Some calmness

Celebrations, such as Christmas, bring joy, sadness, happiness and emptiness and all of this while we are hectically rushing around being busy and jolly. For me, calmness can be found in a cup of tea and the paragraph below from Thích Nhất Hạnh.

 

Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves.

Slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.

Live the actual moment.IMG_5820

Only this moment is life.

You must be completely awake in the present to enjoy the tea.

Only in the awareness of the present, can your hands feel the pleasant warmth of the cup.

Only in the present, can you savor the aroma, taste the sweetness, appreciate the delicacy.

If you are ruminating about the past, or worrying about the future, you will completely miss the experience of enjoying the cup of tea.

You will look down at the cup, and the tea will be gone.

Life is like that.

If you are not fully present, you will look around and it will be gone.

You will have missed the feel, the aroma, the delicacy and beauty of life.

It will seem to be speeding past you. The past is finished.

Learn from it and let it go.

The future is not even here yet. Plan for it, but do not waste your time worrying about it.

Worrying is worthless.

When you stop ruminating about what has already happened, when you stop worrying about what might never happen, then you will be in the present moment.

Then you will begin to experience joy in life.

Thích Nhất Hạnh

Tea with food

food and teaThere will be plenty of eating going on over the next week or two and there are bound to be a few times when wine will need a substitute. Here are some of the basic guidlines on combining tea with food.

As a general rule, green tea is the savoury tea. Salt will bring out its flavour and crispness while sweet foods will bring out the astringency and bitterness. So vegetal green teas will go well with prawns, anchovies, other seafood and olives. It is better with light meats and snacks rather than greasy foods. Light salty crackers like water biscuits work well and especially crackers with thyme. Light rice-based dishes are also complemented by green tea.

Strong black tea (from Africa, India and Sri Lanka) goes very well with red meat and spicy dishes (especially peppers) but goes equally well with rich creamy deserts, cream cheeses, dark chocolate and nuts such as pecans. Tea with desert is quite common and black tea is ideal for deserts such as rich chocolate cake or pecan pie.

It seems a shame to eat food with oolong but if you must then lighter oolongs go well with seafood, salty crackers and walnuts. Salty crackers with rosemary go particularly well. Similar to green tea, lighter oolongs do not combine will with heavy foods that contain butter and fat. Dark roasted oolongs go well with rosemary, honey, pecan, almonds and cashew nuts.

In my opinion pu-ehr should not be drank with food but shou pu-ehr is very soothing after a heavy meal.

White tea doesn’t blend well with food but I’ve heard it can be used as a palate cleanser between courses instead of sorbet (I’ve never tried this).

For the tisanes, rooibos and honeybush have a natural hint of sweetness so they go well with pastries and chocolate. Christmas rooibos usually has cinnamon, spices and orange that complement fruit cake, pudding and mince pies.

Finally, fennel, peppermint, ginger and anise are all excellent for aiding digestion. Anise is sweet and spicy and calming for digestion at night time while fennel is particularly good after a heavy meals and for helping with heartburn. Fennel and ginger are also excellent for nausea.

Tea Gifts

Maybe I’m biased but I think that tea makes a lovely gift. To coincide with the season of giving, below are some tea recommendations that are likely to be well-recieved. Shipping to Ireland is a bit of an issue and regularly seems to double the cost so the list below is specifically aimed at readers from Ireland and the UK.

Palais Des Thés - Thé N°25

Palais Des Thés – Thé N°25 (Source)

 

I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t like the Rooibos Christmas Tea from Palais Des Thés (Thé N°25 Rooibos). This tea smells of spices and orange goes perfectly with a fire and mince pies. €7.50 is not unreasonable for the 100g pouch but as a gift, the metal tin would make for nicer presentation (€14). Delivery is a hefty €8 to Ireland and UK but they have a shop in Dublin Centre if you can make it there to pick it up.

Thé N°25 also comes in white, green and chai but for me rooibos is the clear winner as a Christmas tea and because rooibos has no caffeince it can be enjoyed in the evenings.

 

WTE Darjeeling sampler box

WTE Darjeeling sampler box (Source)

 

The presentation tin for this Darjeeling sampler box makes it perfect for gift-giving. It comes from Whittington’s Tea Emporium and inside are three high quality Darjeeling teas from Postcard Tea, Canton Tea Co. and Tea Studio. There is a full sheet of information on each tea including a description of the estate, tasting notes, brewing instructions etc. This is a great way to experiment and compare three high quality first flush Darjeelings from different estates and at £7.50 it is also excellent value.  WTE also offer other sampler boxes for Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Jasmine and Sencha.

 

 

In keeping with the sampler theme, House of Tea here in Dublin have some good starter packs. The China Selection contains 13 teas (various weights) for €28. (€5 P&P to Ireland). I havn’t sampled very many of these teas but I bought this selection for my sister a few years ago and she seemed very happy with it.

 

Postcard Teas - Ishikawa Matcha

Postcard Teas – Ishikawa Matcha (Source)

 

You could randomly pick any tea from Postcard Teas and it would make a great gift. They are known for having high quality tea from small farms and providing the precise origin of each tea. Some of my favourites are the Baozong green (£9 for 20g) and the Ishikawa Matcha (£19.95 for and the 40g). Shipping charges to Ireland depends on items purchased but it is usually £4-5 for an order of three teas.

 

 

Koyu Ceremonial Matcha Bowl Set

Koyu Matcha Bowl Set (Source)

 

Speaking of Matcha, I came across Koyu Matcha a few weeks ago and think that this Ceremonial Matcha Bowl Set would make a lovely gift for someone who likes matcha. It includes the bowl, whisk, scoop and Matcha tea for €51 (+€2.20 P&P to Ireland).

 

 

 

 

Blue Play Teaset

Blue Play Teaset (Source)

 

And finally, Christmas is a special time for children and having a pretend tea-party is an good way to round up the teddys and the dolls that haven’t seen each other in a while. I know from my nephew that tea parties are not just for girls so here is blue one made from tin that comes in a case. IKEA also have a cute tea set for €11. Extra imagination is needed for this one because it doesn’t come with a teapot!

Stale tea

Last weekend we spring-cleaned the kitchen (we are late for 2013 spring cleaning not early for 2014!). In the process, I found some very old matcha, which makes for an interesting comparison with the fresh matcha that I bought last week.

Matcha - Fresh and StaleHere are the photos. You can see that the fresh matcha is striking bright green but the old one is a dull, grey-green. Tea doesn’t spoil with time but it does loose its flavour and colour especially if exposed to air. Matcha is one of the brisker tea on the fading process. Ideally it should be used within a few weeks of opening but keeping it in an airtight container in the fridge can extend this a little. I’m ashamed to say that the old matcha was not in an airtight container, not in the fridge and has probably been on the shelf for well over a year. In other words, a perfect storm of matcha degradation!

 

The old matcha still has a strong vegetal aroma but it doesn’t form the nice froth and the taste is unpleasant and slightly sour.

Brewed Matcha - Fresh and Stale

Not all the examples of stale tea are as obvious as matcha and of course it varies with vacuum sealing, conditions etc. but here are the general rules that I use:  greens: within 4/5 months (of the harvest date), light oolongs and early Darjeeling: within 6/7 months, black tea (apart from Darjeeling) within 12-18 months, pu-ehr and heavily roasted oolongs: whenever they’re ready – both improve with age.

For the teas that don’t age, I have a terrible habit of not drinking them quickly enough. When I find a tea that I love, I sometimes wait until I can make enough time to really enjoy it, or the right occasion, or someone to share it with. Some fine teas have been lost in this way and the matcha was a good reminder. From now on, I am going to be dedicated in keeping my tea list updated with the date of purchase/harvest. That might sound nerdy but it’s nothing compared to the plans I have for rules in excel and automatic colour coding depending on the best time to drink ;-).