December 8, 2010

Memorable Tea Time

ideal view for afternoon tea
Hardly there is one day passing without my reading an article mentioning about tea. The title of today's NY Times op-ed piece "The Tea Maker" caught my eye.  Written by Yoko Ono, John Lennon's artistic widow, her short but poignant piece brings about the essence of her loving relationship with her husband.  It would invariably reminds many reader's own tea moments.  I recall my first formal tea as a teenager in an American teacher's house, the tea-toasting as a guest with my parents at a banquet,  the iced tea break during a garden tour with my daughter in a lovely creamy yellow room,  the rustic style tea tasting at the terrace where tea was produced, an elaborate high-mountain tea tasting prepared by the farmer's son with radiant happy face..... Occasions vary and long past, but the pleasant memories are refreshingly alive.

December 1, 2010

Winter Garden

archway view of the formal garden

winter camellia shrub with profuse flowers
My recent Thanksgiving break at Outer Banks, NC brought me a surprise which I longed to encounter: winter blooming camellias at Elizabethan Gardens.  So many varieties were showing their unique beauty just like model displays seen on nursery catalogs!  Better still, I could smell the fragrance and see the shrubs in established form with glossy leaves (they shine like polished shoe tips).

Another surprise was to learn how to prune myrtle tree French style "pollarding" : topping the branches at same spot every spring before new growth.  The tree forms unique knuckles where new growth sprouts for summer blooming branches.  The picture on top highlights the contour of a well pruned myrtle tree.  More garden views below.  Enjoy!

entrance cove to the garden

view of Atlantic ocean from garden gate

November 16, 2010

Glorious seasonal colors

Persimmon, apple, grape platter with dry fruit and nut snack try

The warm golden tones of leaves this fall provide various shades to the glorious sky canvas for all to see.  I can't help but praise our creator for the beauty of this season.   Rich color permeates the air and the harvest:--apple, persimmon, permanganate, pumpkin, grape, fig, sweet potato... plus wines and teas!  Thanksgiving greetings to all.

mix of dry and fresh leaves add interest to the arrangment

November 7, 2010

Removing the stumbling blocks for a better cup of tea

A recent article in the TeaMuse newsletter laid out five ways to remove the stumbling blocks for a better cup of tea  (take too much time to make, too much utensils involved....)  Not so!  The author did a great job in clarifying the common misconception in her delightful but convincing style.  I hereby add another tip for my blog readers: provide an inviting atmosphere and a tea corner to facilitate your tea making.

October 11, 2010

Tea Strength Preferrence vs Sipper's Personality

tropical orchard in vibrant colors

a calm dove visitor

A recent tea making episode triggered me to ponder the possible pattern of tea drinkers' preference for tea strength in relation to their personalities.  I was helping the hostess to prepare oolong tea for a dinner gathering.  Since I was not sure about each guest's experience with Chinese tea, I decided to make the tea a bit weaker than to my own liking.  It turns out that one guest who has a very expressive personality considered the tea way too weak ( it was quite obvious after she took one sip), whereas the genteel hostess praised that the tea was just right for her! 

Looking back to my previous tea party experiences, the association of sippers' personality (vibrant or genteel) seems to correlate with their likings in the degree of tea strength.  My selection of the pictures above  might help to illustrate the point. 

September 24, 2010

Tea for the Seasons

Late summer is time to sip minty herbal tea with sparkling ice cubes which add the crispy sound effect.

Pretty soon, the layer of colors with fall's arrival will provide great setting for warm hued oolong or mellow puer tea in the garden. 

I notice that people's tea preference follows maturity progression. Young people with flighty spirit usually favor jasmine tea. Then the middle aged group advance to appreciate sharper green tea. Whereas the retirees seek out mellower teas. What a seasonal rhythm for tea enjoyment!

September 4, 2010

Tea and Moon Cakes

Have tea ready and enjoy the  moon cakes!

This year the Mid-Autumn Festival (August 15th on lunar calendar) falls on September 22nd.  It's equivalent to Thanksgiving in the spirit of celebrating harvest and family togetherness.   The bright moon is a never ending subject for poets.  Even though one is unable to be back home for reunion,  the mutual longing would be delivered through the moon as a bridging medium.

This is my favorite time of the year because of its poetic sentiment as well as the aromas of moon cakes in the air!  With various choice of filling or type of dough for shell, the variety of moon cakes sourced from different regions of China  is endless.  Most are sweet pastes of beans, nuts and dates filled in a cake type of pastry shell.   Cantonese are famously inventive for this variety of moon cake (an ingenious one includes salted duck egg yolk).  "Shu Xian" (meaning "water fairy"), a lightly toasted oolong tea would be my choice to pair with Cantonese moon cakes. 

A savory moon cake favored by Suchow and Hongchow gourmets is made with either round or half-round puff pastry filled with ground pork and preserved shrimps.  The"Dragon Well" green tea would  be ideal to accompany this rich delicacy.

August 23, 2010

More on Tea and Eye Health

Korean Drum Dancers

I am sure each language has its own version of the popular Chinese
phrase "Eyes are the Gate for your Soul".  According to the
informative video on cataract, most people will develop the
problem sooner or later in the old age.  Can you image the
deprivation of being not able to distinguish the pink/red or the
coming/going of the dancers in the above picture? 

Since tea catechins have been frequently quoted along with other
antioxidant-rich foods, Vitamin A &C, phenolic compounds...
for both general and eye health, I requested my old time college
classmate Dr. Ing-ming Jeng (recently retired professor/researcher
in biochemistry field) to clarify the overlapping and confusing terms
for my understanding.   He did a thorough research and untangled
the terms from their structural and biological character viewpoints.
His reply is truly worthy of at least 75% of my blog page instead of
"one cent" as he jokingly subtitled in his reply.  In order for the
readers to share his scholarly insights,  I decide to copy my
question and his reply below. 

My request email dd July 27:
Several friends and I attended an eye health presentation by a local
specialist this past Saturday. For followup, I dug up my previous blog entry
on the topic and shared with them
However, after a closer read, I found the questionable sentence in
the linked article I included in the blog .  I am concerned about the accuracy
of the sentence in that report: "Catechins include vitamin C, vitamin E,
lutein and zeaxanthin." .....

Dr. Jeng's reply dd Aug 16:
I want to thank you for drawing my attention to Catechins and
green tea. The subject matter is interesting and you convince me to
drink more green tea. We actually went to our favorite Japanese
restaurant and drank some green tea last night.

I am slow in response as I tried to find the recent original
publication online with no avail. I am not sure that you are aware of
the fact that I am retired now. Therefore, I have no access to
academic data-base. In short, I will give you my 2-cents (probably
worth only 1 cent) from what I have learned online.

I agree with your doubts about the statement's accuracy "Catechins include
vitamin C, vitamin E, lutein and zeaxanthin." in the article.... It is incorrect and needs some clarification.  I will give my best try below.


There are three overlapping terms: anti-oxidant, polyphenol
compund and catechin.  Polyphenols and catechins are defined
structurally, and anti-oxidant is a functional defination.

Catechins definitely do not include the 4 mentioned anti-oxidants.
However, a close examination of the structure of four non-catechin
anti-oxidants may tell you about their relationship with polyphenol

A. A polyphenol antioxidant is a type of antioxidant containing a polyphenolic substructure. It is important to recognize that this is a chemical definition and several phenolic structures must be
presented in the compounds to be called polyphenol. .   Catechins belong to polyphenolic antioxidant compounds.

B. Although vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an anti-oxidant, it is not a polyphenol compound. It is derived from glucose and is devoid of any phenol structure.

C. Lutein does not have a phenolic group. Structurally, it is related to retinal or retinol. It has two hydroxyl groups that are linked (conjugated) to long string of conjugated double bonds so it is easily oxidizable. The structure contributes to its anti-oxidant property. Again, the compound is an anti-oxidant but is not a polyphenolic antioxidant.

D. Similarly, I probably would not call zeaxanthin a polyphenolic compound. Lutein and zeaxanthin have identical chemical formulas and are isomers, but they are not stereoisomers. The only difference between them is in the location of the double bond in one of the end rings.

August 9, 2010

"Synergy of Teas" mentioned in Ted Talk about Health

Display in a SF tea shop

A reliable information source for advances in research and technology is the website TED .  One impressive May 2010 posting is a 20 minutes speech by Dr. William Li who presents a new way to think about treating cancer and other diseases.  He introduces the concept eloquently on "anti-angiogenesis : preventing the growth of blood vessels that feed a tumor".   To my delight, the benefit of tea drinking is used in his PowerPoint presentation to illustrate "the crucial first (and best) step to promote anti-angiogenesis by cutting off the supply lines (for cancer growth) and beat cancer at its own game".  Moreover, the synergy effect of tea combination is highlighted.  What a good incentive for my blog readers to try out new teas!

August 1, 2010

Touchy Subject on Caffeine Content of Tea Brews

Icy petals of Hibiscus (reminding you of watermelon sorbet?)
Under the current heat wave, this icy peachy picture of Hibiscus (accompanied by some jazzy music) may help one to cool off, esp. while reading the comprehensive blog (and readers' comments) on caffeine content of tea brews.  I am so glad that the conclusion is unanimously: let's enjoy tea for tea's attributes and leave the study to the scientists!

In the summer, a blog topic could well be: "to have tea by the window, or out in the garden"?

July 25, 2010

Chinese Tea in French Garden

Lalique Compiegne Bowl (in leaf design)

I chanced to discover a fascinating tea blog by a French resident in Taiwan.  He diligently writes (alternately in English and French) on my favovite subjects: Taiwan Oolong tea tastings, tea arts (display, music, tea wares) and above all: tea outings!  The July 24th, 2009 entry is esp. a timely complimentary read to my last blog.

July 8, 2010

What's to your liking for the style of tea service?

tranquil Chinese style with poetic flair,

tea tasting with fellow tea connoisseur,

weekend dim sum accompanied by oolong tea,

tea in the garden,

afternoon tea British style  ,

or thé a la Français at an outdoor café?

For me, the answer is all the above!  To find out more on the pursuit of tea enjoyment in England, here is an article about the tea devotion British style.  As for views of delightful Parisian tea settings,  ParisBreakfast (esp. June 30 and July 7, 2010 entries) will surely feed you often by images of well dressed pastries.

June 28, 2010

Tea leads to Taiwan Tour

Sun Moon Lake

Tea Terrace

A recent comprehensive travel writing about Taiwan by Simon Tisdall of the Guardian opens his narrative with an afternoon visit to a hillside redwood tea house sitting in a "garden of heavenly peace".  The visual description is followed by pages of seasoned journalist's objective reporting.  As a long time resident during my student days as well as a frequent visitor of the island, there are still so many places mentioned in the article that I have missed.

Frequent comments of my friends are similar in tune: that Taiwan is a never-ending surprise in the discovery of its unique culture, scenery, culinary delight, and esp. for me--tea houses !

June 20, 2010

Tender Fresh Green Tea

fresh hand-picked green tea (2 leaves and a bud)

precious cup of "Dragon Well" green tea in the making

A comprehensive knowledge base for Chinese tea is the Chinese Tea Museum in Hongzhou.  The city is renown for the scenic West Lake and exquisite "Dragon Well" green tea ( "Lung Jing" in Chinese pronunciation) thanks to many literary references by esteemed poets.   The area's gentle terrain and quality water also play a part for the popularity of this green tea favored by many Chinese.

June 14, 2010

Generosity, Hospitality, Serenity, Tenacity....

Chinese Cedar tree with tenacity (30 years of slow growth)

Serenity of Lotus

I have a beautiful 4.5 x 7" devotional booklet "Woman of God...Moments of Grace" which is a gift from my church for Mother's day.  The subtly patterned purple book cover has a watercolor painting of English bone china filled with pink peonies.  The 25 subjects are titled with a word ending in "tea" pronunciation.  Thoughtful inspirational message is accompanied by beautiful painting of tea sets.  What a fun exercise to add more words to the inexhaustible list--Modes-tea, Brevi-tea, Creativi-tea,........

June 11, 2010

Now is the performance season for roses

Quite a few gardeners told me that due to the past snowy winter, their garden plants are extra healthy (less bugs) with bountiful blooms (abundant moisture) this spring.  My garden is also showcasing a delightful rose bush:  Crown Princess Margaret.  Not only its multi-layered petals are a joy to behold, the flower also sends out intense rosy fragrances similar to my first perfume "Joy" from the House of Jean Patou . Funny how things all come together eventually, if given ample time, patience and care.

May 24, 2010

More about my favorite websites

adorable "Camellia Petite Yellow"

elegant "Camellia Heavenly Beauty"

One website that add the joy to my life is reading ParisBreakfasts blog on weekday mornings. The short whimsy comments accompanied by author's descriptive photos or drawings cover most of my French fascinations about teacup, pastry, architect, fashion, book... . 

While doing my readings or work, I listen to web cast archives of French Toast or Coffeetime. It provides quite a warm touch and soothing background for my study. Try the websites along with your cup of coffee or tea.  Enjoy!      (note: the first few minutes of web cast might be silent or just the last portion of radio station's previous program)

May 17, 2010

I love trays!

I have quite a collection of trays for various size of tea parties. Tea trays or platters, small or large, oval or round, acrylic or bamboo--I love them all! It helps to keep the house tidy: a large tray under the coffee maker to confine any spill, a deep tray in the refrigerator for fruits, a French platter for snack cheeses.... See what trays (or plates) can do to enhance the home deco with these before and after photos for a simple flower arrangement:

April 26, 2010

Sound Tea & Health Reference Resource

Many of my friends forward me news regarding tea or garden whenever they receive one.  Today's news is about eye health and tea which is backed by the scientific publication.  Overall, the one source which I am most comfortable to rely on about tea and health is online from National Library of Medicine .

Most health benefit claims about tea are rated by NLM as "C" grade which means "unclear scientific evidence for this use". However, one claim not in the NLM list could well be "the effect of the calm and soothing atmosphere at tea time". I wish most readers would back up this common sense claim in the "A" grade with your own health evidence. :))

April 24, 2010

Garden Tea Time Arrives

bistro set for French tea

Suddenly spring is here and my garden livens up with bird songs and vibrant greens in various shades. 

Curly petal tulip

Besides with my friends to share the joy of spring, colorful flowers are great companion for tea in the garden, plus singing birds and buzzing bees.

Planters dressed in blue and white

(the following 3 pictures courtesy of my friend Shu-jen)
Her treasured gardenia plant rewards her with lots of creamy white blossoms and intoxicating fragrance

Precious blue fringed violet plant displays a flower show after much pampering

I notice that camellia flowers are usually hidden under leaves. (to shield its beauty from bright sun?) 

April 8, 2010

Spring blooming camellia

Yes, they are real camellia flowers fresh from my garden!  I have been following along their growth since last fall when the buds started forming.  During this record breaking winter, I worried if the shrub could withstand the heavy snow and blistering wind.  Nevertheless, after spring temperature picks up, the buds swell and flowers open one after another.  Some branches are so heavily loaded that I need to keep it upright in this container.  Here they are: rewarding me by its vibrant beauty!  Instead of having pets, I find quite a joy to nurture plants.  Below are more flowers from the spring garden.  Enjoy!