Tea in Poetry: A Soothing Combination

Tea in poetry is a perfect pairing of a beverage that requires patience and observation to enjoy with a means to express that practice to the rest of the world. As soon as tea entered the scene in China it was quickly added to the poetry.  This probably has more to do with the fact that it was the scholars and monks, who could read and write, that discovered and promoted tea consumption to the Chinese aristocracy. Lu Yu, who is credited with documenting in writing the process of making tea in the Classic of Tea, studied in a monastery and authored other books including some poetry. Below are two of our favorite tea poems from China.

A Winter Night

One winter night
A friend dropped in.
We drank not wine but tea.
The kettle hissed,
The charcoal glowed,
A bright moon shone outside.
The moon itself
Was nothing special –
But,ah, the plum-tree blossom!

Tu Hsiao-Shan, Sung Dynasty (960-1279 CE)

The Way of Tea

A friend from Yueh presented me
With tender leaves of Yen-Hsi tea,
For which I chose a kettle
Of ivory-mounted gold,
A mixing-bowl of snow-white earth.
With its clear bright froth and fragrance,
It was like the nectar of Immortals.
The first bowl washed the cobwebs from my mind-
The whole world seemed to sparkle.
A second cleansed my spirit
Like purifying showers of rain.
A third and I was one with the Immortals-
What need now for austerities
To purge our human sorrows?
Worldly people, by going in for wine,
Sadly deceive themselves.
For now I know the Way of Tea is real.

Chiao-Jen, T’ang Dynasty (618-906 CE) and friend of Lu Yu

 

There are many more poems around tea, both modern and ancient, please share your favorites in the comments section. If you fancy yourself a poet, share your own as well!

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3 Fun Facts about Tea Growing Conditions

Tea Plantation in Fog by Flickr user Matthieu Sévère

So the very early spring weather here in Northern Virginia has has thinking about the current growing conditions in our favorite tea growing regions. The first pluck in China will occur at the end of this month, so here are 3 tea growing conditions you can use to impress or bore your friends the next time weather pops into the conversation.

  1. Bring on the rain. Camellia sinensis, or tea, needs at least 50 inches of water a year (Northern Virginia averages 38 inches a year). In places like India, it can receive as much as 98 inches of rain a year before it starts to be too much water for the plant. It cannot sit in the water, so well drained soil is a must, which is why you will often find those tea farms on the sides of mountains.
  2. Cold is not its favorite temperature. Tea grown in the high elevations, like in China or Darjeeling, India, will go dormant as soon as the night time temperatures routinely drop below 50 degrees F. The plant will be just fine and require no intervention so long as the temperature does not drop below 25 degrees F. At that point, the plant needs to be covered to prevent damage to the main stem. Keep mind, in both China and India, these are tropical climates, much like the southern United States. They just happen to be mountains, where that is not the case here in the US.
  3. Direct sunshine not required. Tea does not need a lot of direct sunlight to grow, as little as a few hours a day. Too much can cause problems for the plant if it dries out the soil. The more complex tasting teas grow in light to moderate shade. Granted, that shade slows their growth. It is that slow growth that helps create the complex flavor.

So keep thinking warm weather for our favorite tea fields, because Terroir of Tea is critical to our final cup.

 

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Tea in the White House: 3 Beautiful Pieces in the White House Collection

In honor of President’s Day, we thought we would highlight some of the tea accessories found at the White House and in the collection of items curated by the White House Historical Association. You can find the images of these items in the digital gallery on their site and see so many other items that where used in the White House. (Yes, we are sending you on a digital scavenger hunt to find what we are talking about.) So here are just 3 of the more unique tea pieces that are a part of our country’s history.

  1. Lucretia Garfield, wife of President Garfield, selected a silver and ebony tea pot from Dominick & Haff of New York for her tea service. Dominick & Haff where known in the mid to late 1800s as the cutting edge in patterns and designs of sterling silver pieces. The firm was bought by Reid & Barton in 1928, which is why this name is not familiar. This teapot is definitely unique in shape and size, even by today’s standards.
  2. President Franklin D. Roosevelt & First Lady Elenor Roosevelt received a bright red and gold art deco tea pot, creamer, and sugar bowl from the Crown Prince of Norway. This is a piece reflective of the time period. It is truly eye catching. We are not sure what the tea cups would need to be to properly match this set.
  3. Our favorite for most elaborate tea cup in the Presidental china, comes from President Hayes. Famous American artist Theodore Russell Davis was commissioned to design pieces that showed native flora and fauna of North America for Haviland China set Mrs. Hayes wanted for the White House china service. Since this was a custom set that included 130 different designs for the 562 piece set, it was no small undertaking for the Haviland Company.

The White House Historical Association has the important job of preserving and giving the public access to the history of our executive mansion. It does a great job doing just that through its amazing website that highlights the history and collections of this famous place. If you haven’t, take some time looking at their collections and learn a little about all that has gone on there. It is a wonderful resource and a fun way to learn about American history.

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More Teas Need Protected Geographic Identification

Tea plucker in a tea garden.

Idyllic Picture of Darjeeling Tea Plantation

Protected Geographic Identification is a distinctive name or sign that indicates the originating territory of a particular product’s country, region or locality where its quality, reputation or other characteristic is linked to its geographic location. In the world of tea, as with other products like wine, geography matters. It is in the soil, weather, and altitude that tea derives its flavor. We call that terroir. Without knowing where the tea is grown, you have a harder time judging its quality.

For instance, Sencha grown in China has a dry grass flavor while Sencha grown in Japan has more of a seaweed flavor. Which one is better quality?  To tea snobs, it is cleary the Sencha grown in Japan! Sencha is historically a Japanese tea which is steamed to stop oxidation and not baked. Since green tea is often associated with a more healthy option in Europe and the US, its quite common to see teas being marketed as Sencha that are not grown in Japan at all.

Darjeeling is one of the first teas to get geographic identification protection, which has helped to reduce significant the use of the term Darjeeling on tea that was not grown in the region. Sri Lanka has dipped into geographic identification protection for Ceylon teas and China is just getting started. Unlike other countries, China has a much harder job in determining how to carve the geographic boundaries around certain teas. Tea has been grown in that country for thousands of years, so the style of manufacture has spread and evolved throughout the country. What’s more, China has its own folklore around the origins of specific teas like Dragonwell and Puerh, which will be a starting point for them in negotiating in this space. There are a great many named teas that could use the protection of this international agreement.

If you aren’t familiar with Protected Georgraphic Identification, just look at the cheese counter at your local grocery store. You will see that many of them, like parmigiano reggiano, have these protections. Even the Idaho potato has protected geographic identification. So we hope more teas are able to get these protections so consumers can better understand how important location is to the taste of their favorite beverage.

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Rose Tea Cupcakes with Jasmine Tea Icing

Tea & Cupcakes

Rose Tea Cupcakes with Jasmine Frosting

Rose Tea Cupcakes are a unique treat for your tea loving Valentine. These cupcakes can be made in advance and keep well in the refrigerator for about 5 days, if they last that long. While this cupcake recipe uses The Rose Garden tea, it can be made with your favor tea. The trick is to infuse both the butter and milk before making the cupcakes, which we will outline below.

Rose Tea Cupcakes-Ingredients

2 tablespoons of The Rose Garden tea
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup of whole milk
3/4 cup of white granulated sugar
3 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt (Omit at your own risk, your cupcakes may not be as fluffy as you would like without this)
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1 cup of All purpose flour (keep around a couple of tablespoons of flour in case you need to add more to the batter)

Jasmine Green Tea Frosting-Ingredients

2 tablespoons of Jasmine Green Tea
1 stick of butter
1/3 cup of whole milk
4 oz (1/2 block) of cream cheese
3 cups of confectioners sugar

Making Tea Infused Butter

Butter & Tea

Prepping Tea Infused Butter

We have made tea infused butter before. For the cupcakes and icing, you will make 2 separate batches of infused butter. With each one you will need 1 stick of butter and 3 grams of tea (or a rounded tablespoon).

For the cupcake batter, melt one stick of butter with 1 rounded tablespoon of The Rose Garden Tea. This should be done on the cook top and not in the microwave. Put both the tea and butter into the pot. Once the butter melts completely, remove from the burner and allow the tea to steep for another 10 minutes. Strain off the tea and allow the butter to cool. Feel free to use a spoon to press on the tea to squeeze out the butter that it absorbed. Make sure the butter is solid before adding it to the recipe for the cupcake. It will return to a solid state much faster if you put it in the refrigerator. I found it is easier to make the butter a day or two before the cupcakes so I am not tempted to use the liquid butter.

Repeat the same steps as above for the butter for the Jasmine icing. Just use a rounded tablespoon of Jasmine Green tea instead of the The Rose Garden tea. This butter also needs to be solid, but at room temperature for the icing to work correctly.

Making Tea Infused Milk

Milk infused with rose tea.

Rose Infused Milk

Just like the butter, we are going to heat the amount of milk shown above with a rounded tablespoon of the associated tea on the stove top. Do not walk away from the milk as it is heating as you do not want it to come to a boil. You are looking for steam to rise and a few small bubbles along the edges of the milk and you should start to smell the tea. Feel free to stir and make sure the tea leaves don’t just float on the top. As soon as the steam remains as you stir, pull the milk off the burner and allow the tea to steep in the milk for 10 minutes before straining. Again, feel free to use a spoon to press the tea against the strainer to squeeze out the milk it absorbed. The 1/2 cup of milk for the cupcakes will become roughly a 1/3 cup and the 1/3 cup for the icing will become a 1/4 cup. This is fine. Make sure the milk cools to at least room temperature before using in the recipe. It is fine to make this a day or two before making the ice cream, just store in a container with a tight fitting lid in the refrigerator.

Making Rose Tea Cupcakes

  1.  Make sure you have made the tea infused butter and milk and they have cooled before doing anything else.
  2. Preheat the oven to 325°F and line your cupcake/muffin tray with paper liners for the cupcakes.
  3. Using an electric stand mixer, beat together the The Rose Garden tea infused butter with the sugar. It should be mixed until lite and fluffy, about 5 minutes. You should stop the mixer a few times during the process and scrap down the sides and bottom to make sure everything is mixed evenly.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, salt and baking powder.
  5. On low, adding 1 egg at a time, mix in the eggs with the sugar and butter.
  6. Once all 3 eggs are mixed in, add the flour mixture and milk to the bowl, alternating about 1/3 of each at the time. Make sure each time that the ingredients are fully incorporated. Once down, take a look at the batter and pinch out a small amount. If is really shiny and feels oily, you will need to incorporate more flour. Using 1/2 tablespoon at a time, mix in the flour until the batter is shiny but doesn’t feel oily.
  7. Put the batter into the paper liners, filling them about 2/3 of the way full. Put them in the oven for 25 minutes. A tooth pick should pull out clean. Do not over cook. These cup cakes will be pale yellow to white in color, you do not want brown edges.
  8. Pull out the cupcakes and allow them to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before removing them from the tin and placing them on the cooling rack to come to room temperature.
  9. Once the cupcakes are at room temperature, you may ice them.

Making Jasmine Green Tea Frosting

  1. Put the cream cheese and Jasmine Green Tea Infused butter into an electric mixer and blend until fully incorporated, about 5 minutes.
  2. Then mix in 1 1/2 cups of the confectioners sugar until fully incorporated.
  3. Next add the Jasmine Green Tea Infused milk  Mix until combined, it will look runny.
  4. Last mix in the remaining 1 1/2 cup of the confectioners sugar. The icing should look thick and fluffy. It is a heavy frosting because of the cream cheese.
  5. Using an icing knife or a butter knife, apply the icing to the cooled cupcakes in a circular motion. Scoop out about 1 1/2 tablespoons of icing at a time to apply. If you icing starts to run on the top of the cupcake you did not let them cool enough. You can package up the icing and put it in the refrigerator and apply it within 2 days of making the cupcakes. It will start to get to hard after that ice cleanly for you.
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