Saturday, October 31, 2009

10 Questions with Jason Witt

If you have been reading and/or writing a tea blog lately odds are good you have come across Jason Witt. The author of two books on spirituality and a weekly e-newsletter, his latest book deals with the spirituality of tea. The following ten questions were conducted via e-mail.

1. For those who have never read your newsletter, could you describe it?

I call my email newsletter “Teaternity” and it’s about the spirituality of tea. But this is often in the context of health so a lot of attention is given to the healing properties of tea and why it’s better than coffee, etc.

2. What would you like the impact of your newsletter to be?

I just want to reach everyone who’s interested in the tea faith specifically. That could end up being a lot of people at least here in America.

3. Could you give us a brief day in the life of Jason Witt? How much tea does it involve?

I get up at 3:00 or 4:00 am. In the morning I do certain tasks that change with time. Lately I’ve been getting my book “Spirituality of Tea” ready in the mornings. In the afternoon I do commenting on the 200 tea blogs that I follow. Throughout the day I drink about 5 liters of Puerh. And I could even drink more on many days if I didn’t slow down deliberately.

4. How has having written two books about religion influenced your tea drinking experience?

Jesus gave of Himself in the form of food (bread and wine) and He encouraged the devoted to bring their own offering to the table. I want to give of myself as if I were tea.

5. You say on your website that you like “tea-themed music of all eras”, could you explain?

The 20th Century and modern times holds a lot of music that mentions tea or puts it totally in the spotlight. I’m collecting these songs with my ability on the Internet to search lyrics databases. Right now I’m in the processing of collecting songs about a “cup of tea” and there are many because they make good love songs. Everyone wants to meet the person who’s their cup of tea.

6. What’s it like being a tea drinker in Minnesota? Any favorite spots or shops?

There’s one hip tea shop, The Tea Garden, Inc that’s in some cool neighborhoods. But since I’m a Puerh Guy, I just can’t get that locally in any variety like I want it. I like bringing Puerh with me and just getting hot water in coffee shops.

7. A major topic in your newsletter is choosing tea over coffee, when did you last (if ever) drink coffee?

A few months ago I realized that I may never again touch coffee, even for the rest of my life. There have been times when I’ve drunk my share of coffee but it’s been rare in recent years. In Fall of 2008 I quit all caffeine (including tea) for a couple months. That only served to open up to me my devotion to tea when I started drinking it again.

8. If someone wanted to make the switch from coffee to tea, where should they begin?

I would say to sample different kinds of tea a lot to find out what you like. Find stores online that offer samples and find out the difference between Oolong, green, and black. Sometimes I say to switch right to Puerh also, especially if the person was particularly fond of coffee.

9. What do you envision for the future of tea drinking in America?

I see the growth of the tea industry continuing at least until the Baby Boomers are all mostly gone. That’s because they’re driving the current obsession with health of the body as they age. That’s made tea more and more appealing.

10. Is there anything you would like to add?

If you’re interested in my book “Spirituality of Tea” then you can get a free copy of it in PDF by signing up for my newsletter. And so that it’s easier to read, I’ve priced the book at $12.95 so it doesn’t cost too much to grab a copy or two.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tea Tour NY: Haamonii Smooth Shochu & Tea Tasting

The Haamonii Smooth Shochu & Tea Tasting was my first Meet-Up. It was a plunge into that gray area where the internet and the real world collide. As more of us carry around the internet in our pockets it is a gray area that diminishes but never really goes away (at least in my opinion). There are always concerns. There could always be complications. Just because you have names and pictures and e-mail addresses does not mean you really know those people out there. Sure they have an avatar of their cat in sunglasses drinking a cola on a beach in Santa Barbara. You laughed about it. You commented. The cat’s name is Pickles you found out. But what else is going on there? Cats do not really need sunglasses and they sure as hell do not like going to the beach. Can you ever be really prepared for the in real life treatment? was introduced to me via this The Talk of the Town piece in The New Yorker. If you are unfamiliar with the site it works much as the name implies. The goal is to “meet up” with people who share similar interests. Someone starts a club, people join the club, the club has events, those people attend those events. Just like with any other social cyberspacing there is a copious amount of electronic messaging and digital picture trading but what sets MeetUp apart is that the end goal is always some kind of real world interaction. Unlike the Pandora’s Box that is The Facebook and its time annihilating brethren, the point of is always, at some point, to meet up.

Pre-event organization for the Shochu tasting consisted of an RSVP system that stressed the very limited amount of RSVPs. To show that there was no kidding around the very limited RSVPs filled up very shortly after the event was announced, a good month in advance. Were people really that interested in Shochu or were we assembling for a much darker purpose? Was this like a meeting where you show up early to demonstrate your enthusiasm or was it more like a party where you show up late to demonstrate your hip-and-with-it-ness? I did not know who to ask and the gridlock of the RSVP system seemed to rule out bringing a friend along. The last thing I wanted to do was commit a MeetUp faux pas.

I ended up arriving at the apartment high rise in Hell’s Kitchen about a half hour after the designated meet time. It seemed like a good compromise between punctual and absentee. Where I had expected a small apartment and a large crowd, I found quite the reverse to be true. About seven people or so hung around the Sochu table (pictured above) in a well kempt space quite possibly big enough to play basketball in. Some thirty stories below the Hudson chugged along, maintaining the necessary space between New York and New Jersey. The view was gorgeous and even wrapped around to include some of the surrounding neighborhood (including historically exciting New Yorker Hotel).

Canada, Australia, Maine, and Brooklyn were all represented in the crowd. We snacked. We chatted. We tried two different types of Sochu. Sometimes it came alone, sometimes with a combination of tea. I found the Shochu to be best when mixed. A particular standout was lemon flavored Shochu with ice cubes made of lapsang souchong. The smokiness of the lapsang glided nicely over the Shochu as the ice melted. Sanchang ice cubes in scotch were also recommended. I made a note to try it.

We talked more, sometimes about tea. Some people left, some new people arrived. Full RSVP capacity never seemed to be fully attained. We talked about places we had been. I made sure to tell people that I went to Iceland last year.

“It was beautiful,” I said. They nodded, having heard that Iceland is very beautiful. I told them about the truly excellent Russian Caravan blend I purchased there. We admired the view, watching the lights go on in New Jersey. Had anyone ever been to New Jersey?

“Just the airport,” someone said and some others nodded, most of them having only been to the airport. We drank more Shochu though some people came exclusively for the tea and, presumably, the conversation.

Afterwards I met up with some friends. One of them had been to a taco MeetUp recently.

“We ran around and got tacos” she said. “It was great.”
I told her about the Sochu tasting, the tea people, the view of the Hudson.

“Free booze in a beautiful apartment? Who wouldn’t like that?” she said.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Goodybe, Gourmet

In the latest issue of Gourmet there is a story about $1,000 eating spree in New York City entitled “Having a Grand Time, New York City”. If editor Ruth Reichel had $1,000 to spend on dining out in New York, the article dares to ask, how would she spend it? The idea seems a tantalizing romp through the city for some though a sign of a disconnected media for others. As web a commenter calling themselves Fruitbats wants to know, “Have you lost your touch, Gourmet?” Did Fruitbats know perhaps that soon enough Gourmet would lose its magazine as well?

If you are reading a food related blog, odds are good you already know that after a 68 year long run Gourmet has gone the way of Life and Stuff, which is to say, to that big magazine rack in the sky. Odds are good you also have an opinion on the matter. Did she jump or was she pushed? Reading through articles and editorials regarding the passing, most people tend to fall into two camps, neither of which seem to be all too shocked. There are the Glad It’s Gone/They Got What They Deserve (that magazine was always too snobby, their recipes were too hard to make, Reichel ran it into the ground) and the Not Glad/They Don’t Deserve This (their taste was refined, the recipes were fascinating, Reichel was taking it in the right direction).

Regardless of your personal feelings about the magazine and whether or not they got what was coming to them, we have lost a professional magazine devoted to quality food writing. If you can find another publication that would let a David Foster Wallace riff on the ethics of lobster festivals (extensive foot notes and all), I would like to see it. Gourmet certainly had faults but not being another magazine devoted to celebrity chefs and/or supermarket moms who "chop and drop" (to use Michael Pollan's phrase) was not one of them. Though I was never a subscriber, I personally found their travel writing entertaining, their photography excellent (though one user called it “pornographic”), and their branching out to non-culinary writers like Wallace (and their non-traditional culinary views) refreshing. That being said, I think it is safe to say that we can now move on.

As a friend pointed out to me recently, it seems that everyone with a mouth and a computer has a blog devoted to cheeseburgers (or in some cases tea). Joe Hamburger is dutifully informing the internet about every burger stand he can get his grease spattered paws on. After all, people have always had opinions on what they eat, now it is just a whole lot easier to share them with everybody else (though if anyone else actually reads them is a whole other story). Whether this is a good or bad thing is really a non-issue. Like the proliferation of text messaging and the lasting popularity of reality TV, it’s just something that is. It’s how things are now but most likely not how they will be forever.

Now, assuming you didn’t crash your Rolls-Royce or faint into your Faberge egg collection when you heard the news about Gourmet, you are probably OK. I am sure Ms. Reichel and her staff will survive without too much devastation. Even if they have to resort to pillaging the Bon Appetite offices and picking their teeth with their adversaries’ bones, I am sure they will be able to stay warm this winter. What I find to be more important now is the new role of Joe Hamburger pushing those grease spattered paws over the keyboard. Can he and you and me fill this ever widening void of good culinary critique? Should we give up on taste just because Conde Nast canceled one of the more legitimate outlets of food writing? Are we all going to roll over and take whatever sort of wretch the culinary world wants to jam down our (literal) throats?

In short, no.

We may have lost a well edited (and decent paying) source of criticism but that does not mean good criticism has to fall by the wayside. The challenge for those who want to tell the world about their adventures in cheeseburgers or tea or whatever else has merely been increased. Keep in mind Elegant Bride was also canceled but you have not heard of anyone changing their wedding plans or mourning the loss of good weddings. For those who care about these sorts of things we are now living in a post-Gourmet world, one in which we must type more accurately, and (in a way) more bravely.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

New Product: Eight Cranes Perfect Steeper

Full disclosure: I do not own this nor have I tested it, but I honestly like the modern, almost Bauhaus design. There are no reviews posted yet on where it is going for $39.99. What follows is the official press release:

As the second-most consumed beverage in the world, tea has garnered an image of civility and natural simplicity. Steeping loose tea provides a healthy alternative in comparison to the fructose, dyes and other manufactured additives that dominate popular drinks throughout the US. Eight Cranes’ Perfect Steeper™ gives the everyday consumer an opportunity to indulge in the taste and fragrances of loose tea and experience its innovation on-the-go.

The Perfect Steeper’s design and manufacturing provide casual tea drinkers and connoisseurs easy functionality and carefree consumption. The exterior includes double-walled chambers with high tempered glass and polycarbonate allowing accidental drops and boiling water to be handled with ease.

The removable polycarbonate brewer, located at the top of the product, can steep loose tea up to 15 times without the mess or waste of traditional teapots. The brewing system of the Steeper keeps the loose tea separate from the water chamber until the user is ready to create the perfect brew.

A full demonstration of the product can be found at

Thursday, October 1, 2009

from Fort Lee, NJ

I brought my camera along to a Korean BBQ place in Fort Lee, NJ. I thought that maybe they would have some kind of tea on the menu I'd never seen before. Well, there wasn't any tea but I did get these two silly pictures. Note menu item E-12 in the first photo.