Monday, April 29, 2013

Ilha Formosa, Taiwan

Dear Blog Readers, I can keep this quiet no longer!  On Thursday this week, I'm boarding a plane to the tea mecca of Taiwan! This island country, south of Japan and east of China, produces some of the world's best oolong teas.  For an oolong lover like me, this trip is very special

You've probably heard of "Formosa" oolong.  Formosa is a former name of Taiwan, so named by the Dutch when they first laid eyes on the mountainous and forested heaven.  Ilha Formosa means beautiful island.

We will be visiting tea farms and meeting tea makers in several regions. In addition to tea, we'll be eating yummy food.  Taiwan is quite well known for its cuisine, influenced by native customs, China, Japan and others. 

Map of teas grown in Taiwan, from Wikipedia

Thanks to my sweet DH (dear hubby) for encouraging me to go. He'll be keeping the house and garden while I'm drinking my weight in tea. Thanks to Shiuwen of Floating Leaves for organizing this tour! I feel very fortunate to be able to visit tea farms and see Taiwan through her eyes. And thank you to my tour mates, a small group of us inquisitive travelers and tea lovers!

I will be blogging from Taiwan, and I hope you'll follow along!  I'll keep it streamlined with photos and a few thoughts, and save the detailed accounts for when I return. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

A List of Tea Times

A List of Tea Times
~Hsu Tzu Shu

In idle passing
When poetry fails to inspire
Thoughts confused
In time to a song
When the music is finished

A life in seclusion
Enjoying the scholarly life
Conversing late at night
Studying on a sunny day
In the bridal chamber

In honor of favoured guests
As host to scholars or pretty girls
Friends return from far away
In perfect weather
When skies are overcast
Watching boats sail by in the canal

Amidst trees and bamboo groves
When the flowers blossom and the birds sing
On hot days by the side of a lotus pond
Burning incense in the courtyard
After tipsy guests have retired
When the children are out
On visits to remote temples
Near a spring or scenic landscape

Excerpted from Scattered Leaves, A Book of Tea-inspired Poetry
Happy National Poetry Month!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Review: Sweet Tea Revenge

A cup of tea, a cookie, and a good book. What could be better?  I was so excited to be asked to review Laura Childs' new book, Sweet Tea Revenge.   Other tea bloggers have also had fun in reviewing this book. 

For me, it's total indulgence. I've read all the books in this series and they are perfect for a weekend getaway, right from the couch. Each story is similar in its progress, yet unique. Theodosia Browning owns a tea shop and has interesting staff and friends. She's got a reputation as an amateur sleuth and invariably finds herself solving a mystery. Throughout it all, she serves pots of tea and trays do delicious tea foods, many which have recipes in the back of the book. In this story, Theo helps solve the murder of her shop neighbor and friend Delaine's fiancé. A very good read to go with tea!

Have you read this one?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Salt snd Straw Tea Ice Cream

Lotus Seed Matcha Ice Cream

The DH and I checked out Salt and Straw this week. It's a locally famous ice creamery. Salt and Straw has partnered with another local celeb, Steven Smith Teamaker, to produce some tea based ice creams.  

The Salt and Straw menu is very creative in general (pear and blue cheese anyone?). I had the matcha ice cream in the photo. It was yummy and with a very interesting texture. I couldn't say the matcha flavor was at the forefront. The sweetness softens that strong flavor. That's probably good for most ice cream lovers. Me, turning into a serious matcha drinker, would have liked that flavor a little more prominent. Nonetheless, I enjoyed and would recommend it. 

My favorite flavor wasn't ice cream at all. It was the Brew Dr Kombucha Sorbet. Oh wow it was good. The Kombucha flavor really shined!  This is what I'll enjoy next time.   Check it out!

Portland friends - have you tried these?  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Kevin and Afternoon Tea at the Phoenix Biltmore

Please allow me to introduce you to Kevin.  He's the Tea Sommelier at the Phoenix, AZ Biltmore. I met Kevin recently when I took myself to tea for two precious hours while on a business trip.  It was a magical experience for me, mostly because Kevin made me feel so special.

He had a little help from grand Arizona Biltmore herself.  This stately building opened in 1929.  Architect Albert Chase McArthur, a Harvard graduate, had studied under Frank Lloyd Wright and the latter's influence is visible throughout.  More info here for you FLW lovers.

The "Jewel of the Desert" has played hostess to many a famous person.  For example, Irving Berlin wrote White Christmas while sitting by the pool.  ;-)

I arrived at the lobby at my appointed tea time.  I wanted a private, special tea to do some reflection on my life (I'd just hit a major milestone).  Kevin greeted me warmly, talked about how he also loved having tea alone, and then seated me in the best seat in the lobby.  Tears welled in my eyes, I was so touched.

Then Kevin walked me through the tea menu, helping me to select a tea that would pair well with the first course of savories and sandwiches.  I chose the white ginger pear tea to begin, and it worked beautifully with the food.

I had the opportunity to observe Kevin interact with the other guests and I was very impressed with how he gently guided them through the tea selections and experience of afternoon tea, providing tidbits of tea history, information on tea's growing and processing, and plenty of encouragement and smiles...all the while ensuring our teapots were hot and full and our courses served in a leisurely but yet timely manner.  He exemplified the professional server. 

Over the warm raisin rum scones, I shared with Kevin my love of tea and this blog.  It was then that we became friends.  I do hope to keep in touch and plan to visit every opportunity I have.  (More trips to AZ, please!)  I'm showing the jam and real clotted cream below because he suggested I try a generous serving of cream with lemon curd and a dollop of raspberry jam on the scone.  Delicious!

Desserts were amazing and plentiful!  At this point, Kevin suggested I switch to another tea and I tried the Chai.  By the way, teas were prepared as they should (in my opinion): Loose leaf, steeped to perfection and then the leaf removed, and hot. Tea Forte is the brand.

I want to say thank you to Kevin for making my afternoon tea experience one that I will never forget.  His thoughtfulness and enthusiasm for afternoon tea were true gifts and I was pampered from beginning to end.  In fact, when he discovered that it was my birthday, he left me with a gift...extra scones and a container of tea. This was a 5-star afternoon tea experience.

A few more Biltmore pictures...Sprites, originally designed for Frank Lloyd Wrght for Chicago's Midway Gardens.  They've had a perilous path to the West.  They were found in a farmer's field, restored and now grace the entrance to the hotel.
This gorgeous stained glass panel greets you as you walk inside.  Frank Lloyd Wright designed the panel and called it Saguaro Forms and Cactus Flowers.   Wright originally created this work as one of twelve covers commissioned by Liberty magazine in 1926-1927.  Unfortunately, the designs were rejected as too radical by the publisher.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Busy Week! Stop for the Flowers

It's been a busy, busy week at work for me!  I've worked hard to avoid letting the frenetic pace around me suck me in.  I want to stay centered.  One way I do that, and it's small but mighty, is to look at flowers.  Seriously - flower power to the rescue! 

I took flowers into the office and for a few seconds, mere seconds, twice a day I admired them and took deep breaths.  It helps.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Hanami (Flower Viewing)

Cherry petals floating in the breeze

Cherry blossoms floated in the air last weekend as we enjoyed hanami, the Japanese tradition of celebrating flower blossoms.  Friends gathered at the Japanese American Historical Plaza to admire the lovely avenue of cherry trees in full bloom.  A very special thank you to MK for coordinating the event!
Senpai (senior students) and Sensei (in the center), dressed in beautiful kimono

We enjoyed a picnic, tea sweets and bowls of matcha as the petals continued to shower down.  The day was heavenly - sunny and mid 70s, quite a special thing for March in Portland! (Now we're back to the rain, but we need it.)

Below, a tea sweet made by Margie-sensei.  She named it hana yuki, flower snow.  The sweet was made with sweetened bean paste and a pickled cherry blossom on top.
When cherry blossoms
no regrets

We had the opportunity to share bowls of tea with others who came out to admire the flowers.

A great day!

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Yak Butter Tea

Tibetan nomadic woman making yak butter tea

We had traveled four hours through the plateaus and mountain passes in Tibet to arrive at Lake Namtso.  On our way home through wide open spaces, giant skies and yaks lounging across the road, we stopped at a random nomad tent to offer cross-continent greetings.  There is a custom of hospitality in Tibet, and we were assured to be offered the mysterious yak butter tea

Tibetan nomadic family's tent, made of woven yak hair

The nomadic life is closely tied with the yak.  The nomadic travelers use yak hair for tents, the yaks work the ground for seasonal farming, and the yak milk and meat are crucial protein and caloric sources.

We were welcomed inside the tent where a fire was going.  The weave of the yak hair allowed for the dispersion of the smoke. 

Grains of barley

Barley is another staple of the Tibetan nomad's diet, and barley flour is the main ingredient in tsampa, a paste or meal commonly made with yak butter and roasted barley flour.

I carefully observed our surroundings as our hostess made tea.  Set amidst the rustic home that blends into the landscape were things of value, color and beauty. 

Yak butter tea has many variations, but generally includes a hot and strong dark tea (often pu-erh), yak butter and salt.  Our hostess placed these ingredients into the churn (see image at top) and used it to emulsify the beverage.  (Given that water boils at a lower temperature at such elevations, the churning assists in the melting of the butter and the blending of the beverage.)  Along with the tea, we were served some cheeses (yak and perhaps sheep) and a handful of tsampa.  Our tsampa tasted a little sweet and so I think sugar was added to the barley flour and butter. 

The tea was brothy and salty.  It reminded me of a vegetable broth base.  I sipped my cup slowly and let the oily texture and flavors play in my mouth. 

Curiosity about one another ran in both directions.  ;-)  I saw very few people in the vicinity when we first arrived.  By the time for us to leave, the family had assembled.

I felt honored to be treated so kindly as a stranger.  I was nearly euphoric in this moment - the crisp mountain air and skies, the exchange of smiles and customs, the children behaving as children do, the colors and textures.  I still can hardly believe I had this amazing experience!