I stepped away from the horse and let the saddle fall in the mud. The old Arab mare looked dejected, embarrassed. As well she should be. Anger still flashing in my steely eyes, I reached for my teddy bear cup on the post by the barn door. I needed the warm, soothing taste of a good first-flush Darjeeling. Despite the cold, a bead of sweat ran down my temple as I lifted the cup to my lips. Tepid. Of course. Just like the horse’s performance when we rounded up the bulls.
Oh, wait. Robert Godden asked for a non-fiction blog post. He and two other studly tea bloggers have a blog called “Beasts of Brewdom: The Men of Tea. Huzzah!” Yes, it appears that while biting the top off of a whisky bottle and wiping the excess testosterone from his eyes, Godden decided to use the word “huzzah” in the name of a tea blog for men. Strange creature, this Godden.
Then, to make things even manlier, he decreed that challenges would be issued to grizzled specimens of manhood such as myself, and that the title of the blog post must be the title of a romance novel from some British publisher called Mills & Boon. Somehow, I was lucky enough to draw the title, The Dream and the Dancer.
I lowered the cup and glanced to the house. Lo, what vision of loveliness to my virile eyes did appear? My wife, Kathryn, dancing in the living room as she did her dusting (don’t look at me like that — everyone’s wife dances while she dusts, right?). I took another sip of the lukewarm Darjeeling and set the cup down on the post. I hefted a pair of 12-pound double-bit axes to my shoulder and set out to the shed. I had three cords of wood to split before I could go inside to my wife and the delicate new Taiwanese oolong we had just purchased. The splitting would go faster if I used an axe in each hand.
Tea is oft considered a woman’s domain. We muscular paragons of manhood are expected to go more for coffee sludge that’s been boiling over a buffalo chip campfire for the last 12 hours. Or perhaps a pint of Jack Daniels downed in a single long draught. But tea should not be the demesne of the ladies. Was the Emperor Shennong (who reputedly discovered tea five millennia ago) a woman? Charles, the 2nd Earl Grey, for whom is named perhaps the best-known tea in the western world? Sen no Rikyu, who developed the Japanese tea ceremony? Of course not! They were men!
I have a dream.
I dream of men realizing that there’s nothing feminine about a hot steaming cup of smoky lapsang souchong!
I dream of women saying, “Look at that sexy studmuffin over there drinking pu-erh tea. He must be a staunch fellow, indeed!”
I dream of sweaty rugby players saying, “Put away that girly java and get me a proper cup of sencha.”
The chores done for the day, I headed back to the house. I stretched my aching muscles as I strode up the front walk, and looked at the window to see if I could catch another glimpse of my wife dancing through the living room. That’s when the mountain lion appeared. He stepped out from behind the tractor, muscles rippling under his thick pelt, and stopped in the middle of the walk, his yellow eyes flashing at me. I continued walking toward him, our eyes locked. We both tensed as the distance between us closed. “I want tea and you’re in my way,” I growled at him. The lion looked down and slunk away, recognizing that I was in no mood to deal with him. I stretched my sore shoulders and continued to the house, where Kathryn met me at the door. With a smile, she held out a hot, fresh cup of jade oolong. I held it to my nose, closed my eyes, and inhaled deeply. “You might want to shower before dinner,” she said softly.
Yes, we are men. We can use our rippling muscles to stack ten tons of hay, and then relax with a delicate cup of tea. We can sip an Earl Grey with our friends while debating whether that noise coming from the Camaro is a tappet problem, or just a loose fan belt. We can drink half a glass of iced tea, and then pour the rest over our heads to cool down after setting a new obstacle course record. We can share a pot of tea with a friend after beating each other bloody in a boxing ring.
Tea has been the drink of manly men for over 100 generations. So, gentlemen, the question isn’t whether tea is manly enough for you — the question is whether you are manly enough for tea.
(Caution: Just in case the title of this video doesn’t give it away, it does contain some foul language)
I have some strange friends. One of them is a rather … unique … tea blogger from Australia named Robert Godden (his blog, for those who dare to look, is Lord Devotea’s Tea Spouts). One day last week, I signed on to Facebook, only to see that Robert had tagged me in a post. That’s never a good sign. I followed the link to find this: My first thought was, how do you punctuate that? I imagine a restaurant reviewer getting a call from her editor. “Yeah? What do you want?” The editor responds with, “Fine words. Butter. No parsnips.” Check. Got it. Like her other reviews, this one should be fine words. Maybe the next issue of the magazine has a Paula Deen theme: every article must include butter. And the editor probably hates parsnips. It makes sense — in the same kind of twisted way that any idea of Robert’s makes sense. But what does all of this have to do with tea bloggers? Should I write about Tibetan yak butter tea? There aren’t any parsnips in Tibetan yak butter tea. But then it hit me. He’s using “butter” as a verb. Buttering parsnips is a good thing. You want to butter your parsnips. But you can’t do it just with fine words. It requires action. Fine words alone ain’t going to butter any parsnips. That does mean something in the tea world. There are all kinds of ways to promote tea. You can describe a tea using fine words: “This astonishing infusion has sylvan aroma, full buttery mouthfeel with floral overtones, notes of antebellum parsnip and yak musk, and a mild nutty aftertaste.” You can pitch the benefits of a tea using fine words: “This health-laden tea is Ethical Tea Partnership certified, loaded with theanine and antioxidants, 100% organic, and picked only by virgins on the full moon. Oh, and the label was drawn by a Seattle artist who dresses only in all-natural fair-trade hemp.” You can market the tea shop that sells a tea using fine words: “Our tea house was founded in 1492 by two monks and a tea farmer. We have buyers in 17 countries who hand-select every single leaf that appears in our shop. Every one of our stock clerks has a PhD in botany and is an ITMA Certified Tea Sommelier™.” But none of those fine words are what really butters your parsnips. What’s important is whether you like the tea, not whether the barTEAsta is a stunningly-good-looking expert in selling tea. You don’t want to get sucked in by all of the fine words on the label, buy a $20 bag of fine tea, and then have it rot in the pantry because you don’t want to drink it. Instead, buy your tea from a shop that lets you taste it before you commit. Buy a cup, or avail yourself of a free sample if they offer one. If buying tea online is your thing, ask if you can get a sample with your next order. If you’re buying $50 worth of tea, I doubt they’ll begrudge you a tablespoon or two of some other blend — especially if you’re a regular. Don’t ask them to send you a sample for free if it’s not piggybacked on an order, though. That’s not nice. Even if it’s just ten grams of tea, they would still have to pay for the packaging and shipping. Taste it. Enjoy it. Make sure it’s a tea that you’ll actually drink a big bag of. Then make your purchasing decision. Read the fine words. Listen to the sales pitch. But remember, the proof is in the pudding — err — parsnips. (Just click on the picture above for a buttered parsnip recipe)
While writing this blog post, I was drinking tieguanyin (a.k.a. Iron Goddess of Mercy), a soft, flavorful oolong tea. I brewed this cup for 3:00 using boiling water. I often do it with cooler water, but I’m feeling saucy today. Not saucy enough to add yak butter, but saucy nonetheless. In my not-so-humble opinion, the second infusion is better than the first.
POSTSCRIPT: Posts from the other bloggers that have answered the challenge are starting to appear. I shall add each to this list as I discover it:
- Robert Godden: thedevotea.teatra.de/2015/02/27/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips/
- Jo Johnson: scandaloustea.teatra.de/2015/02/27/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips/
- A. C. Cargill: accargill.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips/
- Rachel Rachana Carter: iheartteas.teatra.de/2015/02/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips/
- Jen Piccotti: internationalteamoment.blogspot.com/2015/02/a-fine-words-butter-no-parsnips-moment.html
- Ken Knowles: lahikmajoe.me/2015/03/01/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips/
- Nicole Schwartz: amazonv.blogspot.com/2015/02/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips.html
- Naomi Rosen: www.joysteaspoon.com/blog/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips-ummm-what
- Jackie Davenport: cupsofteawithjackie.teatra.de/fine-words-butter-no-parsnips/
I’m a big fan of beer. In fact, I used to write a beer column for a local newspaper a few years back. I’ll often have a beer when I start dinner, and switch to tea at the end. I even took a seminar at World Tea Expo about pairing tea and beer, looking for common flavor characteristics in different styles of the two beverages. A conversation with fellow tea blogger Robert Godden (Lord Devotea’s Tea Spouts), however, got me thinking about the possibility of actually combining the two. You know, putting beer and tea in the same glass. Yeah, Robert’s a strange one.
But why not?
There are beer styles exemplified by certain flavors, which you might get from additives like fruit or other grains, or you might get from doing strange things to the barley, like smoking it. Why not get those flavors from tea? Especially that smoky one…
A buddy of mine, Doug “Beerbarian” Bailey, works at our local brewery, Red Lodge Ales. Doug is a sales guy, but he still understands beer pretty well. He and I both go for smoky flavors. We drink lapsang souchong and Russian caravan tea. We drink smoky rauschbier. We drink Islay Scotches like Laphroaig, which just ooze peat and smoke. We even enjoy the same pipe tobaccos.
So Doug and I had a long discussion about flavoring beer with tea — especially about making our own variety of rauschbier by adding smoked tea to a nice robust beer. It was a wonderful discussion, but we didn’t follow through on it. And then, months later, I get a private message from him on Facebook:
Initially, we’d been talking about actually adding the tea leaves to the kettle while brewing the beer, but Doug was in a hurry. He proposed adding the tea to beer that was already brewed and sitting in the keg. This brings up a few complications, like how to avoid watering down the beer and how to pour tea into a full keg of carbonated beer.
The solution to the first problem was simple: just make the tea really strong so we don’t have to use much of it. In fact, to avoid diluting the flavor of the beer, we went right past “really strong” to “stupid strong.” And as for the second problem, Doug came up with a set of fittings that allowed us to put the tea into an empty keg, pressurize it, and then add the contents of a full keg of beer to it.
The more we talked about the solutions to the problems, the more we realized making just one beer wasn’t going to cut it, so when experiment day arrived, Doug grabbed the kegs of beer and I brewed three stupid strong batches of tea from Red Lodge Books & Tea to match them.
We started by adding carefully measured amounts of the übertea to glasses of beer. Instead of wrecking our palates with the smoked tea, we started with a lighter one. The beer is Helio Hefeweizen, a light and citrusy unfiltered wheat beer. I paired that with a cinnamon orange spice rooibos tea. I had brewed the tea with 1 ounce of leaf to 8 ounces of boiling water and steeped it for six minutes. It didn’t take a whole lot of tea to give the beer a wondrous spicy flavor with an orangy nose. We settled on 940 ml of strong tea in the 5-gallon keg of beer. It was a rousing triumph. We made a bit extra so I could take a growler home with me.
Our second experiment was completely off the wall. Doug did say he wanted something “wacky,” so I paired their Beartooth Pale Ale with an infusion of one of my own special tea blends, which I call “Coyotes of the Purple Sage.” It’s an Earl Grey made with black tea, sage, and a hint of mint. I didn’t brew it quite as strong (same amount of leaf as the first one, but with a 5 minute infusion). Our first experiment was rather overwhelming, so we backed down the ratio, using 750 ml of tea in the 5-gallon keg.
I’m not going to call this one an overwhelming success. The sage and bergamot was just a little strange in the pale ale.
The final beer was the one that started all this. We used a Russian Caravan tea, 1 ounce of leaf per 8 ounces of water, brewed for 4 minutes. The base beer is Jack’s Scottish Ale. We played around with the proportions for a bit, and ended up using 900 ml of tea per five gallon keg. We made two kegs: one for Doug’s special event, and one to put on tap in the tasting room that night. Doug named it “Smokin’ Jack.” It was exactly what we were trying to accomplish!
This will not be the last time I bring together my loves of beer and tea. Maybe it’s getting to be time to dust off all of my old homebrewing equipment and get to work.
Last year at World Tea Expo (caution: that link autoplays video with sound) in Las Vegas, I attended a Tea Blogger’s Roundtable. It was a great opportunity to talk with some of the big tea bloggers, share experiences, and discuss challenges. This year in Long Beach, California, I’m pleased to be one of the panelists.
The panel will be on Friday, May 30th, starting at 5:00 p.m. Anyone registered for World Tea Expo or Healthy Beverage Expo is welcome to attend. If you can make it, please let us know using the email address in the poster above. Prepare questions for your favorite tea bloggers (and the ones you just tolerate, too). Take some time to check out the blogs before you attend, too. We all love getting new readers!
The event is being coordinated by A Gift of Tea (Twitter feed @AGiftOfTea). I will also be posting updates here and on my Twitter feed (@TeaWithGary). The bloggers on the panel (in alphabetical order) are:
- Linda Gaylard (the Tea Stylist)
- Chris Giddings (the Tea-Guy)
- Geoffrey Norman (Lazy Literatus)
- Jen Piccoti (An International Tea Moment)
- Gary Robson (Tea With Gary)
- Naomi Rosen (Joy’s Teaspoon)
- Jason Walker (Walker Tea Review)
I’m really not sure what they were thinking when they replaced Robert Godden (Lord Devotea’s Tea Spouts) with me. Maybe he’s too edgy and controversial. Or maybe he’s just getting old and everyone thought his 45-minute PowerPoint presentation on Australian eucalyptus tea was too darned boring. (I have a feeling I’m going to pay for that comment!)
See you there (except for Robert, unfortunately)!
When I’m bored and not inspired enough to write something, I sometimes read silly things like blogging tips. They always seem to include the obvious, like “write interesting things” and “allow your personality to show through.” They also all seem to include, “always blog on a regular schedule.”
Somehow, this doesn’t seem to work for me. When I raised the question at the tea blogging roundtable at World Tea Expo last month, I couldn’t find a single serious tea blogger that blogged on a regular schedule. Why is that?
According to the pundits, having a regular update schedule gives your readers something to look forward to.
But what does a regular update schedule do to the quality of your blog?
I understand deadlines in the magazine and newspaper business. I’ve been on both sides of those. And books. The editor needs to know when the manuscript will be complete to schedule copyediting and cover design and all of that other fun stuff. None of that, however, applies to a blog.
In my humble opinion, a blog like this one can be badly damaged by the obsessive urge to post on a schedule.
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
— Douglas Adams
I do not presume here to speak for other bloggers. In fact, I would love to hear the opinions of other bloggers in my comments. Speaking just for myself, then, I believe that two things inspire good blog posts: inspiration and breaking news. Neither of those things is enough by itself. They both require passion and at least a smidgeon of writing skill.
Neither of those things happens on a schedule.
I may see something new and interesting while scanning a news site, tea blog, newsletter, or even Facebook or Twitter. What would be the appropriate reaction?
(A) This is cool! I must let all of my readers know about this post haste while I’m still excited about it and it’s still news!
(B) This is cool! I must put this on my schedule of things to write about. How does three weeks from Thursday sound?
I don’t know about you, but for me writing it now produces a good blog post, and by the time three weeks from Thursday rolls around something else has caught my interest.
“I am definitely going to take a course on time management… just as soon as I can work it into my schedule.”
— Louis E. Boone
Or what about the flipside? It’s blog update day. My deadline is coming at me like an enraged ROUS (that’s Rodent of Unusual Size for those of you who aren’t fans of The Princess Bride) with its tail on fire. I can’t think of a bloody thing to write about. I scratch out something marginally adequate, thus making my deadline. My dear readers say, “Gary’s certainly off his game lately, isn’t he? Mayhaps we should read Robert Godden instead. He’s not boring.” I’m having a hard time seeing the win in this scenario.
I will continue, then, writing for my blogs when the spirit moves me or when I have something to write about. I really do try to get in about a post a week on this blog and two or three posts a month on my other blog. This is my sixth post this month on Tea With Gary. I think I’ll celebrate with a nice cup of pu-erh.
Mind if I close with a little bit of xkcd? Of course you don’t. Unless you don’t like four-letter words. In that case, stop reading now.
Back in my days in the software industry, I used to put on a lot of educational seminars. One day, I was teaching an all-day session and noticed one of my customers, a gentleman by the name of Ken Combs, sitting about fifteen rows back in the audience. At the first break, I went over to him and said, “What are you doing here, Ken? You could be teaching this seminar!” I absolutely loved his response: “I figure if I can learn one new thing, then the whole day is worth it.” Before using this insightful little anecdote to segue into the subject of this blog, I have to tell a little tale of that seminar. It was, as I said, an all-day seminar. I’m pretty good at projecting my voice, and when I’m dealing with small groups, I usually eschew microphones. This particular day, however, I had an audience of about 120 people and we were in a hotel ballroom with dubious acoustics, so I had a sound system. Like most hotel ballrooms, this one had accordion-style dividers that could separate it into smaller rooms, and we were using about a third of the room. The morning session went well, but the afternoon became Public Speaker Nightmare #23 ™: there was a wedding reception in the other part of the ballroom. They had a live DJ. He had a much more powerful sound system than I did. After about an hour with my sound system cranked up all the way, shouting into the microphone, I called a quick break and strolled over to the reception, where I asked the DJ if he’d mind taking the volume down a bit because he was making my job impossible. “Not my problem, dude,” he said as he cranked his volume up higher. We tried everything. We appealed to the bride. We called the hotel’s booking desk. We tried to find the weekend manager. And throughout it all, I shouted my voice raw trying to be heard in the back of the room. I couldn’t talk for two days after that (I’m not sure whether my wife wrote a thank you note to the bride for that or not), and we did end up getting a portion of our rent for the room refunded, but it made for one miserable seminar. Despite all of that, Ken learned his one new thing and I applied his philosophy from my side of the lectern and got much more careful about room bookings for future events. Remember I promised to bring this back to tea? Well, fast forward twenty years or so, and here I am at the World Tea Expo. I still try to follow Ken’s philosophy, and it serves me well. I attended two good educational sessions yesterday, which I’ll probably be writing more about: “Le Nez du Thé” (the nose of tea) and a tea blending workshop. I certainly learned more than one thing in each. After the exhibit hall closed, I went to the Tea Bloggers Roundtable. Mostly, I went for networking purposes, to meet some of these people I know only through their blog posts and tweets. It was a wonderful networking event, but even without that I learned something.
Yes, there was a bit of the mutual admiration society going on there, and the interplay was fun to watch (Godden and Coffey should take their show on the road), but it was also a very worthwhile session. There were more bloggers in the audience — including yours truly, of course — and the format was flexible enough that the distinction between panelist and audience member blurred. As everyone talked and questions were asked (and sometimes answered), it became clear that no two bloggers in the room really had the same objectives. For all of us, the blog is a representation of our personality enveloping the world of tea. Some of the blogs consist almost entirely of tasting notes (e.g., Nicole Schwartz’s “AmazonV” blog) and some have no tasting notes at all. We talked about tea, but mostly about the art of blogging, the expectations of our readers, and the trials and tribulations of trying to keep up any kind of a schedule for blog posts. I hope there’s another blogging event like this one again very soon!