Friday, February 15, 2013

Midwest Tea

In the early days of "serious" tea drinking, travel meant a lot of hand-wringing.  Should I bring a gaiwan only to have it pulverize in my bag? Why knock the handle off one of those pots I paid too much for?  Won't I need a little pitcher to decant my brews into?  Should I get one of those travel presses, or a cheesy infuser mug with a lid and a dragon on it?  Do I bring Puerh cha?  Oolong?  How do I wrest the best from these leaves without my little carefully-controlled brewing set-up, my tea table where I can slosh about and make a mess?

For years I drank lots of low grade tea and paid no attention to my brewing vessel or the quality of the water I was using.  I think once I fell in with higher quality leaves my initial tendency was to treat the whole thing way too preciously.  Naturally, I wanted to re-create while on the road or camping the tea experiences I was having at my tea table.  I worried myself unnecessarily.  It's not that tough to make a good cup on the road.  At this point, I leave my best leaves at home and bring my stalwart, go-to teas.  For a few years, I carried a little cup and gaiwan set in a cute padded pouch that I got from Scott Wilson.  It was a decent set-up (perhaps overly diminutive), but I kept breaking the gaiwans.  I went through three of the things.

These days if I'm going somewhere to stay awhile, I just bring a cheap gaiwan.  If it breaks, who cares?  If I'm in the woods or flying somewhere or moving around a lot from place to place, I bring a little thermos for brewing dian hong.  If I want to drink oolong or pu, I just go grandpa and I don't use pristine leaves. 

I recently visited family in St. Louis and my trusty black tea-thermos performed quite well in the mornings.  I just throw in a pinch of leaves, fill the thermos to the 3/4 level and steep in boiling water with the lid off or resting on the top.  If I screw it on, the leaves tend to taste a bit scalded.  The small hole in the pop-up lid of this thermos filters the leaves pretty well.  I might get a few fragments in my cup, but who wants to carry a strainer across the country?  


The weather was quite nice a few of the days.  Sunny and almost 60.  My brother and I were able to do some outdoor painting for my folks and the warmth also drew us out to walk along the wide muddy rivers lined with fat sycamores.  Add to that a large dose of boulevardier-fueled conviviality, some of the best ribs available in the country, a bowl or two of worthy Pho at a converted Burger King on the southside and a monstrous spread of grilled skirt steak, beans, rice, roasted poblanos and homemade chile roja we threw together after a spree at the local Supermercado and you've got yourself a decent vacation.  It was a nice break from sitting at my desk sipping tepid shengpu.  But the snow is melting in the valley, the honkers are circling the river and we saw snowdrops leaning their heads over the muck in someone's yard yesterday.  Bring on the spring and the spring teas.  I'm buying an electric kettle.  TODAY.

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