Category Archives: Glossary & Terminology

Tea and breast cancer awareness: is tea a cure for cancer?

Tea is part of a healthy diet. Image: Just2Shutter,

“Fight cancer with tea!” Have you heard, or read, this claim, lately? Unfortunately, it seems to be more a myth than a fact.  Studies from the 1980s and 1990s suggest that Japanese green tea reduces the risk of prostate cancer, yet a recent study from Scotland suggests that drinking 7 cups of black tea a day, actually increases a man’s prostate cancer risk!  Some claim that a green tea skin spray can prevent skin cancer; others claim that drinking green tea can cure breast cancer.  Another study from 2006 suggested that green tea applied to the skin may help treat damaged skin in cancer patients. A Japanese study from 2009 suggests that drinking 5 or more cups of green tea per day may lower your risk of developing certain blood and lymph system cancers. According to more recent studies in 2011, green tea extract reduced cancer cells’ ability to reproduce, when used in animal tests in high doses, but the effect has yet to be reproduced in humans.  The American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, and other research bodies call these findings interesting, but inconclusive. Scientists know that tea contains antioxidants, but more study is needed to determine their effect on the disease, as well as a person’s risk for developing cancer.

Until further, more reliable information can be obtained, it is wisest to use tea as a part of a healthy diet, in place of high-calorie beverages like sodas and alcohol, and as a flavorful assistant to proper body hydration. This will help your body keep itself healthy, which, in itself, helps it resist cancer and other diseases. Tea is still a healthy and delicious drink, even if it doesn’t turn out to be a cancer cure!

Copyright 2012, Elizabeth Urbach.

Like what you read? Leave a comment below, click on “Subscribe” above, visit the San Jose Tea Examiner page on Facebook, read my blog, The Cup That Cheers, or follow me on Twitter @SanJoseTea or Pinterest!

For more information:
“The top 10 tea myths: don’t be fooled by any of them!”
“Bottled tea may contain fewer antioxidants than freshly brewed tea”
“What are the different kinds of green tea available in San Jose?”
“Chinese black tea in San Jose”
“How does tea fit in with the new USDA dietary guidelines”
“Tea and the mold-free diet”
“Tea and the mold-free diet, part 2”
“Can you really de-caffeinate your tea in 30 seconds?”
“5 ways to treat cold and flu symptoms with tea”
“Gluten-free afternoon tea tips”
“Tea and Prostate Cancer: Keep Headlines Truthful” by Alex Zorach
“Does green tea cure or prevent breast cancer?” by Margaret Studer
“Tea and Cancer Prevention: Strengths and Limits of the Evidence” National Cancer Institute
“Tea and Cancer” by Roderick H. Dashwood, Ph.D., Linus Pauling Institute
“Green Tea” American Cancer Society
“Green tea and endometrial cancer research at UC” University of Canterbury
“Tea and Cancer” Tea Association of Canada
“Tea and cancer prevention: epidemiological studies” by Yuan JM, Sun C, Butler LM. The Masonic Cancer Center, and Division of Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota
“Green tea may curb risk of some cancers”
Chado-en’s “Tea research update”
Chado-en’s Tea and Health booklet
“Tea Extracts Help Treat Damaged Skin in Cancer Patients,” BioMed Central (2006, December 1). ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 17, 2009
“Cutaneous photochemoprotection by green tea: a brief review.” Ahmad N, Mukhtar H.Skin Pharmacol Appl Skin Physiol. 2001 Mar-Apr; 14(2):69-76.
“Topical use of tea benefits skin health”, by Gary Goldfaden, MD, Life Extension Magazine, October 2005.
“The tea spray that can prevent skin cancer”
“Drink Green Tea to Prevent Prostate Cancer” by Dr. Geo Espinosa
“Green Tea and Prostate Cancer”



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Filed under Glossary & Terminology, Health, Tea, Tips

Don’t miss the 2nd Annual Berkeley Coffee and Tea Festival!

2nd Annual Berkeley Coffee and Tea Festival postcard. Image from the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.

For Bay Area tea-lovers, a festival devoted to caffeinated beverages promises to be a tasty and energy-filled event; we have the Winter Fancy Food Show and the San Francisco International Tea Festival, and this weekend is the 2nd Annual Berkeley Coffee and Tea Festival on Saturday, August 18th. The event organizers have planned an information-filled morning for the festival, which ends at 1 p.m. so that all the tea-tasting and coffee-tasting (plenty of free samples!) won’t interfere with anyone’s sleep that night. There will be a vendor hall featuring coffee and tea companies, as well as classroom discussion panels and workshops about tea and coffee, a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

The tea panel, Tea 2.0, will be led by the Bay Area’s James Norwood Pratt, author of the New Tea Encyclopedia, and a celebrity in the tea world. Panel members will include Ned Heagerty of Silk Road Teas, Patrick Pineda of Tisano Tea, Sina Carroll of Red Circle Tea and Eliot Jordan of Peet’s Coffee & Tea. With James Norwood Pratt as moderator, it will be a really fun, as well as interesting, discussion! Tickets are $25 each (purchase from the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce or at the door) but you can get $5 off your ticket by going to the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce page on Facebook and “liking” it. Here is the vital information:

Berkeley Coffee & Tea Festival
August 18, 2012, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Shattuck Hotel
Hotel Shattuck Plaza
2086 Allston Way
Berkeley, CA 94704
Phone: (510) 292-4353
Toll Free: (888) 623-7261
Fax: (510) 845-7320

It’s about a 45 minute drive from San Jose to Berkeley for the festival. To get there from San Jose, take Hwy. 880N toward Oakland, then merge onto 980 E towards Walnut Creek. Continue on CA-24, and take the Martin Luther King Jr. Way exit. Make a slight right onto Adeline St., left on Martin Luther King Jr. Way, and make a right on Allston. Or, if you want to take public transportation, you’d take the 180 Express bus to the BART station in Fremont, then take BART to the downtown Berkeley station, and walk a block to the hotel.

Copyright 2012, Elizabeth Urbach.

Like what you read? Leave a comment below, click on “Subscribe” above, visit the San Jose Tea Examiner page on Facebook, read my blog, or follow me on Twitter @SanJoseTea!

For more information:
Berkeley Coffee and Tea Festival website
Berkeley Coffee & Tea Festival – Maps and Directions
Online registration through the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce
2nd Annual Berkeley Coffee and Tea Festival tickets on FunCheapSF
“Perk up at the Berkeley Coffee and Tea Festival”
“Berkeley Coffee and Tea Festival – Saturday, August 18, 2012”
“Tea tasting 101: characteristics of a good-quality black tea”
“Tea 101: what is pu-erh tea?”
“Tea-tasting San Jose area day trips: San Francisco’s Chinatown”
“An overview of Chinese teas available in San Jose”
“Chinese oolong tea in San Jose”
“What are the different kinds of green tea available in San Jose?”
“Bay Area Winter Fancy Food Show will include lots of tea”
“San Francisco International Tea Festival happens this Saturday!”
“San Francisco International Tea Festival – accessible to San Jose tea lovers”
2011 Berkeley Coffee and Tea Festival on YouTube

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Filed under Events, Glossary & Terminology, Health, History, Tea Tasting, Vendors and Shops

National Etiquette Week: practice good manners at the tea table!

Afternoon tea and cakes. Image from

Etiquette isn’t just for Miss America and the Queen of England! Many people are intimidated by etiquette and think that it consists of a bunch of made-up “dos and don’ts” that are hard to follow. Others think that etiquette is a relic of the past best left there. Rather than being outdated and pointless, good manners are part of the glue that holds society together and keeps interpersonal relationships going! One only has to attend a birthday party, graduation ceremony or concert, or visit a place like a restaurant or movie theater to be reminded how bad manners can be disgusting, insulting, and even result in physical injury! Cutting in line, standing up to take photos during a performance, pushing and shoving, taking more than your share of time, space and supplies are all common etiquette violations.

Misconceptions about proper etiquette are widespread, and tea room walls are witness to a bunch of prissiness and affectation (often accompanied by actual rudeness) that are passed off as good manners! The real “dos and don’ts” of basic good manners are these: “do behave with consideration, kindness, and respect towards everyone (including your servers)” and “don’t do anything that makes a mess, disgusts or offends people, or spreads germs” especially at the table. Because almost all of the intimidating “dos and don’ts” fall under those categories, it is unnecessary to memorize a huge list of rules.

Only a few actions are ceremonial and exist because of afternoon tea tradition; the rest are the result of simple consideration for others. Some of these ceremonial aspects of tea etiquette include:

  1. The order of tea service: sandwiches and savories, then scones, then sweets. This is actually the result of change over the years, especially in the United States, where we are more accustomed to “saving dessert for last.” Historically, the afternoon tea menu consisted mostly of sweet offerings, usually different kinds of “bread and cake”. Tea menus are still characterized by “bread and cake”, but the definition of what constitutes “tea food” has loosened considerably.
  2. The way the table is set: with luncheon-size plates, teacups and saucers, napkins, spoons and butter knives, but no meat or table knives or forks. Afternoon tea is the equal of a “glorified snack”, according to tradition, and as snack food is usually finger food, the only individual utensil needed is a spoon to stir your tea with, and maybe a butter knife to spread your clotted cream and jam with. All other utensils are communal serving utensils. Many hostesses do set out dessert forks, however, if they are serving slices of cake, so a modern tea table often looks just like it’s set for a nice luncheon.
  3. Tea-time conversation: often parodied as unbearably boring and superficial, tea-time conversation is the main source of entertainment for the guests, and is supposed to relax and give equal pleasure to everybody present. When, as almost always happens, the guests don’t share the same opinion on every subject, the easiest way to avoid overly heated discussions, or medical woes, which are anything but relaxing to listen to, is to confine the conversation to non-controversial subjects. In other words, the weather, flowers, music, art, food, fashion, and gossip that doesn’t involve anyone present is “in”, and religion, politics, money, and your uncle’s colonoscopy are “out”!
  4. Mannerisms, like how to hold your teacup, and how to stir your tea. According to custom, everyone’s attention should be on each other’s conversation, as well as the food and the tea, and your manners shouldn’t call attention to yourself. Therefore, things like clinking your teaspoon on your teacup as you stir, and sticking your pinky finger up when you hold your teacup, are considered impolite, because they not only call undue attention to yourself, but they are affectations. Affectations are exaggerated behaviors that people adopt temporarily to make themselves appear more important or classy, rather than a person’s natural actions that show consideration for others. Sticking out your pinky finger is in the same class of rudeness as sashaying around with your nose in the air, speaking with a bad “upper-class British” accent, and being rude to your servers. These behaviors only succeed in making the person look fake, prissy, and snobby!

Having tea with friends is a good way to practice good manners in a semi-private setting, where only trusted individuals will witness your mistakes! For more professional help, there are etiquette books – like the classic by Emily Post – and consultants, who are available to work one-on-one with clients.  Good manners make people want to work with us, accommodate us, and sympathize with us. Who doesn’t want a positive response from people?  Tea can help you practice, so that good manners come naturally and easily.

Copyright 2012, Elizabeth Urbach.

Like what you read? Leave a comment below, click on “Subscribe” above, visit the San Jose Tea Examiner page on Facebook, read my blog, or follow me on Twitter @SanJoseTea!

For more information:
“San Jose’s British population celebrates the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with tea”
“Tea 101: what do we mean when we talk about tea?”
“Tea and etiquette”
“Etiquette and manners for the 21st century”
“Birthday gift ideas for the San Jose tea lover”
“Give an open house with a tea buffet for your favorite graduate”
“The top 10 tea myths: don’t be fooled by any of them!”
“Tea Etiquette, successful tea party, drinking by Tea Laden”
“The Etiquette of Afternoon Tea” Youtube video
“Arranging the Tea Table” ca. 1946 YouTube video

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Filed under Glossary & Terminology, Tea, Tips

Visit Cornwall in San Jose with a Cornish cream tea!

Cornish cream tea. GNU Free Documentation.

Visit Victorian England with a Cornish cream tea at Satori Tea Bar, and Lyric Theatre of San Jose’s Pirates of Penzance, which opened March 24 at the Montgomery Theatre! The town of Penzance, in the southwest corner of England, is known for its harbor, seafaring and mining history, and its mild coastal climate. In 1879, when Gilbert and Sullivan wrote Pirates of Penzance, a comedic operetta, the town was a peaceful beach resort, and the idea of buccaneers attacking was amusing. Located in Cornwall, the town is also associated with the Cornish Cream Tea, a particular style of afternoon tea. A Cornish cream tea includes a scone or Cornish split, with clotted cream, strawberry jam, and a pot of black tea. According to the BBC,

“A good cream tea will include two healthy-sized scones, which should be split horizontally before applying the jam and cream. … The jam should be applied to the scone in ‘dollops’ (ie, large spoonfuls). … It is essential that the cream in a cream tea is clotted cream. … As with the jam, cream should be piled high on the scone, bearing in mind only that which can comfortably fit into one’s mouth.”

People in Cornwall and Devon are very particular about they way a cream tea should be; not only is there dispute about whether or not to have a scone or a split with the cream and jam, but there is also passionate disagreement over how apply the cream and jam to the scone or split. Traditionally, there are two styles of eating a scone covered in jam and cream: the Cornish, which involves putting the jam on before the cream, and the Devonian, which is the opposite, spreading the cream on the half scone and then topping it with the jam. The Devon method has the benefit of softening the dry scone with cream before nestling a dollop of red jam on top, and the Cornish method keeps the jam from sliding off the cream by “sandwiching” it between between the scone and cream. In San Jose, either method is equally correct and equally delicious.

Lyric Theatre's _Pirates of Penzance_ logo.

Traditional Cornish foods include the Cornish pasty (beef and vegetable pie), Cornish splits (sweet yeast roll), scones, saffron cakes, Welsh cakes, Cornish fairings (like ginger snaps), and clotted cream, which San Jose tea-lovers can add to their tea table. Satori Tea Bar in San Pedro Square offers a Cornish cream tea, and an a la carte menu, that contains several of these items for you to enjoy before you see the show. The Montgomery Theatre is on Market St. near the San Jose Civic Center; the show runs Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through April 1st, and Thursday and Friday of next week at 8 p.m. Tickets run around $30 for general admission, and $12 for youth. So whether you adhere to the Devonian or the Cornish method of eating your scone, why not put together your own cream tea and then see the Pirates of Penzance at the Montgomery? A Cornish Cream Tea will add a lot of luxury and enjoyment to your evening, for a modest price.

Copyright 2012, Elizabeth Urbach.

Like what you read? Leave a comment below, click on “Subscribe” above, visit the San Jose Tea Examiner page on Facebook, read my blog, or follow me on Twitter @SanJoseTea!

For more information:
“Cornish Cream Tea” from the Cornwall by Cornishlight website
“The Cornish Cream Tea” from The Cornwall Guide
“Vital information” from the Rodda’s Cornish Clotted Cream website
“101 uses and excuses for Cornish Clotted Cream” from the Rodda’s website
“How do you take your cream tea?”
“Cream Tea” article from the BBC
“Penzance” article from Wikipedia
“It’s scone wrong” from the Word of Mouth blog
“Proper Cornish Scones” Recipe from the Rodda’s website
“Cornish Splits” recipe from AllRecipes
“Easy Clotted Cream” recipe from AllRecipes
“Tea tasting 101: characteristics of a good-quality black tea”
“Tea 101: what do we mean when we talk about tea?”
“What you need to make a good pot of hot tea”
“San Jose’s newest tea shop: Satori Tea Bar”
“Review: Buccaneer blend from SerendipiTea”
“Review: afternoon tea at Satori Tea Bar”
“Tea plays a major role in Lyric Theatre of San Jose’s The Sorcerer
“San Jose’s British population celebrates the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with tea”
Lyric Theatre of San Jose web page
Lyric Theatre Pirates of Penzance performance page
Lyric Theatre Pirates of Penzance event page on Facebook
Lyric Theatre Pirates of Penzance ticket page

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Filed under Events, Glossary & Terminology, Menus, Tea, Vendors and Shops

Bubble tea: a favorite with American youth.

Honeydew bubble tea from a shop in New Orleans. Wikimedia Commons.

Bubble tea, or pearl tea, a Taiwanese invention (“jen ju nai cha” in Taiwan), has really taken off here in the U.S.!  What is it exactly?  Bubble tea is a non-alcoholic sweetened, cold beverage similar to a smoothie or milkshake.  It is available in many flavors and variations, with actual black or green tea as a base, or one of a number of syrups flavored with fruit, nuts, flowers or other foods.  You can find conventional flavors like strawberry or pineapple, or more unusual ones like rose, almond, or red bean.

The bubbles in bubble tea refer to the frothy foam on the top of the beverage after it is shaken and mixed together; pearl tea or boba tea is the same drink, served with tapioca “pearls”  or “boba” in the bottom of the cup.  Another variation is milk tea which is bubble tea made with a green or black tea base, with the addition of a dairy or non-dairy cream product blended in; pearl milk tea is the same thing with tapioca pearls added to the cup.

To make a bubble tea drink, the base mixture, flavored syrup, milk or dairy substitute, and sweetener are placed in the cup, ice is added and the mixture is shaken or put in a blender until thoroughly mixed and frothy.  Then, the sweetened tapioca “pearls”, or alternately, jelly cubes, are added to the cup, where they sink to the bottom, to be sucked up the extra-wide drinking straw and eaten as the customer sips the drink.

A sweet, creamy, flavorful drink, bubble tea is a fun and tasty soft-drink alternative, and can even be considered “healthy” – if you count the antioxidants in the tea!  Bubble tea shops are the most common kinds of tea shops in the San Jose area, and they often sell snacks and small plates of food to go with the tea.  They are popular hang-out spots in the evening, often packed full of local youth late into the night, especially in Asian neighborhoods.  While there are a few bubble tea franchises in the U.S., like Quickly Tea House, there are also many independent shops.  Why not try some bubble tea soon?  It is a tasty and fun treat to have on a warm day.

Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach

Like what you read?  Leave a comment below, click on “Subscribe” above, visit the San Jose Tea Examiner page on Facebook, read my blog, or follow me on Twitter @SanJoseTea!

For more information:
“Pearls of tea wisdom” from the Go2Taiwan blog
“Bubble tea” from Wikipedia
“Bubble Tea” from
“Bubble tea history, bubble tea recipe” by Linda Stradley
“Tea 101: what is bubble tea” by Margaret Studer
“Tea tasting 101: characteristics of a good-quality black tea”
“What are the different kinds of green tea available in San Jose?”
“The top 10 tea myths: don’t be fooled by any of them!”
“Bottled tea may contain fewer antioxidants than freshly brewed tea”
“Tea can help you keep your New Year’s resolutions”
“San Jose students enjoy tea at grad parties”

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Filed under Glossary & Terminology, Recipes, Tea

Tea tasting 101: green tea.

Green tea leaves and tasting cup. Photo: Kevin Connor,

Green tea, like all other types of true tea, is made from the leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. Mature fresh leaves are plucked from the tea bushes, crushed and allowed to wither, then fired, roasted, blasted with hot air, or steamed before oxidation takes place, and dried. There are two main styles of making green tea: the Chinese and the Japanese.

Chinese green tea – and green tea processed in the Chinese style – is crushed and withered, then fired or roasted with hot air or a dry, heated metal pan, to prevent oxidation, before drying.

Japanese green teas – and green teas processed in the Japanese style — are withered and then steamed to prevent oxidation, and end up being partially cooked by the moist heat, before being dried. This results in a very different appearance, aroma and flavor between Chinese and Japanese green teas. The Japanese and Chinese cultures each also have their own ceremonies and methods for infusing and drinking tea, which have become deeply embedded in the traditions connected with holidays and other special occasions.

Japan and China are the largest producers of green teas, but Vietnam, other Asian countries, and Bolivia and some other South American nations also grow and process green tea. The green tea from each country has its own distinct flavor and aroma qualities but, as with the other types of tea, green teas all share certain characteristics, especially a green color in the leaf and the infused liquor, a fresh, grassy aroma and vegetal flavor when infused. Here are some terms associated with green tea:

Character – When tasting teas, a desirable liquor quality that permits identification of country of origin and district within that country.

Basket Fired – Japanese tea which has been dried by firing in a basket.

Gunpowder – A make of green tea, each leaf of which has been rolled into a pellet. The pellets resemble old fashioned gunpowder cartridges.

Ichiban-cha – Japanese phrase meaning “first tea” or “first plucking,” referring to Japanese green tea.

Jasmine – A mild, delicately flavoured China tea that is scented after firing with white jasmine flowers.

Matcha – Japanese green tea that has been ground to a powder, and is prepared differently from other types of green tea, in that the powdered leaves are ingested and not removed from the tea cup.

Niban-cha – Japanese phrase, meaning “second tea,” or “second plucking,” referring to Japanese green tea.

Pan Fired – A kind of green tea that is dried in iron pans over charcoal fires.

Pingsuey – Chinese phrase, meaning “ice water,” referring to a kind of Chinese green tea.

Pinheads – Green tea leaves rolled into tiny balls the size of gun shot, a kind of gunpowder green tea.

Sambancha – Japanese phrase for “third tea,” or “third plucking,” referring to Japanese green tea.

Sencha – name given to the ordinary everyday teas of Japan.

As far as we know, the first tea enjoyed by humans was green tea. There are two main legends that tell about the discovery of tea. One legend involves a Chinese emperor, who sat down to rest under a wild Camellia tree, while walking in the mountains on a summer day. His servants built a fire nearby, to boil and sterilize water for him to drink, and some dried leaves from the tree happened to fall into the container of boiling water. When the emperor drank the water, he enjoyed the flavor and found that it restored his energy more than plain water would have done, so he ordered his servants to take cuttings from the tree and plant them near his court. After the new drink was introduced at court, the tea plants were planted throughout the empire and became the common drink for everyone.

The other legend involves a Buddhist saint who was so devoted to religious meditation that he vowed to pray and meditate for many years without sleeping. After nine years had gone by, and he had avoided sleepiness and distraction through prayer and force of will, he accidentally fell asleep. When he woke up, he was so angry with himself for breaking his vow, that he tore off his own eyelids – so that they couldn’t close on him ever again – and threw them to the ground. A plant miraculously sprouted from the place where they fell – the tea plant – whose eyelid-shaped leaves produced a beverage, when infused, that helped keep the saint and his followers awake during prayers and periods of meditation.

Now, while green tea is not considered “miraculous” these days, it does contain a number of antioxidants, including Vitamin C, that contribute to good health, so why not enjoy a nice cup of green tea soon?

Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.

Like what you read? Leave a comment below, click on “Subscribe” above, visit the San Jose Tea Examiner page on Facebook, read my blog, or follow me on Twitter @SanJoseTea!

For more info: “Tea History and Legend”
“Tea Legends”

Glossary of Tea Terms
from the Nothing But Tea website 
“Tea Dictionary” from Bigelow Teas

Tea tasting: a man’s art”, by Doug Spiers
“Dictionary of Tea Terms” from Upton Tea Imports

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Filed under Glossary & Terminology, History, Tea, Tea Tasting, Tips

Time-travel with a Jules Verne Steampunk Tea!

St. Pancras International Railway Station clock. Photo: Ian Britton,

Santa Clara will play host to a time-traveling fantasy world, with the Nova Albion Steampunk Exhibition at the Hyatt Regency from March 25-27.  Why not visit the convention and take your tea travels in a whole new direction with a Jules Verne/Steampunk theme?  Jules Verne was the first real science fiction author, who wrote a collection of novels during the 19th century featuring hot-air balloons, airplanes, dirigibles, steam-powered machines and other cutting-edge technology of the Victorian era, with speculations about how these gadgets would affect the world.  His ideas became the foundation for both the traditional science fiction genre and an off-shoot – Victorian science fiction – called “steampunk.” The Silicon Valley is one result of people acting on ideas like his, and it can be a lot of fun to combine Victorian aesthetics with modern technology in your home decor, or even just in a really great tea party.

While “steampunk” was originally a literary genre, it now encompasses not only historical-science fiction novels, but costume, architecture, art, music, and many other aspects of modern life.  Steampunk is basically Victorian science fiction, with steam power (as well as water power, wind power and manpower) as the driving force behind the machinery and conveniences of life, combined with the rejection of mass-produced consumer goods in favor of custom-made, hand-tooled, and elaborate tools, clothing, furniture, etc. with individual personality.  Steampunk narratives almost always include an element of “alternate reality”, as the world is imagined as it might have been if clockworks and steam power were still major sources of energy, and the Victorian Industrial Revolution was still happening.

A Russian samovar is a great steampunk tea accessory! Photo: Cat-Tea Clips

Tea, being the beverage most associated with the Victorian era, is the appropriate beverage for all ages in the Steampunk world.  Beverages at a Steampunk Tea should include English, Asian, or Chinese-style teas, but can also include popular Victorian alcoholic drinks such as port, rum and whiskey.  You can even purchase steampunk-themed flavored tea blends, like Steampunk Airship and Back To The Lab blends from Adagio Teas.

Verne was a Frenchman, so French country food, as well as delicate pastries, should definitely have a place on the table.  Verne’s novels feature many “exotic” countries, whose cultures can be studied for other food and decor ideas; these countries include Africa, the United States, Pacific Islands, Australia, and Russia.  The menu could include rooibos from S. Africa, dim sum from China and curry from India, for example.  The Victorian era was also a time of intense experimentation and the development of food science, resulting in “scientific” and “health food” like Graham flour, corn flakes and “patent” foods.   All these are options for the steampunk table.

If you have a garden or greenhouse, you could hold your tea outside, or you could set up a Victorian library or parlor atmosphere inside, in imitation of those rooms in Verne’s family home in Nantes.  Whether you dress in your Victorian finest for the Steampunk Exhibition in Santa Clara, or entertain some friends at home with a Steampunk Tea, you’ll be sure to have a fun time doing something that is definitely out of the ordinary!

Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.

Like what you read?  Leave a comment below, click on “Subscribe” above, visit the San Jose Tea Examiner page on Facebook, read my blog, or follow me on Twitter @SanJoseTea!

For more information:
Nova Albion Steampunk Exhibition, March 25-27, 2011, at the Hyatt Regency, Santa Clara, CA
The Works of Jules Verne
“Bienvenue a la maison Jules Verne: A Walk through the House”
“Crash course in Steampunk”
“Google doodle marks writer Jules Verne’s birthday”
“Jules Verne” Wikipedia article
“Steampunk” Wikipedia article
Local steampunk club St. Clair Aeronauts’ Steampunk Tea Party
“Steampunk: An Overview” slideshow by Jeff Vandermeer
“Da Vinci Automata”
The Steampunk Tribune

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Filed under Events, Glossary & Terminology, Party Ideas, Tips

Japanese tea in the San Jose area.

Japanese tea ceremony. Photo: Stephane D'Alu. Wikimedia Commons.

San Jose’s historic Japanese community retains a cultural presence in the city, most famously in the wonderful historic Japantown neighborhood, the Obon Festival each summer, and the entertaining San Jose Taiko drum ensemble.   This is not only good for diversity, but good for the tea-drinker! The restaurants and Japanese groceries in the Japantown area serve the local tea-lover by providing many types of Japanese tea.

One has only to taste Japanese tea to notice differences in flavor from Chinese and Indian teas.  Processing techniques constitute one major factor in causing the differences in flavor and appearance in tea. There are two main tea processes which result in the two main “styles” of tea: the Chinese and the Japanese. The Chinese style of tea processing involves using dry heat from iron woks, or tossing the tea leaves in baskets over a fire, to stop oxidation, and it is the most widely used technique; the Japanese style uses moist heat, specifically, steam, to do the same thing. While Japan is beginning to produce some white teas, Japanese teas are almost exclusively green teas, and they have a characteristic “fresh”, “green” or “grassy” taste and aroma, similar to the scent of freshly-cut grass.

Traditional Japanese teas also include additions like toasted rice, as well as specific preparations, like matcha, which are produced for particular cultural and social ceremonies. Here is a glossary of the most popular types of Japanese tea; look for them in Japantown and other Asian groceries!

Bancha – this green tea is known for its full, bright, and smooth herbal flavor.

Fukamushi cha/ Deep Steam Tea – this green tea was first developed in Shizuoka and is very popular among Japanese tea connoisseurs. It is steamed longer than traditional Japanese teas and is made of cut tea leaves and small leaf particles. The flavor is characterized as “sweet”, “rich”, and “thick”.

Genmaicha – this is green tea blended with toasted, popped rice kernels. It has a mellow flavor that is very popular in Japan and in the United States.

Gyokuro/Jade Dew – this green tea is made to be used for the Japanese Tea Ceremony, and can be purchased as loose leaf tea, or as is usual in Japan, ground into powder to make Matcha. It is considered the highest grade and quality tea available in Japan. It has a slightly sweet flavor.

Hojicha – this green tea is steamed and dried as is usual for the Japanese style of processing, but then the leaves are slowly roasted until they are brown. It has a toasty, yet fresh flavor.

Ko-kei cha – also known as “spaghetti tea”, this is made of moist ground Gyokuro tea leaves, the byproduct of making Matcha, which has been pressed through a mesh until it forms tiny threads, which are then dried.

Kukicha – this green tea is also known as “twig” tea because it consists of the young, tender stems or “twigs” and some small leaves from the tea plant. It can be found roasted or unroasted.

Sencha or Shencha – this green tea is the standard household loose leaf green tea enjoyed all over Japan and wherever people drink Japanese green tea. It has a refreshing, vegetal flavor and aroma.

Japanese green teas should be infused with simmering, rather than boiling, water, and infused for a maximum of 3 minutes or they can get bitter. Why not go on down to Japantown and try some Japanese tea? You can also buy Japanese tea from Lupicia at Valley Fair mall.

Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.

Like what you read? Leave a comment below, click on “Subscribe” above, visit the San Jose Tea Examiner page on Facebook, read my blog, or follow me on Twitter @SanJoseTea!

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Tea and food pairings: green tea.

Green tea in a gaiwan. Photo: Wikimol. Wikimedia Commons

San Jose and the San Francisco Bay Area are blessed with large Asian populations, people who really love their tea, especially green tea.  They also customarily drink certain tisanes, like “barley tea”, but they almost always have a cup of tea nearby, especially at meals.  Official tea tasters have come up with more specific recommendations for pairing food with tea.  These are from Tea Savoir Faire:

Genmaicha: a green, or un-oxidized tea from Japan, characterized by a toasty, vegetal flavor, due to the fact that Japanese green teas are steamed during processing, and they retain a fresh leafy quality. Recommended food pairings include hamburger, Mexican food, and macaroons.

Gyokuro: a green tea, grown in the shade in the Uji district of Japan, it is characterized by a sweetish flavor. The name translates to “Pearl Dew.” Recommended food pairings include cheese and chocolate desserts, but Gyokuro is most often enjoyed by itself.

Gunpowder: a Chinese green tea characterized by an herbaceous flavor and leaves hand-rolled into pellet shapes. Chinese green teas are not oxidized, but are toasted or roasted, instead of steamed, during processing. Recommended food pairings include Chinese food, lobster, and shortbread.

Hojicha: a Japanese green tea characterized by a nutty flavor. Recommended food pairings include Thai food, fish and brownies.

Jasmine: a scented green tea from China, it is characterized by a flowery flavor and aroma, due to the addition of jasmine blossoms. Recommended food pairings include Thai food, game, and chocolate madeleines.

Lung Ching: a green tea from China, it is also known as “Dragon Well” tea and is a very famous tea. Characterized by “four uniques”: jade color, herbaceous or vegetal aroma, chestnut-like flavor, and flat leaf shape. Recommended food pairings include smoked salmon, cheese, and lemon poppy seed cake.

Matcha: a powdered green tea from Japan, used in the Japanese tea ceremony. Characterized by a bright green color and milky or frothy texture when prepared traditionally with a tea whisk, and a fresh grassy flavor. Recommended food pairings include sushi, steamed fish, and shortbread cookies.

Pi Lo Chun: a famous green tea from China, it is characterized by an apricot-like flavor. Recommended food pairings include marbled tea eggs, steamed dumplings, and oat cakes.

Sencha: a famous Japanese green tea, also known as the “Sauvignon Blanc of Tea”, this tea has a characteristic grassy flavor and aroma, and a light color. Recommended food pairings include sushi, pasta with pesto sauce, and mild cheese scones.

Many, if not all, of these teas can be found at the many Asian markets in the San Jose area.  Ranch 99 and Ocean Market are two local chains that sell a variety of teas from Asia.  Then, of course, there are two wonderful Japanese markets in San Jose’s Japantown, one near the corner of Empire and North 6th, and the other at the corner of Jackson and North 6th.

Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.

Like what you read?  Leave a comment below, click on “Subscribe” above, visit the San Jose Tea Examiner page on Facebook, read my blog, or follow me on Twitter @SanJoseTea!

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Tea tasting: what to avoid.

Teakettle ca. 1851. Photo:

When looking for good-quality tea, most of us can simply trust the palate and skill of the professional tea tasters from the most influential and respected tea companies. Knowledge of the positive characteristics that indicate good quality, is usually all that is needed for amateurs to choose a good tea. However, since San Jose’s local ethnic communities keep really close culinary ties to their countries of origin, many small businesses import tea directly from the tea plantations.  While these teas have been checked by the F.D.A. for safety before being sold in the United States, it is still useful for the non-professional to know about any undesirable flavor, aroma and visual points to watch out for. While most of the problem comes from improper processing or storage, some factors that result in lower-quality tea are related to the tea plant itself and the soil where it was grown.

For example, there are some tea plantations in the area of the Black Sea that were contaminated during and following the Chernobyl disaster. While most of the tea crop that was growing at the time was discarded, and clean-up efforts have rendered the soil usable for crops that are safe for human consumption, it is said that certain teas from that area still taste unusually bitter or even chemical-like, and are often considered lower quality by tea buyers outside the area. While a certain amount of pesticides, fungicides, and fertilizers are allowed to commercial tea farmers, some Chinese and Indian teas have been accused of being tainted by excessive pesticide use.  These teas are not generally purchased by most American tea vendors, but they are drunk in their countries of origin and may be imported to the United States for sale in certain communities. It is useful to everyone to know which flavor, aroma and visual characteristics to avoid! Here are some terms from the Nothing But Tea website, defining some of the qualities that indicate low-quality tea.

Bakey – An aroma indicative of tea from which too much moisture has been driven off.
Blistered – Leaf which is swollen and hollow inside. Blisters are formed during the firing of a leaf which has been dried too quickly.
Brownish – Undesireable leaf colour in black tea, generally resulting from firing under-withered tea at too high a temperature, or due to poor plucking. However, some tippy teas have a brown leaf which is desirable.
Dark/Dull – Tea liquor that is not clear and bright, denoting a poor tea.
Denaturised Tea – Tea which has been deemed unfit for consumption. It is often used for mulching tea bushes.
Earthy – Except in pu-erh tea, an unpleasant liquor taste found in tea stored under damp conditions.
Flat – Lacking briskness and pungency.
Fully Fired – Liquor from a tea that has been slightly over fired.
Gone Off – A tea that is moulded, tainted, out of condition or old.
Green – Colour of infused black or oolong tea leaf which has undergone poor withering or rolling.
Grey – An unattractive colour characteristic of black leaf that has undergone too much rubbing during sorting and cutting.
High Fired – A slightly burnt tea, but not so badly fired as to be called burnt. Results from keeping tea in the drier too long or at too high a temperature.
Lie Tea – A Chinese mixture of willow and other spurious leaf with genuine tea leaf, fraudulently sold as tea. Adulteration of tea was a problem when it was heavily taxed in previous centuries.
Mushy – A soft tea suggesting that it had been packed too moist.
Musty – Tea that has been attacked by mildew as a result of being packed too moist.
Plain – Term used to describe dull liquor often with a rather sour taste.
Ragged – Denotes uneven leaf in a grade.
Rawness – Harsh and bitter taste of immature tea.
Stewy – Often due to too long a fermentation (oxidation) or to drying at too low a temperature.
Tainted – May result from infection by micro-organisms during manufacture or storage. Usually refers to a flavour entirely foreign to tea such as oil, petrol, onion, etc.
Tarry – An excessively smokey aroma or taste. Remember, some teas are supposed to be smokey!
Weak – Denotes a thin liquor. Often due to over-withering or under-fermenting.
Woody – Denotes an undesirable hay flavour in tea, often due to long storage.

So! Now we’ve discussed a lot of things to look out for in your loose tea, and I hope you’re not overwhelmed with information! Generally, if a tea is bad quality, it will be obvious in the aroma and the flavor; everyone knows that if tea tastes metallic, or like burnt charcoal, that’s not a good thing! But now you have a vocabulary to use in talking about your own tea experiences, even the unpleasant ones. Hopefully, having this information will help prevent those unpleasant tea experiences!

Copyright 2011, Elizabeth Urbach.

Like what you read? Leave a comment below, click on “Subscribe” above, visit the San Jose Tea Examiner page on Facebook, read my blog, or follow me on Twitter @SanJoseTea!

For more info: Tea tasting 101: How to choose a tea to taste”
“Tea tasting 101: characteristics of good quality black tea”

“Tea tasting 101: characteristics of good quality oolong tea”

“Tea tasting 101: characteristics of good quality green tea”

“Tea tasting 101: characteristics of good quality pu-erh tea”

Glossary of Tea Terms
from the Nothing But Tea website
“Dictionary of Tea Terms” from Upton Tea Imports
“Tea Dictionary”
from Bigelow Teas
PAN Pesticide Database
“Sustainable Agriculture” from the Strand Tea Company
“Green tea from China found to be contaminated …” by Mike Adams
“Radiocesium activity in Turkish tea followed the Chernobyl after thirteen years”, by Ozlem Epik, et al.
“Rad storm rising”, by Gabriel Schoenfeld, The Atlantic, December 1990.
“Tea: Chernobyl’s lingering legacy”, from Science News, January 1995.
Tea contaminated by fallout from Chernobyl, in the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) Health Physics Historical Instrumentation Museum Collection
“Chernobyl and Trade” from the Trade and Environment Database

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