Tea Loves: Regena Rafelson

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It looks like I’m pretty (virtually) social with tea folks this year! Today, I interview T Ching managing editor, Regena Rafelson. She’s a retired high school English teacher from Hood River, Oregon and she tells us more about her tea life and work in this Tea Loves post.

As some of you might know, I’m a T Ching contributor and have learned much from this tea portal and its global community. Unfortunately, due to current real life commitments, I’m not able to write for them as regularly, but they’ve definitely got a loyal reader in me.

And for now, it’s back to Regena! :)

Tell us more about your editor position at T Ching. 

This is my second stint as managing editor.  When T Ching was a fledgling blog, I edited it for fourteen months in 2008 – 2009.  In April of 2013, the long-time editor, Erika Cilengir, handed the reins back to me.  I love the diversity of T Ching contributors and being able to read their fascinating posts before anyone else gets to!

What is your favourite tea and why? 

My favourite tea is whatever I am drinking!  I like black tea and oolongs of every persuasion.  I am currently having a serious fling with matcha.  When I am hiking, I like Earl Grey in the thermos.

What are your tea habits like? 

My first pot of tea steeps while I build a fire in our woodstove.  I pull my chair and my mug of tea up to the fireplace and drink that first pot while the fire slowly gains strength. I read the day’s post as it goes live on T Ching while I sip the second pot.

What’s the best and worst thing about being an editor of a tea website?

The best thing about being a website editor is the amazing rapport and relationships I build with contributors half a world away.  The worst thing is when those busy contributors are unable to meet deadlines.  Scrambling for posts is an anxiety-laden affair! (I’m sorry Regena for being one of those causing you this stress!)

What do you think people misunderstand the most about tea?

The most misunderstood aspect of tea regards caffeine.  The mainstream western medical community is the worst offender, repeating the “tea-has-more-caffeine-than-coffee” mantra as if it was gospel.  No amount of research budges them from their litany.  I find that irresponsible as well as misleading.

 Describe the most interesting T Ching reader you’ve had. 

The most interesting tea reader would have to be this particular person who heckled me about a post I had written.  Social media is wonderful most of the time, but an insidious aspect of this media is the opportunity for people to be rude without taking responsibility.  I think of it as keyboard rage.

Tea is…

Tea is a beverage which speaks to our better selves, that peaceful part of us.  Tea is like giving yourself a hug.

Tea Loves: Stella Yan

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Stella (left) at Mengding Organic Tea Garden in Sichuan, China with an 85-year-old tea picker.

I’ve made another tea acquaintance! Stella is from China and does social media marketing for online tea retailer TeaVivre. She recently contacted me to do a tea review (I’m still getting round that, immensely enjoying the samples so far), and was so nice about catering to my tea preferences, I thought I would feature her on Tea Loves! She tells us about why she loves her tea job so much.

Why did you want to work in the tea industry?

I have been working at TeaVivre for more than five years, and helped to build an online presence for this brand internationally. I’m a tea lover and I wanted to work in the tea industry to broaden my tea knowledge. Furthermore, China has some of the best quality teas. By bringing premium Chinese teas to tea lovers all around the world, I can share this tea experience with other people, while also learning more about teas in other countries.

What is your favourite tea and why?

My favourite is Taiwan High Mountain Oolong Tea. It grows at an altitude of over 1,000 metres. As a result, this tea is naturally aromatic, mellow and brisk; and it can be steeped several times without losing its flavour.

What is your tea ritual like?

Every morning, I love to start work with a cup of green tea. For leisure, I enjoy sipping a cup of oolong while reading a book under the warm afternoon sun. When I have friends visiting, I will share my tea collection with them.

What’s the best and worst thing about working in the tea industry?

The best thing would be meeting tea lovers from all over the world. We talk about tea and exchange ideas about tea. It is very satisfying to see more and more tea lovers praising TeaVivre’s products and services.

The worst part about my job would be shipping delays due to holidays or other reasons we cannot control. I get as anxious as the customers waiting for their packages!

What do you think people misunderstand the most about tea?

I often see people regarding expensive tea as good tea, resulting in tea getting more expensive in the market e.g. pu-erh tea getting hyped up to ten thousand yuan a cake. However, in my opinion, choosing a tea should be based on your taste preferences. Quality is more important than price.

What are your tips on what makes a “good” tea then?

The leaf quality, water temperature, steeping time, amount of tea, and even the maker’s emotion all come into play. Generally, I think good tea should just be your favourite tea.

Tea is …

Tea is like life. It tastes thin at first, then builds up in character, and gradually reaches its strongest point. After that peak period, it will slowly become light, and finally loses all its flavour.

Thank you for sharing your fascinating tea thoughts with us, Stella! :)  

Tea Loves: Alison Appleton

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I recently made the virtual acquaintance of Alison Appleton, a tea ware designer from Liverpool. She has created gorgeous tea equipment for brands such as Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, and La Cafetière. Alison is also a hardcore tea aficionado who has travelled to tea plantations in China. I love her work, and am so glad to know a fellow tea lover who is bringing more good tea and tea ware to her part of the world! I hope you get a chance to know her as well through this interview :)

Hi Alison! Tell us about how you fell in love with tea.
I come from a very sociable family. The kettle was always on, and there was always lots of gossip going on over cups of tea! My grandmother always made loose leaf tea and gave it to all the children in the family with milk and sugar.

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How did you get into tea ware design?
I worked as a design consultant to La Cafetière for 10 years, and they sold products dealing with coffee, tea and hot chocolate. This sparked an interest in the history of the tea trade. I then made a few visits to China and fell in love with tea.

I think the story of tea (and all the beautiful products that have been created in order to serve it) is amazing. The history of the tea trade and tea’s extraordinary popularity of being in almost every home around the world makes it a subject worth studying.

At the same time, it is very important for me to make things that are useful as there is a lot of unnecessary ‘stuff’ in the world. I want my pots to be enjoyed and used all the time, not just for special occasions.

You’re “anti-teabag” but the teabag is such a British institution – how do you deal with this?
Unfortunately, the teabag is the most common way to make tea in the UK because it is perceived as being quick and convenient. As a result, many people are used to the very blunt taste of (mostly poor quality) teabag tea.

However, I am very happy to report that there is a growing interest and appreciation of loose leaf teas. We hold monthly tea tasting sessions in our studio during which we take a look around the world and taste a huge variety of Chinese, Indian, Sri Lankan, African and other teas. We have also selected a range of blended and flavoured black teas. Once our visitors taste these teas, they realise how much finer they are compared to the standard teabag.

They also see how very easy it is to prepare loose leaf tea without any fuss or mess.

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Some of your tea ware designs incorporate Chinese and Japanese tea ceremony elements – what sparked your interest in these aspects of tea culture?
My first collection was inspired by the history of the tea trade in the UK. As tea was introduced to the UK, Chinese decoration motifs were used everywhere. This period saw the birth of British Chinoiserie, Ming vases, Chinese wallpaper, Thomas Chippendale furniture used by famous characters such as Jane Austen and Earl Grey. It seemed like an obvious place to start. My first collection was Darcy, named after the famous literary hero himself. Jane Austen would have drunk tea all day long and it would have been Chinese tea bought from Twinings.

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My favourite design is your Golden Carp Series – how did you get your inspiration for that?
As my collection is quite small, I wanted to ensure there was some variety in the range. This one is the most glamorous and has a bit of bling! For Golden Carp, I wanted to fuse a European shape with Oriental imagery. Everything about this set symbolises good fortune: the carp, lotus and gold are all auspicious.

What kind of message do you want to send about tea with the kind of tea ware that you create?
That tea is special and we should make it properly. When you consider the effort that goes into growing, picking, drying and rolling a whole variety of exquisite teas, it is only correct that we brew them in lovely tea ware.

Good loose leaf teas are relatively inexpensive and can be enjoyed by everyone. I see the new interest in tea as being similar to the recent growth in the coffee business. Today, a huge proportion of people in the UK have espresso makers at home and enjoy a variety of espresso based coffee drinks every day. I hope that one day, consumers will be more demanding when it comes to drinking good quality tea.

What is your most memorable tea experience so far?
I visited a Longjing tea plantation as a guest of a family who had a share in that plantation. They gave me a delicious lunch, and after that, we drank pre Qing Ming Longjing tea all afternoon while sitting outside in the sunshine on a warm autumn day. The plantation looked beautiful and everything was delicious. I felt very lucky to have such an experience.

What is your tea ritual?
I usually drink Uva Pekoe from Sri Lanka for breakfast. This has a strong and malty flavour that goes very well with sourdough toast or my usual bowl of porridge with honey. Mid morning, I will make a pot of Da Hong Pao or another Oolong. Lunchtime, I’ll go for something like a black tea with rose.

In the afternoon, I will always drink green teas as they give me a lift. Before bed I like something light and delicate like a white tea.

Tea is …
Tea is a comfort. It revives and soothes, and always features at important occasions when friends and family are together.

Images courtesy of Alison Appleton

Connect with Alison (@AlisonAppleton) on Twitter

Meeting Liz Steel for Tea

One of the most popular posts on this blog is my Tea Loves interview with Liz Steel. I’m guessing it’s because of all her beautiful tea sketches! (I’ve also written about her on T Ching.)

I finally had to chance to meet her in real life when she swung by Singapore last week and we had a lovely tea tasting session at Tea Bone Zen Mind (TBZM).

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TBZM’s owner, Carrie, was so enchanted by her sketching; she said it was refreshing to look at “art without ego” (I guess she expressed it a lot more poetically than how I yap about Liz’s “happy drawings”). She kindly let us try many special things, including an aged 40-year-old kukicha and an intriguing tea salt infusion!

I’m glad I introduced the two like-minded ladies to each other – both tea lovers and inspiring artists in their own right :)

I’ve been around…but not really here.

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Dear whoever still comes by here once in a while,

I just wanted to let you know that while I haven’t been industrious about updating this tea blog, I am still very much a tea lover and occasionally still churn out stories for T Ching (mostly because they give me deadlines – maybe I should do this here too).

Here’s what I’ve been up to the past few months:

I went for a really interesting tea workshop by Pekoe & Imp! 

After that, I did a little “tea pilgrimage” to Taiwan and it was awesome yo. 

I also did some “tea community work” by organising a short tea appreciation session for a Christian retreat. 

Time is a precious, precious commodity these days – and I’ve been finding it a real challenge to find “meteatime” regularly. But I think I’d like to spend more time with tea (and this blog); to put a pause button on all these fleeting moments and memories that seem to whoosh by my head like a roadrunner.

Cheers,
Melanie

Tea Loves: Lianne Ong (Plus Some Tea-Jewellery Pairing)

lianneLianne with her husband, Salmon. They love drinking tea (even though they have a “Drink Coffee” poster behind them) and have just set up an online designer fashion jewellery store called Pinwheel Jewels. Image courtesy of Jimmy Sng.

Lianne is a dear friend whom I have drunk many cups of tea with. In general, we talk about things like LIFE and FINDING PURPOSE…thank God there’s tea to mellow us down as we meander around these abstract topics.

I’m really happy for her because she’s  found something that suits her priorities and interests – opening up an online designer fashion jewellery store called Pinwheel Jewels with her husband, Salmon. She has a wonderful artistic eye, a sophisticated fashion sense and is a whiz in all things logistical – a perfect combination for such a business if you ask me!

While ogling at her jewellery over tea one day, I thought hey, wouldn’t it be fun to do a tea-jewellery pairing featuring some of the exquisite products from Pinwheel Jewels? And so, here’s what she came up with:

Lychee Oolong + Kenneth Jay Lane Chinois-inspired Carved Resin Earrings
“These earrings are a new take on traditional jade openwork carvings, just like this lychee infused oolong tea.”

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Japanese Green Tea with Sweet Berries + Sakura Earrings and Bracelet by Shlomit Ofir Jewelry Design
“These earrings and bracelet are the perfect match for this tea – sweet, delicate and floral.”

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Earl Grey Tea +  Pearl Tassel Earrings with Crystals by Ben-Amun
“This bergamot-scented brew and Art Deco style earrings would work perfectly on the set of Downton Abbey.”

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Turkish Apple Tea + Kenneth Jay Lane Black Deco Cuff with Rhinestones and Jade
“The sweet and warm Snow White meets her match with the Evil Queen – who sees green whenever her crystal mirror reveals the truth to her.”

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We had so much fun doing this – I think tea and jewellery are unexpectedly wonderful companions! And yes, as you can tell, Lianne really does love her tea. So of course, I need to do a Tea Loves feature on her too :)

Tell us more about your love of tea.
I start the day with tea, and I often have a pick-me-up in the afternoon as well. I started drinking tea as a child, and I remember the dentist asking my mother whether I drank tea because she could see tea stains on my teeth! Tea has become something comforting, and you can always find the right tea for every occasion. My husband also enjoys tea – we liked it enough to include it as a wedding favour for our guests when we got married.

What are your favourite teas and why?
I must qualify first that I’m not a tea expert, I just drink what I like and what seems fitting for the occasion. For cold teas, I like an iced Darjeeling. Our family has lived overseas twice, and during winter, I love a cup of chai. The spices are warming and the milk is so comforting.

Describe your most memorable tea moment.
When I was dating my husband, my future mother-in-law asked me to make a pot of tea. This was the first time I was allowed to potter around in her kitchen, which was strictly her turf. After making the pot of tea – where I had followed my gut instinct to make the tea extra strong – she told me, “I don’t know if you can cook, but you make a good pot of tea.”

How is wearing jewellery similar to drinking tea?
Jewellery is not only a way to express personal style, but also a way to make memories. I’m really sentimental about my jewellery, whether cheap or expensive. I always remember who gave what to me, during which occasion and why. It’s my time capsule. Similarly, certain tea blends can send me back in time and I’ll recall when I last had this tea, how I was feeling then, and whom I was drinking it with.

Pinwheel Jewels
https://www.facebook.com/pinwheeljewels
https://twitter.com/PinwheelJewels

And finally, I get to the best part:
PINWHEEL JEWELS IS OFFERING TEALADYMEL READERS  10% DISCOUNT  ON PURCHASES S$200 AND ABOVE! YAY!!
PROMO CODE: TEALOVES10
Promotion valid till 31 July 2013.
Not valid with other promotions and discounts.

Tea Loves: Liz Steel

I love how the Internet connects me with fellow tea lovers whose paths I may never have crossed in my everyday life. Today, I’d like you to meet Liz Steel, an architect from Sydney who is an awesome sketcher and of course, loves tea!

Here’s just a sampling of some of her lovely tea sketches – she says she likes to drink tea and sketch at the same time – I think that is a great combination! There’s just something about her sketches that make me very happy when I see them, and don’t you think her love for tea just radiates in these drawings? It makes for such a lovely record too….*suddenly wishes Harry Potter could wave a wand and give me a dose of artsiness*

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Liz also shared with me some of her favourite teas and tea haunts:

What are your favourite teas at the moment?

Well, I have to say Earl Grey. This is my long time favourite tea. I have tried well over 50 varieties of it, but the brand I buy by the kilo bag is Taylors of Harrogate’s Earl Grey.

I drink all kinds of tea – white, green, oolong, pu-erh, herbals…you name it, I will try it. But my other big favourite tea is a green oolong – I am particularly partial to those from Taiwan. I have a Da Yu Mountain tea at the moment which I love. So I have a very varied tea drinking taste and mix both western and eastern tea cultures. In fact I don’t think that there is a tea culture that I would not enjoy.

What are you favourite tea spots in Sydney?

For me, the most important ingredient of a tea spot is not only good tea but its variety! As it is all about the whole experience, I like variety in the selection of tea, the teaware, the food to eat alongside the tea and the views/ variety of sitting positions. All these things are highly sketchable and keep me inspired on repeat visits.

Well, the best teahouse I have ever been to (and I have created my own rating system to compare them) is actually my local one- how special is that? It is the T2 teahouse at Macquarie Centre in North Ryde Sydney. They have an enormous selection of tea – over 150 – and I am working my way through them all…down to the last 50 now! Each time I visit I have a different teacup, saucer, and pot. The staff are amazing, as are the raspberry scones and the interior is so interesting and sketchable! The full selection of my sketches in this tearoom is here.

Another favourite tearoom, is The Tea Cosy by The Rocks (near Harbour Bridge). They have a smaller range of tea but a neverending supply of hand-knitted tea cosies and amazing scones as well…as you can see, it is not just about the tea for me!

There are many teahouses in Sydney that I haven’t explored – I don’t seem to have the time at home to get out and about exploring them as much as when I am travelling…but in terms of quality tea, Dragon Well Chinese Teahouse in Pyrmont is great. Only a small selection of tea, but Lisa, the owner goes to China each season to choose the best tea (that is where I got my Da Yu, which I am now drinking)!

Right now, I am in Port Macquarie having a holiday by the beach. However, just nearby is another tearoom called Tea and Treasures and it has the most amazing selection of china. It is a teacup museum! I get so excited on every visit as the staff and owners choose something special to serve my tea in and then bring me other cups to draw! The cakes are great as well.

Thanks so much for these recommendations, Liz! Will be sure to check them out when it’s my turn to visit your hometown :) 

Images courtesy of Liz Steel 

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