Ceramics

Bone Ash

Ingredients for Bone China (Source)

Someone told me during the week that some vegetarians and vegans don’t use bone china teacups. I wasn’t aware of this but it made for some interesting reading about the differences between bone china, porcelain and stoneware. I found out that bone china is made from a translucent white ceramic clay but it is set apart from fine china by containing a minimum of 25% bone ash. The animal bones are burned and ground before it is added to the clay. Bone China tends to be slightly translucent in nature. It is easier to manufacture than fine china, is strong, does not chip easily, and has an ivory-white appearance.

Porcelain - Sue Paraskeva

Porcelain Sue Paraskeva (Source)

Porcelain is a type of ceramic that is made from kaolin clay. It is also referred to as china or fine china. Kaolin is white clay that retains its white color when fired. It is usually covered with a clear glaze. Porcelain becomes vitrified (glass-like) during the second firing of a two-fire process at temperatures of over 1,300 degrees Celsius. It is considered “vitrified” if it absorbs less than 0.2 percent of its own weight. Porcelain tends to be finer quality than stoneware.

Yixing Clay Teapot

Yixing teapot (Source)

Stoneware is also a type of ceramic but differs in color and also in the way it is fired. Porcelain is fired twice but stoneware is vitrified during a single firing and the temperature is a little lower than used for Porcelain. The finish is warmer in color than Porcelain. An easy way to tell porcelain from stoneware is to look at the bottom rim, porcelain will be white whereas stoneware will be a natural color with a colored glaze on top. Yixing teapots (the famous unglazed porous teapots) are a type of stoneware that is made from clay from the region of Yixing in Southern China.

Finally, earthenware, again a type of ceramic, is made from white porous clay that is fired at a low temperature. It cannot hold water and is more chalky and easier to chip than stoneware. Terracotta is a type of earthenware. It is usually more suited to decorative use rather than household use.

Ardgillan Demesne

I love the town where we live and one of the highlights is Ardgillan castle and its grounds. Mostly we just go for long walks around the perimeter of the park and enjoy the views of the sea and across to Skerries. Sometimes we stop by the walled kitchen garden for some serious garden-envy or visit the tearoom that is situated in the downstairs of the castle and opens into an outdoor terrace. Last Saturday was a beautiful sunny day. The grounds were blooming, the bees were buzzing and it was a great day for taking photos:

Ardgillan Sign

Ardgillan Castle

Fields in Ardgillan Walkway Ardgillan
Flower Garden Orange Flower

Busy Bee

Castle Side Tea Room Sign

Daisies

Ode to my Bodum cup

The Bodum Tea for One

The Bodum Tea for One (Source)

Ok, I can’t write an ode but I do love this cup and I only realised how much when I tried replacing it. I don’t use this cup for preparing real tea at all but the Bodum “tea for one” is perfect for herbal teas.

Things I love about this cup:

  • It is double-walled with a vacuum between the walls so it keeps the liquid inside hot (especially with the lid on)
  • The double wall means that the outside doesn’t get too hot to handle
  • It came with the brew basket which has a mesh that is fine enough to prevent even small particles getting through (handy for when you grind herbs)
  • Some herbal teas need to have their vapours contained in order to maximise benefits and the lid is perfect for that.
  • The size of the brew basket means that bulky herbs are not a problem
  • The glass cup allows me to gauge how strong the tea is
  • The lid doubles as a saucer for the brew basket to stop it dripping
  • It doesn’t have a handle – weird I know, but I like that it doesn’t have a handle. It’s more symmetrical.
  • I’ve had this for over five years, use it three or four times a week and it is still not broken or chipped.
  • It is easy to clean. I’ve always hand-washed mine but it is dishwasher safe.
  • It is a good size for herbal teas (350ml)
  • The brew basket doesn’t absorb the flavour of the tea so you don’t get the flavour of the last herb that was prepared in it.
Yo-Yo Set

Yo-Yo Set (Source)

The “tea for one” is no longer available on the Bodum website and seems to be replaced with the Yo-Yo set. It looked like it might do the trick but it didn’t. It is not double walled and the lid is smaller than the cup so there are gaps all around that let out heat and vapours. A more minor issue is the handle. It just looks wrong but I would get over that if it were not for the other two problems. I foresee a bleak future for this cup at the back of the top shelf.

The situation is not completely hopeless. I can still buy the double-walled glasses on their own and try to find a brew basket and lid that fits them afterwards. In the mean time though, after five years of taking my bodum cup and strainer for granted, I’m now afraid to use it in case I break it.

 

A Nice Cup of Tea by George Orwell

This article by the famous author, George Orwell, describes his method of preparing tea. It was first published in the Evening Standard in January 1946.

george-orwell-portrait

A Nice Cup of Tea

By George Orwell

If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.

This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.

When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:

  • First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase ‘a nice cup of tea’ invariably means Indian tea.
  • Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britanniaware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
  • Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
  • Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
  • Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
  • Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
  • Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
  • Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one’s tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
  • Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
  • Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
  • Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tealover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

Some people would answer that they don’t like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.

These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one’s ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.

George Orwell: ‘A Nice Cup of Tea’
First published: Evening Standard. — GB, London. — January 12, 1946.

 

Tea Calendar

This is a quirky idea – a tea calendar where the days are made from tea leaves and each day can be detached and steeped in water to make tea. It was designed for a German tea company (Hälssen & Lyon) as a limited special edition. They say that the innovation will be followed by an extensive development period until the tea calendar is ready for market.

Tea Calendar Packaged

Tea Calendar

Tea Calendar Dates

Tea Calendar Infusing

 

Images Source

Nepalese tea – First Flush SFTGFOP

Until 2000, Nepal’s tea exports accounted for only about 150,000 kg per annum. However, due to liberalisation, the Nepalese tea industry has witnessed an exponential rise in tea exports in the last ten years. At present, Nepal produces approximately 18 million kilograms of tea per annum on an area of 18,149 hectares. The climate, soil and unpolluted air in Nepal are said to be ideal for tea and production is incentivised through government subsidies for machinery. CTC manufacturing accounts for 87% of production. The remaining 13% of Nepalese orthodox tea has a reputation for being outstanding.

Nepal First Flush Side ViewI received some tea samples last week from a Nepalese colleague who was kind enough to bring some back from his travels. There were a number of samples but one in particular caught my eye: a first flush SFTGFOP Black tea. As a first flush it was probably picked sometime in March or April and these teas are generally a milder and gentler tea than the leaves that are plucked later in the year.

Nepal First Flush The leaves are short and wiry and although the leaves are mostly brown you can see from the photo the white buds and some partially oxidised green leaves. The smell of the dry tea is strong and grassy.

Preparation: To prepare this tea, I put 3g of the tea in a gaiwan. After rinsing the leaves, I add the boiling water for 30 seconds but I felt it needed a little longer so I left it for about 40 seconds.

First steepThe first cup is sweet-smelling, light yellow and the taste is crisp and light with that very distinctive musky taste. Pungent is a word that suits this tea well (especially the second and third steeping) but not pungent in the usual sense of overpowering sourness but softly pungent as an interesting background that deepens the taste. This tea held well for six steepings with increasing steeping durations each time.

Among the rest of the samples is an Autumn SFTGFOP and I’m looking forward doing a comparison taste in the coming days.

 

Grading Black Tea

I’ve been tasting a lot of black tea over the past couple of weeks but before I start talking  TGFOP and BOP, I thought it would be worthwhile to have a reference article to go through one of the most common grading systems for black tea. The grading system has four separate scales that are based around the size of the leaf. Size is not directly correlated to quality but it is used as an indicator.

 ORTHODOX TEA

Whole leaf – the leaf remains intact during production (not broken or torn)

  • SFTGFOP – Special, Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
  • FTGFOP – Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
  • TGFOP – Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
  • GFOP – Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
  • FOP – Flowery Orange Pekoe
  • FP – Flowery Pekoe
  • OP – Orange Pekoe

Broken leaf – the leaf has been torn or broken

  • GFBOP – Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
  • GBOP – Golden Broken Orange Pekoe
  • FBOP – Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
  • BOP – Broken Orange Pekoe
  • BPS – Broken Pekoe Souchong

Fannings are broken pieces of tea that have a granular texture. The small pieces mean that they release their taste and colour quickly, which makes them suitable for teabags.

  • FBOPF – Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings
  • BOPF – Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings
  • FOF – Flowery Orange Fannings
  • GOF – Golden Orange Fannings
  • PF – Pekoe Fannings

Dust is a powder tea that is smaller in size than fannings.

  • OPD – Orange Pekoe Dust
  • BOPD – Broken Orange Pekoe Dust
  • PD – Pekoe Dust
  • D – Dust

 

CTC  stands for Crush Tear Curl and is a modern manufacturing method where the tea leaf is chopped to small uniform pieces while it is being oxidised to black tea. This gives small granular pellets. There is a separate grading system for CTC tea that is also broken down into Broken Leaf, Fannings and Dust.

A few notes on the terms:

Orange – Orange does not refer to the citrus fruit or to an orange flavour. It comes from “House of Orange” which was the royal Dutch family where the finest teas were presented in the 1600s.

Tippy refers to the proportion of buds in the tea

Flowery mean that larger leaves as well as buds are present

The Clarence – Afternoon Tea

The Clarence Facade

The Clarance Facade (Source)

The Clarence, owned by U2’s Bono and The Edge was the site for last Friday’s afternoon tea. The Clarence Hotel was the subject of a controversial planning application for renovation in 2007. The building (dating back to 1852) was due to receive a €150m overhaul that would leave just the front façade intact. Planning permission was controversially received but was put on hold and everything has been quiet for the past few years. A couple of weeks ago the papers reported that a request for an extension of planning permission has been sought so we thought we better check it out before it turns into the promised “flying saucer”.clarence outside

I’m always amazed at how busy hotels are for afternoon tea but the Clarence was eerily quiet. The friendly staff took us around to the Oak room, the Octagon bar and the Tea Room to have a look and said we could choose our location. They were empty apart from one person in the Tea Room. It seemed mean to spread out their customers so we opted for the Tea Room too.

 

Afternoon Tea for Two

Afternoon Tea for Two

The sandwiches, brownie, scones and mousse were all perfectly acceptable. At the price of €15 it isn’t fair to expect the added niceties of clotted cream, cloth napkins, delicate pastries or fruit but I do think they should stretch it to a proper loose leaf tea (or maybe I’m just biased!).

Here is the video of U2 performing on the rooftop of the Clarence hotel a couple of years ago. Maybe that’s where everyone was…..

 

Sheep dung tea

Yes, apparently it is a real thing – and no, I haven’t tried it.

The medicinal properties of various animal dung was examined in a book by William Salmon entitled English Physician (1693). Sheep dung infusions were recommended for treating smallpox, jaundice, and whooping cough. The dictionary of Prince Edward Island confirms that “they use sheep dung tea for sick people…and sheep dung is not a euphemism”. It is called “nanny tea” in the Merriam Webster but the definition is the same: “ a folk remedy for many ailments that consists of a hot infusion of sheep manure in water often with sugar”.

Not everyone recognised its medicinal merits though. In 1776, the Adulteration of Tea Act was passed by the British Parliament. This prevented traders from debasing tea with substances such as ground up sheep dung (as a way to increase the weight, I presume). English laws were applied to Ireland at the time and this one remained as an Act until the Statue Law Revision Act in 2005.

Kerry Sheep