My neighborhood can be dangerous. A recent bout of warm, sunny weather in San Francisco has me strolling all over the place but it’s difficult to keep away from all the stores located nearby.
I walked to the gift shop Rare Device to find a birthday card for my Mom. They have cards and stationary designed by artists, so I knew I would find something to my liking there. But lo and behold, they also had a really cool tea strainer designed by Kikkerland, called The Tea Tube Infuser. The top is made of wood and the bottom is made of glass with slats to allow your tea to come through. I felt it was my duty to purchase this product and report back to the tea community at large. I had a birthday back in August, so let’s call it a belated present to myself! I definitely don’t need any more tea, but the tea infuser needed a companion, the herbal tisane called Sippin’ Pretty, blended here in San Francisco by T-We Tea.
I guess I’m just a sucker for cute products sometimes. The Sippin’ Pretty comes in this white aluminum box and contains two muslin bags in addition to your tea. Ingredients are: nettle leaf, lemon verbena, rose petals, chamomile and spearmint. Aside from drinking you can use the leftover leaves to purty yourself up — instructions are on the box for how to use this as a facial toner, a eye compress, a face mask, a bath and an exfoliant. I assume the muslin bags were included for the purpose of making these homemade treatments, as they seemed a bit large for brewing the actual tea.
I wanted to use the two products together when I got home. On the infuser box you’re warned you to use large tea leaves like jasmine. My tisane had some fine herbs in it, and I discovered the two aren’t a match made in heaven since the slats are a little wide for finer leaves. Notice tea leaves floating around in my cup, below. I guess I’ll reserve this infuser for some larger leafed oolongs like a Da Hong Pao, perhaps?
I found the leaves made a bit of a mess when trying to get them out of the infuser, though the infuser itself was easy to clean. I wonder how long I’ll have this before I break it? I’m pretty notorious for breaking glass tea ware but couldn’t resist the slick design. It’s difficult to know if this was worth the money I paid for it, I can see it shattered to pieces in a matter of days, though it does infuse well. I’m a bit fussy about tea infusers, normally I infuse my tea with a fine mesh strainer and pour the water on top of the tea. I don’t care much for tea balls as they never seem to infuse the tea properly. Paper tea bags are good for travel, but invariably make the tea taste like a soggy newspaper. The Tea Tube works well as an infuser but I’ll avoid it with finer leaves from now on.
As far as the tisane itself, wow! It’s amazing. It smells like a fresh meadow of flowers. The mix is blended very well, so that you can taste the individual ingredients but none is very overpowering. With each sip, I get a hint of mint, a bit of rose and a lovely finish of chamomile. I haven’t tried all the beauty-fying suggestions yet, but I did use a bit of the brewed tea on my face and it smells wonderful. I’m not normally impressed with herbal blends but something about this seemed luxurious. It would make a superb gift for any tea-loving lady.
I’m really happy with my new tea related purchases, but I might leave my wallet at home the next time I step outside my apartment!
Posted by amyoh
on September 16th,2014 Uncategorized
This isn’t going to be one of those obligatory blog posts about why I haven’t been blogging. I now have the perfect excuse; In February I broke my upper humerus (arm) on the right side in several places. Technically it was a proximal humerus fracture of the greater tuberosity, which really means I had a broken shoulder. I’ll spare you the gory details of my lengthy recovery and just say I’m grateful I’m still alive and I didn’t need ORIF surgery to recover from it.
Here’s an image of where the proximal humerus is and what my shoulder might have looked like:
Unfortunately for me, I am right handed and couldn’t do much in the way of work for months, which caused me to lose my job. It’s been an extremely painful year in more ways than one but things are looking up, and I’m able to do everything I was doing before including typing, drawing, and dressing myself in the morning! I’m looking for gainful employment, but meanwhile, I think it’s time to start tea blogging again and get back into some creative pursuits. It’s good to let go of the past when it’s painful, but holding on to tea memories is a good thing.
I’m sipping on a 2011 raw white pu-erh from Aroma Tea Shop as I relive this scene from my trip to Portland, Oregon last year visiting my friend A., who had recently moved there. One of the first tea houses I wanted to check out was the Tao of Tea at the Lan Su Chinese Tea Garden.
It was raining that day — no surprise if you know anything about the city of Portland. The rain lent a hazy, shrouded mist to the Lan Su Garden, which was quite lovely even in the inclement weather. The garden is home to approximately 40,000 sf of native Chinese plant species and surrounded by architectural details that evoke a private home in the 16th Century. A perfect place for photography or sketching; there were also a few art exhibits on display the afternoon we were there.
Local tea merchant Tao of Tea has its own teahouse inside of the garden’s walls.
A rainy afternoon is the perfect time for drinking tea, and A. was a true sport for being led into so many tea places when I think he’s more of a coffee person. He ordered the pine smoked black tea, and I opted for the tippy south cloud. These are both dark, smoky teas that were good for chasing away the dampness and fog. I did a watercolor while I was there, but would love to go back to Lan Su someday, if only to spend a few hours drawing and drinking more tea in the peaceful setting. More tea memories of Portland will be coming up in Part II!
Posted by amyoh
on September 11th,2014 Uncategorized
| tags: portland
, tao of tea
I haven’t been tea blogging much lately. Between work, fun, and personal goals, creative endeavors seem to get put on the back burner. Ergo, this blog post is less about tea and more about other stuff I’ve been doing. If that kind of thing annoys you, you may want to stop reading here.
For the past few months I felt a definite “artist’s block” regarding my painting. I’d been working on still lifes and other realistic works for several years and that seems to have reached a dead end for me. I decided to take a workshop with the artist Fariba Bogzaran on the subject of Creative Consciousness at the Meridian Gallery. A lot of ground was covered in this seminar which was mostly about her work as a scientist and an artist. The discussion focused on dream work and we covered hypnagogia (the moment before you fall asleep), lucid dreaming, surrealism, Tibetan buddhism, Jung, psychic automatism and various spiritual practices.
I love this type of intellectual play that focuses on art, spirituality and psychology and I definitely left feeling inspired. I began making some abstract works that were focused on automatic drawing (doodles) and that got me out of my slump. I don’t know if I will continue doing these forever but exploring a new direction has been good for me.
As much as I love San Francisco, it’s still great to get out of the City sometimes. E. and I went to Harbin Hot Springs recently, a sort of new age shangri-la that allows you to camp under the stars while soaking in natural spring pools during the day. You can also take yoga classes, sing kirtan and eat meals at their restaurant, all while basking in a beautiful outdoor setting. It made for a very relaxing getaway but I don’t think I drank any tea while I was there, I shamefully drank coffee in the morning!
On Earth Day we went to the lovely Spirit Rock meditation center, nestled in an idyllic setting in Woodacre, California. Our theme focused on how to integrate spiritual practice with environmental concerns. Here’s a shot of a statue in the surrounding area, a perfect setting to reflect upon the natural world and our place in it.
As for tea, I am still drinking plenty of it but trying not to buy any more. Like a lot of tea aficionados (addicts???), I have quite a large tea collection. It’s never a good feeling when you find a tea has gone stale because it has passed the peak of freshness, or you simply forgot about it. A large stock of green teas or green oolongs is a waste because I can’t drink them fast enough. When I do buy, I’ve been focusing more on things that have a longer shelf life, such as black tea, darker oolongs and pu-erhs.
I can’t resist a few new purchases from time to time, such as these samples from Nepali Tea Traders. I’ve always liked teas from this region and they look like a great company. Sustainable products and fair trade is always a bonus for me and since it was just Earth Day, well… why not? So far I’ve had the Lhotse Organic Black, the Himalayan Golden and the Sandakphu Hand Rolled black tea. Pictured below is the Sandakphu Silver, a heavenly white tea with a luscious, nutty macadamia flavor and lots of fruit essence.
I’ve yet to meet a Sandakphu tea that disappointed me; perhaps some of my admiration lies in my secret desire to go trekking around Nepal and Northern India. I hope I get there someday.
As you can see, I’ve been busy but have some fun tea related trips planned out, as well as local tea shops to try out soon, so I’ll be back with more adventures to report on in the near future.
Posted by amyoh
on April 28th,2013 Uncategorized
It was a clear, beautiful winter day in San Francisco that just seemed to invite a sense of curiosity into my head. E. and I decided to head over to Treasure Island. Yarr! This man made island was created entirely of fill for the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition, used as a naval base, and is now undergoing a massive redevelopment effort by the City of San Francisco.
On the last weekend of every month, the Treasure Island Flea Market takes over the island with food, wine, and a huge number of vendors selling antiques, collectibles, handmade items, clothing, bags and jewelry. It is truly a cacophony of crap and you can spend hours just perusing the wares of the different vendors.
After fortifying ourselves with a deconstructed samosa from a food truck and a plastic cup of chardonnay, we sallied forth to see what kind of jewels we could find on Treasure Island. I wasn’t expecting to find much in the way of tea here, but I was certainly glad I brought my camera after stumbling into this idyllic tea scene below.
Local tea sellers T-We Tea had this booth set up with free samples which we gladly slurped down. With product names like “Sexpot”, “Cuddle Bug” and “Bicurious George” they seem very well positioned to introduce their tea to a young and sassy San Francisco crowd. I liked the very colorful packaging the tea came in and decided to buy “Foggy Morning Breakfast”, which is a blend of assam, nilgiri, keemun and ceylon scented with vanilla bean. It really is a great morning tea to shake off the wet and gloom. I also got “Renegade”, a blend of Indonesian java, keemun, cacao nibs and sweet cinnamon, a really good afternoon blend.
After chatting a bit with the T-We guys, I found they opened up their first retail store in San Francisco at the Crocker Galleria. I will definitely be going soon as I love supporting local, small businesses like this one.
Here I am relaxing on some vintage naugahyde 1970’s furniture I did not buy; but it made for a fun photo op, don’t you think?
Posted by amyoh
on February 24th,2013 Uncategorized
She sat there like the others at their tea.
At first, it seemed to me she raised her cup
not quite the way the others held theirs up.
She smiled—an almost painful thing to see.
And when at last they rose from tea, and spoke,
and walked off languidly, at random through
the many rooms, still laughing at some joke,
or talking, there she was: she walked a few
steps back, a bit reserved, like someone who’ll
be singing soon before a packed salon.
From out-of-doors, light came to settle on
her joyful eyes as if upon a pool.
She followed slowly, with some hesitation,
as if an obstacle remained to try
her, yet as if—after a transformation—
she knew she would no longer walk, but fly.
–Ranier Maria Rilke
Posted by amyoh
on January 26th,2013 Uncategorized
Having found myself in Baltimore over the holidays, I couldn’t resist checking out a tea shop and finding out what else would be there of interest for me. I coerced my brother into the adventure that involved tea and a dose of culture, a few of my favorite things.
We picked Chocolatea mostly due to convenience, so I had no idea what to expect. Of course I like tea and the food photos on their website looked pretty tasty. Here’s a picture of it from the outside; we found lots of brick buildings in this Charles Village neighborhood. Later I found out that Baltimore used to be the brick producing capitol of Maryland, not sure if that accounts for the architecture here or not.
Inside, we found this unassuming scene and went to the counter to check out the menu. This is not a tea place strictly for purists; they also had coffee, hot chocolate, chocolate truffles and a range of food that included traditional brunch favorites like waffles and lunch savories.
I decided to order a pot of the Yunnan O FT which came to us in this lovely Bodum Bistro Nouveau teapot.
The shop’s description of the tea was as follows:
Ancient tea trees, its deeply flavored infusion has notes of peppery spice, chocolate, sweet raisin and a malty finish.
I decided to walk around and investigate the space after we ordered and found teas for purchase from Rishi, Teaforte and Mark T. Wendell. I began to suspect our yunnan tea was from Rishi; this description of the tea from Rishi’s website would seem to lend some credence to this theory. I enjoyed this tea but found that it needed a longer steeping time in order to develop some character. After 2-3 minutes it was lacking in flavor, but 5-6 minutes of steeping seemed to be the perfect range for this yunnan.
Both of us decided to order Asian food to go with our tea, I got the vegetable teriyaki and he got the chicken teriyaki pictured below. Of course almost everything is better with a dab or two of peppy sriracha, right?
Before we left I couldn’t resist buying a tin of Mark T. Wendell’s Cheericup Ceylon. I’ve ordered quite a few teas from their historic company established in 1904, and have always wanted to try this Ceylon blend.
After finishing our tea, we focused on the culture. For a smaller city, Baltimore has a surprising number of museums including: The American Visionary Art Museum, The Baltimore Museum of Art and The Walters Art Museum. Having grown up in Maryland, I’d been to these venues before and wanted to try something new. For a change of pace, we decided to go to the Evergreen Museum and Library, also known as Evergreen House.
The Garrett family of Baltimore, who made their fortune in the railroads, originally owned the house. The family donated the house, the library and all of its possessions to Johns Hopkins University in 1942. It’s a great example of Gilded Age Architecture, seen here from the outside.
If you want to visit Evergreen, you need to plan ahead. Wandering around the inside of this 48-room mansion by yourself is strictly forbidden but docent tours leave every hour on the hour. We arrived around 1:10 pm and found a delightful exhibit on the first floor — watercolors by the Russian Emigre, costume designer, book artist and illustrator Aleona Isakova. Unfortunately I have no pictures of the inside, as photography is off limits in the facility.
We got a private docent tour of the facility around 1:20 pm, which included a thorough oral history of the Garrett family. Throughout the house we saw magnificent Tiffany lamps, gorgeous glass objects by Lalique, paintings by Raoul Dufy and Miguel Covarrubias, all owned by the Garretts. I felt awestruck by the large and beautiful 30,000 book library which included a large Architecture book collection. For Johns Hopkins students, books are available to read with permission on the facility. The magnificent house also includes a bowling alley, gymnasium, a theater, and a large collection of Japanese antiques including netsukes, pouches, ojime and snuff bottles. We heard tales of resident artists visiting the family because they enlivened the dinner table conversations. A string quartet would regularly perform for the family and guests and Alice Warder Garrett was known to perform there herself.
The Russian Artist Leon Bakst designed the theater; if seeing some photos interests you, there is a nice article about it and the socialite rompings of the Garetts here on the bmore website. A photo and a nice write-up on the luxurious library also appear here on the Washington Post’s site.
Our visit to Evergreen House was enchanting. If you make it to Baltimore and the arts or history interests you, I would highly recommend checking it out.
It’s always fun to explore Baltimore with a local, so after the Evergreen house I was taken to this funky bookstore, Atomic Books full of edgy books, comics, zines and music. I think we spotted the two remaining punk rockers left in the world here. I wanted to buy many things but instead just left with the latest issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, nervous about trying to cram more things in my suitcase.
Next we stopped at the local wine bar, 13.5% in the Hampden neighborhood. I couldn’t resist a glass of verdejo, which seemed to go well with the theme of “intoxication” here.
These two culture vultures had a splendid and educational day. I will definitely be going back to try more tea shops and perhaps take a tour of Homewood, once owned by the Carroll family of Maryland, and also under the umbrella of Johns Hopkins University.
The Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco charms both locals and tourists alike. Located in the renovated Ferry Building, originally designed by Architect A. Page Brown and completed in 1898, this popular local landmark re-opened in 2003 after undergoing a major renovation. The architectural style falls into the French Beaux Arts school; several other Beaux Arts buildings in our fair town include the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, the Palace of Fine Arts, the Legion of Honor, the Asian Art Museum (formerly the San Francisco Public Library) San Francisco City Hall and the renovated Emporium Building (now the Westfield Center).
For those of you unfamiliar with the history and renovation of this beautiful building, look for photos and information here. Shown below is one old historical photo of the original building.
The modern Ferry Building is now a popular attraction for foodies due to a prominent emphasis on all things gastronomic. Inside the building you will find shops selling mushrooms, gelato, cookware, local meat and seafood as well as vegetables, fruit, coffee, chocolate and practically anything food related you can think of. If you happen to feel hungry and parched after your shopping, several restaurants and a local wine merchant are within the building’s perimeter. On Sundays and Tuesdays, farmers and food carts from all over the region fill the front and back of the building with an abundance of items appropriate for any gourmand.
I’m a bit far behind in blog posts, but decided to meet a handsome stranger here one Saturday afternoon, hoping I wouldn’t bore him with my fascinating (ahem) tea hobby and my camera.
Definitely a fun place for tea lovers to peruse, at the Imperial Tea Court you’ll find teapots of many varieties, especially lots of yixing in different shapes and colors. Shown in this photo below — the counter — where you can buy loose leaf tea and your assorted Camellia Sinensis chotskies.
What goes better with Chinese food than Chinese tea? Offerings include dim sum, noodles, stews and some light snacks as shown in the menu here. I opted for the vegetarian teahouse spicy noodles, which have plenty of hot chiles and veggies. They were very tasty — but perhaps not the best choice of a dish when you’re trying to impress — slurping noodles is not exactly the essence of savoir-faire in many parts of the world.
Being the self-proclaimed aficionado, I chose the tea that accompanied our lunch. I went with a shu pu-erh, which was the Imperial Pu-erh, I think. I know… I am a terrible tea blogger because I didn’t take notes but whatever it was, I thought it was excellent. I found no strange aromas or weird fishy tastes that you sometimes notice in pu-erh. Loose leaf shus seem to be better in that regard than the cakes. I wonder if that has to do with the fermentation process?
One thing I noticed about Imperial Tea Court is they expect you to drink the tea out of the gaiwan they give you, which now strikes me as odd. I had to ask for cups as a matter of protocol, indeed, I like to precisely control the amount of steeping time and not let the poor leaves languish around getting tired in some overbrewed stew. At all of the tea tastings I’ve been to in San Francisco, tea is brewed in the gaiwan and then poured into cups. If anyone has a strong opinion, please weigh in on the matter in the Comments section.
Above is a photo of some pu-erh cakes I did not buy, showing a bit of self-restraint for once. After our lunch, I excused myself to take more snapshots and my date began furiously sending out a barrage of text messages, the content of which was likely S.O.S. or Help Me. All joking aside, Cupid’s arrow did not strike me in the heart but to all of my faithful readers: the Imperial Tea Court will make you a mighty fine cuppa.
Posted by amyoh
on December 7th,2012 Uncategorized
Lately I’ve been reflecting on how little time I spend making art; one of my greatest joys. I saw a Sumi-e ink painting workshop advertised recently at the San Francisco Zen Center and decided I needed to check it out, to keep motivated with my creative endeavors. I normally do vipassana style meditation myself, but the Zen Center is always producing interesting events going on and I feel at home there.
At first, our instructor, Michael Hoffman, showed us how to grind our ink using the traditional ink block and suzuri stone.
Next we were led through an instructional session for how to paint Bodhidharma, who is claimed to be the father of Zen Buddhism. He looks a little grumpy here, but I’ve always seen him pictured that way. This practice painting included a lot of different brushstrokes and I discovered that eyebrows and facial fair are really fun to paint.
Evidently Zen Buddhists really like tea, so that was an added bonus from taking the class, tea, as well as sandwiches and cookies from the vegetarian restaurant, Greens. One story regarding the origin of tea claims that it sprang from Bodhidharma’s eyelids. Shown below: selections from Celestial Seasonings and Yogi Tea.
We continued our exploration of sumi-e with painting some objects from life. A few kind volunteers brought in objects to paint and still lifes are one of my favorite art subjects, so I really enjoyed this part. I’m not a complete neophyte to the world of art, I did go to art school many years ago, and have managed to retain a lot of my skills. Still some of the practice pieces were challenging as I tried to learn washes on the porous rice paper and how to use the sumi-e brush correctly. Here’s a pine cone I did, sorry for the bad photo but it’s the best I could do with my digital camera and bad lighting.
We continued on in the afternoon with an exploration of abstraction, including collage techniques. This was more of an intuitive and collaborative process with the entire group. Here’s a photo of the table we were working on; somehow I got a real kick out of the inky messiness here. In retrospect, I think part of my painting looks like a slice of pizza, could this have been a subliminal message from my stomach that I was still hungry?
After cleaning up, our afternoon concluded with a short zazen meditation sitting and a talk. I felt really energized by what I learned in the class and I hope to continue doing some more things with sumi-e.
After the class was over I had dinner at Samovar Tea House with C.W., because after all it was right across the street! I cupped an exquisite Four Seasons oolong and concluded my day with more meditation. It was a great day in San Francisco, with my interests in art, tea and Buddhism fused together in a most delightful manner.
Posted by amyoh
on October 9th,2012 Uncategorized
Thomas Wolfe may have written “You Can’t Go Home Again”, but the Washington D.C. area has always seemed like my second home. I grew up and lived there for most of my adult life until I moved to California in 1995. When I go back it’s amazing how much things seem the same. The National Mall never changes, I can still find my way around on the Metro and my parents live in the same house that I grew up in. Politicians come and go, but overall it seems like nothing much has changed much aside from my getting older.
All along the subway, I kept seeing younger versions of myself going to work. I wondered what they were doing, what their dreams were… would they succeed or would they get broken down by the world and give up like so many of us do? Wistful thoughts aside, I’ve always enjoyed the gestalt of urban life; people closing in on each other, creating culture, strife, love, economies and flotsam. There’s some kind of wisdom to learn from this, perhaps a greater understanding of togetherness and tolerance, if only we would sit down and listen.
I knew a tea trip would be a mandatory detour for me in our Nation’s capitol. After doing a bit of internet research, I decided to pay a visit to Capital Teas in Dupont Circle, they had the most interesting tea collection I could find outside of chain stores. Somewhat of a smaller chain, they have four locations in the D.C./Maryland area. I found a place for Chinese tea, but decided to skip it since that’s easy enough for me to get in San Francisco. Note the guy wearing shorts above, yes, it was a sweltering and muggy day which is no surprise for August in our Nation’s Capitol.
When you walk into the store, the first thing to notice is the giant tea wall, with the teas housed in small glass containers that you’re able to open up and smell. Being the tea nerd I am, It took me quite a while to settle on the ones I wanted, but what a glorious dilemma to be confronted with.
A photo of my swag after the fact. Do I have a tea problem? No, I don’t think so! One of the most interesting selections I found is the War of 1812 Commemorative Tea Blend. If you were in Baltimore this year, you would have seen various events commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. This brew mixes smoky black and green teas (gunpowder, anyone?) with a hefty amount of fruit flavor. It definitely caught my attention and the affection of my taste buds. Also, being a Maryland girl, I went for the Chesapeake Sunrise; a blend of green and black teas, jackfruit and almond. I had some of this iced the very next day — sheer perfection for the muggy weather.
Usually when I go to D.C. I visit one of the Smithsonian museums, on this trip I thought I would do something slightly different. I set out for a walk after my tea buying escapade and came across this beautiful Tudor Place Historic House and Garden, owned by Martha Washington’s granddaughter and built in 1816. It’s now a National Historic Landmark and open to visitors year round. My visit was ill timed because they just started a tour after I arrived and I didn’t want to wait another hour for the next one. I spent some time meandering around the gardens and took this photo from the lawn which would have been a great place to play croquet and picnic in the back of this grand old house. There is a Japanese tea house on the grounds built by the last owner of the house, but unfortunately it was not staffed for thirsty travelers.
My last stop was at Dumbarton Oaks, another historic estate in Georgetown owned by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, which now houses a research library and collection owned by Harvard University. This facility specializes in Byzantine and Pre-Columbian studies and has a small museum, which is open to the public. I’m an avid art lover and greatly enjoyed my afternoon viewing these gorgeous pieces, some of which are pictured below but more can be seen on the facility’s website. Dumbarton Oaks has gorgeous gardens you can meander around in to your heart’s content. If I had more time I would have loved to have spent another day taking snapshots or plein air painting. Be careful in planning your visit if you go, the facility doesn’t open to the public until 2 p.m.
After a day of history, tea, art and adventure I was ready to go back home and brew up a cup of Sailor’s Delight, a blend of black and green teas with strawberry and papaya which was delicious served over ice in the humid weather. A fun day full of eye candy and tea treats were had by your faithful correspondent.
Posted by amyoh
on September 23rd,2012 Uncategorized
This is not much of a literary post, but I did a watercolor painting of a teapot and a birdie and I thought I would share it with everyone. You can click on the photo to see it enlarged.
Posted by amyoh
on August 20th,2012 Uncategorized