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Happy Boxing Day!   We’re stepping up our use of social media as we get ready for the new year. We’re looking at this blog, Instagram, Facebook and perhaps Pinterest.  Any suggestions on other platforms for us?   We hope you’ll also look at our new web site and see the progress we’ve made.  http://www.teahousekuanyin.com

 

I just posted a bunch of pictures of the shop on Facebook, go check them out! Do any of you have fun pics of us? We’d love to see them!

Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff

We have a new art display at the teahouse! The Teatime Series is a set of still life photographs of Seattle’s wild birds, and will be for sale at the teahouse until August 29th. You’ll be able to meet the artist, Betty Udesen, at the teahouse on the July 7th Wallingford Art Walk.

Joe Blondo, a longtime customer here at Teahouse Kuan Yin, is getting his latest book published. Congratulations, Joe! Caught between Cultures is the story of Milton Wan, a Vietnamese immigrant in America, including his tumultuous family life and his being drafted into the American army to fight in the Vietnam War.

Joe and Milton are having a book opening party this Wednesday at Tai Tung, the restaurant where author and subject first met. Both Caught between Cultures and Joe’s previous book, The Greyer Elements, will be on sale.

Assam Black Tea - Cream of AssamTea does not grow in England, or anywhere near it. In fact, it grows so far away that when tea first became popular there it took a year to get the tea from it’s source, China, to the teacups of European enthusiasts. The early imports were mostly green tea, too–not well known for it’s ability to travel and resist staleness–since that was what was popular in China. The British Empire never felt compelled to do things the easy way, though.

Tea’s popularity in the west started in mainland Europe, as one of the many curiosities Dutch merchants brought back from abroad. It came to Britain when Charles II married a Portuguese queen, Catherine of Braganza, in 1662. She loved tea and continued to drink it after her marriage, and this particular royal fashion slowly spread through the country. It started showing up everywhere, mostly in coffeehouses, another recent fashion from the east, if not so far east, which had gotten a quicker start off the blocks. The tea fashion moved more slowly, but it did move. By 1686 tea was widely sold in Britain.

Various shifts in trade around the 1720s made tea a more appealing import for the shipping companies, and tea established itself in British tea and society. No, wait, I’m losing the fight against this pun. Steeped itself in British society. Ouch, ouch, only throw soft fruit! OK, while we were messing around with lowbrow humor Britain’s gone wild for tea, buying it legally, illegally, cut with sawdust, anything to get their daily cup of tea.  But after a century of this things come to an abrupt halt.

Tensions between China and Britain went seriously south, and China shut off all trade in the early 1830s. The government started up the Opium Wars, the populace flailed about, getting tea from wherever it could, and businessmen took trips to the colonies. India was firmly in British possession, and had a lovely warm climate, a population that the British felt no qualms about exploiting, and tea plants growing wild. The East India Company threw its weight behind growing tea on British land. It was a brilliant idea even without the difficulties with Chinese trade. The industrial revolution was in full swing, creating a middle class and filling their houses with things that had once been luxuries for the rich, fine china and crystal wine glasses and exotic foreign imports, like tea.

By the time the tea plantations were up and running Britain had w0n the war (or round one, at least), and imports were coming from China again. But the new plantations were designed for large scale industrial production and export,  and when Indian tea hit British markets, in the 1850s, it was cheap and plentiful and tea’s popularity went wild. Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, added its supply in the 1880s, and cheap, strong, black tea became one of Britain’s most popular drinks. This is when afternoon tea came into existence; legend says it was invented by the Duchess of Bedford, who needed a snack to tide her over between lunch and a fashionably late dinner. Tea shops also sprung up at this time, two hundred years after the coffeehouse craze hit the streets. Tea culture in Britain had finally taken on its modern form

Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff

The industrial revolution was in full swing, creating a middle class and filling their houses with things that had once been luxuries for the rich, fine china and crystal wine glasses and exotic foreign imports, like tea.

Darjeeling Black Tea - Namring EstateDarjeeling is a small district in the Indian state West Bengal, and pretty much the only reason there are people there is because of tea. Before the tea industry started up maybe a hundred people lived there, which is not unreasonable for a little patch of hilly land edging up into the Himalayas. Now roughly 700,000 people live there, and the largest industry is growing tea.

The Tea Industry in Darjeeling

They export about 20 million pounds of tea a year, which sounds like a lot, but it’s actually kind of low. While India’s other primary tea grower, Assam, exports massive amounts of tea that ends up in every black tea blend tea bag in the world, Darjeeling is about quality instead of quantity. The tea is picked by hand, two leaves and a bud, and there’s a movement to make every estate in Darjeeling organic, which has gotten remarkably far. Darjeelings have a solid history of being considered an exceptionally nice, high quality tea, especially in Britain, and the tea growers are now pushing that idea for all it’s worth, trying to cement the idea of Darjeeling as quality in the modern market.

This Stuff Is Actually Pretty Tasty

All advertising aside, they are quite good. It’s hard to make good tea, and places that haven’t been doing it for several hundred years often have difficulty making a really top quality tea, but Darjeeling is doing an excellent job. This is the part where I admit that I’m not very good at tasting things and giving paragraphs of well reasoned opinions on the bright overtone contrasting with the notes of burnt toast in the aftertaste or what have you, but a lot of people agree that Darjeeling is doing a bang up job on their tea. It’s delicately flavored and complex, and sometimes comes out with this muscat grape flavor so startlingly distinct that even I can pick up on it. I think those bright, clear flavors are good for those of us who aren’t taking time off from training for the sommelier exam, because they are more obvious than the quiet flavors in the high grade Chinese teas. A high quality tea for beginners, if you will.

The Headaches of Success

The problem with making low amounts of a high quality product is that you get fakers. Four times as much

Darjeeling Logo

The official Darjeeling Logo. You probably won't see it, because it's on the wholesale packaging, but it's the guarantee of real Darjeeling.

‘Darjeeling’ tea is sold as Darjeeling actually makes. The fakes aren’t necessarily horrible tea, but tea is only Darjeeling if it comes from that little corner of West Bengal, like Champagne is only Champagne if it comes from that part of France. The other things on the shelves are just sparkling wines that wish they could get in on the brand power of Champagne’s name. In fact, Darjeeling is sometimes called the Champagne of teas, I think both because of the place issue and because the light, bright flavor of Darjeeling in comparison to other Indian tea is similar to the difference between how Champagne and other wines taste. That’s just a guess, though, I don’t know a whole lot about wine.

Those Harvest Types That People Keep Mentioning

Darjeeling has enough tropical climate to drive several harvests in a year. The first flush is the basic spring harvest that every tea grower in the world does, very bright and green. The next export is the second flush, the summer harvest. The green notes fade a little and the flavor becomes rounder. This is the harvest where those crazy muscatel notes are most distinct, which adds a certain kind of fun to the proceedings, at least if you’re me and have an addiction to muscat flavored candy. There can be a harvest during the mons0on season, but that tea is mostly used in blends, you won’t see it on the market. And finally, an autumn harvest, where the green notes have retreated almost entirely in favor of the rounded, mature ones.

Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff