Monday, February 8, 2016

A Moment on Who to Love

Comment here or on Instagram with whom you'd like to share a Valentine's Day cup of tea, and you'll be entered into a drawing to win The des Amants, courtesy of Palais des Thes! The drawing will take place at 5 p.m. PST, Tuesday, February 9th. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

New York City Moments

New York, New York. It's a wonderful town. And it's even better when you have friends to meet you there and show you what you'd most likely never find on your own.

I was in the city for just one day and one night at the end of a pilgrimage to see one of my dearest friends who had just had her second daughter and who lives in Upstate New York. Spending a few days with P, her husband, 2 scrumptious little girls and a 5-month-old puppy was already the best Thanksgiving weekend I could have asked for. Stopping in the city was the cherry on top.

Reaching out to the Underground Tea Syndicate NYC, I was able to secure 2 rendezvous with some of my favorite tea enthusiasts. Stop number one was with Rachel Safko, a gifted writer who I've really enjoyed getting to know over the past year. There's her Scents and Sensibiliteas blog, also known as "These Foolish Things... for the Urban Romantic." She had just been doing some research and tastings for this blog post on scented teas when we met at a cafe called Fika - apropos, as my maiden name is Swedish and I'm always interested in finding a little Swedish culture where I can.

She shared fun information on the research she had been doing on scented teas, we talked about family, of mutual tea friends, and I asked for her thoughts on a research project I was thinking of. Once again, I was struck at the reality of our times. I know Rachel through her writing, through her Twitter posts, through a couple of email exchanges, and one conversation at the World Tea Expo last spring. And yet, here we met, chatting like old friends. 

Now, you may well ask what two tea lovers were doing meeting at a Swedish coffee bar. But here is where I appreciate Rachel's "sensibiliteas." Whether she knew of my Swedish descent previously or not, she introduced my not only to the cafe known as Fika, but the Swedish tradition of Fika.

Here is how the cafe defines it:
The word FIKA [fee:kah] translates into taking a coffee break to indulge in the ritual of conversation, often accompanied by something sweet or savory. Having a daily FIKA is a way of life in Sweden and an important part of the culture. It offers a way of both relaxing and staying connected. - See more at:
I love this concept. And so, we indulged in the practice, though with tea rather than coffee (of course!).

We bid each other farewell, and off I went to Rendezvous no. 2. After a few missteps, I finally found myself in front of Chalait. And as the sun began to sink behind the New York City skyline and I stepped inside, there sat Jo. And a mug of matcha. 

It had been just over 4 years earlier that I had met Jo Johnson of A Gift of Tea in New York City in a tiny tea shop called In Pursuit of Tea, which unfortunately has closed its brick and mortar shop. As I greeted her with a hug and sat down, she pointed at a shelf above her. 

Tea by In Pursuit of Tea


What to drink? Well, Jo's mug looked very interesting, so I asked to have what she was having. A Matcha Cortado,  matcha shot cut with a little steamed milk. It was fun to watch the drink being crafted. Such precision. Such care. 

 And guess what. This was my first real matcha drink. At least my first that was prepared by someone who knew what they were doing (namely, not me!). For the first time, I began to see what the fuss might be all about. This was good. This was very good.

Of course, the best was being in the company of a friend such as this. I loved hearing about the projects she was working on, the dance exhibition her daughter was planning, holiday ideas, news about mutual friends. I picked her brain about some ideas, and enjoyed each wonderful moment.

Jo demonstrating the proper "Don't bother me," NYC subway face.
I, however, am demonstrating the "I'm not from around here!" NYC subway face.
New York, New York. It truly is a wonderful town, but my moments were about the people, this time. Not the places. The stories, not the statues. I look forward to my next adventure there and the people I'll see.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Moment to Discover the Secrets of the Best Chai

It's my birthday today, and I've been sitting here, enjoying a cup of my favorite Assam, thinking about tea. And chai, as it turns out.

Assam by Joseph Wesley Black Tea
Chai. I see and hear about it everywhere. The thing is, I most often hear about it terms of "chai lattes," which is kind of chai, but not quite.

What makes a good chai? What's the secret to making the Best Chai? I turned to my friend, Joe Uhl, founder of Joseph Wesley Black Tea, and here are the secrets that he shared:

My wife is Indian, so whenever I go to India I take note of my wife’s aunts' various techniques and have my cousins take me to their favorite chai wallahs where I make everyone laugh with embarrassment as I ask a lot of questions and show much too much interest in process. I learned a few important lessons about masala chai (secrets that are not in my recipe) this last trip and during previous trips:  

(1) The best chai wallahs always simmer their milk for hours to reduce the water content and increase the fat content.  This is important to create a heavier and more silky “mouthfeel” as the kids like to say. 
(2) The best chai wallahs almost invariably boil their milk.  This is important because boiling the milk will actually brown the sugar. I’ve found it easiest to boil the milk before simmering (I boil it three times.  Let it come to a rapid boil, take it off the heat, let it come to a rapid boil, take it off the heat, let it come to a boil and then take it off the heat.  When you return the milk the fourth time, reduce the milk to simmer and let it simmer for as long as you can.) 
(3) Although the chai wallahs rarely do this, I’ve found that it’s best to infuse your milk with your spices and then add your pre-made chai/tea concentrate with a 1 to 1 ratio — instead of infusing the actual tea and adding milk.  This provides you a much longer time to allow the spices to develop as you allow the milk to thicken. 
(4) Actual milk is rarely used by the best chai wallahs. Almost all chai wallahs use evaporated milk instead of whole milk, although I’ve had occasion to have goat’s milk masala chai (in southeast asia everyone uses sweetened condensed milk).  I know it’s not fashionable with the youth, but evaporated milk creates the je ne sais quoi almost always missing in North American masala chai attempts.  — Sweetened condenses milk has a lot to offer too, but in my old age it’s just too sweet for me.  
(5) Black peppercorns are not essential but really important — much more than fresh ginger (although ginger can add something nice to a masala chai) — with that in mind, I like to add a pinch of salt to enhance some of the spices lurking in the background.
Recipe and Image by Joseph Wesley Tea

In honor of Joe's willingness to share his Chai Secrets, and because it's my birthday, I'm giving away a free copy of Joe's amazing book. The Art and Craft of Tea.

To be entered into a drawing to win a copy of this book, please vote on which chapter you would read first in his book. You may vote in the comments here, or Twitter, or Facebook or Instagram. Tag me (@teamoment). You may enter once per social media platform. The drawing will take place this Friday. January 29th at 12 p.m. Pacific Time. So, which chapter would you read first?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

A Moment with Snowmen

My aunt is the type of person who creates beauty wherever she goes. From painting to woodworking, to quilling, to gardening, to sewing... you name it, she can create it. In the years after I acquired my driver's license, her house would be a regular stop to say hello. There would always be snacks and fun stories, a sympathetic ear, and a new project to see. There would also be the seasonal decor.

Nearly every month, there is a new theme, reflective of the appropriate upcoming holiday or season. While we were home for the holidays, it was with great pleasure that we stopped in to see said aunt a couple of days after Christmas. January decor was in full force, which of course means... Snowmen.

Even though we had promised we were coming by just for a very short visit, there was a pot of tea and a tray of treats. And, of course, no detail was overlooked. Milk and sugar cubes - with tongs even!

It was a quick visit, a needed visit, a hearkening-back-to-old-times visit. And I'm so glad that Edie could be there to experience a glimpse of the magic that is Aunt S. Tea and cookies, some moments to play with her cousin, soaking in the beauty created by this relative that we only see a couple of times per year. It's important. It's part of who I am, of who she is, and I look forward to more of these precious moments each time we go home.

And while I can never seem to stay on top of the changing seasons in my own household, and certainly not seasonal decor, this visit has inspired me to get out the few snowmen I have. Funnily enough, 2 out of the 3 were gifts from her~

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Moment With New Eyes

I've heard so many people describe that first morning. And now it was my turn. I woke up. I opened my eyes. I could see the detail of the drawer pulls on my dresser across the room. I turned to look at the clock on my husband's night stand. I could read what time it was. It was 4:07 a.m.

I could see.

For people who have been near-sighted for any length of time, you understand that extra step that is necessary to begin any real functionality every morning. Whether it is reaching for the glasses on the night stand or going into the bathroom to put in contacts. There's an extra step just to be able to do anything. Sometimes, due to laziness or necessity, you do things blindly - navigating through the room or the house without running into walls or furniture, distinguishing by touch toothpaste tubes from lotions or ointments that might also be laying on the counter. I identify approaching people by their walk rather than their faces. Even my kids knew the routine. My youngest had been waking me up by laying my glasses on my chest in the morning.

And thank goodness for this extra step. The fact that there are such aids available is amazing and necessary and not to be taken for granted. But not being able to see more than 1 foot in front of me without these aids, is a bit scary.

Modern technology is amazing. It's been 1 month since my LASIK procedure, and I am seeing the world with new eyes. There's a sense of awe every time I wake up and can just... begin. No extra steps. Just open my eyes and go.  Trees are more beautiful, flowers are more intricate, clouds are fluffier, my girls' eyes are brighter. Not because I can see better, but because I am constantly amazed that I can see with just my eyes alone. It's life-changing.

Some might think I'm being over-dramatic in my exuberance in this now-common surgery. But for me, having worn glasses for nearly 30 years and contacts for nearly 20, this is magical.

In the midst of my gratitude for this miracle (in my mind) and gift of sight, I'm aware that ultimately nothing around me has changed. It's how I'm absorbing those things that has changed. I am in the moment. I am soaking in my surroundings as they appear, rather than thinking 5 or 10 or 60 minutes ahead to where I need to be next, what needs to happen next.

How do I keep this current state of awe? How do I nurture this sense of gratitude for the things that I can see? I suppose that is something that a morning cup of tea can be, and often is, for me. The ritual of being present, of seeing what is in front of me, right here, right now.

In this New Year, what are you looking at with new eyes or new awareness? And how will you keep that newness alive. I'd love to learn from you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Moment of Wishes

It rained all of last night - a Christmas wish coming true for much of Southern California. As I stole a couple of quiet minutes on the front patio soaking in the foreign sight and sound and smell of rain, I began thinking of how the holiday season is a rather magical time when wishes large and small can indeed come true.

It's three days until Christmas, and not all the Christmas cards have been sent. It's a piecemeal Christmas season with the traditional CookieFest being spread out over 3 evenings rather than 1 full day. Get-togethers have been a hodge-podge of last minute and last second "Hey, if I bring a bottle of wine over, can the kids play for awhile?" to attending Disney's Frozen On Ice - which has been on the calendar since August, to the annual tamale-making with my friend's family, and anything and everything in-between.

And you know something? It's been really nice. Whether a quick afternoon tea at home with a friend or a large gathering of families, for whatever reason, the chaos and community of it all has been refreshing. It's all a bit of a blur, but a warm, fuzzy, wonderful blur.

There's a lot that needs to get done between now and Friday. And the reality is that it may or may not get done. But I'm rolling with that, this year. I think my friend, Lisa, of Chambre de Sucre got it right. She sent out several parcels to her friends that was filled with sweetness and the hope of wishes coming true. A set of pink mini heart-shaped sugars to make any day a little sweeter, and a tiny glass jar of wishes, ready to be set free whenever we need that extra push of hope or whimsy. That is exactly what this season is all about. Making each other's days a little sweeter, and remaining full of hope - and maybe creating hope for others as well.

If I don't write again before the end of the year, I wish you all peace, joy, and hope. Take care of the people around you, and enjoy the moments (rather than the things) that fill this Christmas season.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The 2015 Tea Moment Holiday Gift Guide

Isn't it fun to find the absolutely perfect gift for that friend, co-worker, family member, or special someone? If you know someone who enjoys tea, here are some of my favorite tea-inspired gift ideas for 2015.

For the Tea and Book Lover

The Tea Book, by Linda Gaylard, a.k.a. The Tea Stylist
A tea primer that masterfully unfolds the story of the tea plant, complete with a flavor wheel and the most comprehensive recipes for mixed tea beverages (both alcoholic and alcohol-free) that I've ever seen! Linda makes the world of tea beautiful, accessible and relevant in today's fast-paced society.

The Art and Craft of Tea, by Joseph Wesley Uhl
An enthusiast's guide to selecting, brewing and serving exquisite tea. Like everything Mr. Uhl creates, this book is masterful in telling the story of tea, revealing the simplicity and complexity of the world's favorite beverage, with many practical tips, recipes and brewing methods to take your personal tea experience to the next level.

Myths and Legends of Tea, by Gary Robson
Gary has a gift for making history come to life, and this book has become a fast favorite of mine. His tales span centuries and continents, and you'll find it hard to come up for air once you dive in. I'm relieved to see that this book is noted as Volume 1, because I can't wait to see what he'll write about next. (It also has the best "Forward" I've ever read, courtesy of Geoffrey Norman, a.k.a. The Lazy Literatus. 

The Ultimate Tea Mugs

Flying Tea Gourd Stainless Steel Tea Infuser Bottle
This 16 oz. Travel Tea Infuser has made me a believer. Not only is the stainless steel tea infuser basket deep enough to allow for proper steeping, this thing keeps your hot tea HOT and your cold tea COLD!!! If your tea lover is always on the go, this is the perfect gift that says, "Have tea, will travel." To receive $5 off, enter discount code TEAMOM15 at checkout.

American Tea Room Glass Tea Infuser Mug
Sheer elegance. Whether at home or in the office, this 16 oz. clear glass tea mug and its stainless steel infuser basket create an instant zen moment. Use the glass trivet to enclose the tea's aroma as it steeps and then place below the tea infuser once the infusion is complete. Give a gift that says, "I like what I see."

Tea Exploration
Tea of the Month by The Devotea
Choose a size, choose a frequency and get a package. It's as simple as that. This is a fun way to be introduced to a wider range of teas, whether single origin teas or club-only blends.  Each tea has a story, each blend - a rich history. Give a gift that says, "Signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours." To receive 20% off of your purchase, enter MOMENT at checkout.

Tea Blending Kit by A Gift of Tea
We each have a little bit if artist, a little bit of scientist in us, and this kit allows you to create your own custom masterpiece to be shared with loved ones or enjoyed on your own. Choose between Black Tea, Green Tea or Herbals. (If you're in the NYC area, you can register for tea blending classes too! Give a gift that says, "Choose your own adventure."

Four Seasons Tea Tan Yang Gong Fu Jin Xi Yu Tang -
Red Label Series
A relatively new tea company based in Toronto, this is a tea company that you'll want to keep on your radar. Not only is their website a guaranteed way to induce calm and relaxation, their tea is exquisite. Let Four Seasons Tea be your mentor in Chinese teas. Give a gift that says, "You're ready to take tea to the next level."

Joseph Wesley Tea For Two
A canister of the most incredible Chinese or Indian black tea and two cups nestled in a beautiful gift box, well, frankly, I'm hoping Santa delivers one of these to me! Whether a tea novice or connoisseur, these teas are among the best I've ever had, hands down. Perfection. Sophistication. No detail is left to chance. Give a gift that says, "Baby, you're worth it." To receive 20% off your purchase, enter 2015holidays at checkout.

Tea for the Animal Lover

Williamson Tea Christmas Special Gift Set
I love elephants, and I love tea, not necessarily in that order. But if your loved one is an animal lover and tea drinker, there is no better gift than this one for the holidays. A snowflake elephant tea caddy, Kenya Earth Tea (one of the best breakfast blends I've ever tasted), and a #KeepOnWandering enamel mug that will make you feel like you're on the set of "Out of Africa." All this, and with every purchase, £1 ($1.50 USD) will be donated to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust that helps protect endangered African elephants and rhinos against poachers. Give a gift that says,"Let's address the elephant (caddy) in the room."

Enjoy this holiday season. Tell your family and friends how much you love and appreciate them. Invite them to join you for a cup of tea and share a Tea Moment together, be it silly or serious. It's not all about the gifts, though gift-giving can be so much fun. It's about being together, appreciating each other for who we truly are, and being grateful for the time we have with each other. I wish you joy, peace and contentment during this festive season.