Wednesday, August 29, 2012

An intimate tea tasting

My friend Vicki, the tea sommelier student, as well as,  jack of many trades, and I, had a very intimate tea tasting at Tao Tea Leaf on Yonge Street in Toronto recently. I say intimate, because it was just the two of us with Tea Sommelier Tao, our instructor.

When we arrived Tao beautifully arranged a sampling of teas from his array of tea cannisters, that he imports. Our sampling consisted of two white, one yellow, one green, two oolong, two black and two Puerh teas. I had never even heard of Puerh before.

Tao arranging our leaves for our tasting.
Tao set a lovely tea service, with a traditional clay Chinese tea pot, and a Gai Won, a traditional three piece tea set which consisted of a lid, a bowl and a saucer. We were told how the water will affect the taste of tea, how to sniff the leaves, smell the aroma from the precisely brewed cup, how to use a tea toy, to judge the temperature of the water & how to use a tea presenter to sniff the leaves and breathe in the aroma with an open mouth and then to breathe, how to sip the first taste quickly and then let the second taste swill around in your mouth. I had no idea tea tasting had such an art, and it truly is an art. I enjoyed all the ceremony, how Tao had a stop watch to steep one tea for precisely 50 seconds, and another for a full minute. I learned about a tea kettle that had settings to warm the water to the exact temperature that certain teas best steep at, ie) green, assam. Who knew these kettles existed, but I have since written down the brand, and will look into that. I thought you boiled the water until it clicked off, as I do on my Russell Hobbs kettle. Apparently there is a lot more to it than that.

During all these tastings, I confirmed that Dragon Well green tea, is still my favorite green tea. When I was in China I visited the Dragon Well tea plantation and saw spring's first buds being processed by hand in their hot pan process. 

The cascading tea plants at Dragon Well.

Hot pan process for the green tea
at Dragon Well Tea Plantation, Hangzhou China
The first pluck of bud only is the top grade in tea.  The Island Goddess Oolong tea looked like spinach as it sat in the tiny dish before the tea was brewed. It had a sweet scent and a yummy flavor.

Green tea has no oxidation, white has a slight oxidation, yellow has a two week process, oolong  is 70% oxidation and black tea is fully oxidized.

Me sitting in front of our sampling, and instructor Tao,
with the spent tea leaves sitting on top of saucers.
Imperial Puerh tea helps in digestion, but smells leathery to me, so don't think I will be purchasing that one. It was great to be able to sample all these wonderful different teas, and to learn just what makes each tea so unique, be it the location of plantation, fermentation process, oxidation process and so on. That's why I find it hard to understand when people say they don't like tea. Really? But there are thousands of teas. Perhaps you just haven't found the one you like yet?

My first cup of tea was with my Babcia. We sat on her back stoop, after I helped her hang the wash on the line, after we pulled it through her wringer washer, with our cup and saucer of Red Rose tea, looking at her rose garden. Good memories. My tea tastes may have evolved over the years, but those first cups with Babcia, still stand out.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I swear I was from Mars...

...and everyone else was from Venus tonight on my subway ride downtown.

I was the only one, really, not sporting a smart phone as an accessory. At first I just thought it was the under twenty-five set, who had the earbuds hooked up to their Samsungs and Iphones. Then the more I looked up and down my subway car, during rush hour, it really was me, who was in the minority. People were reading on tablets, kindles and smart phones. I saw one actual physical book being read. No one was talking expect one couple in the corner. Had it been that long since I road the beloved Red Rocket? I sure don't remember so much non communication with communication tools going on before. Everyone was clutching their phones as they stepped on and off the cars as we approached each station. Amazingly there were no collisions, as no one took the time to really look up from their precious devices, but sort of glanced up at their peripheral vision.

Now in all honesty, I don't understand the great fascination with being hooked up to the world at all times. Again, I know I'm in the minority. I don't always want to be found. Is that so strange? Apparently it is. I felt like I was on a sociological expedition on the subway tonight — noting ages, who had what device, if they were reading or thumbing through pages and their concentration on not making contact with anyone else, even the most minor of glimpses, for fearing of missing a tweet on their mobile device.

The subway car was so quiet except for the sound of the suction of air hitting the car as we hit a curve on the rails. This was rush hour, in a major city, on public transportation, and it was quiet. Sure not how I remember the subway rides of my student commuter days when a lot of chatter could always be heard on a subway car, particularly at rush hour. Yes indeed, times they are a changing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Adapt my dear"

...said the centenarian to the late Peter Gzowski on his radio show, as to what was the one piece of advice she could give people. Adapt. As simple as that. And a fine piece of advice it is.

Recently I was at a 75th birthday party for a friend's mother, and as we were standing over the webber kettle as the lamb was cooking, we started talking about birthdays and age, and how well we are aging.  My friend Jeff, whose mother's birthday we were celebrating, told me this little Gzowski trivia, and it got me thinking just how right this lady was. This was indeed a sage piece of advice.

Think back 100 years from now to 1912 - pre World War One, cars were just barely coming into vogue, hemlines were still long and about to start rising and we had yet to think of flying beyond what Jules Verne had dreamed of. Imagine one who has seen all the changes from the past 100 years — it's astounding, really. My Dad's Dad was 101 when he passed away. What must he have seen, and adapted to. He served in the First World War in the Polish army and was twice captured and escaped from a Siberian prisoner of war camp, emigrated to Canada with his young wife and daughter just in time for the great depression, learned a new language, English, settled in a harsh environment, the Manitoba prairies, farmed the land until his 80's, saw all his children marry and move away, only to resettle in a large new city, Toronto, for his final years, away from everything he knew for the previous sixty years, but, he adapted. My grandfather always had his squeeze box nearby, willing to sing a song and share a shot of whiskey with you, all the while with a twinkle in his bright blue eyes. He had no great health issues, perhaps because he learned to adapt at a young age, rather than get stressed over things. Who knows? What we do know is that stress on the body is cumulative, and not a good thing.

Too many of us don't adapt, or fear to adapt. Life is about constant change, and how well we choose to adapt and be resilient to those changes also determines, to a certain extent, how long we may live. The more we fight change, the harder things become. Too many things are out of our control, and as trite as it may sound, it's just not worth sweating the small stuff, but, to adapt to it. Change is going to happen — period — whether we want it or not, so we might as well just get used to it, and learn to adapt, sooner rather than later, and be able to enjoy so much more, all that much more.

Thank you Jeff for that little story.

Said lamb on the Webber.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The patio

patio |ˈpatēˌō|
noun ( pl. -os)
a paved outdoor area adjoining a house.
• a roofless inner courtyard in a Spanish or Spanish-American house.
ORIGIN early 19th cent.: from Spanish, denoting an inner courtyard.

But it is so much more than that. With outdoor activities being very limited on a patio in Toronto, simply because of our four seasons, I want to embrace them when I can. A patio can also be a deck, a terrace or a flagstone pad.

Last weekend I enjoyed the company of my Mom and friend Margaret on the deck/patio in High Park for lunch. We sat in the shade of a large Maple tree, as the gentle breeze kept us comfortable. The patio is the perfect setting for get togethers this time of the year.

High Park deck

Last night I had Pimm's and Risotto on a patio on College street with partner in crafting, Nancy. Nancy and I start planning our patio meetings in March. It generally takes us a few tries at getting the patio destination & dates sorted, as well as a few patio meetings before we actually get down to planning our fall craft shows.  Honestly, we've had little rain in Toronto this year, and each time we planned to get together, there has been a threat of it. Luckily, it has never materialized.

College street patio.

With the Civic long weekend here, marking the middle of summer, I toast the patio and all it represents. This weekend, I will go out and sit in my Muskoka chair on my lovely polka deck,  raise a glass with friends,  read the papers and savor this wonderful ambiance.