Tea Tasting

What is it about tea parties? How do little girls and even little boys know about them? Right? How many of you have sat through a tea party with a collection of dolls and such fine edibles as leaves and sand and rocks pretending all the while that you are at the finest of establishments?

Since my early days of plastic teapots and muddy tea, I’ve taken tea at the Savoy London and at Brown’s Hotel. I graced Betty’s Tea Room once or twice and thought for a while that Darjeeling was my best friend. In short, I love a good tea party.

I can’t claim to organize anything nearly as posh as these establishments. But what fun to taste tea with a group of friends and a wide variety of tea!

Edibles:

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Scone bites
I used the Women’s Bean Project Denver Tea Room Cream Scone Mix from Trade As One to make tiny bite-sized scones, which I placed in a little plastic dish and topped with Strawberry Jam from The Cherry Hut. A dollop of whipped cream on top makes a delightful and light twist on the tea room tradition.

IMG_7145Berries in a tiny cup with a pinch of lemon zest and a taste of mascarpone are super refreshing and a great way to cleanse the palate.

IMG_7149 IMG_7146Melba toast with a spoonful of brie and apricot jam looks like little eggs but packs in the flavor.

I like to taste the gamut of teas when I do a tasting so we all get a sense for the nuances between greens, whites, oolongs, and blacks.

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My recommendations are:
Pai Mu Tan (white), Jade Cloud (green), Formossa Oolong, and Lover’s Leap (black). To round it all out and if there is time, I end with the tea that isn’t tea – our Compassion Spice rooibos. It finishes so well as it is comforting and calming.

With fall here and the holidays creeping up, now is a great time to break out the fancy china and plan a tea tasting with your friends!

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Campaign Promises

Every morning, I run the same drill. Feet hit the floor and the ankles and heels start screaming. I stumble toward the bathroom to grab something warm and my phone and then head outside with the dog to mincingly make my way down the driveway to get the newspaper. I check emails as I go and then glance at the day’s headlines on the way back up the driveway. This morning, I laughed out loud when I opened my inbox.

To Drink More Tea!

There, thanks to Princess Cruises, was the single most clever ad campaign I have ever seen. Concerned that I might be “tired of all the negative news,” Princess Cruises is offering “The Campaign to Escape Completely!” From now until Election Day, the cruise-line is giving away free cruises where you can really and truly escape from the media for a few days. Floating on a big boat, with food readily available, pools aplenty, and no TV or newspapers? Right on! Sign me up!

It doesn’t matter which way you lean politically, there is enough fuel to flame the fires of distrust, self-righteousness, and dare I say even hatred for the other side. When we were visiting Ohio this past August, the Olympics were wrapping up and there were events we wanted to watch, but every other commercial was political in nature. First, one would blame the present administration for not solving our country’s economic problems. Next, the present administration would scare women and seniors into believing that should there be a change in the presidential watch they can kiss their current benefits good-bye. It was emotional; it was fluff; it was ugly. I feel for the swing states these days. You are in the heart of a bitter, media-driven, war of words where no one seems to be 100% truthful, 100% genuine, or 100% tuned into reality. (And right now I may need to wrap my tongue in gauze I’m biting it so hard.)

So, what does this have to do with tea? Not a whole lot, truth be told! I can offer you the chance to relax and unwind with a cup of tea… maybe one of our new flavors? Have you tried Jade Cloud or Bai Hao or Coconut Oolong or West Cape Chai yet? Or the Lavender Sage Rooibos or Lemon Mint Rooibos are fantastic for centering and grounding… as long as you leave your media outlets turned off. Tea is very relaxing. Waiting for the water to boil, watching the leaves steep, pouring a cup, taking the first slurp… all are steps in patience, settling down, calming, breathing more deeply, creating a mood for contemplation. Take some time.

A few days ago, I was reading through one of my favorite chapters of the Bible – Isaiah 40. For us, the weary-worn electorate, this chapter holds great comfort. I’m going to quote from The Message translation because it is just so fun and accessible:

12 – 17: Who has scooped up the ocean
in his two hands, or measured the sky between his thumb and little finger?
Who has put all the earth’s dirt in one of his baskets,
weighed each mountain and hill?
Who could ever have told God what to do
or taught him his business?
What expert would he have gone to for advice,
what school would he attend to learn justice?
What god do you suppose might have taught him what he knows, showed him how things work?
Why, the nations are but a drop in a bucket,  a mere smudge on a window.
Watch him sweep up the islands
like so much dust off the floor!
There aren’t enough trees in Lebanon
nor enough animals in those vast forests to furnish adequate fuel and offerings for his worship.
All the nations add up to simply nothing before him— less than nothing is more like it. A minus.

21 – 24: Have you not been paying attention? Have you not been listening?
Haven’t you heard these stories all your life?
Don’t you understand the foundation of all things?
God sits high above the round ball of earth. The people look like mere ants. He stretches out the skies like a canvas—
 yes, like a tent canvas to live under.
He ignores what all the princes say and do.
 The rulers of the earth count for nothing.
Princes and rulers don’t amount to much.
 Like seeds barely rooted, just sprouted,
they shrivel when God blows on them.
 Like flecks of chaff, they’re gone with the wind.

Did you catch that? Nations are like a drop in the bucket. The rulers of the earth count for nothing. In the grand scheme of things, as we like to say, this election process really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. It is much ado about nothing. Chaff in the wind, blown away on the slightest breeze. Our nation is struggling to maintain a way of life. We are trying to maintain a life we believe is built on free-enterprise, hard-work, and freedom. Some of us want it to be more so while some others of us believe in the power of the government to help us reach our goals. But in the end, who is in ultimate control?

During her speech at the Global Leadership Summit, Condoleeza Rice shared that while she was Secretary of State, she would often ask the leaders around the table whether they were more concerned about today’s headlines or tomorrow’s history.  Boiled down, her question is this: Are we shooting for the popular decision or the right decision? Over the course of the next 7 weeks we are going to be treated to a continuing barrage of ire and political mayhem. Then, we will know the leadership for the next four years. What will that tell us? Will it really tell us our future individually or collectively? Probably not. Whichever way the election goes, those grand and glorious campaign promises are going to be promptly broken whether because the promise was just a line to get the vote or whether “the other side” gridlocked the process. Decisions will be made both for the popular reasons and for the right reasons. And one person’s “right reason” is another’s “stupid reason.” That’s the way it is.

Ultimately, it will all work out… because God is on His throne. In the meantime, I suggest a cup of tea and maybe a free cruise.

Nuts About Coconut!

On one of our weekly paths to and fro, the kids and I drive past a sign that advertises “Cherries, Coconuts, Fruts.” No, that is not a typo on my part. The hand-painted-on-cardboard sign is wrong. Yet, it has provided the kids and I a steady topic of conversation from “what is a frut, mommy?” to “why don’t they change it?” I love to hear my kids giggle and passing that sign always inspires a giggle.

Then, there comes the inevitable, “Can’t we stop to buy a coconut?” I wish I could pinpoint the moment when coconut became the flavor-of-the-day for my kids. Coconut spread on toast, coconut milk, coconut in cookies or granola bars… they love coconut. The only time they weren’t thrilled with coconut was at the bagel shop when they picked up tetra-paks of coconut water. I managed to drink it for them (because I can’t stand waste), but I really couldn’t blame them. Blech!

Imagine the excitement then when I announced that Compassion Tea would soon be carrying a new tea… Coconut Oolong! Although this oolong, like all other oolongs, has caffeine, this has become an early-in-the-day-only treat for the kids. As we would say if we were still in the Netherlands… LEKKER!

I first tried the coconut oolong at Ed and Wendy’s house when we were all gathered for a Compassion Tea director’s meeting. Chris and Anne were taking us through the intricacies of cupping. Think wine tasting only with tea. First, you inspect the leaves, notice their color, smell, are they curled or cut, rolled or shaped. Then the tea is steeped for the proper amount of time. In a flick of the wrist, the leaves are left on the cup lid and the third step is to inspect the infused leaves asking yourself what has happened to them in the steeping process. How much have they uncurled? If the curl or roll is still fairly tight, you can probably get another couple of infusions out of them. Having done that, it’s time to look at the liquor, the tea itself. Cupping your hands over the cup, take a deep breath. Note the nose. My favorite part comes next! Remember your mom telling you not to slurp? Well, in tea tasting, slurping is necessary! Breathing in, slurp up some tea, let it roll around on your tongue before you exhale and swallow. The full flavor of the tea should hit and linger. Like wine, you can then assess whether the tea has tannins, how it finishes, and eventually what it takes like cooled off.

When Chris and Anne announced the coconut oolong, there was an audible collection of breath, one of those oooooooo moments you might hear from a crowd expecting an amazing magic trick. The excitement filled the air. As we cupped our way through this tasting, the excitement grew. My notes indicated that the leaves had “beautiful curls” and were “consistent in color.” Both dry and steeped, the leaves gave off a rich, chestnutty aroma with a hint of a floral bouquet too subtle to completely identify. But, it is the lingering notes of coconut that make this tea truly marvelous. All of the Compassion Tea directors were making notes and rating the teas we tasted over the weekend. Wendy steered us to a quick way of marking the teas we wanted to carry… smiley faces. How funny it was to watch all 8 of us furiously scribbling smiley faces with hearts and extra smiles in our notes!

I didn’t know much about oolong tea going into this experience. Here is a little of what I’ve learned. Oolong is primarily produced in China and Taiwan, although India and other tea producing regions are beginning to produce it too. Like green, black and white teas, oolong comes from the camellia sinensis plant; the difference is in the oxidation process.

The Coconut Oolong is a tea blend. It’s base is a Taiwanese tea called Bao Zhong flavored with a creamy and smooth coconut flavoring. The Bao Zhong teas are known for their floral character, which comes from a unique natural process. Any time a tea leaf is bruised or cut in any way, it exposes the enzymes in the leaf to oxygen thereby beginning the oxidation process which gives the different teas their unique qualities. In the case of oolong tea, there is a green leaf hopper bug that visits the camellia sinensis plants and nibbles on the tea leaves. Those little nibbles begin the oxidation process before the leaves are even harvested. Once the bugs have left the tea garden, heading for another, the tea leafs, usually a bud and two leafs, are plucked, withered and dried, sometimes steamed, sometimes roasted, often rolled or shaped into pearls, and then finished off before heading to your tea pot.

I should note that we also tasted and are adding Jade Cloud – an organic Fair Trade green tea, West Cape Chai – an organic Fair Trade rooibos that includes ginger, star anise, clove, fennel, cinnamon, cardamom, peppermint, black pepper, and ramon nut (a coffee-like flavor) to create a warm and spicy happiness, and the Bai Hao oolong without the coconut flavoring. Stay tuned! I intend to mix the West Cape Chai with some half-and-half and a splash of rum. I’ll tell you how it goes!

Air Entitlement

Air travel is so delightful, isn’t it? Between the disgrace of pat downs, the grossness of walking through airport security shoeless, the jostling for position in the boarding line much like sheep through a chute, and the cramped quarters on-board, flying has become a necessary evil — convenient in the sense of time, but extremely uncomfortable. Last night as I boarded the plane in Ontario/LA, I threw up a prayer asking for safety and patience for us all and for wisdom for the pilot and crew. The instruction came to fire down electronic devices and I figured we were heading up. Turns out it wouldn’t be for another 2 hours. A screw on a wing panel was missing. Due to a lack of mechanics and screws, the process took 2 hours. People who might miss connections were rebooked on other flights. Those of us who were committed to a flight to Oakland were allowed to deplane and find sustenance. And yet, there were complaints. They ran the gamut of “how could this happen to me?” to “what are you going to give me for this inconvenience in my life?”

Me? I hunkered down with my Bible study. Through my church, I’m working through C. S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters.  Screwtape, a demon worker of Satan’s, is writing letters to his nephew Wormwood and trying to advise him on ways to distract and coerce his “patient” away from a newfound Christianity and back to the ways of the world. In Letter 21, Screwtape advises Wormwood to focus on the patient’s sense of ownership. If the patient believes time belongs to him, then he will feel peevish at the imposition of others on his time. If the demon acts just right, he can convince the patient there is little distinction between “my boots” and “my wife” or even “my God.” Screwtape concludes the letter saying, “And all the time the joke is that the word ‘Mine’ in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything.” He explains, “They (humans) will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong – certainly not to them, whatever happens.” The study material itself reminded me that all we have is a gift from God… our time, our resources, our talents, our possessions, our very lives. The study material says, “The truth is God gave us life, then the liberty or freedom to pursue happiness…. God did not give us the right to make demands upon others to feed us or clothe us or to provide shelter for us or to give us a job or even to pay our medical expenses or provide an education.” Rather, “[Our] objects are all gifts from God. God would have us treat these gifts well” and “[t]he time we have is a free gift from God. How we spend that time in some measure will reflect how we will be judged [or rewarded].”

I could hardly contain myself. Rarely does Bible study and “real life” coincide so dramatically.  Here I was on a plane with a cross-section of humanity, many of whom felt that they had been abused in some way. Their sense was that they were entitled to some sort of gift or reward for putting up with the inconvenience. But what if we had flown with that lost screw, what if the wing panel had wiggled off? What about the safety issue here? It wasn’t like the airline had unscrewed the screw just to spite their clientele. Maybe it was entirely a God-thing… a protection for us all from injury and/or death. In fact, I believe completely that’s what it was. When I reunited with my family and the kids asked what had happened to delay Mommy’s return I explained just that… that God had protected the people on the plane and me from injury. Screwtape and his friends very well could have distracted the crew from noticing the lost screw (is anyone else enjoying the further coincidence of the lost screw and the author of the letters, Screwtape?).

Let’s take this a bit further. If God gave us time, money, energy, everything, then we have some very important choices to make in how we spend our time, money, energy, lives. I’ve heard it said that what we spend our money on reflects where our heart lies, what we value. How we spend our time, especially our “free time” also reflects what we value and where our heart lies. Do we make room for God’s work in “our” time? Do we use “our” money for God’s work?  Or do we simply use our time and money for our comfort?

Have I mentioned the beauty of Compassion Tea in light of my ramblings?  Indulge me for a minute! You see, when you purchase a membership to our tea club (www.compassiontea.com/memberships) you spend roughly $12 a month depending on the membership you choose. The after-tax profit from that money may purchase eye glasses or Band-Aids or Neosporin or blood pressure cuffs or Novocain or surgical gloves or medicines which will then be sent to a clinic in rural Africa where it may treat a small child, a mother, a grandmother, a father, a brother, a son, a daughter… someone who does not have regular access to health care, doctors, even basic first aid. It may be used to ship supplies to Africa. It may be donated to a clinic to build a well, buy a solar panel, fix an airplane engine, pay the salary of a medical worker, host a clinic for first aid education… somehow improve the conditions of life for people in rural parts of Africa. In fact, we have Compassion Tea directors leaving Thursday to take supplies to the clinics we support in South Africa! (Stay tuned for exciting stories from the bush!) Taking care of God’s people, teaching them ways to provide for themselves, spending money to help others… all while also enjoying marvelous teas. (Sneak preview… we’ve got new teas coming… more on that later!)

Buying a Compassion Tea membership does in fact provide for our own comfort, but it also saves a life. Talk about having your cake and eating it too!