Thursday, February 23, 2012

Tea in the Kitchen: A Tale of Two Birds by Katie L. Chamberlain

Occasionally, tea bypasses the teapot and makes its way into the kitchen. In this case, two fine birds benefited from the smoky effects induced by dark teas, brightening otherwise dark winter nights. Tea smoking, an ancient Chinese cooking technique, infuses delicate, complex flavors with only a few simple ingredients. Namely, three ingredients form the foundation for this technique: loose-leaf black tea leaves for fragrance, brown sugar for coloring and slight sweetness, and uncooked rice as a fuel source.

Tea-Smoked-Chicken Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette and Scallion Broth
From David Tanis’ The Heart of the Artichoke

Tea Used: Black Tea, Wedding Tea

We made this recipe as part of a holiday cooking marathon, inspired by a lack of snow and four days of heavy rain. We left the kitchen briefly when the skies brightened on New Year’s Eve, luring us outside for a magical, snowy hike to Castle Rock. At the end of the week, this dish ranked among the best. The rich aromatics—black tea, star anise, fennel, and cloves—infuse into the smoked chicken legs beautifully and complement the tangy vinaigrette. Because the dish is covered, you must rely on your nose to gauge readiness. And it’s advised to release the smoke outdoors or near an open window to avoid smoking out your kitchen.  See pictures below.

Smoky Tea Duck

From Sunset Magazine (Eric Grower)

Tea Used: Lapsang Souchong

The more recent tea duck experiment won over a diner who’s never liked duck and equally delighted aficionados. Lapsang souchong tastes like a campfire in a cup or vegan BBQ ribs, according to J-Tea. Using this tea imparts a rich, smoky flavor without actually smoking the duck. In this rendition, rice, tea, and peppercorns are ground into a fine powder and massaged into the duck. Then, the duck breasts are pan-fried, fat side down, and finished in the oven. The duck literally sinks in the pan as the fat cooks away, leaving a thin, crispy membrane redolent of smoke.

The book
The smoking elements a cast iron dutch oven

The aftermath
Tea smoked chicken salad. Voila!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Learning to Brew by Mical Lewis

Until recently, I was unfamiliar with kung fu brewing, a Chinese tea brewing method involving a small clay pot or a porcelain guy wan. I recently acquired my first Yi Xing teapot, thus began my journey. I decided to work with green oolongs so I chose a lovely mid-sized red clay teapot, which lends itself best to that type of tea. Nothing fancy, just a teapot. Incidentally, this teapot is the only bit of fancy teaware that I own. I don't have a wet-brew tea tray or a tea pick or fancy cups—at least not yet. Truthfully, the first time I made tea with my teapot I used a metal pie pan to catch the over spill.

Brewing tea kung fu style is very much a mindfulness practice in which you brew the tea in several short increments. I have also heard people in the teahouse say that the tea tastes better when you focus your energy and remain present with it. I knew that this might be difficult for me since my mind tends to run around like an overly-caffeinated hamster in a maze. The first few times I brewed kung fu style, I remained engaged; I didn't want to mess up and I was still actively learning the process. However, I found that once I'd memorized the procedure, my mind started to wander. I haven't ruined the tea yet, but I have definitely over-brewed a few times. Though the tea wasn't bad, it definitely tasted neglected.

Despite the challenge of staying in the present moment, I really love brewing with my Yi Xing teapot. I'm forming quite a bond with that little teapot. We've become partners in the present moment, a monkey-mind quieting duo. I know that when I get it down from the shelf, I'm about to let go of everything extraneous and just be here now. I know that there will be more ups and downs in my kung fu brewing journey. Invariably, my mind will wander. But, in time, I hope to become more grounded and focused, and to deepen my personal relationship with tea.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Enjoy the Anticipation: Choosing a Tea for the Ages

This weekend, we will carefully and artfully seal tea for 20 years. Not only will we be putting tea away for long-term storage, we will be creating works of art. The first question I contemplated when conceiving this event was: What tea to seal? I already had an idea about this particular tea based on a few factors. First, how large are the jars? I haven't filled these jars with tea before. The jars are ceramic and they have a large capacity. In essence I've always known a few parameters that would help me decide which tea to use for this type of experiment. One consideration is that the lower the level of oxidation of the tea, the more dramatically the tea will change as a result of the aging process. This vivid transformation allows the drinker to marvel and savor the flavor, the experience of time gone by. It is as if we get to taste the last 20 years that passed since sealing the jar.
Some of the jars that will be available for sealing tea
Green goes to earthy dark, similar to puer. Sometimes, even tea experts can be fooled into thinking that an aged oolong is an aged or cooked puer tea. It changes that much. Some experts believe that the greenest oolongs are the best for aging. The transformation that they undergo seems the most dramatic.
Another issue is that of necessity. This is also a question of restraint. If we seal away a favorite tea, it would be very difficult to stop my urge to drink up the tea long before 20 years has passed. Also, remember that the tea will be transformed, so why change what you like now? Enjoy what you enjoy. This is not to say that we don't enjoy the tea that we are sealing, it just means that once sealed, we can enjoy not drinking it. Instead, we can enjoy the anticipation.

With the question of aging often comes the question of roasting. Some people say that as a tea is aged, it should be roasted every year to remove some of the moisture that is absorbed into the tea over a year’s time. Roasting is an art. There are so many ways to achieve one’s desired results. We have gone another route with regard to aging and roasting, partly due to our lack of experience with roasting tea, but mostly based on information obtained through several visits with aged tea connoisseurs.

Aged tea is strange because a tea can change in so many different ways. We are fans of just letting the tea sit. It should sit in a place where it will not be exposed to direct sunlight, strong odors, and will not have to be moved often. It would be best to keep it in a place that is dark, dry, and cool. Regarding the storage vessel, tea will change differently in different materials. We recommend jars as the optimal choice. If tea is sealed in a jar, it does not have to be air tight.
Storage seals are signed to further document the event.

After aging for twenty years, it would be practical to roast the tea a bit at a low temperature for a certain amount of time to cook off some of the storage energy. In a sense, this works to awaken the tea from its energetic storage state.

About the Dragon Label: Local artist Eliza Lenore designed the tea labels for this event. The dragon was chosen as a time marker, as this zodiac sign happens once every twelve years. In this case, the dragon has been shaped into the image of the J in our J-TEA logo.   

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Becoming Health Conscious: The Aesthetic Experience of Tea by Jonathan Manley

For years, I loved the taste and the craft of coffee. But after several years of full immersion in coffee culture, my health demanded that I give it up. Though the process of quitting was painful, I learned a lot about my body and myself. When I made the transition to tea, I found not only a caffeine substitute but also a beverage that provided a plethora of perks. It is easily as sensuously pleasing and diverse as any beverage I have ever tasted. But most surprisingly, I discovered that it made me more conscious. When I drank coffee I never thought much about myself, physically or mentally. In fact, when I quit drinking coffee I realized how much I had to ignore my body in order to consume it considering the numerous side effects I felt such as a racing heart beat, sour stomach, lock jaw, listlessness, and an inability to focus.
Tea provides an entirely different experience. Not only did I find a suitable caffeine substitute but also I found that consuming tea facilitated good health. For me, tea is calming; it makes me feel centered and focused, and pleasantly uplifted. This sense of focus has helped me become closer to my body, which I think is the first step to health, and has enabled me to listen to my body’s needs. This process of conscious listening has been a great aid in becoming healthy—a benefit beyond the taste, culture, and art of tea. In the next post, I will explore the aspects of the tea experience that create this focus and centeredness. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Sky is Not Falling. It's Changing. By Guru Hari S. Khalsa

I rise early every day.  Instinctually I scan the morning sky and smell the wind like some wild beast in the forest.  This seems to be an ancient primitive practice that I’ve inherited to foresee what  nature and the day will bring and make plans thereof.  This morning as I sat from my living room perch I looked to the West and saw a dark and ominous gloom on the horizon.  Immediately a heavy feeling sinks deep into my gut; another heavy day to bear!  But then, as I swivel my chair, to the East I see a beautiful sky!  Angelic and radiant with colors like an aurora borealis.  It moves, flows, evolves and unfolds with each second.  Becoming more and more spectacular my hopes were restored!!

But this moment is fleeting and within minutes the spectrum of colors vanish.  With nothing to grasp onto any longer the Eastern sky too has turned to grey.  And the animal me is slightly saddened.  I pause, sip my high mountain oolong tea and reflect on the matter; the feelings that arise and fall within each nanosecond of our lives.  And a simple neutrality comes to mind.  The human condition perpetually grasping for something.  Experiencing life with an internal barometer of hope or despair.

My chair swivels back to the West.  I slowly look up and to my great surprise the Western sky is now in a full spectrum light and even more beautiful than the East!  My hopes are restored!!!  After all, I am only human.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Full Conversion: A Coffee Expert Embraces Tea by Jonathan Manley

I experienced the world of caffeinated beverages through coffee first. Like many people, I was under the impression that coffee was simply coffee. At age 18, I learned that all coffee is not created equal. High quality coffee brewed properly had a complexity and goodness not found in your average cup of Joe.

Around this time, I made friends with a young man who had spent time in Asia and soaked up Asian culture, including tea. He was part of a monthly tea club and each month we eagerly awaited the new shipment. The world of tea, much like coffee, began to open up for me. It was populated with Japanese green, Indian Darjeeling, and most memorably for me, Taiwanese Oolong.

Soon after, my path diverged from tea. The coffee world was far more accessible —and it became my livelihood. For nearly eight years I lived and breathed the coffee industry, learning much and imbibing lots of great coffee. But over time my relationship with coffee changed. I began to experience health issues and I realized that my excessive coffee drinking was part of the problem. It was difficult for me to accept this—I loved coffee and hadn't functioned without it for years. To help process this realization, I polled my customers and asked them how coffee made them feel. I was surprised to find that many people experienced negative side effects such as stomach issues, rapid heartbeat, exhaustion, and moodiness. This information clarified my own consumption of coffee. Soon after, I bit the bullet and quit drinking coffee. For nearly two years I didn't drink any caffeine, while keeping my barista job. This was not an easy task.

But all endings bring new beginnings. This particular ending marked a return to a former budding interest—tea, especially oolong. I was fortunate enough to be living in Eugene and to find J-Tea. I was also happy to discover not only that tea didn't adversely affect my health but that it was more aesthetically pleasing than I remembered. And, I rediscovered several other benefits—the meditative qualities, the visceral pleasures from the different flavors, relaxation, and the enjoyment and connection of sharing tea with others. I also explored tea more deeply. I delved into rich and intoxicatingly sweet Eastern Beauties, nutty, full bodied, and nourishing roasted oolongs, and delicate, floral, and sustenance-giving green oolongs. I am now a fully converted man. When forced to give something up, it’s natural to feel a sense of loss and longing. Interestingly, I feel no pangs of loss or longing but as if I have been rewarded with a fertile new beginning.