Friday, November 15, 2013

I am doing it all wrong

OK so I've been resisting the tea sommelier thing (seriously - look at this piffle: tea sommelier)
This is because I was afraid of what I call a Cherry Sunburst moment. Years ago, I was living in a small village, working in a winery and singing in a band. As the singer, I felt it was my professional job to know nothing about guitars. They all look like guitars to me. But the guitarists, and there were two of them, so I was outnumbered, talked about them for hours on end. One day they referred to what I thought of as the colour scheme on a a perfectly ordinary as a 'cherry sunburst'. From that moment on, it didn't look like a guitar any more. It looked like awesome. And I couldn't not care about guitars because I knew now about the Cherry Sunburst thing. This is the heart of advertising - creating caring where there was no caring by the cunning use of words and images. I like cherries. I like sunshine. The idea that both cherries and sunshine could live in a guitar is appealing to me, who has no real interest in the instrument. Damn! Snoogled by cunning marketing! Again!
This is a Cherry Sunburst guitar, according to google images, where I pinched the image from (thanks, therandommind).

So I was nervous about learning about the complex world of tea because I thought I might have a moment where I get seduced by all the language and folklore of tea and become a completely inaccessible wanker who is incapable of buying tea from the supermarket any more.
So that happened.
I picked up a book on tea, and suddenly my world collapsed, and I found myself knowing an unholy lot of stuff about the six types of tea, only one of which is black. And the English introduced tea to India, and before that it was from mainly the south and southwest of China. And that all tea comes from the Camellia sinensis species, of which there are three main cultivars. And I found myself wanting to try the three main cultivars and seeing if I could tell the difference. I started rethinking my attitude about buying black tea from the supermarket. And I started thinking about actually using the tiny, clay teapot I once bought from a lovely old woman because she reminded me of my grandmother, who I was missing. Apparently, those are the proper teapots and the giant western teapots are all wrong. Apparently, drinking large amounts of black tea out of big mugs with milk or sugar is all wrong. Apparently, buying tea without checking that the leaves aren't old or dusty is all wrong.
Then there was a whole lot of stuff about leaves which I skipped. Leaves. Seriously.
So it's happened, I've turned into an inaccessible tea wanker who is out of touch with normal tea drinking and I believe this thing is pretty contagious, so expect further facts about tea.
Also, I'm thinking about trying to grow tea in my garden. We have a lot of Camellia bushes in my area, so therefore, my thinking goes, tea should be a doddle. And I'm thinking of separating all the different bits of the bush and seeing what they all taste like. I have fantasies about roasting the leaves over burning pine roots and making my own lapsang souchong (which is Chinese for 'crappy tea for export only'), but common sense and past experience tells me none of this will ever, ever happen.
But what are we humans without dreams? Do my dreams tie me with the ancient Chinese person who, having dried and steeped tea laves for generations, experimented with drinking the tea that had fermented by accident, where it had got wet after the roof leaked? Do my dreams tie me with the rapacious British, who realised their dreams of global commencial dominance via tea? Do they tie me with someone in Sri Lanka,  standing in their own field of tea and looking out on a sunny day towards the sea and feeling deep and abiding contentment? And do they tie me with the very first person who was climbing the huge Camellia sinensis trees that grow in the mountains, and who grabbed a few leaves and threw them in a pot of boiling water to see what happened?

Who are we without our dreams? I believe the internet is a deep and abiding space for collective dreaming. Similar to our actual dreaming, we see many of the demons that lurk in our subconscious, but we also see what we value and treasure, and sometimes we see the way forward. I'm dreaming of tea today, but I wish you well in what you are dreaming of, what you treasure, and in your own way forward.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The ultimate tea shop reviewed secretly

Yeah ok so due to pressing urgencies, stress, slackness or whatever the tea shop owner and I have not yet got our act together to have a good old fashioned honkin' review of all tea.
But I've been sneaking in there when she's out and sampling tea on the sly.
I don't really get all the tea sommelier stuff, which seems super complicated, but I had an oolong in there this morning that's kept me going all day. You get two brew-ups of your leaves, which I am always in favour of. But only if you buy the right kind of tea.
I like the stabilising influence of some tea. Left to my own devices, I snort down a tonne of strong black tea and run around like a fragile idiot, but some of the different sorts and green teas are somehow more grown up and lead to strength and calmness instead of short lived frenzy.
The other thing about the tea shop is it's a switched-on kind of a venue. Their chef is a nervous, skinny, intelligent guy who knows weird facts about food and digestion that you just don't expect.
We exited the tea shop and the rain was bucketing down in a Melbourne kind of way, and we realised we were having an experience that was very inner city, very Smith St.
Tea. Since then I've been everywhere, seen a band, and now I'm on the final fingernail of the trip home. Exiting my train. Good night.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Tea review adjourned to later date

Sadly, the great review of all tea has been postponed due to yr blogger being required in the Supreme Court. What's weird is that I wake up every morning and the court thing is. Still. There, and hasn't disappeared or dissolved overnight with the other nightmares.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Reviewing many teas next week.

Omg, I'm doing a review!! This is a new height of professionalism for this blog. There is a specialty tea shop which just opened up in Smith St, Melbourne, and I'm booked in to talk and drink tea with Hannah, the proprietor, next Thursday. So if you're thinking oolong, if you're thinking Keemun, even if you're thinking Darjeeling- is it all it's cracked up to be?? - then those questions may well be answered then. And if they're not, then I'll endeavour to answer them at some later time in blog space.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The splitter tea

Today was the day I gave in to insomnia and got up at 5am, made tea and bread with honey, turned on the heater and took a bit of time alone. It's been quite delicious, though I'm aware I'll need to get up in 8 minutes and go and have an entire day.
Lapsang souchong is an amazing tea, in my opinion. It's got big leaves, which are traditionally smoked on bamboo racks over smouldering pine logs. Most people either love it, because it reminds them of campfires and being outside and warmth and time with friends, or they loathe it because it's a flavour often associated with savoury food, and they struggle with its place in tea. For me, smoke and tea go together because I've been camping a lot and I like tea out of a billy, not a plastic kettle, and I like to sit round a campfire first thing looking over the river, drinking my tea and listening to the birds, which I can hear now, just waking up.
It's almost 'go and have an entire day' time. I hope you have a wonderful day, whether lapsang souchong seems like a great tea or an abomination to you.
I think flavour balance is a huge thing. I disagree with a lot of the pricier earl grey blenders, because the bergamot overwhelms the tea. I love earl grey, but I'm a fan of restrained bergamot. Similarly, lapsang is best if the flavour of the smoke doesn't drown out the tea flavour.
If you like Twining's Russian Caravan, it's got a little bit of smoke in it. It's pretty weird working in a modern office and wandering round with a cup of lapsang, with other people saying 'I smell bacon or something' and giving them the cup to smell. I've watched some intense reactions, from 'wow' to 'yuk'. Personally, I would never say 'yuk' to someone else's food, but there you go.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Poo err

I'm on a tram, surrounded by conversations. Everyone is on their way to a Friday night thing, and we're plugged into smartphones and tablets and hanging from straps. The man beside me is wearing spats.
Black and green tea are the teas we love, but there is another kind, which is red tea. It's semi fermented, and you can sometimes get it in bing, or compressed disc form. This is where tea gets interesting - they used to compress it into discs, bricks or bird nest shapes so it was easier to transport by camel. You're almost drinking Chinese history.
One of the main red teas is pu erh, which is supposed to be really good for you, but I drink it because its got a wonderful earthy taste. Like all tea, watch out for a sodium hydroxide aftertaste, which would mean you bought the cheap one.
Pu erh is meant to manage cholesterol, but don't let that put you off...
Anyway, here's my stop. Have a productive Friday night!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


There has been a bump in the price of tea. Ok, there has been a bump in the price of everything, but I'll narrow it down to tea.
A couple of years ago, tea was about $3.50 a cup. Which was a bit extortionate, until you realise you're not actually buying tea, you're renting a little bit of space without worries or unpleasant distractions, like loose cupboard doors and loads of unwashed washing, like you have at your house, where you could easily make yourself a cup of tea for about 20c and three minutes' labour.
Now it's always $5.50. And you can tell it's extortionate because the tea people keep using the word 'just'. 'That's just five fifty, they say, staring at you balefully over your cup of tea that you're both aware has cost them $1.20 to make, including three minutes' labour hire and fourteen cents of power and water. And the tea server, you both know, is waiting resignedly for you to say, 'Five fifty for a cup of tea? Are you mad? How can you possibly justify that? How is it that I don't get any change from a five dollar note? How?' And they are trying to head you off early by using the magical 'just' word.
But you don't do that. Like most consumer sheep, you dig deep and find five fifty for a cup of tea. Over and over and over. Just to have a sit down. Just because you're meeting a friend. Just to have someone else do something for you, just for a minute, just when you're tired and have a cold.
Just. Because you know your fifteen dollar a week tea habit adds up to a one-way flight to Bali over a year, $750, for something you could take with you in a thermos for no money at all.
So, well, prices rise. Some people are now on enormous salaries, and they won't notice a 40% price rise/gouge, and they are the consumers, not you.
And they make the rules.
And they are the consumeriest consumers of them all, much more consumery than you are, all alone on your park bench with your thermos of tea.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The weather

We have a thing in my household, a new thing of appreciating the weather. See, in my town, it's normal to whinge about the weather because it's notoriously changeable and whatever clothes you put on in the morning, there's a chance they'll be inappropriate by the afternoon. But we decided to love and appreciate our weather, her highs and lows, her brooding moods and abrupt storms and oppressive heat and melting humidity.
We decided our weather is like an opera singer, and that without her emotional extremes, she would lose her essential character and become an emo or a disco floozie or one of those tedious popular bands with nothing to say. As it is, she is dramatic and intense. Yesterday we baked in sunshine and today we drowned in floods. I'm not exaggerating. I sloshed to work today like a car ad, with wings of water fanning out from under my wheels. Amelie liked to run her fingers through a sack of grain (who doesn't?) and I like to slosh through puddles in a car making water wings and a whooshing sound. Also, with the delays and traffic and the general city people thing, I was half an hour late for work and was therefore able to run through my whole choir repertoire in the car. Mozart, Handel, Verdi. Carole King. What gifts the weather brings.
Now I'm sitting in the evening sunshine with a pot of dandy and honey and some exhausted dogs at my feet. There's terrible wear and tear on them in stormy weather because the thunder gods roar and threaten them and they have to run and hide under our feet and in our beds. They are even more responsive to the weather than the humans of the house. And we are responsive. All this rain and sunshine, we will be sprouting and photosynthesising and blossoming and thriving under the hand of our fickle mistress, the weather goddess. Bless her.