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A Tea-filled Christmas

Thanks to my family, and many other people I couldn’t even begin to list completely here, I had a very enjoyable Christmas. There was plenty of tea in the celebration, so let me say a bit about it here.

My parents and my brother and sister-in-law enjoy tea, so I gave them the Bodum Tea Press pot as gifts. I have been using this pot for a few months and I really like it. I still use my little ball infuser when I want to make one or two cups of tea, but it’s nice to have the pot for those increasingly frequent times when I want to enjoy tea by the quart (liter).

Inimino, my friend and fellow blogger here at The Manly Teas, has informed me that the Yixing clay teapots are supposed to be the best to use for preparing tea. The Yixing pots are notable for their use in the Chinese gongfu method of preparing tea. When I recently became reacquainted with my old friend, tea, I did not know this. (Thanks for the info, inimino!)

I thought about getting a Yixing pot (or several, because they are supposed to work best when you prepare only one variety of tea in them), but as I read more about those interesting teapots on the Web, the whole process was getting a lot more involved than I had planned and I was worried that I would never get around to drinking any tea. So I settled on the Bodum pot that has served me well, and I hope Dad and Mom and Paul and Pat will get a lot of use and enjoyment out of theirs, too. I will eventually buy a Yixing pot, but right now, I did not want to complicate things too much for myself and I did not want to give a gift without knowing more about it.

Of course, I felt that a teapot without tea would be an incomplete gift (or at least one that obliged the recipient to spend some money to enjoy the gift), so I gave Mom and Dad the Holiday Tea Set (photo) from Argo Tea. This sampler contained three special blends of black tea: “Santa Tea,” “Holiday Dream,” and “Winter Blend.” I gave the Holiday Tea Set to my brother and sister-in-law, too. Also, since my sister-in-law had not previously tried white tea, I gave Pat and Paul Argo Tea’s “White Tea” and “Melon White.” I hope Pat will enjoy white tea as much as I do.

Finally, my parents gave me the gift of white tea. Dad and Mom gifted me with Orange Blossom White Tea from the Republic of Tea, and Silver Needle Organic White Tea from Rishi Tea. As I write this, I have tried the Orange Blossom White Tea (I need to write a separate entry about it). I’ll sample the Silver Needle soon. Another option is detox teas such as the ones listed at ecokarma’s detox tea page.

All in all, it was a really enjoyable Christmas for many reasons. Tea was a nice element of the celebration and I am grateful for it.

Tea Reviews

BevNET is an interesting site. It’s a commercial site for the beverage industry, offering news and reviews of products. All of the teas I have found mentioned there are brewed and bottled iced teas. As such, they may be outside the scope of what we’re discussing here at The Manly Teas. (I will have to check with my fellow blogger inimino about that issue.)

However, if you’re interested in the bottled and brewed teas–which have their own place in the beverage world and their own special charm–have a look at BevNET. You can use the “Search” feature near the top of the home page to find reviews of the teas. Just enter “tea” as your search term, click the “Search” button, and you’ll get a list of several hundred pages of reviews and comments about the teas, as well as various news items about tea.

Tea Decaffeination Trick

Here’s a quick tip I read about recently: Did you know that about 90% of the caffeine in tea is infused in the first 20-30 seconds of steeping? So, if you’d like to dramatically cut the amount of caffeine in your tea, steep it for 30 seconds, discard the tea, and then pour some new water over the leaves and start the steeping process again.

This is a handy trick when you’re a new tea geek (like me) and end up having several cups of tea over the course of the day, but don’t want to ultra-caffeinate yourself.

Enjoying Earl Grey While Working on a Sunny Friday Afternoon

have my notebook computer and am writing this from the Argo Tea cafe at State and Randolph streets in Chicago. I am supposedly working, but I am having a hard time concentrating because of concerns about my uncle who suffers from schizophrenia and has been quite delusional lately. I’m still reeling a bit from having spent all of Wednesday night visiting with him. Alright, so I am understating it: my mind is all over the universe today. Anyway, today is a new day and as long as I stay mentally in the present moment, I’ll be OK.

I was hoping my brother would be able to join me here today, since his office is just a little over one block from here. However, he has to attend a parents’ meeting at my nephew’s school this afternoon, so he wasn’t able to be here. We’ll try to meet for a tea break next week. Paul and I were last at this cafe together about 2 months ago and it was enjoyable just to relax and enjoy some good tea with him.

Today, I’m enjoying Argo Tea’s Earl Grey Crème. I like Earl Grey tea generally, but this variety as a bit more of the flavor of the bergamot orange, or the Citrus aurantium bergamia if you prefer. Even so, the bergamot is not overdone; the flavors in this blend are pretty well balanced. I also tried the Earl Grey latte, which is quite good. While espresso takes a break, tea steps in to do the job. It’s an enjoyable variation on the classic latte, even if the milk may undo some of the heart health benefits of the tea. At least I had mine with skim milk.

Lunch was a vegetable sandwich. (Yes, I am spending a long time here today.) I had a desert of chocolate ruggelah. Filled with chocolate and raisins, they triggered a happy memory for me: some chocolate and raisin oatmeal cookies my mother once baked when I was a boy. More than 30 years later, I can still taste those cookies. How sweet. How delicious. How simple. Ah, a glimpse of heaven in a small baked food!

Theanine

Alright, its pop quiz time. (Hah, they’re not just for school anymore!) Quick–and without looking it up–in 10 words or fewer, tell us what you see in the picture below. No peeking!

** Licensing info appears below

Is the suspense killing you yet? Yes, if you guessed that this is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional model of a theanine molecule, then you guessed right! If so, then celebrate with your favorite tea. Even if you guessed something else, go ahead and celebrate with your favorite tea.

Here’s the empirical formula for all you chemistry geeks (you know who you are): C7H14N2O3

Why am I devoting an entire blog entry to theanine? That’s a fair question. The reason is that theanine is an amino acid with some amazing properties, as this Wikipedia article attests.

Odds are good we’ll write more about theanine here at The Manly Teas, because it’s a pretty important topic. Until then, if you want more information about this amazing amino acid, look at these online resources.

www.pdrhealth.com/drug_info/nmdrugprofiles/nutsupdrugs/lth_0296.shtml

www.drugs.com/npc/l-theanine.html

clinicaltrials.gov/ct/search?term=theanine&submit=Search

www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/patient-green_tea.html

www.lef.org/magazine/magjan2006_report_theanine_01.htm

www.itmonline.org/arts/theanine.htm

www.prevmedctr.org/library/lib_greentea_esko.asp

I chose these sources as representative examples of the wide variety of information about theanine that is available online. Again, we’ll most likely post more here, but I hope these sites will give you an overview of this amino acid and its nutritional importance.

Getting Started with Loose Teas

For about six months now I’ve been exploring tea with an increasing level of seriousness. It started when I tried some green tea that I really enjoyed, which made me interested in learning more. It also helps that a co-worker of mine (who I first knew as a craft beer enthusiast) is really into loose teas, and showed me how simple it is to make single cups of tea with an infuser that rests on the lid of your mug.

I finally took the plunge last week and ordered a couple of sampler sets from Upton Tea Imports. They’re just outside of Boston in Hopkinton, Massachusetts and they are, according to my co-worker Bruce, the ultimate source of top-quality loose teas.

For this review I’ll discuss the teas I received in their Green Tea Sampler. Each tea was delivered in its own tin, which holds about 35 grams of tea leaves. This was an ideal size for sampling, since you can enjoy several cups of tea per tin, and decide whether you really like it or not.

Now I’m no tea expert, and my palate is not particularly refined. I tend to judge tea more in terms of “I like this and would get more of it” vs. “not worth getting again.” But for this review I did my best to describe the tea in at least basic detail.

Japanese Sencha Special Grade

Preparation: 1 tsp/cup steeped for just over 2 minutes in sub-boiling water (recommended temp: 175 F).

Impressions: Very light body, yellow in color. Definitely a grassy taste, which I’m not too fond of. I’ve seen this referred to as a good “cleansing” tea, and I would agree. Plenty of crud seeped through the infuser.

Melfort Estate Gunpowder

Preparation: 1 tsp/cup steeped for just over 3 minutes in sub-boiling water (recommended temp: 180 F).

Impressions: This is by far my favorite green tea to date. A fully body and aroma of citrus fruits. The leaves unfurl to take up quiet a bit of volume, also making it easier to clean out of the infuser.

Young Hyson

Preparation: 1 tsp/cup steeped for just under 3 minutes in sub-boiling water (recommended temp: 180 F).

Impressions: This seemed like a fairly average green tea to me. Medium body, not particularly grassy.

Pi Lo Chun (Green Snail Spring)

Preparation: 1 tsp/cup steeped for 3 minutes in sub-boiling water (recommended temp: 180 F).

Impressions: This is an expensive Chinese green tea which has a slightly sweet, honey-like flavor. The curled up leaves do resemble snails, but I have no idea if that’s why they named it Green Snail Spring. Definitely not a tea I’d want to have with a meal because its unique flavor deserves greater attention.

Well, that’s it for my first tea reviews. I also picked up Upton’s Ceylon Sampler, and am starting to try out these interesting black teas as well. I’ll get some reviews of them posted soon.

Where Are the Guys???

I am sitting here at the Argo Tea cafe at State and Randolph streets in Chicago. It’s almost 1:45 in the afternoon. I estimate there are about 50 people here. It’s fairly crowded. Aside from the staff, I see 6 men here, including me. This strikes me as odd.

I don’t feel uncomfortable being in a place where the ratio of women to men is about 10 to 1. However, I am curious and a little disappointed. Where are the guys?

One of the purposes of this blog is to present tea in a guy-friendly manner. Yes, real men do drink tea. Yet, as I visually survey the patrons of this cafe, I see a lot of women enjoying a great beverage and very few men doing the same.

Of course, not everyone who walks into this cafe drinks their tea here. Many of the customers take their tea with them as they leave to go back to work, do errands, go sightseeing, or even return home. But the numbers for the latter group look about the same. I haven’t seen everyone who came in and left and I haven’t been counting them carefully, but it appears that nearly a dozen women come in and get some tea to go for every man who does the same.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great that so many women are enjoying tea. In addition to tasting good, tea invites us to slow down, take a break, and savor each moment. I’m glad all these women are doing that, along with realizing the many health benefits that accompany tea consumption.

But where the hell are the guys? I don’t know, but I’m determined to find out.