Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A Celebration: Tea In All Weathers

Well, that’s my second 90 day challenge officially finished! To celebrate, I went into Glasgow with Hayley and Debbie to commemorate 90 days of a different tea each day with a proper ‘afternoon tea’ and cocktails. We went to The Saint on Bath Street, where they celebrate the 1930’s prohibition era by serving fantastic cocktails in beautifully fragile teapots and teacups. Apparently, it was what was done at the time to sneak around the prohibition laws, and pretend you were having a nice cup of tea while still enjoying the forbidden fruit.

The one we chose to have was the Strawberry Cream Martini. It was so strange to see a cloudy pink liquid being poured out of a teapot – I’m so used to the clear streams of tea that it surprised me a bit. I inhaled the scent first, and it did have a very strong smell of strawberry, which was lovely on a sunny day. Hayley said she felt like she was in Paris or some posh European city (I suppose much more posh than Glasgow) sitting in the front courtyard with the sun streaming in through the vines and the other people drinking their illicit tea next to us.

The taste was absolutely lovely. Creamy indeed. The description on the menu was “Raspberry skyy vodka & strawberry bols liqueur, infused with a touch of double cream, strawberry & champagne jam, topped up with cranberry juice”.

We enjoyed every aspect of it – and you could see the little strawberry seeds from the jam remaining at the bottom of the cup. The afternoon tea included cucumber and egg sandwiches, with a dark chocolate cake, buns, and scones with jam and cream. I think I had more cream and jam than I’ve had in a very long time! It was a proper tea, on a beautiful day, with excellent company. Absolutely ideal way to finish off and celebrate my 90 days. (We added a few cocktails, too, just because.)

My summary of the tea journey is as follows:

There are far more tea varieties than you could possibly imagine. I never had an instance where I ran out of teas to try – I could easily have carried on for the entire year with this project. I did run out of teas in my own cupboard, but that’s simply because it gets expensive buying an entire box of tea, and then realising you’ve got to go get another one for the next day! I had green teas, black teas, red/rooibos teas, white teas, fruity teas, and herbal teas. I had iced tea, hot tea, lukewarm tea (not recommended); tea with milk, with lemon, with sugar, with honey. I drank tea in Scotland, England, and America, and I tried teas originating from Africa, Thailand, India, Arizona, Japan, the Netherlands, China, and Russia. I drank tea alone, sipping quietly and enjoying a time of rest; at airports, rushing along to catch a flight; in groups of laughing people; with a close friend over long conversation; at business meetings; with family; at home; and in restaurants. There were a few teas I really did not like, but even those I came to appreciate in some way. I’ve had my entire perspective opened up, and I can’t think of a single tea that I wouldn’t at least try once. I’ve learned how to guestimate what’s in a tea without even knowing its name, and I’ve dissected tea leaves to discover the answer. I’ve fallen in love with loose leaf tea, and even more with the green variety. I still don’t like a cup of hot tea on a warm summer’s day. And I’ve enjoyed my days of rest, too.

My walking has continued well. It hasn’t been as varied as my walking blog, but it’s been more consistent, and more enjoyable in that my thoughts can ramble along to themselves since I know exactly where I’m going.

I can say confidently that it was an exercise well worth completing, and I again feel that sense of accomplishment and pride that I would set out to do something, and finish it to the end. There have certainly been days when I really didn’t want to do any of it – walk, blog, drink tea, take photographs, anything – but I did it anyway. (And a few days where I didn’t want to, so I just didn’t.) As always the life lessons are:

  • Any long term project is very, very hard in the middle, and towards the end. When you’ve gone long enough that you feel you’ve achieved something, but you really wish you could just be done.
  • Doing something every single day is difficult, and incredibly rewarding. It is possible to write a blog post every day, to walk every day, to do what you’ve set your mind to every day.
  • Being willing to try something new and away from your standard is valuable for all areas of life. It makes you think differently, see differently, and in this case, open up new worlds of taste!
  • Rest is critical. It’s as much a part of the journey as the hard work, and makes the achievement possible. Trying to achieve at a high level every single day is not only impossible, but foolish.
  • Celebration is a very important part of the process, too. Once you’ve achieved something fairly momentous (if only in your own mind), it’s important to recognise that with some kind of ceremony or acknowledgement – and bring friends along. Celebration doesn’t work alone.
  • People notice things. Even more than the last walking challenge, I felt like no one was really reading the blog, no one commented for days or even weeks, and I wondered why I was even bothering. But everywhere I went, literally all over the world there were people asking how my tea journey was going, offering me different teas to try, joining me in the process, and even starting challenges of their own! That was the most flattering and encouraging, to realise that my own efforts had inspired someone else to do something similar. Who knows how far the encouragement of their challenges could reach?
I’ll end this blog with a tea quote, as I began it. This one seems to encapsulate what I’ve experienced in my journey:

“We can make of bread and water
Sweet feasts of toast and tea.”
- Oakland Tribune, 1903

There are such simple ingredients involved in making such a beautiful, restful, peaceful, enjoyable experience.

May the simple ingredients of your life be thus transformed.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Day 90: Green Tea With Pineapple & Grapefruit

It's here. At long last - day 90!!  If you've been reading the last few weeks, you've known that I've gotten a little weary of the whole process.  I love blogging - and walking - and photography - and tea...but the 'every day without fail' nature of it can become a struggle.

I'll write more tomorrow about my thoughts on the whole process.  I've arranged to have an Afternoon Tea at The Saint in Glasgow with two of my girls tomorrow, to celebrate the success of the 90 days!  We're very excited about the little cakes, sandwiches, and not only tea but cocktails in teacups! But more on that tomorrow for the celebratory blog post.  For now, I'm blogging as usual on one of my classics, green tea.

I genuinely thought I'd blogged on all the green tea versions in my cupboard, but I realised when cutting a grapefruit (and wondering if I should try to create my own tea version) that although I've been drinking this one every few days, I haven't officially blogged it yet!  Twinings does a whole series of 'Green Tea With...', and I've tried Orange and Lotus Flower, Blueberry and Raspberry, Mango, Cranberry, and Lemon, just to name a few.  I think I've actually tried a few others that aren't listed on the blog.  All of them are lovely.  The fruit flavour with green is just right.  My friend Moe asked me yesterday, of all the teas I've tried, which was my favourite, and I said I think it's the Green Tea With Mango, loose leaf.  But I'm thankful to Twinings for its green-tea-with series that got me hooked on greens in the first place.

Today's green tea, with pineapple and grapefruit, has a lovely sour kick to it.  I even added a little grapefruit juice to spike it further.  I have a lot of good memories of grapefruit.  The house that I grew up in, in Phoenix, was on land that was once a grapefruit orchard.  We had at least 13 trees on our property alone, and every house on the block had its share, too.  When I was younger, I wasn't as big a fan of grapefruit - too sour, and of course when you're young you want things as sweet as possible.  But as I got older I really enjoyed going out back and picking one of the huge yellow fruits directly off the tree, and taking it inside for breakfast.  Some of them took two hands to hold - and the skin was as thick as your thumb.  Some trees had sweeter fruit than others - some you could hardly eat unless you had liberally dosed it with sugar, and others had a tinge of red to them.  I remember the smell of them, and the white blossoms on the trees in spring, and the green abundance of leaves, and the painted-white-tree-trunks.  And after a storm, the green leaves and brown branches would be flung about, and the yellow grapefruits would be bobbing about in our swimming pool, and we would use them to play mini-basketball, or to surprise the cat.  (If you hold a grapefruit under water, and then release it, it springs up with a pop and the cat jumps backwards ten feet.  Great fun.)  Even just smelling the skin of the grapefruit I bought here at Tescos takes me back to summer afternoons in Arizona, the blue of the swimming pool matching the sky, and round yellow fruits lying about, and me lying about, watching the clouds drift across the sky.

Tea does wonderful things for you.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Day 89: Rest

It may seem a little strange to include days of rest as part of the 90 day challenge.  I've had a few people say that I should take the rest, but not count it as the 90 days.  But if I've learned anything about rest, it's that it is essential to our lives, essential to everything we do.  Rest is just as much a part of our achievements as the work, because it is the rest which enables us to achieve that which we spend ourselves for.  I could not do the walking, the writing, the photography, so consistently if I did not take a day off, completely off, each week.  We still count a week as being 7 days, even when we take the first day off to worship and sleep and read and pray and do none of our usual pursuits.  And so I still count my 90 day challenge as being a full 90 days, even when twelve of those were days of rest.

Enjoy your rest today!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Day 88: Loose Leaf Jasmine Tea

Jasmine. This tea has been haunting my cupboard, waiting oh-so-patiently to be brought out and enjoyed, watching with big sad eyes as the other teas went, one by one, getting their photos taken and generally becoming celebrities.  They returned with great hoopla to the cupboard whilst my poor jasmine tea (which I love) was relegated to a back corner and waited silently until day 88, when I suddenly realised it hadn't come into its own yet.

Truth be told, I wanted to wait and do a blog post on 'tea the dutch way'.  When I was in the Netherlands, I discovered that they have a lovely way of doing tea.  They bring out a teapot filled with hot water, and then glass mugs, and a plate or bowl filled with a variety of teabags.  Their teabags are always made in the kind of packets that describe what kind of tea it is (not just a box of teabags thrown in helter skelter, like we do in Scotland).  So instead of going round and asking what kind of tea everyone wants, they just boil the hot water, bring out the selection, and to each his own.  It's a lovely tradition.  So I was saving up my jasmine tea to use when I finally purchased some little glass mugs, and quite honestly I've never gotten round to it.  So tonight I'm perusing the cupboard and realise that in the name of 'waiting for that special day' I almost missed my loose leaf jasmine tea entirely.  And in the spirit of excelsior I am just going to go for it, my lack of glass tea mugs notwithstanding.

Jasmine tea is probably one of my all time favourites. It's one of the first loose-leaf teas that I began to really enjoy, when a friend gave me some when I was visiting his house.  I drank the entire cup and I think two or three more that night, so he sussed out pretty quickly how much I liked it, and instead of losing his entire tea cupboard to my visits, gave me some of my own for my birthday.  He also kindly gave me a slotted tea-spoon that is perfect for a cup of loose leaf tea, and which I've used almost daily, if not weekly, for the last few years.  Jasmine tea also reminds me of going out to eat with my dad at chinese restaurants - the tea that they give you in those tiny little cups, where you fill and refill it a hundred times in a night and still the teapot is not empty - as it has just enough flavour to enjoy, but not so much that you feel 'full'.  There are some teas that really make you feel like you've eaten something.  Assam tea, which I had earlier this week, is a pretty heavy duty tea; even Candy Cane tea is like eating sticks of peppermint; and Thai Bobo Iced Tea is like a medley of fruits and sugar, and it's difficult to find the tea, almost.  

But Jasmine tea is light. Fragrant. Peaceful. Restful. Calm. Unassuming.  It brings to mind light, fragile flowers, and Japanese gardens, and glass teapots. It's the kind of tea that can wait in the cupboard for 88 days, and not be bitter or resentful when it's finally brought out.  I'm enjoying this tea just as much as I ever did, and it's a happy reunion.

Day 87: Nando's African Nectar

Tonight I went to Nando's for dinner, and discovered that they not only serve tea, but more importantly 'tea infusions' - the closest thing you can get to loose leaf tea whilst still using a teabag.  "Silken pouches of fruit, herbs, spices, and whole tea leaves", as the menu proclaims.  I decided to go for African Nectar, which didn't have a description but I think after 87 days of tea I'm pretty capable of guessing the basic ingredients, at least.

It's a reddish-gold tea, and with the name African definitely suggests rooibos, with its distinctive red colouring.  The word 'nectar' hinted at golden honey, and inhaling the smell definitely lent credence to that theory.  After a sip or two I was confirmed in those two flavours, but there was something else too.  Something almost citrusy - I'd think maybe orange or lemon, although something more exotic wouldn't be a surprise.  And once I'd drunk the tea, I actually dissected the tea bag to see if there were any further hints.  It almost seemed like there was something like cloves, although that could just be larger pieces of the rooibos bark, and perhaps lightly coloured rose petals?  Or some other very light, fragile flower.  If that's not what's in the tea, it would definitely make for a good choice, in my opinion!

The tea was lovely.  The various secondary flavours supplemented the rooibos well, and it was light enough to drink as much as you want, whilst flavourful enough to let the tea steep for longer, if desired.  Now that I've analysed it myself, I went to the Mighty Leaf site and looked up the African Nectar variety, to see how close I was.  It turns out I was very close indeed.  It's definitely a rooibos, and other than 'natural flavours' which weren't further described, there are organic hibiscus and marigold flowers.  That's the petals I saw.  Very light indeed.

I'm pretty proud of myself for discerning the tastes so well.  I'm really beginning to enjoy this tea journey!  There are only three days left, which is hard to believe.  It's been a long one, but a good one, and has spanned several countries and will definitely be missed.  And all the lessons I've learned will be valuable any time I drink tea in the future!  But there are still a few days left, so I look forward to the final steps in the journey.

Walk length: slim to none. Wasn't very well today!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Day 86: Candy Cane Tea (Holiday Decaf Green)

If yesterday's tea was a campfire in a cup, then today's is Christmas in a cup.  This has been a favourite tea for many years, but I generally only drink it during the holidays.  Interestingly enough, I've only discovered today that it's a decaf green tea (no wonder I like it!).  There's a very strong peppermint flavour - so strong that you feel you could get the same taste by heating hot water and dropping several sticks of peppermint candy into it.  The green tea is an excellent flavour enhancer, though - much better than black tea.  It's lighter, and I'm discovering that when green tea has another flavour with it, the secondary flavour becomes the primary one.  I think green is a very humble tea.  It insists that the other flavours go first, have more of an impact.  It's content to sit back and just be the base, the capability, the opportunity for these other flavours to shine.

Candy cane tea is also an excellent choice if it's cold, or wet, or grey, or rainy, or if you're getting a cold.  There's something about anything minty that not only soothes, but provides contentment, too.  I'm struggling a little to drink this tea on a summer July day, but summer in Scotland is all over the place, and within the last hour it has gone from a warm, clammy, summer's day to a very grey and wet one.  So I feel I'm justified in having this mint infusion while I "chillax".

And every time I take a sip, I'm transported a bit.  I see wrapping paper and ribbons and sparkling baubles.  I smell the tangy green scent of a Christmas fir, with the needles flinging themselves with joyful abandon all over my white carpet.  I hear "I Saw Three Ships" playing while I write out Christmas cards, and families laden with good things laughing and sometimes arguing as they return from the shops.  I feel the sharp softness of velvet ribbon and the sleek slidiness of silk dresses and tops.  And I can just taste those Christmas cookies we used to make every year back when I was younger - pink and white striped, twisted all along and curved at the top, and sprinkled with crushed peppermint.  (My friend Heather blogged the recipe here, if you're interested.) Candy cane cookies, they're called.  It's the only thing missing while I drink my Christmas tea in July.

Walk length: 15 minutes

Monday, 18 July 2011

Day 85: Lapsang Souchong Tea (aka "Smoky Tea")

Today I actually selected and purposefully chose a tea I know I absolutely don't like. I might even go so far as to say that I hate it.  Actually, it's not so much the flavour or the smell or the taste that I'm opposed to in and of themselves: but I don't think any of them belong in a teabag, or a cup of tea.  In my mind the connection just doesn't match.  When my dad was in the Navy, one of his worst food memories is the day he took an entire plateful of what he thought was hash browns, the way the Americans make it: grated potato, fried golden-brown and absolutely delicious.  Unfortunately he took one bite and discovered it was sauerkraut, which he doesn't like.  Of course being in the Navy you don't exactly leave behind food you just can't be bothered to eat, so he had to finish the entire plateful.  I don't think he's had another bite of sauerkraut since, and that was close to 50 years ago.

The same applies to this tea.  We like to call it 'smoky tea' because that's what it smells like.  It has all the aroma of a barbeque, a campfire, or woodsmoke.  It's exactly that smell you get when you've been standing in front of a bonfire all night, and you get home and take off a piece of clothing and suddenly stand back a bit, realising how it smells so smoky.  That's what this tea smells like.   If you close your eyes, you can almost hear the crackling logs, see the sparks flying up and disappearing into the night air, listen to the laughter of friends and someone softly playing a guitar.  There are marshmallows being roasted and maybe even some freshly caught fish being cooked over the open coals.  The trees creak with the wind and the breeze fades in and out - and the smoke wafts in, and you're back to your cup of tea.

Which is why I think it's odd.  When I'm having a cup of tea, I'm generally in my house, or at a lovely restaurant, or a beautiful tea room.  I'm sitting on a sofa, or even in bed, or at a table.  It conjures up images of teapots and sugar bowls and milk jugs and silver teaspoons and slices of lemon and, quite frankly, fairly girly things.  Flowers and roses and pink and pale pastels.  So to have all that in your mind and then suddenly with one sip to be transported to a very male situation, with dirt and wood and fire and forests and wild animals calling out into the night, is a bit of a shock.

The even stranger thing (and this is slightly annoying) is that after the first few sips I really start to quite like it.  I rebel against it for a while ("Ew! I hate this tea! Blakthp!"), but I keep going back to it!  There's an addiction, a draw, that I just can't seem to resist.  Once I realise I'm at the campfire, I'm really enjoying it.  I'm almost reaching out to roast a marshmallow!  May as well, I figure.  I thought I was going to a tea room in the city, and found myself outside in the woods, but when in Rome....

Partly to try to figure out just how I like this tea, and also partly to get rid of the remaining teabags which are using up precious cupboard space, I have today tried drinking this tea in four different forms.  First, normal steeping, nothing added.  Secondly, longer steeping, so that it's almost black.  (It's a very dark tea.)  Third, with lemon.  And finally, with milk.  I almost never do that, but I really am curious what happens to this tea with these changes, and as mentioned it's a great way to exhume my cupboard and salve my conscience and move on from this very confusing tea!  My reviews are as follows:

Normal steeping - best. As mentioned above, I hate it at the start and then find myself drinking it to the dregs.
Heavy steeping - not bad. Brings out the best of the flavours and is not bitter, surprisingly.
Lemon - disaster.  Campfires and manly things like heavy boots, axes, fire, and rugged places do not go with little slices of lemon (or drips of lemon juice from a bottle).
Milk - it's okay, but I can feel the tea protesting.  "I'm complete in and of myself!" it insists. "I don't need these additives - you're simply weakening me, sapping my strength! Let me fight, let me stomp around in my camping gear, let me put up the tent!  Don't send me to a corner and add a baby's drink to me!"

The conclusion is, I hate this tea.  You should definitely have some!

Walk length: 35 minutes