By now you’ve surely heard about that fabulously good for you tea called Matcha.   But what is it – where does it come from – and why should you care.  Matcha today is uniquely Japanese – but this wasn’t always the case.  This loaded with goodness ground tea was first made in China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and continued in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).  Initially, the steamed tea leaves were formed in bricks to help with storage and trade – these bricks were then pulverized and dissolved in hot water with salt.  In the Song Dynasty that followed, whipping the steamed powdered tea leaves in a bowl with hot water became popular – this preparation was then made into a ritual by Zen Buddhist monks.  It was in 1191 that Zen Buddhism along with the green tea powder ritual was brought to Japan by the monk Eisai.  The powdered tea ritual was eventually forgotten in China – but the Japanese not only adopted it, they perfected it and then turned it into the Japanese Tea Ceremony (a subject that deserves its very own post).

MatchaMatcha is a stone ground tea – but its preparation is arduous and requires much care and attention.  It begins several weeks before the tea leaves are picked.  The entire crop is covered with bamboo curtains in order to increase the cholorophyll content within the leaves – making them greener and slightly sweeter.  At this point, the leaves can become the prized Gyokoru, if they are rolled out before drying – or they can be laid out flat to dry and slightly crumble – known as Tencha.  The Tencha is then destemmed and painstakingly deveined before it is ready for its final step – grinding.  Tencha is placed between two large stones that will grind clockwise and counterclockwise against eachother to break the leaves down into the fine powder.  It will take approximately one full hour for a stone mill to grind 40gr of Matcha.

So why would Popeye care?  Well, because you’re ingesting the entire leaf when drinking Matcha – your body is reaping ALL of the benefits present in the tea leaf.  Studies have shown that Matcha contains:

*  Vitamins A, B6, B-Complex, C, E, K, Nicacin, Folate, Riboflavin, Thiamin
*  Calcium, Magnesiu, Iron, Zinc, Potassium, Phosphorus, Sodium
*  L-Theanine and Amino Acids which improves alertness
*  High chlorophyll content – is a blood detoxifier
*  70 x antioxidants of orange juice
*  9 x beta carotene of spinach
*  boosts metabolic rate by 35-40% matchasticks

To add this amazing tea to your daily routine in a very simple way – we’ve introduced…Matcha Sticks.  Each stick is perfectly portioned for one bottle of water – simply add Matcha, shake well and enjoy – no sugar – no additives – just the real thing.

Another piece by the New York Times – an older one – but it makes us want to pack our bags and hop on a plane to the beautiful land of tea.  Click on the picture below for the full slideshow.

14tea_01

Here is the second part of that tea/caterpillar commercial – unfortunatley it’s not subtitled – but the affect is not lost: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZfaE71_3-U]

We recommend reading Part 1 of this piece before Part 2 to fully appreciate our meaning.  As in the first part of this post – you can click on the link on the right hand side under Liquid Visions and hear Perlman playing Bach for the full experience.

Perhpas you’re scratching your head and wondering what the relation is between Itzhak Perlman and Dung Ti Oolong – or any tea for that matter.  The relation is quite simple – it’s Greatness.  For a tea lover, answering the question – which tea is your favourite – is incredibly difficult.  For all the reasons that I love tea, I am hard pressed to narrow down my answer to one.  The types, styles and flavours of tea vary so greatly that a different one can be chosen to fit a time of day, the temperature in the air or the mood in your heart.  If however I must choose – then I choose a category – and that is Oolong. 

dung tiMany people will argue that Oolongs are the most complex teas to produce.  So much of the end resulting flavours will depend entirely on the skills of the tea master who has produced your tea.  Oolongs are partially oxidized teas.  They are picked and wilted in the sun for a short period of time.  They are then placed in baskets and shaken in order to bruise the leaves.  This bruising process allows the juices/enzymes within the leaves to be exposed to air allowing the oxidation process to begin.  The leaves are then spread out to dry and finally fired in order to stop the oxidation process.  Oolongs are allowed to oxidize between 5-80% – hence the vastly differing flavours in your cup.

So now that we have all the technical data behind us – where does the Greatness and the Dung Ti Oolong come into play?  If you’ve ever had a really great Dung Ti Oolong – you are familiar with the sweet floral notes that linger through your nose and in your mouth.  This particular Oolong is referred to as Jade style – it is very lightly oxidized – about 5-10%.  Dung Ti or Tung Ting Oolong grows in the Nantou County of Taiwan.  The story goes that in 1855, a villager named Ling Fung Tse went to the WuYi Mountains in the Fujian Province of China.  He brought back 36 tea trees from his journey and being grateful to his friend Ling San Yen for financing his trip, he gave him 12 of the tea trees.  These trees were planted along the mountain roads that surround Chi-Ling Lake which is where this unforgettable tea is still picked from.

The first time I brewed a cup of Dung Ti, it brought a smile to my face – the light liquor and the sweet aroma is breathtaking – not only in aroma but in flavour as well.  I drank it slowly enjoying every drop and I gave thanks to the tea master who had had the skill, the wisdom and the talent in knowing at exactly what moment to stop the oxidation of this tea in order to produce the heavenly flavours that I was now enjoying thousands of miles away on the other side of the world. 

We are surrounded by Greatness – but stop and recognize it sometimes and it will humble you when you become aware, conscious and acknowledge the Greatness that may be before your very eyes.  Sometimes it’s as obvious as listening to the giant Itzhak Perlman – sometimes it’s in a cup of tea – sometimes it’s in the person next to you.

perlman_itzhak For your full experience, you can click on Perlman playing Bach on the right hand bar of this screen under Liquid Visions while reading.

I had the great privilege of experiencing Itzhak Perlman live in concert recently and yes the experience was awesome.  Not awesome in the teen slang version of awesome – but awesome in the true meaning of the word – inspring awe or admiration or wonder.  He played for us for only a short 45 minutes – but the experience moved me close to tears.  Now why would a violinst playing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major move me close to tears.  Simple really – as I sat and watched and listened – I was clearly aware and conscious of a simple fact – I was in the presence of Greatness – and that conscious realization is an emotional one.   It is a rare moment I think that those two moments collide – one, being in the presence of Greatness, and two – knowing it.

I must make a further confession – I have wanted to see Ithak Perlman perform for a very long time – ever since I was sent this piece written by a journalist from the Houston Chronicle many years ago.  It has stayed with me for all these years –

On Nov. 18, 1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist came on stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. If you have ever been to a Perlman concert, you know that getting on stage is no small achievement for him. He was stricken with polio as a child, and so he has braces on both legs and walks with the aid of two crutches.To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, painfully and slowly, is an unforgettable sight. He walks painfully, yet majestically, until he reaches his chair. Then he sits down, slowly, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back and extends the other foot forward. Then he bends down and picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the conductor and proceeds to play.

 By now, the audience is used to this ritual. They sit quietly while he makes his way across the stage to his chair. They remain reverently silent while he undoes the clasps on his legs. They wait until he is ready to play.

But this time, something went wrong. Just as he finished the first few bars, one of the strings on his violin broke. You could hear it snap -it went off like gunfire across the room. There was no mistaking what that sound meant. There was no mistaking what he had to do.

People who were there that night thought to themselves: “We figured that he would have to get up, put on the clasps again, pick up the crutches and limp his way off stage – to either find another violin or else find another string for this one.”

But he didn’t. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes and then signaled the conductor to begin again. The orchestra began, and he played from where he had left off. And he played with such passion and such power and such purity as they had never heard before. Of course, anyone knows that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. I know that, and you know that, but that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know that.

You could see him modulating, changing, recomposing the piece in his head. At one point, it sounded like he was de-tuning the strings to get new sounds from them that they had never made before.

When he finished, there was an awesome silence in the room. And then people rose and cheered. There was an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium. We were all on our feet, screaming and cheering, doing everything we could to show how much we appreciated what he had done.

He smiled, wiped the sweat from this brow, raised his bow to quiet us, and then he said, not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone, “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

What a powerful line that is. It has stayed in my mind ever since I heard it. And who knows? Perhaps that is the [way] of life – not just for artists but for all of us.

So, perhaps our task in this shaky, fast-changing, bewildering world in which we live is to make music, at first with all that we have, and then, when that is no longer possible, to make music with what we have left. (Jack Riemer, Houston Chronicle)

At their historic first meeting in 1972, Mao TseTung chose Lung Ching Dragonwell to serve to Richard Nixon.  More importantly for our story though, the tea was brewed in water from the LongJing Spring at West Lake – where the tea originated from.  The spring water is said to be clear, light and sweet adding delightful flavours to an already delightful tea.  Was this overkill – or is water important to your tea brewing process?  detoxifier

Well, water is what your tea is steeped in – so the importance of the quality of the water you use is almost as significant as the quality of the tea that you use to steep into that water.  The truth is that the same tea leaves, steeped in the exact same way will taste differently in different parts of the world.   Clarity, colour and taste are the most important characterisitcs to any tea – and the clarity can be adversely affected by the mineral content in your water.

The following are the primary problems with water that can affect the quality of your tea:
1.  water hardness – is caused by a high mineral content – calcium and magnesium
2. chemical taste/odor – caused by chlorination of water and the presence of hydrogen sulfide
3. particulate matter/scale and lime accumulation –  

That means…smell your water – if it smells like chemicals, don’t use it.  If the water in your area is high in minerals – then try a filtration system, either a built in one or a simple Brita filter.  Alternatively, you can use bottled water. 

The fundamental message…care as much about the water you use for your tea, as the tea you are using – it is afterall 99.9% of what you’re drinking.

Ben Dunlap – President of Wofford College gave this speech at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference – and it is truly inspiring.  Come back and watch it again when you need to be inspired in your life – sometimes we need to hear the obvious and re-energize ourselves.

Enjoy.

[ted id=http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/208]

Now the English language is about oversimplification – and the word Chai has fallen victim to that. Chai simply means tea in many different languages – cha, chai, tsai, etc. – the variations are extensive but the word is the same. That means that the term ‘Chai Tea’ is a redundant term. So what is being referred to when you see the word Chai in your local tea store? What is being referred to is an Indian spiced tea. The variations and combinations are endless – as many recipes as there are Indian households in the world. The consistency in the recipe is that it has a black tea base and is then blended with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. You can either leave it at that – or you can continue adding ginger, pepper, saffron, etc.

So what is the best way to brew your Chai? We love brewing ours directly in milk on the stove. Here is the recipe:

Hot Chai – makes 2 servings

2 heaping tsp Kashmiri Chai, Decaffeinated Chai or Rooibos Chai
2 cups milk (whichever type you prefer)
honey to taste

Combine tea with cold milk in saucepan – bring to simmer over medium/low heat being careful not to scald the milk. Strain into cups and add honey to taste.

Chai Milkshake – makes 4 servings

3 heaping tsp Kashmiri Chai, Decaffeinated Chai or Rooibos Chai
4 scoops vanilla ice cream

Steep tea in 5 cups of boiled water. Set aside and allow tea to steep for 20 minutes. Remove and discard tea leaves. In a blender add ice cream and tea – blend well. Serve in tall glass with a sprinkle of cinnamon.