Once upon a time, I wanted to be a tea scientist. I had two dozen teas, a thermometer, access to an electron microscope, a search engine at my finger tips and a lot of enthusiasm. I used to hang out in a tea shops in the Chinatown of San Francisco that carry tea that costs 1000$ a pound and ask them questions for research. In turn, they look at me with suspicion and follow me around in store to make sure I wasn’t trying to run away with a canister. I would pester my colleagues to get me some every time they travelled out of the country. I would ask favors from my Asian friends. “Can I come with you when you go buy your weekly groceries?” They knew what it meant : a translation job of the labels in the tea isle. It became a mild obsessed. As with any of my hobbies, life had other plans. I could hardly keep up with one research job. I was running out of cabinet space and grocery budget. Too many things to learn, 24hrs a day. I had to declutter this obsession. Where did that leave me ? Where am I now ?
A gourmand is someone who is excessively fond of eating and drinking, and has therefore allowed himself to become enslaved by pleasure.
A gourmet is someone who has developed such discriminating tastes that he can no longer tolerate anything less than “the best.”
A connoisseur, it is simply a person who “knows.” And believes that knowing about something can dramatically increase the pleasure we derive from it.
That is me.
I now have a ” normal ” tea collection with a gourmand’s appetite for it. Adding a zero-waste constraint on top, this is what I am left with :
Tea is my comfort food. And scent is one of my strongest sensory input. I associate lavender with long nights chained to my desk waiting for the results. This tea keeps me company. It is relaxing and de-stressing. Nights are calmer. Work gets done. Life goes on.
Its caffeine free and pairs well with my other teas. It helps with my midnight cravings. It helps with making me feel less full after a big meal. Its nice to sip on something comforting after a dinner party that is not alcohol. I always serve it when I have people over. Its my trick to get them to stay longer and have deeper conversations …. tea can have that effect on people. Sitting outdoors, sipping on hot tea, smelling the flowers and talking into the night with my dear humans – what a joy !
There are things I can never buy for myself but would love to give as gifts to my loved ones : Candles. First hand clothing. And white tea. I got this to give as a present. When he realized how much I value it, a friend of mine returned his present. I accepted. This is my fav tea in the whole wide world.
Roasted Buckwheat tea
This is my afternoon slump help. I start to get hungry at 3-4pm and this tea prevents me from going to the nearest coffee shop to buy a sugary snack. The starch in the grain is a good filler. It has the earthiness of roasted grain and smells divine.
Layer, Layer, Layer
Tea is meant to be enjoyed layered. You use the leaves multiple times till they fade into the background. I work with leaves, not tea bags because it gives me control of the favor. Individual one time use packaging is something I no longer welcome into my home. I fill my tea pot once an hour. It has the following advantages : 1) makes you get up and move from the desk 2) makes you drink more H2O. 3) fresh tea. 4) Used leaves –> compost once done.
Early morning before yoga : matcha ( another post for another day. )
Morning : Start with white tea leaves.
Mid morning : Add some florals to the existing leaves.
Late afternoon: Add barley to the existing leaves.
Evening – night : Start fresh with lavender. Lay off the caffeine.
Add ginger, lemon and grated turmeric as needed.
At the end of the day, pour some water into the teapot with all the leftover leaves. Stick it in the fridge. Next morning, pour the concoction into a spray bottle and use it as a face refresher at your desk. (Discard leftovers every day.) I don’t know if I can officially call it a toner but it is quite refreshing.
My friend Peng.
Peng is a brilliant mathematician. He is a devout Buddhist who takes a month off every summer to go live in a monastery. The way he lived his life was very mindful. At work, he used to set an alarm that would go off every 50 minutes. The next 10 minutes of the hour would be spent walking around, stretching, greeting people, filling up his tea pot, replying to emails, texting back, …. Once the next 50 minute duration would begin, he cut out every distraction and would slip into his intense concentration mind frame. He won’t answer if you knock on his door. He was very productive and managed stress well. Perhaps this is one way to find that work life balance ? Perhaps this is how he prevented burn out after the long hours he worked ? He owned this very beautiful red tea pot that would sit on his desk. It once belonged to his great-grand-father and was well over a 100 years old. His ancestors were rich aristocrats who was driven out of their land during a feudal war. When they had to flee in the middle of the night during an attack, this was one of the possessions his great-grand-mother choose to take along. Talking about an heirloom pieces, this is the jewel he inherited. He uses it every single day, once ever 50 minutes.
( I purchased mine as soon as I heard this story. Some of my favorites if you are in the market : 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5. I would love to be that old lady with a tea pot collection. But I believe in the one tea pot per lifetime philosophy. I wish I bought the one I liked instead of the cheapest one I could find. )
A Case for a traditional tea pot
It is really well designed. It will last you a century if you take care of it. It’s made of cast iron and not breakable like the ceramic/clay/plastic/glass pots. It keeps its warmth till I finish my pot of tea. Its designed to add leaves in layers. Its gorgeous to look at. When its cold, you can warm your hands by holding your pot. At the end of its life, I can bury it in my backyard without it poisoning the soil. It’s heirloom material. One tea pot per person for a lifetime – the way things should be designed and loved. I have mine.
This Parisian brand : Mariage Freres makes a very popular blend called Marco Polo. I need to get my hands on some to taste. My friend got back this Earl Grey lavender blend from London which blew my tea snobbish head off my body. I think blends are in general over priced. I look up the base notes and attempt to make my own. Lastly, I always want this white tea from China. Its the best I have ever tasted. Since going zero-waste, I found a few local loose tea shops that have great imports. San Francisco’s China Town is the place to go to get lost in exploration. Red Blossom Tea Company and Vital Tea Leaf deserve honorary mentions. My local Sprouts and Whole Foods always have a few varieties in bulk. My 3 teas were “super-curated” from the local bulk bins I have access to. It has been an straight forward and simple love story when it comes to tea.
A CUP OF TEA
And then I know
what the time for a cup of tea means.
I waited in the crowded and noisy station building
for the one who was late for the appointment
to appea on the bitterly cold winter day.
I carefully heled a full cup of hot tea,
carefully added to it sugar and milk,
You carefully opened the slim collection
of Issa’s haiku that you had in your luggage :
‘A world of dew; yet
within the dewdrops — quarrels …’
This crowded station was a dewdrop within
a dewdrop, dropped
in the tea deeper with every sip.
A cup of tea,
at first hot, turned warm, and then cold.
Things on my mind
ranged from poetry to dreams to reality.
In ancient times —
in the world of Chinese serial novels or
tales of chivalry —
it would be the time for a cup of tea,
in which a swordsman drew his sword wiping out the besieging rascals,
and a hero was enraptured and enchanted before the bed of a fair lady.
But modern time has changed its speed.
Within about the time for half a cup of tea,
you drank up a cup of golden fragrant tea.
A cup of tea
going from far to near and then into nothingness.
The one for whom you had waited long finally appeared
and asked if you would like one more cup of tea.
– Chen Li.
( Tea brings out the romantic in me. I always have a kettle boiling water on the stove when I am home. I have ideas on how it should be paired, a sincere admiration for the leaves, find immense comfort in the subtle fragrance of the tea, …. My work starts with me getting to my desk with a pot of tea in the morning. It’s a ritual and a way of life. There is a philosophical side to it too that I don’t think I have the depth to go into, at this point in time. A few good books that have re-read : The Book of Tea, The One Taste of Truth: Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea & Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers.
Do you speak tea ?