Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tea tasting with friends - and strangers

“Tea is quiet, and our thirst for tea is never far from our craving for beauty.” - James Norwood Pratt

"Don't forget to show love to strangers; for some have thereby entertained angels unawares." - Hebrews 13:2

There is something about tea that lends itself to beauty and the contemplation of beauty. The enjoyment of tea involves all senses and is multiplied by sharing it with others. Drinking tea with friends - and strangers - often seems to make time stand still, as we forget our worries and simply experience the gift of creation as it is.

Tea also offers us many ways to experience it, from simple steeping in a cup to the intricacies of a Japanese tea ceremony. And, of course, tea itself comes in so many forms and flavors: black, green, oolong, white. Each one has its own personality and evokes a different mood.

It is very important to use high-quality loose tea leaves. If you don't know much about tea, start by visiting a local tea store. You can also find great information online. If you already know about tea, be adventurous and try something new to expand your tea horizons.

Also familiarize yourself with the specific temperature and steeping times associated with each type of tea—as well as the different types of pots, timers and other paraphernalia associated with the making and enjoyment of tea.

Tea Tasting

Once you’re comfortable with tea, you may want to invite your friends to a tea-tasting get-together. Choose at least three teas that you like. They should be different from and complementary to each other. Write a description of each tea—as well as perhaps a little something about tea generally—as a handout.

To ensure a comfortable atmosphere for your guests, have everything ready before they arrive. Make sure that your seat is closest to the sink and the stove—and that all utensils are within your reach to avoid any disruption. Prepare a seat for each guest with a spot to put their cup down. Have your kettle filled with water ready on the stove, your strainers in place in your teapots, your measuring spoon placed near your chosen teas, and your timer already set for the first tea.

Rather than using a matching set of teacups, I prefer to offer my guests a selection of different ones. Their choices will be a great conversation starter!

Once everyone gets settled, pour a spoonful of dry leaves from the first tea on a flat dish and pass it around so your guests can smell and touch them. Share with them what you have learned about this tea.

Then heat your water to the right temperature, pour it into the teapot with the first tea, and set the timer.

If you are using a glass tea pot, the steeping time becomes a wonderful display as the leaves unfurl in the hot water, float, and then sink slowly to the bottom—coloring and infusing the water in the process. The Chinese call this “the agony of the leaves."

After the brewing time, remove the tea leaves with the strainer to avoid bitterness. Pour tea for your guests. Ask them to describe the smell and taste. Encourage positive conversation. Repeat the same process with the other two teas.

Don’t forget to take pictures. You are creating a happy memory for your community. You will want to look at the glowing faces later on and remember your tea time together.

Materials needed:

· Kettle or pot to heat water

· Three different teas

· Measuring spoon

· Three teapots with big strainers

· One tea cup for each guest

· Timer

. Printed handout (optional)

To best experience the pure flavor of your tea, avoid sugar and cream.

Ideas for tea events:

· Have a tea merchant come and do a presentation

· Invite a lady from the Japan Society to perform a Japanese tea ceremony

· Ask an old-timer from a Chinatown to do a Gong-Fu tea ceremony

· Have a tea expert teach about Pu-erh at a men's meeting

· Have three different paintings and ask your guests to pair them with your three teas

· Serve your own blend of tea at your gallery to those who love to linger

· Serve English afternoon tea with scones and sandwiches at a women's meeting

· If you’re in a book club, choose a tea related to the country the story is set in

· Have a picnic with the youth group in summer and do a tasting with iced tea

· Do a tea-themed fundraiser at your church

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