Cup of Tea and a Blog

Welcome to my spot for musing about all things tea. Here you'll read reviews of quality teas, click through comments on tea rooms and shops I've visited, and see photos of leaves and cups. You’ll also find things I might talk about over a cup of tea, like philosophy, literature, current events, or fun ways to pass the time.

Location: Pacific Northwest, United States

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24 October 2005

Traveling with Tea

I've been traveling quite a bit the last few weeks: flying to Utah, driving into Wyoming, back to Utah, then returning home to Washington just in time for a a quick trip to Portland, Oregon. I'm home again, but one of my best friends is in Seattle for a conference, and I'm happily spending lots of time with her for the next couple of days. (I'm trying to get her to move here, so she's getting a tour of all of the fun sites in and around Seattle -- ferry rides, walks in the rain, the Pike Place Market, and more).

I'll post some fun photos of my trips soon, and I'll also be catching up on some tea tasting notes. For today, though, here are a few thoughts on traveling with tea.

  • It really isn't hard to pack up small bags/canisters of tea. I prefer bags because they're lighter, but canisters are good to protect fragile leaves. When I'm staying at hotels, I bring my own kettle for heating water (most U.S. hotels provide coffeemakers in rooms, but these always taste of coffee). When I'm going to homes of family and friends, I just bring tea and a small chatsford filter (you can stick the filter directly in a cup to brew the tea).

  • I'm very glad that I saved the small box that my glass gaiwan (from was shipped in. It protected the cup, which I kept in my carry-on bag. I then used it for an oolong tasting session with my brother and sister.

  • Water changes everything. I've used city water, well water, bottled water, and filtered water on my trip. There is an amazing difference in how this affects the flavor of tea. In Wyoming, the water has much calcium and is very "hard." My parents have well water, naturally filtered through the underground limestone aquifers beneath, and the water has a wonderfully clear, mountain flavor. The mineral content, however, can really flatten some teas. This same water makes an incredible cup of smokey tea -- russian caravan or lapsang souchongs do really well with hard water.

  • Some teas are just sturdier than others, and they stand up to variations in water, boiling temperatures, and less than perfect brewing conditions. I had great luck with a medium-roast dong ding oolong, but some of the more floral oolongs were likely to go astringent or lose their floral essence. The golden yunnan that is spicy and wonderful here in Seattle just didn't take to the water in some of the places I've been. On the other hand, the Golden Yunnan from Floating Leaves was consistent and stood up to a wide range of brewing conditions.

  • Japanese pottery cups are really great for sipping tea outdoors, whether you brew it outside yourself or you're just carrying a thermos. The cups are sturdy, easy to hold, warm your hands just a bit, and don't have handles that are likely to break when transported (or dropped, as I occasionally do). They also pack up in bags and are easy to stuff in a cooler.

I'll post more in a few days, after I've had a chance to catch up to things here. :)

07 October 2005

Tea in Salt Lake City

I’m in Salt Lake City, Utah, for a quick visit with my sister. Last night she brewed up a pot of an oolong that smelled like melted butter! Wow, very different. I don’t have the bag available to give the name or the vendor (in San Francisco), but I’ll try to post that later. Maybe I’ll grab a few leaves to take home and try it gong fu style.

Today, while she was at work, I went off in search of a good cup of morning tea. She’d given me a tip on a nearby place, the Tea Grotto.

The Tea Grotto shares the building with a Feng Shui store, so there is quite a bit of Asian influence in the décor (including a “zen room,” with low tables, mats, and cushions). The Asian influence carries over to the tea and accessories, with yixings, gaiwans, and other ceramics for sale. I was able to order a pot of golden yunnan, which made me happy. They also carry a variety of assams, oolongs, whites, and greens. There are several flavored teas, including chai and tea lattes, listed on the board.

There are more teas than you see here. I couldn't fit the whole list in the picture.

It’s a clean, open, and airy environment. The tea is brewed for you, so it was pretty much a hands-off experience. That’s okay -- the sun was shining in on the café tables, I wasn’t awake yet anyway, and the tea was brewed carefully and tasted great. I grabbed a free newspaper and sat at a table.

After visiting a few shops to pick up some gifts for my nieces and nephew (next stop on the trip to visit family), I had lunch at a Tibetan restaurant.

They have a small buffet with plenty of vegetarian food. They also carry three types of tea. I have tried the Tibetan buttered-salted tea before, and (much as I want to) I just can’t get past the texture of it. This time, I went with a sweetened tea, which was quite a bit like a milky chai (but not as spicy).

It’s been a wonderfully warm and sunny day, with the mountains in full view and the honeybees drifting in the wind. It still feels like summer here, although it does get a bit chilly after dark. The only sad part of the visit is that I wasn’t able to meet up with fellow blogger Tea Posur, who lives in the area, since her work schedule didn’t mesh up with mine. On the next visit here I’ll leave more time for tea buddies. :)

Salt Lake City has a desert geography, and it lies between the Salt Lake and a mountain range (is that the Uintas?). Park City and Sundance are in those mountains, along with many other picturesque towns and ski areas. We’ll be driving over the pass tomorrow, and heading across to the east side of Wyoming (my hometown -- Laramie) to see the rest of my family. Tomorrow I’ll be at 7,500 feet, looking at vast blue skies, wind-swept plains, and the Rocky Mountains. I packed a lapsang souchong, which I always feel is best sipped at high altitudes. I’ll report soon on how it brews up and how well it tastes in the mountains themselves (around 11,000 feet elevation).

Blackberries & Tea

One of the places I walk my dog is a large open meadow that sits to the side of soccer fields and a radio-controlled plane area. This means that things are open and clear and sometimes even quite sunny – a bit of a rarity in the Seattle area, where big open spaces are mostly found on the water instead of what is usually an intensely forested geography. I believe that the meadow and soccer fields used to be farmland, which means it was cleared quite a while back. Like all cleared areas here, the “weed” that takes over is the blackberry bush. Blackberries grow wherever humans have taken away the natural vegetation. You’ll see them along railroad tracks, by roads, and even trying to take over my back yard. They can really be a hassle, but in late summer and into the fall, they provide tasty treats while you hike and walk.

Here's a photo of a stretch of blackberry bushes that rim the fields. They're the large bushes to the left:

As you can see from the photo above and below, the berry bushes are huge. To get some perspective, Aurie is a medium-sized sled dog.

The meadow is one of my dogs favorite places, mostly because she can run and explore off-leash. Lately it's been one of my favorite places because I can stuff myself full of blackberries while we're walking.

I carefully avoid the long thorns and try to find a nicely loaded branch, then pick until my fingers are purple. Usually I’ve got a thermos of tea with me, and I’ve found that a nice medium-roast dong-ding oolong goes very well with fresh berries. Once I had a lighter, sweeter oolong, but the blackberries just didn’t compliment the flavor – too much sourness interfering with the tea. A more roasted oolong somehow fits the outdoors, and the touch of smoky sweetness enhances the natural musky, hefty flavor of a blackberry.

Once I’ve finished my tea, the thermos also serves as a good vessel to bring some home.

All-in-all, a nice start to any morning, whether sunny or rainy.

Coming Shortly: I’ve been traveling again and posted this a few days later than intended. Check back soon for a post on tea in Salt Lake City.