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*



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 

A Jazz Soundtrack for Tea

Besides tea, I also enjoy listening to jazz. Given that fancy hotel tearooms seem to pipe in a lot of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, there must be something about the tea and jazz combination that works.

For me, tea and jazz share many common traits – both take you on unexpected journeys, both thrive on that sense of freedom and open-endedness, and yet both good jazz and good tea are derived from much dedication, hard work and passion.

Given that my tea drinking has become more serious in recent years, I decided that I needed a well-curated jazz soundtrack to go with my favourite teas. This is where my friend, Kerong Chok (see above), came to help me in this. He is an amazing jazz musician who took my tea-jazz pairing request very seriously. Here is his list of suggested jazz tracks that I’m absolutely stoked to share with you all:

Silver Needle + Ahmad Jamal Trio’s “Darn that Dream”

The trio swings gently but it is a powerful performance – just like white tea, which may taste light but leaves a lasting impression.

 Gyokuro Pearl Dew + Erroll Garner’s “Where or When”

The fresh, grassy intensity of the Gyokuro pairs perfectly with Erroll Garner’s brilliant piano playing, which always commands immediate attention.

Iron Goddess of Mercy + Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby”

The depth of this classic oolong makes the ideal companion with the bittersweet intensity of Bill Evans’ playing.

Darjeeling Black Tea + Fred Hersch’s “So In Love”

Like the delicate sweetness of Darjeeling, Fred Hersch is able to get beautiful, subtle tones out of any piano he plays.

Lapsang Soucong + Art Tatum’s “Yesterdays”

Lapsang Soucong’s rich smokiness meets its match with jazz piano heavyweight Art Tatum who effortlessly executes dense harmonies.

What do you think of these pairings? Do you have your own tea-jazz pairings to suggest? I would love to hear about your experiences and suggestions in the comment box!

This article has also been published in T Ching.

In the Mood for Tea

I generally don’t get angry easily, but when I do, I get very, very angry. It’s not the most PRish of temperaments, and I try to hold back on expressing that anger immediately these days because at the heart of every conflict lies a variety of perspectives that need to be considered before making one’s stand.

It just so happened yesterday that I got into a huge, horrible argument with someone just before tea class, which is just as well because I needed that space to calm myself down. When I first started preparing the tea, I forgot many of the steps and was just rushing through the process. I also was totally pissed at how long the water took to warm up.

But over the next two hours, as I started sipping the tea and listening to my tea lao shi telling me to slow down, I felt my heartbeat return to its regular rate and I became more collected and at peace.

What I really appreciate is that my tea teacher was also having a bad day, but she was big-hearted enough to notice that I was “all over the place”. She didn’t probe, but she gave some very good general life advice which applied so aptly to the situation I was facing.

I’m beginning to understand why some people say that tea is not just good for health, but for the heart as well.

Faraway Tea Gift

I’m so thankful for  this package from the Wangs came this week. I’ve been scurrying about trying to make work deadlines, and I’m also in the midst of trying to churn out a little story each day for the A-Z Challenge and all this has been making feel quite flustered and sleep-deprived!

So when this package came from China, I happily brought the teas to sample during tea class and spent a blissful 2 hours just chilling and sipping and getting some sanity restored back into my muddled ol’ head.

These two teas are from Wuyi Mountains: a Lapsang Souchong (正山小种) and a Da HongPao (大红袍) that Wang Xi specially sourced straight from a “classic tea farmer” (not quite sure what that means, but it sounds credible!). One is sweet and fruity while the other is subtly smoky and woody. Both lovely, surprisingly gentle dark teas that lovingly nudged me back to some semblance of clarity and wakefulness.

Ernie the Seasame Teapot

I felt it was necessary to christen my first sort-of expensive clay teapot that I bought from Melaka. This teapot is made of Sesame Duan Ni Clay – this reminded me of Sesame Street, which led me to my favourite character there, Ernie.

Everyone, this is Ernie. Isn’t it interesting how an originally beige-earthy pot is actually sporting a similar Ernie orangey shade after being “broken in”? (but this is also partially due to the lighting) I’m drinking some very nice, flowery Tieguanyin from Wang Xi’s stash. It makes a good five brews!

Owt rof aet

Here is one of my favorite Muppets, Rowlf, singing one of my favorite tea-related songs, Tea for Two, backwards.

Owt rof aet & aet rof owt

Uoy rof em & em rof uoy

ees uoy t’nac

yppah woh

eb dluow ew

Happy 2012! May it be a year of fun, creativity, giggles and taking things less seriously.

Not-so-ladylike Tea Lady

Tea Toys

Over the past year, I’ve received some interesting tea-related gifts from friends which have made tea-drinking at home so much more fun. I thought I’d share some of these knick-knacks with you.

This tea caddy spoon is from my friend Eva, who exclaimed that this spoon from T2 was “very very expensive” for something made in China. I appreciate her generous gesture. Aren’t those floral details gorgeous?

The toy in question is actually the cutesy tea leaf infuser thing sticking out of the mug. Out of water, it looks like this. Thank you Joelee Brooklyn Babe for this! As for the mug – I actually bought this for myself (great for moody days) and can be purchased at the funky Tea Appreciation Society online store.

Sweet Lin-Li got this super adorbs Agatha’s Bester tea filter for me during her trip in London last year. Looking at it through this mug can get pretty trippy (it starts reading “TEEEEEEEEEEEA” after a while due to refraction of light).

Last but not least, my husband recently brought this back from his trip from Amsterdam. A space-age turquiose (my favourite colour) tea egg from AdHoc – it is a very therapeutic, defying-gravity sort of experience stirring this thing around but one has to be careful of spillage.

How about you? What are some of your favourite tea accessories?

Karen’s Favourite Tea Spot: Anteaques, Edinburgh

A reader, Karen Ashley Lim, dropped me a note last week telling me all about her favourite tea spot, Anteaques in Edinburgh. I thought it’d be lovely to share this delightful tea spot place on the blog.

“Anteaques (love the play on words!) was just down the street from me, and run by the two nicest guys in the world. One an engineer, the other an antiques buff. They would take the time to wax lyrical about the various teas, or inundate me with information on any pretty antique tea set I came across. It was a wonderful experience sitting there, sipping my Earl Grey from a sixty-year-old floral tea cup, reading a book, or doing some writing.

Oh, and to top it all off, there’s a whole library of teas – a shelf stacked with tiny tea canisters which you get to open and take a whiff of the beauty inside.

Heaven.” – Karen (who also provided the lovely images) 

Oh, I think it is heaven too! Wish Scotty could beam me up and take me there now (but keep the chilly, rainy morning).  

Do you have a special, little-known tea spot that you’d like to share with fellow tea lovers (can be in any part of the world, not just Singapore)? Would love to hear from you – drop me a note at mel[at]melanielee[dot]sg :)

Operation Cup of Tea

I’m always on a lookout to see how tea features in popular culture and found the social media success of Operation Cup of Tea fascinating. It is an anti-rioting campaign against the sudden outburst of widespread violence in England earlier this month.

“During the rioting, we have been urging the Great British public to harness the power of tea by staying at home and having a brew, every night until it stops. Furthermore, we want everyone to take a photo of themselves in the act and post it to Facebook as a show of solidarity.” – Sam Pepper

Drinking tea is an appropriate symbol for the following reasons:
– Tea is perceived as a peaceful drink.
– Britain is a tea-drinking nation.
– It is a ritual that is accessible whether rich or poor.

Due to overwhelming popularity (over 300,000 people on its FB page), this platform is now also used to raise funds for victims affected by the riots.

Of course, there are detractors to this movement – some say it is just a slick, attention-seeking gimmick, while others say  it does not solve the rooted social problems that caused this violence in the first place. But judging from the photos that are being posted up on their Facebook page, many people are drinking tea to make a statement, and a powerful one at that.

Just for the sake of a juxtaposition, and perhaps to lighten things a bit, I found this rather hilarious tea video – a comedy spoof on tea’s gentle image.  My favourite part: the Thor-like fireman bellowing “AN-TI-OXI-DANTSSSSSS!” Don’t play the clip  if swearing or teabags offend you though.

Recipe: Sweet Diana Chai

I am not a milky tea person, but I do make an exception when it comes to Chai – an invigorating, spicy brew that always makes me feel warm, tingly and all is well with the world. My friend, Diana also loves Chai and painstakingly made some of her own Chai earlier this year. She has kindly allowed me to share her recipe with you.

Step #1: Get ONE (1) teabag.

Step #2: Add the spices – because Diana doesn’t like it too spicy, she just added 1.5 aniseeds and 1 clove (not indicated how many sticks of cinnamon – but I assume a stick or two?) If you’d like, you can also include cardamom  and black pepper.

Step #3: Open up cans of evaporated milk and condensed milk. Fatty creaminess + sticky sweetness = winning combination.

Step #4: One ladle of evaporated milk, 3 tablebspoons condensed milk. C’mon, live a little.

Step #5: Put everything into a pot with 1 1/2 mugs of water, boil. Important, secret sub-step: Stir for 15 mins. 

Images also courtesy of Diana Soh- Thank You! 

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