26 April 2011

A Teacup for Tuesday: Where There's a Will, There's a Kate

Greetings, tea drinkers! Are you as excited about the impending nuptials of Wills and Kate -- pardon, I mean Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton -- as we are? In a couple of days it will all be history, but for now it is still mystery... To join in the general gaiety we thought some Royal teaware would be appropriate, and rummaging in our archive we found this sweet example for you...

Royal Crown Derby (Staffordshire, England), the BEAUMONT pattern, from the second half of the 20th Century. Fine bone china; vermillion transfer with cobalt, light blue, and red enamels, plus delicate gilding on the edges and cup handle. {discontinued pattern}

This is a bright, modern expression of teaware in the classic Imari colors, with a wide-open cup shape and scalloped-edge saucer. There is even a wreath of subtle raised flourishes in the base clay, along the lip of the cup and edge of the saucer, which you only see when holding the set at certain angles.

Totally fabulous!, Although the colors and shapes are bold, there is nothing flashy about this pattern, and being Royal Crown Derby (say it "Darby," please) it is beautifully made and meant to look good for all time.

On Friday 29 April we plan to hunker down in the pre-dawn hours to watch, or at least listen to, the broadcast of the Royal Wedding because, hey, whyever not? These kids are kind enough to welcome the entire universe into their ceremony, and it would be rude of us not to attend, even if our "morning suit" is old sweatpants and a T-shirt. Our teaware, as you can see, will be absolutely elegant, as will the tea we shall drink from it -- Fortnum & Mason's Royal Blend (Ceylon/Assam), now available only by direct purchase from F&M in London, ooh (our purple-caddy stash is "mature" but has been well-stored and will be just fine thank you)... So hat's on OR off for Royal Wedding Week -- I am brimming with joy for the happy couple, and for everyone else who is declaring love and loyalty to another {now giving my darling Trix a squeeze}.

Practicing our Royal waves and blowing extra kisses to you all (whether you are caught up in RW mania or not),
xo Dustin & Trixie

19 April 2011

A Tea-Tea-Teaser for Tuesday

Whew! We barely made it under the wire with our Tuesday post... such excitement... We have just placed an order for a new round of postcards, to be offered for sale by The Tea Drinker next month. Here is a preview of the six images -- all taken by us -- to whet your appetite.

The postcards are standard-sized rectangles, printed on high-quality card stock, with smooth uncoated backs so you can scribble sweet nothings to your recipient before popping into the post. We hope you, and they, will be as delighted as we are with this new Spring set.

Remember: postcards now cost *twenty-nine* cents to mail within the USA.

More info as it happens, but for the moment Dustin and I send you our best tea-stained salute,
xo, Trixie

12 April 2011

What Does It Take to Get a Cup of Tea 'Round Here?

or, Trixie makes tea on a beautiful Spring day in Sonoma County

Taking a break from showing off our tea stuff, I'm going to share one way of using a porcelain cupping set to make tea. Cupping sets are used primarily for cupping, which is the Professional Tea Person's way of slurp-swish-spitting her or his way through dozens -- sometimes hundreds -- of (usually black) teas in a single session. On tea estates and at tea import/export houses, tables are lined with these sets; trained tasters go up and down the aisles assessing the qualities of various teas on offer. It is much more difficult to do well than it sounds.

Cupping sets can also be used as tea-for-ones by anyone at home or on the road, and are especially nifty for infusing large-leaf teas because the design of the cup -- it has little notches, or teeth, in the rim -- lets the liquor (infusion) drain out while the leaf stays in the cup, enabling multiple infusions with ease and convenience. A well-made cupping set is compact, sturdy, easy to clean by hand or in a dishwasher, and stores neatly on a shelf (looks cool, too!). If you want to sample several teas at one time call your pals over, set up a row of cupping sets, and go to it -- a tea tasting is a great way to spend an afternoon, and brings rewards for all of your senses (the resultant caffeine high also enhances camaraderie, no doubt about it... but that's a topic for another day).

At left you can follow today's encounter with a beautiful, rare tea called Yunnan Jade Supreme. Top to bottom, you can see the change in the leaf from dry, to rinsed, to infused... to several-times infused {although a video presentation would render a true play-by-play, it really is a simple process and, after you have played with a cupping set a couple of times, you will think, "oh, that's easy!"} The rinse step is essential for Chinese teas in particular, and believe me you will not be sorry to pour out the rinse liquor on some grateful plant or other -- you are waking up the leaf, removing possible dust, kicking off a little tannin, and priming the tea for several proper infusions.

How long to infuse? Ahhh, there I can only suggest, as *IT DEPENDS* on the tea, on your palate, on the water, on which infusion it happens to be (first? fifth?). The best oolong teas, in particular, give such a range of experiences within a single set of infusions on a single day that for me to talk of "how long" would be silly. Dustin and I have only one rule about tea-making: if it tastes good to you, it's good tea. We always encourage you to trust your nose, your tongue, your eyes, and your belly. There is no one right way.

One thing I will say: when you want to drain the full cup into the bowl, hold your thumb down firmly on the cup lid as you -- quick! -- lift the cup , tip it forward, and set it squarely on the bowl (they are designed to fit as in picture D, which has just enough room for all of the liquor to drain from cup into bowl). When it is drained, again with thumb firmly on the lid, hold the cup closed as you lift it off the bowl and set it down on the table/ground/cloud (?!)... It is such an elemental, centering process, really brings you into the spirit of the tea (and the more caffeinated you become, the more spirit you perceive -- what a bonus!).

Questions? Please ask... the spicy pecans come from Trader Joe's, and the Yunnan Jade Supreme came from Upton Tea Imports...
With a willowy wave from Dustin and thanks from me for reading this far,
xo, Trix

10 April 2011

A Whale of a Good Concert

Sometimes the urge to go out and experience live music (radical thought!) is very strong, so we give in to the urge and explore our options... If you happen to live in the vicinity of Santa Rosa, CA and have time in your schedule this afternoon, we highly (!!) recommend this FREE (as in "costs you zero money") concert by American Philharmonic -- Sonoma County, 3pm at the Luther Burbank... oops, I mean the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts. Go go go!! First half of the program is lovely selections, known to just about everyone, all the better for being performed live (Bernstein, Barber, Copland)... then out march FORTY men in black, sailors in guise if not in actual fact, and together with the orchestra they unleash a mighty sound.

Too good to miss! Did I say FREE???? Best live classical music value to be found, guaranteed... Ciao! Trix

05 April 2011

A Teacup for Tuesday: Maddock & Sons Gem (an Imari-style pattern)

pattern name: GEM
maker: JOHN MADDOCK & SONS -- Burslem, Staffordshire, England
circa: 1900
manufacture: "Royal Vitreous" high-fired ironstone; light brown transfer with hand-applied colors (vermillion, light green, light blue, cobalt); gilt swashes, edges, and handle details; scalloped cup bottom matches scalloped indentation on saucer well.

an Imari-style pattern

Today's Tuesday teacup (say it ten times fast)  is a true antique -- John Maddock & Sons registered the GEM pattern in 1897 (Rd No. 308976), and judging from the condition of it our set was made  pretty close to that time. Trix covers my eyes so that I can better imagine what such ironstone pottery looked like when it was newly-minted... perhaps your powers of imagination surpass mine, for I cannot fathom shiny, uncrazed ironstone at the moment, loving as I do the warm, worn character of the aged stuff.

Gem is one of many Maddock patterns from the turn of the 20th Century featuring a tea-brown transfer base pattern embellished with classic vermillion red and cobalt, plus slightly-less-common light blue and light green highlights here and there. Swashes of gold are painted around -- or over -- the cobalt enamel, so that moving the cup and saucer causes the pieces to shimmer... what I can imagine right now is a tea gathering by candlelight, and the glow cast by this set as the pieces are handed to and fro, as the lucky tea drinker lifts the cup to take a sip, &c. Such magic!

A very groovy (pun intended, sorry!) feature is the scalloped teacup bottom, which sits nicely in the saucer's well "flower" {see top pic}. At this late date, the gilt edges appear the most loved parts (but I am glad to say that they were never put in a modern dishwasher), followed by the cup interior, which bears its share of fine, tight hairlines and crazing. An edge chip, even!... but we consider these signs of endurance and fortitude, and a commitment to continued pleasure around a happy tea table.

Cool tip for collectors: Maddock pieces can be found for not-too-much dough in the usual collectors' places -- if you like white ironstone platters and tureens, look for Maddock... cups and saucers like this are not as common, but they will certainly appear to the searching eye.

Tea of choice for this set: New Vithanakande Estate FBOPF-Extra Special, Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, with a side order of biscuits, please.

Trixie waves to you all and I send my best tea-stained love,
xo, Dustin

01 April 2011

Don't be afraid to be foolish (at least not today)

April Fool's Day! What that conjures in the mind... I like to think of The Fool, which is given the number zero (which could symbolize everything, or nothing, depending on your outlook), in the tarot deck... or Siegfried in Wagner's "Ring" opera cycle -- the innocent fool... and I also think of the Fool in Shakespeare's play King Lear, who has a job of work trying to keep Lear in his wits (and fails at it, in the end).

Where would we be without fools? Where, indeed. Think about your favorite fools while enjoying some foolish, or not so foolish, tea today -- as Dustin and I are going to do (undoubtedly selecting each other as our favorite fools!),
Cheers! Trixie