We’ve scheduled two new tea classes, on November 7th and 21st.

First, on November 7th, we will have a black tea class, Beyond Earl Grey: The World of Black Tea. “We’ll taste and compare fine black teas from India, Sri Lanka & China, including Assam, Darjeeling, Ceylon, Keemun, and Yunnan. We’ll learn how black tea is made, and how to brew fine tea in small pots to bring out the best flavors in multiple steepings.”

Then on November 21st is a green tea class, Japanese Teas. “Learn about the unique and wonderful world of fine Japanese teas with their fresh and well-defined flavors. We’ll sample sencha (fine green tea), gyokuro (beautiful shade-grown tea), genmaicha (toasted rice tea), kukicha (twig tea), hojicha (roasted tea), and matcha (powdered green tea), and learn about how tea is grown and processed in Japan.”

Descriptions are quoted from Seattle Tea School, the site kept up by our tea instructor, Christopher. New classes are posted there first, if you want to stay as up to date as possible!

Sign up for classes at the tea house, or call or email us. Classes are ten dollars per person, and limited to seven people per class, so be sure to sign up in advance. We hope to see you soon!


Teahouse Kuan Yin has a new artist’s work up on our walls. We are now displaying and selling a fun series of collages by Erika Engelhardt, just the thing to liven up those rainy fall days Seattle specializes in. Erika tells stories about her life in glue and bright paper; come by and see if they’re your stories, too.

Kashmiri Pink Chai

Kashmiri Pink Chai

Chai–sweet, caffeinated, and exotically spicy–is a massively popular drink, and only getting more so as time goes on. So, what actually is it? You order a chai at Starbucks and walk off with what tastes like sixteen ounces of sugar syrup, just like everything else there, and all you can be sure of is that it involves sugar, milk, and possibly tea? Some brown liquid, anyway. But that’s why you have me, because you don’t have time to spend all afternoon figuring out what you’re drinking, and that’s what I’m being paid to do. So here’s what I found out for you today:

Chai is short for masala chai, which means “spiced tea” in Hindi. The earliest masala chai wasn’t a real tea drink at all, it was a drink made of a number of spices chosen for their Ayurvedic medical benefits, as a medicine for a king. As the mythical invention of chai is said to be before the mythical discovery of tea (both supposedly at least 5000 years ago), and substantially before tea was widely drunk in India (cultivation began in the 1830s, and it was almost all exported until the beginning of the twentieth century), tea was not one of those spices. The connection between the original masala chai and the current drink is largely in the name.

Modern chai got its start in the early twentieth century, when the huge British tea producers in India finally saturated their markets in Europe and had to start looking for new ones. Tea had not been grown in India until the British started their plantations, so it wasn’t something the Indians were in the habit of drinking. The producers started encouraging the locals to drink the stuff they spent all their time making, giving the factory workers tea breaks and encouraging people to set up tea vending stands. The producers were hoping the tea vendors would sell tea in the British style, with tea lightly flavored with milk and sugar, but the tea vendors soon began cutting their tea with spices, since tea was more expensive than cardamom and the like. It may also have been to improve the flavor; as the story goes, the high quality tea was being exported, and the Indian factory workers couldn’t have afforded it anyway, so the tea being sold by the vendors was of poor quality. The spices made their tea tastier.

In the nineteen sixties, chai got another boost in popularity in India with the invention of CTC processing. This dropped the price substantially, making it affordable to more people in India. It also worked well with chai, because CTC creates particularly powerful black tea. You may have seen it, it looks almost like coffee grounds, and produces a drink that’s nearly as strong! The strong flavors of CTC tea cuts through the milk and spices, so the tea can still be tasted. The flavor balance issue causes an odd realigning of priorities in chai. High quality teas are made to have gentle, smooth flavors, nothing harsh to shock the palate. But if you tried this with chai, the tea would be impossible to taste, overwhelmed by the milk and spices. So even in affluent situations chai is often made with relatively low-quality tea. What works alone and what works in blends are remarkably different!

The basic chai recipe is strong black tea, milk, sweetener, and spices. Usually the tea is a strong Assam, the kind of thing used in English Breakfast blends, often the CTC I mentioned above. The spice blend shifts depending on where the chai is being made and what the tea maker likes, but cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon are usually present. In general Indian blends emphasize cardamom, and American ones emphasize cinnamon. Almost anything can be put in, though, including ginger, anise, fennel, pepper, saffron, salt, and even almonds! The almonds are a favorite in a northern variant, the Kashmiri chai that we sell. It’s based on green tea instead of black, something strong and Chinese like gunpowder or hyson. It’s turned pink either by saffron or by messing with the pH balance during the brewing process. It has a gentler and richer flavor than the more common black tea chai. And a more exciting color, obviously.

Whew, I had no idea chai had such an involved history. We can all order our chai with a whole new level of smugness, wait sorry confidence, I meant confidence. Go forth and get all confident at your chai, now!

Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff

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

Lichee Black TeaA hot cup of tea. That’s the basic, right? You take your tea leaves, you soak them in boiling water until a reasonable amount of caffeine has come out, and you inhale that sucker as soon as it cools enough not to scorch you. Then you stare at the computer screen, decide you still don’t feel awake, and repeat the process. Wait, is that just me?

OK, I don’t do that (always). Being the cultured tea snob that I am, I would of course never put boiling water on a delicate tea leaf. Near boiling, perhaps, for a hearty black, but that’s all. And for your more delicate greens, water down to 160 or even 140 degrees might be wise. And then if you want it iced, which you probably do in the summer heat, you drop ice in until it’s cold. But does the water have to be that hot? As you’ve probably guessed, I wouldn’t have asked the question if the answer was yes.

Heat speeds up and strengthens chemical reactions. So heat in your water makes your tea steep faster, and it lets the water drag some larger molecules out of the leaf, but the action will still happen, even with quite cold water. Here at the tea shop we need things to happen fairly quickly, since people are lining up at the register, so we usually make iced tea by making a normal pot of tea and then applying ice and refrigerators until it’s at proper iced tea temperature, but at home I usually make my iced tea by putting leaf in room temperature water, then putting it in the fridge to steep overnight. This is called cold-brewing. My mother has a middle approach; she puts the leaf and water in a large clear jug out in the sun all afternoon, so the water is warmed up by the sun, and making what is called ‘sun tea’, but doesn’t get up to normal steeping temperatures unless you live in a seriously toasty climate. All three approaches make very tasty and very different cups of tea.

There are two things that change when you change your brewing temperature:

First, is time needed. You exchange water heat for steeping time. So tea brewed with boiling water is done in three minutes, my mom’s sun tea is done in four or five hours, and I pour a glass of my fridge tea after eight to ten hours (although some people will cold brew for as few as four and like it that way. Experiment and see what you like). If you want to try cold-brewed tea, you must plan ahead of time!

Second, the flavor changes. Cold water can’t get the big molecules loose from the tea leaves, so the tea you end up with tastes different. The most distinct change is that cold-brewed tea is less bitter than normally brewed. Less of the caffeine is dissolved in the cold water and caffeine, a strongly bitter chemical, is the primary reason that tea has a bitter flavor. Cold-brewed tea is often comparatively sweet, and sometimes surprisingly floral. If you’re not sure you’ll like that, try the method on small batches of types of tea you haven’t tried it on before. Conversely, an already sweet tea will often make an excellent cold-brew, since it supports and emphasizes the flavor profile that the tea was designed for. This effect is also great for cheap tea, since any overwhelming bitter or sour flavors will be softened, giving you a fairly tasty and undemanding drink. My mother makes her sun tea with whatever bags are cheapest and come in the largest box at the grocery store, and it’s lovely, especially with a bit of fresh mint.

So, you can have your tea without having to turn your stove on in the middle of this summer’s ubiquitous heatwaves! At least, you can by tomorrow. Set it to steep now, and go see a movie in an air-conditioned theater, you’ll have tea when you get back.

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.

Afternoon tea is a quaint little social ritual involving pretty china, little pastries, and determinedly chipper conversation with an older female relative. Is that last just me? Possibly not, considering the history. Like any dated social ritual, tugging on the loose thread that is afternoon tea leads you to a thick fabric of historical events. In this case, the events are the Industrial Revolution and the social shifts that English society made to accommodate it.

High Tea

Before the Industrial Revolution Britain was largely populated by farmers. They had a different pattern of meals than we do today; they grabbed a bite on the way out the door to the fields, had a large dinner at midday, and a smaller meal in the evening. When they became factory workers this had to change.

Even now,with our rosters of worker’s rights, it can be tricky to get your employer to give you enough time for lunch; eighteenth and nineteenth century factory workers were often required to eat while still working. The main meal was now taken immediately after work. Tea was a mainstay of the new factory worker’s diet, replacing beer; tea was newly plentiful, and caffeine was better for helping factory workers keep all their fingers than alcohol. The new after-work meal was named for the new part of their diet: high tea.

Afternoon Tea

The working class was not the only one transformed by the Industrial Revolution. The middle class exploded in size, and with industrial production many things that were a mark of wealth came within the reach of less wealthy people. One of these was idle family members. Middle class women did not work, or even go out unescorted. The options for filling their spare time being rather limited, the ladies invented new ones. Since there was nothing scandalous about them visiting each other they took to spending their long afternoons at each other’s houses at a rotating series of dances and conversation parties, at which refined refreshments were served.

Tea, fine china, and white sugar were now affordable to a broad segment of the population, but they retained a sense of sophistication from when they could only be bought by the rich. The tea, elegant settings, and pastries of afternoon tea were props for the new middle class to help solidify their place in the upper echelons of society. The origin story of afternoon tea makes it clear; the story goes that the seventh duchess of Bradford took to having it by herself because she became hungry before the late dinners favored by the aristocracy After all, they did nothing to work up an appetite earlier! When the duchess was discovered by her friends she was afraid they would tease her, but they loved the idea, and it became a social event. What better story for a fashionable new habit of the middle class than that it had been invented by nobility?

Modern Remnants

As society adjusted to the changes made by the Industrial Revolution meals settled into their modern form, and the teas fell out of fashion. High tea now exists in a few corners of Britain, an Australian habit of referring to dinner that way, and confused Americans who have merged high and afternoon teas in their minds. Afternoon tea is less popular too now that everyone is expected to work, but most of us do get weekends and retirement off, so the tradition continues in a reduced fashion, and we have somewhere to take our grandmothers when we’d like to take them out for some conversation.

Elizabeth, Teahouse Kuan Yin Staff

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