modern life. Through each infusion, the tea leaf captures the changing conditions of the soil and climate over time. By examining tea leaves that were processed decades ago, we can see how dramatically the tea industry has changed. Tea equipment has evolved over the years and aged oolongs provide a historical journey tracing the evolution of the processing methods through the leaf.

In this class, we will sample five teas and open a door to the old world through a discussion of the aging process and methods used.

Seating is limited. Call Josh at (541) 285-8997 to reserve a seat.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Aroma Cups

Drinking tea engages all of the senses -- each sensory dimension adds a shade of meaning to the tea’s individual character. The color, aroma, and mouth feel help create an in depth portrait of the tea. To this end, Gong Fu teacups are designed to fulfill specific sensory functions; the cups’ size and shape enhance various sensory characteristics. In general, the taller of the two is the aroma cup and the shorter, wider rimmed cup is intended for drinking. Tall and cylindrical, the aroma cup holds the scent in denser concentration. The cup’s high walls protect the scent, and the sharper interior edges at the base further heighten the aroma. It seems puzzling that the aroma sticks to porcelain, but a deep inhale will invariably penetrate the soul, leaving an imprint of the particular tea and of the moment itself. Another key consideration when drinking tea in urban areas, and thus for many residents of Taiwan, is that the scent of tea connects people with nature.

The drinking cup has a wider brim. This makes it more conducive to viewing the tea’s color and viscosity. It is also easier and more functional to drink from. The wide brim, shape of the rim, and depth of its pitch all have different effects on the experience of tea. This duo has gone in and out of style in Taiwan over the years, and there are many ways to use the two cups together to present the tea in a harmonious manner. One method involves filling the aroma cup with hot tea, placing the drinking cup atop the aroma cup to act as a lid, and forming a seal. Then, holding both cups together with both hands, the cups are lifted high in the air, rotated, and placed in front of the guest with the drinking cup on the bottom. The tea can be served to the guests in this manner and the host need never touch the rim of the guest’s cup. The guest can then follow the host’s lead and pull the aroma cup from the drinking cup. This movement breaks the seal and releases the brilliantly colored tea into the drinking cup.  The aroma cup’s contents are gone, but it is full of brilliant aroma. Sniff the aroma cup, by inhaling deeply through the nose. The aroma can be very impressive and alluring, but it can also tell us a great deal about the tea.  

Another, more minimalist way to serve tea in this fashion, is simply to heat the drinking and aroma cups and then to provide the guest with the preheated drinking cup and serve the aroma cup with tea. The guest can then, following the host’s lead, pour the oolong tea into the drinking cup. I like this toned down version because it is easy to do, thus making the tea service accessible. By emphasizing function rather than form, this method creates elegance through minimization.

A third, more flashy, and skill intensive method involves setting up like the first method, with the drinking cup atop the aroma cup, which is full of tea. Then, a fluid rolling motion is created by cupping the drinking cup in between the fingers of one hand. This gives creates the impression that the pair of cups is being rolled over the table. When done right, it looks easy, but this serving method is difficult and may take a great deal of practice. It is best to practice when guests are not present until the movements can be accomplished fluidly and without spilling tea so as not to detract from the overall quality of the tea service.

Whichever method you choose, aroma cups prove to be a fun tea tool and invite experimentation. They unveil the tea’s scent and its deeper essence in an enlightening manner, filling the mind with vivid imagery and sensory memories evoked by the aroma.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Puer Tea Tasting Class - the video

Here is a video made by Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua.  Find more of Sam's work here:

Here is what Sam said about the class:
J-Tea International Tea House | 2778 Friendly Street. Eugene | Puer Class 10AM-12PM | Menu: Man Nuo '09, Chang Shou '07, Chen Yi Hao '08, Meng Hai 8582 '87, Xia Guan 8653 '87, Meng Hai Xi Shuang Ba Na 7572 '76 | If you haven't taken a tea tasting class. It's a must!

Thanks Sam!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Meet the eight treasures…

In an attempt to shape and create tea culture in the U.S., I often borrow tea terms from one culture and apply them to another culture. One example of this is a series of teas that we refer to as “the eight treasures.” This is a line of eight teas that I put together that would be available on a consistent basis: Green Oolong, Charcoal Roasted Oolong, Second Flush Oolong, Yunnan Gold Tips, Aged Puer Tea, Jasmine Pearls, Wu Yi Oolong, and Iron Goddess.
Eight treasures is a subset of any eight derived from a longer list of one hundred treasures. The term “eight treasures” is used to describe an abundance of variety when used with food items, such as eight treasure rice or eight treasure tea. Eight treasure tea is consumed throughout China. I’ve always seen it as a small plastic bag containing eight different bits that are steeped together to make an interesting and enjoyable infusion. Items that might be found in eight treasure tea include chrysanthemum flower, rock sugar, oolong tea, green tea, Wolfberry, red date, jobes tears, stellaria, tremella mushroom, dried citrus peel, ginseng, and so on.
Five of the eight are shown above. More to come soon...
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Friday, March 04, 2011

Puer Event Revisited

The Puer Class is Back!

Once again we will travel back in time to discover the taste of history.

Saturday, March 12th from 10 AM to 12 PM at the teahouse, J-TEA will be serving aged puer tea. This event will be enjoyable and educational. Seating is limited to 8 people so please call to reserve a space if you are interested. The fee is $49 per person.

Six rare puer teas will be featured: three young and three aged. These teas are all high quality, raw and very rare. Puer starts as a green tea and at that stage can sometimes be very harsh. However, as it ages, puer transforms into an earthy soothing gentle tea. These older teas are considered by some to be priceless due to their unique qualities and limited quantity.

We will begin by tasting three of the younger, or new puer teas, to get an understanding of the origin of this type and how it starts its journey through time. Next we will delve into the older teas, some of which are over 30 years old.

Everyone's experience is undoubtedly different, but when I drink these teas, I am amazed that it is much more than a pleasant taste. I experience both a physiological as well as a psychological shift. I hope you will join this journey through time as we examine the history and transformation of puer teas.
To attend, RSVP by calling Josh at 541-285-8997. Space is limited so don't delay.

The last time we held this event it was very well received.  Guests were greatly influenced by the tea and impressed with the overall effect it created.  I remember one guest commenting, "Are you going to call us a cab?  I am not sure how I will get home."  
I only took small sips of the tea and after the event could do nothing but walk the neighborhood taking pictures of flowers in bloom.  This time promises to be even better as we have since received another very rare aged puer tea.  Also, the green puer that we will be enjoying is of even higher quality than those of the previous event.  If this class fills up, and there is still a demand, we might hold the same event the following weekend. 
Pre-event photos from the old teahouse.

The old tea bar.

Post event: the greens.  The aged stuff is taking a long steep.

Post puer bliss inspired photos.


Thursday, March 03, 2011

Local poets inspired by tea

The Invention of Tea

chew on this,
I can’t stop

I found these leaves
in my coat pocket
all dried & forgotten
probably from last autumn
maybe if
I soak them
in hot water
they’ll be easier
to swallow.

that warms
me to the core,
I think I’ll have
some more.

Contributed by:
Rick McMonagle

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Down Nose

Tea roasting is an art form learned slowly over time. Master tea roasters have the ability to bring particular flavor ranges to our attention. In general, the level of roasting should correlate with the oxidation level of a tea. The more oxidized the tea, the heavier the roast it can handle. Roasting also helps the tea maintain its flavor over time. Part of the challenge of learning to roast tea is learning to set up the area and choosing the proper time—when the wind currents and humidity levels reach an ideal state. It's also important to simply take the leap. 下手Xia Shou literally means “down hand” or put the hands to task. We say “take the plunge” or “dive in.” The word “hand” implies that roasting tea is an art that depends somewhat on the hands. Because roasting is an art, feel often supersedes strictly following a scientific procedure. Feel is of course based on experience. When roasting tea, “feel” mostly refers to smell. The nose knows. Instead, maybe we should say 下鼻Xia Bi or “down nose.”
I first smelled the aroma of roasting oolong in Taiwan. I noticed that tea vendors would place a small roaster in their place of business so that the alluring tea fragrance would attract tea customers to come inside. The smell that fills the air is sweeter than anything I have ever smelled before. It was as if the rich cookie layered textures could lift us right out of our skin and take us far into the wonderful place where everything melts in your mouth and your skin is a mere sponge for cookie-infused air. In the roasting process, the initial pleasant aroma is often followed by a slightly less pleasant odor. After the less pleasant odor is roasted off, then once again, a pleasant odor will return. Roasting tea will bring some of the tea's hidden flavors to the surface. Often citric notes are revealed. The mouth feel will also change. One of my favorite aspects of master roasted oolongs is that it is as if the mouth has been coated with a powdery sweetness, as if a little fairy angel sprinkled it with magic dust. Whenever I come across this type of tea, I am compelled to buy it.
Traditionally, tea was roasting over a charcoal heat source. Now, most people use electric roasters due to the consistency in temperature and convenience. The one experience of roasting over charcoal was incredible. We used so much charcoal that it burned for five days consecutively. Over these five days, several batches of oolong were roasted, including J-TEA's Mt. Ah Li Mi Xiang Charcoal Baked.
I have learned to roast tea just like I have learned to brew tea. First, you learn the step-by- step procedure. Then you learn the parameters, like temperature and time. Finally, the teacher says, “You must pay attention.” When roasting tea, you pay attention to your nose. In the fall of 2009, I brought a tea roaster back to Eugene, Oregon. Since then I have roasted a few batches of tea. The most serious roast I did on my own was the transformation of a green oolong to a roasted oolong. This is a heavier roast process that takes more time. Fortunately, I was able to take the finished product to Taiwan, where I gave it to several roast masters for evaluation. Upon the next stretch of low humidity levels, I plan to fire up the roaster again.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How to Fall Asleep after Drinking Oh-So-Much Tea

I love tea. And I love to drink tea just before going to bed. Tea relaxes me. It makes me feel good and there is something special about the solitude of having a late night tea. It seems to reset my clock and clear my mind of the day’s happenings. Inevitably, the tea makes me relax and feel ready for sleep. Nowadays, this will not influence my ability to fall asleep except on rare occasions. It didn’t always used to be this way. When I first started getting into tea, I remember lying down to sleep only to find my mind racing as I recounted every caffeinated beverage consumed throughout the day: “One cup of coffee, two full gung fu pots of cooked puer, and one full gung fu pot of high mountain green oolong.” A full gung fu pot would usually consist of six to ten infusions. I remember many restless nights when I would lie awake until three in the morning before reaching sleep.
Really, this would have been okay with me. However, at the time, I was very focused on Chinese medicine and adhering to the body’s natural rhythms. I learned from an old recluse known as Teacher Lee, or “Li Lao Shi,” that in order for the liver to rest, we have to be in bed lying down and preferably asleep between the hours of 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Not sleeping during this time is one of the big no-no’s in liver maintenance. It is also important for the kidneys as well. Spending a great deal of time with Teacher Lee, an acupuncturist/fortune teller, I was completely obsessed with learning the Chinese secrets of health preservation (保護養生). Though this was important to me, I wasn’t going to let not sleeping stop my tea drinking. Virgos like myself have been noted to be very concerned with physical state of health while having an affinity for mild mind altering substances such as tea. The caffeine combined with the l-theanine found in tea, is a healthy choice that satisfies the desired outcome of imbibing a substance that both expands and massages the mind.
Also, Teacher Lee was no help when it came to this subject. I visited him regularly in the evenings. We would sit in his living room talking late into the night. I often didn’t head home until after midnight. More often than not, about halfway through the visit, he would stand up and clap his hands together and ask, “Want to drink some tea?” Teacher Lee always had good tea on hand, and he was a brew expert. So this was not the time to exercise what little self control I have. I would accept the offer for some expertly made tea. He would get excited and take the opportunity to share many brew tips with me. He would talk about various positive attributes of the tea, indicating what was special about the pot he was using and why he was holding the pot a specific distance from the kettle. “At this distance, the water cools a degree or two as it passes through the air into the pot.” Eventually, after a very sleepless night, I had to refuse Teacher Lee’s offer. “I want to, but if I do, I wont be able to fall asleep." To which he replied, “That's the best part!” What? What is this old man talking about and why the mixed messages?
Ah, life in Taiwan is so full of seeming contradictions and mystery. This is not just because I was an outsider. One can hardly speak of Taiwan culture if they are not willing to speak of ghosts. Nonetheless, I would have to go elsewhere, if I were to remedy my sleep disorder. I don’t remember who first told me, though I am pretty sure it was tea people, or closely related to those living in the tea industry, either as farmers, producers, vendors, roasters or artisans.

Eat Sugar and Talk to Yourself:
First, I was advised to “eat sugar.” I don’t think I really believed it the first time I heard it. But then I heard it again, from another source. “How do I eat sugar?” I asked, feeling stupid. “Put a little spoonful of sugar under your tongue and let it dissolve.” Even though this seemed counterintuitive, in the land of seeming contradiction, why not give it a try? I ran some tests. The first time, it worked pretty well, then not so well and then really well. The effectiveness depended on two things. If I placed the small spoonful under my tongue and then went right to bed without delay, it worked well. I could effectively drown out the noise in my head. If I delayed and let my mind fill with detailed and colorful information, the effect was significantly lessened. Anyway, there has to be a better way. I am rotting my teeth out.
The second answer I heard was from a fellow tea enthusiast who described another process: “I give myself a talk.” That was many years ago and I forget how the talk went, but here is what might have been said. “I tell myself that I have consumed a natural substance and that it is natural and good for me. I tell myself about the natural effects that this substance has on my body and its rhythms. I explain how it might seem overly exciting, but given its organic nature, I can just float in its pools and tides and eddies as it squirts me out to sea once again. Nothing bad will happen. Enjoy the sensation and feel the ride.” This talk, or some variation of this talk, was what I remember giving myself. Perhaps I reprogrammed my brain, or maybe it’s just a temporal state, but now I seem to be able to enjoy a nice gung fu tea session just before lying down to sleep—which is a most enjoyable experience.  

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Tea Ware and Brewing Styles: Cultural Considerations

Cup size tremendously influences temperature of the tea. In the US, loose-leaf tea is often brewed in a basket or strainer and served in mugs. From a functional standpoint, mugs are less effective. As soon as the tea is ready, it is too hot to drink. Then, near the end of the mug, the tea is cool. This wide range in temperature combined with the volume of tea results in a very narrow window in which tea stays at the ideal temperature for consumption. This problem is particularly exaggerated with using large mugs. There’s simply too much tea to drink when it reaches its ideal temperature. At my teashop, I typically serve tea in small (7 oz.) mugs. I view this as a necessary—and temporary—compromise.
What is the mug alternative? Kung fu brew (also called gung fu cha). Small teapots (100 to 200 ml) or guy wans are used to brew several infusions. The tea is poured into small cups after each infusion. As a result, tea is consistently consumed at its ideal temperature and the drinker gains a better sense of the individual tea by tasting it over the course of multiple infusions. The amount of tea that is produced from each infusion varies, depending on the size of the teapot. In general, it is enough to fill two to four of the small cups. The tea is very hot when poured, but due to the small cup size, it quickly reaches a drinkable temperature. After about three to five sips, the tea is gone. With this smaller amount of tea, it more likely that the tea is consumed at the ideal temperature. When in need of another round, simply re-infuse the leaves and you have hot tea all over again.
I love to brew kung fu style for my customers, and ultimately, I hope to educate my customers on how brew kung fu style. Many Westerners have not been exposed to this style of brewing and, at times, find it intimidating. I plan to add more specialty tea service as it is feasible for the business.  

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Tea Temperature:

I remember my first trip up into the Ah Li Shan mountain range located in central Taiwan. I passed through a place called Xi Ding where I met Lai Wen Zheng 賴文政at an elevation of 1,100 meters. I remember distinctly on either the first or second time visiting him, he explained to me the importance of the temperature at which tea is consumed. He then proceeded to torture me by brewing up some of his choice High Mountain Mt Ah Li Oolong and then making me wait a full five minutes before drinking it. Before brewing the tea, he made sure that all of the tea ware was extremely hot. Once the tea had finished steeping he said, “Now we must wait. It is important to taste tea at the right temperature so that we can experience all of the flavors that are in the tea.” He picked up a digital timer and set the minutes for five. Silence filled the air as we waited and he explained once again why it was important to wait. It was cold at this elevation and the hot tea seamed to be playing tricks on my mind. I had traveled so far for this cup of tea and now it was sitting there in front of me, steaming, fresh, and bright. I tried to wait patiently. Mr. Lai could tell it was difficult for me, so he explained again that waiting was important if we were going to truly taste all that the tea has to offer. Sipping the tea, it was interesting to notice the greater mouthfeel present at this temperature, which was neither hot or cool.

What is the ideal temperature for the body to absorb the tea and create the most positive impact? The reason that tea is so terrific is that it adjusts to what you need and you are the alchemist charged with concocting your own brew. This is an idea that relates to the way tea enters the stomach. I have noticed, more with some teas than others that it really seems to matter at which temperature the tea enters the stomach. What does this mean? I am trying to describe the way that the stomach takes the tea. Does it open receptively? Does it close up and resist so that the tea seems only to bounce off and roll down the sides of the stomach or does it open too fully and not absorb?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Practice of Brewing: Gung Fu Cha

Tea is simple. This is partly because learning about tea is fun and rewarding. One of the great things about brewing loose leaf tea for yourself is that you get to know each tea so well. As the water comes to a boil, we pull some leaves from the tin. Holding them up to the light, we see the brightness, the consistency in shape and color of the leaf. Hot water is poured, filling the teapot to warm the teaware. Feel the weight of the tea in your hand. We are assured of the quality upon noticing its relative weight. It seems heavy for its mass.

Gong Fu Cha requires an yi xing pot or a lidded cup known as a guy wan. There is no reason why we could not make an American version of the gung fu cha method. In fact, this is encouraged in Taiwan tea culture, as part of the practice of gung fu cha is thoughtful self expression. Keep in mind that function outweighs form 6 billion to 1 when adding high-end oolongs to the mix. Also, the fact that yi xing tea ware evolved as tea culture evolved, I would be surprised if there is anything better to use for steeping oolong and puer tea than an yi xing teapot.

Both the guy wan and the yi xing teapot can be used to brew gung fu cha. This means tea prepared through great practice (cha is the Chinese word for tea). Does making tea require such practice? No, that is why teabags are so popular. For some, it is merely a warm and stimulating beverage. Outsiders to the tea world do not always understand how the act of preparing tea can be done with such practice. Even for practitioners, the subtleties of the practice are only revealed over time. At times, tea trickles down into an individual, elevating their awareness and surrounding the mundane with an electric glow—this often indicates a meaningful experience. However, this type of experience, though pleasant, might be tossed aside for those who are results oriented.

When using whole leaf oolong tea in a small clay teapot, the volume of leaf used expands to lightly fill the teapot by the end of the third infusion. Keep in mind that tightly rolled oolong has a tendency to expand to four times its size. With light and fluffy twisted leaf oolong, it will look like you are using more initially, but this tea will not expand as much in the brew process. With twisted leaf oolong, it might be your preference that the pot is only two thirds to three quarters full after several infusions.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Historic Packaging

I borrowed this packaging from a friend in order to take these photos.  This statement makes me want to drink tea:

"Tea is used for entertaining friends and guests.  It is aromatic and tasteful. Besides, quenching our thirst tea gives us appetite and cleanses the internal systems of our body.  Nowadays, people indulge in drinking tea because it is considered the best of all drinks."  

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Iron Goddess, Ti Kuan Yin, Tie Guan Yin, and TKY: What's the Difference?

Here is a question sent to the tea inbox. You can direct your tea related questions to
Aaron writes:
“I am a long-time oolong devotee, however, in the study of tea there is so much that still puzzles me frankly. For instance, Tie Kwan Yin is a specific kind of tea, but really it occupies such a range. There are green Tie Kwan Yin, more fully oxidized TWY, roasted TKY, aged TKY, etc. What really are the differences between a green TKY and a Pouching for example? Sometimes I find that I am confused by how a tea is labeled, or sometimes it seems arbitrary. Any thoughts on this?”
This is true: there are no strict standards and TKY is hugely varied. The best way for to understand the distinctions to break it down into several categories.
First, is the tea from Mainland China or Taiwan? Mainland varieties are primarily traditional--highly oxidized and heavily roasted. In the last ten years, the Mainland has begun to produce green varieties as well. Though many of the green varietals have been unimpressive, I have discovered some amazing teas with a creamy almond texture, citrus notes, and great body. Typically, these teas are lightly roasted and, historically, have been reasonably priced. In more recent years, the price on this "good" green goddess increased a great deal. The lower grade green, which is a TKY varietal that’s processed like a green oolong, is also overpriced in my opinion. I would rather drink the Four Seasons varietal from Taiwan. They are similar, and in fact, Four Seasons was derived from Iron Goddess. Even more recently, in the last two years, there has been a resurgence of less expensive highly oxidized, heavily roasted Iron Goddess from An Xi in Mainland China.
Taiwan TKYs, as far as I can tell, are all traditional. TKY is more labor intensive to produce and the plant varietal yields less leaf. As a result, the prevailing attitude in Taiwan is: "Do it right, or don't bother." The Taiwan goddess fetches a pretty penny, but is well worth the price. Taiwan's major goddess producing regions are Mu Zha 木柵 and Mao Kong 貓空 in Taipei County as well as Shi Men 石門 in Northern Taiwan. Pouchong, or Bao Zhong 包種, as it is spelled in Pin Yin, is the greenest of the oolongs and processed in a twisted leaf fashion, rather than a tightly rolled leaf. This variety is grown in the Wen Shan region in Northern Taiwan.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Food, Wine and Tea: A Sensory Exploration

After making the connection between wine and tea several years ago, I began to notice the numerous similarities between the grape and the tea leaf. The films Bottle Shock and Mondovino artfully elucidated these similarities. Here in the Pacific Northwest, home of some of the world’s best vineyards, I have befriended with a few wine experts. After hearing similarity after similarity between the grapes/bottled wine and tea/the tea leaf, I have finally stopped being surprised upon hearing yet another commonality between these two wonderful beverages.
What are the differences? First and foremost, regions such as the Willamette Valley and the Dundee Hills, support a vibrant wine culture. Sadly, tea culture is very limited in these regions. I am doing my best to build a tea culture, along with a few other local connoisseurs. At present, there are a few leaders and a number of fanatics. All are welcome.
I recently made a discovery regarding the complex relationship between beverages and food. Some wines pair beautifully with food—this results in a wonderful sensory experience. Other wines stand up well on their own or overpower food, and are best enjoyed without food. Tea, though sometimes marketed as complementary to certain foods, on the whole should not be consumed with food. In my most idealistic vision of tea, it is like a wine that stands on its own. Food scents or flavors only detract from the overall tea experience.
Yet, exceptions exist—particularly in the case of morning black teas. In Taiwan, I was served a 20-year-old Lapsong Su Chong with a handmade sweet rice porridge, and I still long for this wonderful combination. In this case, food and tea are consumed intermittently. However, for digestive reasons, it is not advisable to alternately eat a bite of food and take a swig of tea. Generally, food and beverages should be taken separately to prevent dilution of the digestive juices. It’s likely that the quantity of the beverage imbibed whilst eating the food also plays a role. Perhaps tiny sips are agreeable, as in the case of wine. In addition, many teas should not be consumed on an empty stomach. The best practice is to wait about thirty minutes after eating to start brewing tea. If tea is consumed too soon after eating, it prevents the body from absorbing all of the nutrients via the digestive organs.
What about the concept of brewing bits of food with tea? In Lei Cha, seeds, nuts and or spices are ground up with tea before hot water is added. Tibetan yak butter tea combines puer tea with yak milk or butter. Though I have not yet tried these tea drinks, they seem to function as a meal and tea all in one. Incidentally, I do love tea and cookies. However, in general, tea is for the sake of tea and tea alone. Nothing needs to be added, but sometimes a bit of cookie makes a tea twice as nice. In conclusion, I have once again proven to myself that it is difficult to make blanket statements about tea.