17 August 2013

Cake Out

Yes, I made That Cake again.

Yes, there's only this much left.

Yes, I had it for breakfast. But I did pair it with a different tea this time, Oriental Beauty- a highly oxidized oolong from northwestern Taiwan, rich and honey-sweet in both flavor and fragrance. If you could curl up in its lap, you would.

Oriental Beauty was actually developed in the late 1800s in an attempt to emulate Darjeeling tea- but although both are fine examples of how delicious a bug-bitten leaf can taste (a small leafhopper insect attacks the plant before it's harvested, changing its chemical components), I doubt you'd mistake one for the other. There's a smooth, complete roundness in the Oriental Beauty that's a very different structure than the stacked and layered curves of a Darjeeling.

And if the idea of eating shapes is unappealing, just make the poundcake. You can get anything down with a slice of it.

20 July 2013

Quiet World

The best cup of tea I've had in a long time.

21 May 2013

On Loneliness, Desire and Hand-Rolled Gyokuro

The longer you're in a city, the more alone you feel. I don't think it's necessarily in a bad way- it's just inevitable that as you're surrounded by people every day, you're faced with how many of them you don't know. It's not an unnatural state, but it can at times lead to a feeling of missing out or wanting to be somewhere else. Just a few blocks away something better must be happening.

So when I do find myself lost in an engaging experience and not thinking of anything else, I relish it. Such was a tasting I had recently with a few friends that I met through tea (the kind of people you can sit around with and talk about leaf varietals for a half hour, and realize that no one is melting from boredom).

And while I am utterly surrounded by tea at work- no, I'm not complaining about that- it's always a treat when something new shows up, like this hand-rolled (or temomi) gyokuro from Yame, Japan, that we had. The matte tone of the elegant, needle-shaped leaves is due to this process; even though these producers could easily break you in half, human hands can't produce the same amount of friction or pressure as a machine (but it sounds way cooler).

I'm a sucker for gyokuro, since it's the tea that got me into this whole mess, but I've rarely had a hand-rolled variety. This one had its characteristic powerful, brothy intensity with salty, bittersweet flavors that last far longer than you think possible. As one of my friends described it, it tasted like it had no beginning or end- it was like stepping into the middle of a plot and being told, "figure it out, kid."

We tried some Japanese black tea as well, which makes up less than 1% of the country's tea production. This one was from Mie Prefecture, near Kyoto, and when my friend asked the farmer why he started making black tea, he replied because he liked it- probably the best reason to do anything.

The flavor was full and somewhat astringent, like a strong Ceylon, but the smell of the leaves and the liquor were unmistakeably Japanese (deep green, seaweedy). Interesting to taste, but it's still hard for me to drink non-green Japanese tea. It almost feels like going to a steakhouse as a vegetarian- sure, the potatoes can be good, but you're kind of missing the point.

Maybe a little missing out is good, though. Satisfaction can so easily lead to stasis.

05 April 2013

Gaiwans I Have Known

It doesn't matter where I am. It's with me.

26 March 2013

Lush Life

Another beautiful, sweet cup of Bailin Gongfu while watching the sky lighten into dawn.

And listening to Joe Henderson. This is why I love mornings so.

04 March 2013

The Obsession Runs Deeper Than I Thought

I found an old diary when I was visiting home last year- it's one I've paged through several times, because it's absolutely hilarious to see what an eight-year-old mind endured.

Among a lot of embarrassing entries which will never be revealed, I came across this little gem:

There it is, recorded for posterity in 1985: My favorite beverage is tea. It's also interesting to note my abhorrence of bananas, which persists to this day, and that I'd love to have a meal where I could eat all the food I wanted. Clearly, I wasn't about to be tricked by a children's book publisher into a monotone plate.

Mr. Melon remains a bit of mystery- I think it was a watermelon candy, which as evident from my favorite foods list, probably was shunned in favor of the real thing. And coffee, as we all know, is pretty gross.

It's no surprise, then, that I greet another morning with a cup of my old friend. I almost can't remember ever doing otherwise.

27 January 2013

Thirteen Proprieties for Tea

"Third condition: Tranquil and elegant sitting area. When drinking tea in quiet and tasteful surroundings, a calm and quiet atmosphere, may you be at ease and unconcerned about the affairs of the world for a moment."

-Feng Ke Bing, Thirteen Proprieties for Tea from Annotations of Jie Tea (1642)

13 January 2013

Honey Sweet

You'd think the worst thing about being sick is how is makes you feel (really horrible). But equally as bad is how it makes you sound (really boring). So enough of all that talk.

One of the brighter moments over the haze of the holidays was preparing one of my absolute favorite teas in the kitchen where I grew up. I suppose that's what defines a home: a place that no matter how long as has passed since you've been there, you still know where everything lays. And in this kitchen, each cup, even every counter surface has such a patina of memory on it that I'm surprised they're not more visible than a few faded stains.

Jia Long was certainly not something I ever tasted growing up, unfortunately, but it's such a richly scented, deeply sweet oolong that the first time you do, it instantly becomes a visceral memory. Even in the cold air of New England in December, the aroma- like warming honey- filled the room. Everyone in my family who walked by while I was making it stopped and said, "What is that?"

As we sipped together, I told them about visiting the teahouse and farm of Mr. Chen, the incredibly talented farmer who makes this tea in northern Taiwan. As evocative as it is to taste here, having it prepared by the producer himself was transcendent.

His tea farm was also stunning, the scent of the leaf mingling with other heady tropical aromas, of wild ginger flowers and neon pink dragonfruit growing like weeds out of cracks in a stone wall.

I'm still surprised I was able to leave.

03 January 2013

Punishment Cookies

Pleasure and pain: you'd think being home sick for awhile wouldn't be so bad. But when it's pneumonia, and two weeks, you start wishing to be anyplace but in bed.

I can't verify the diagnosis because x-rays and tests are a bit out of my budget. However, this illness is an intense one, and brings with it a complete lack of appetite- for food and tea. Yes, it's that serious. So in order to claw my way back to health, I've been choking down ridiculously expensive oolongs and punitions, or punishment cookies, every few hours.

I read about these simple French sugar cookies in an article about Poilane bakery, in Paris. The focus of the piece was the baker, and the bread, but the mention of a small basket of these treats by the register- offered to every patron- haunted me for all of two days, until I found the recipe and made them my own.

Punishment Cookies
Makes: about 4 dozen

10 tablespoons unsalted butter (Kerrygold is my preference)
1/2 cup (125 g) sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
2 cups (280 g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1. Put butter in a food processor and pulse, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until smooth. Add sugar and process until thoroughly blended; add the egg and process until the mixture is smooth and satiny. Add flour and salt, then pulse several times until dough forms into clumps.

2. Gather dough into two balls; press into disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate overnight or at least a few hours. When ready to bake, heat oven to 350°. Roll out one disk at a time to about 1/4-inch thick. Using a round or flower-shaped cookie cutter, cut and place cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Gather scraps and gently re-roll to cut more cookies. Repeat with remaining disk.

3. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, until cookies are set but still pale. Let cool on sheets for a few minutes, or transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Or watch this video of them being made by the original crazy Frenchman, by hand - truly, a work of baking art- and then feel lucky that things like cookies and clear lungs exist.