Tea tasting equipment at Red Blossom Tea Company in San Francisco. Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, the current Secretary of State, was in the Bay Area last week conducting fundraisers, and stopped off in San Francisco to meet Mayor Ed Lee at Red Blossom Tea Co. in Chinatown. They enjoyed a tea tasting with tea shop owner Alice Luong, and Secretary Clinton purchased a cup of tea to take with her, and some loose tea as well. According to Luong, Clinton “asked quite a lot of questions” about technical aspects of tea brewing, like proper water temperature, and seemed to be a regular tea drinker who prefers “stronger, darker tea.”
Red Blossom Tea Company is one of several tea shops in San Francisco’s Chinatown along Grant Avenue, which offer informal tea tastings for free, as well as more formal tastings, like the one Clinton and Lee enjoyed, for a fee. The shop is a traditional Chinese tea shop, with lots of wood tones, red and black in the decor. The company specializes in fine oolongs and other rare teas; I tasted a few teas when I was there several years ago with friends, and purchased their Orange Blossom Phoenix Oolong. Continue reading
San Francisco International Tea Festival banner from 2012. Photo: Elizabeth Urbach
The 3rd Annual San Francisco International Tea Festival is scheduled for Sunday, November 16 at 10 a.m. Held at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, the festival is a gathering of tea vendors other related business owners, along with tea scholars and tea drinkers from all over California. The festival website reads: “Discover teas straight from local and global producers, Free swag bag includes your very own teacup to savor tea market offerings, Taste hundreds of different types of tea, Connect with five of the biggest names in tea, Learn how each cup of tea can be a different experience, Enjoy a meal and shopping in the Historic Ferry Building Marketplace, Live music by local artists.”
The event features an exhibit hall where the industry participants offer free samples of some of their tea products, along with tea, tea books, and tea equipment for sale. There are formal tea tastings and educational lectures from tea experts like the Imperial Tea Court’s Roy Fong, and popular tea and food author and speaker James Norwood Pratt. Well-known local tea brands are represented among the vendors, including Harney & Sons, Ito En, and The Republic of Tea. The teas that are featured are high-quality, almost all loose-leaf, with a focus on unflavored teas, and tea as a beverage, rather than “Tea” as a social event.
The event will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the 16th; admission is $25 per person, which gets you into the main exhibit hall, and perhaps into the lectures, although the formal tea tastings are first-come-first-served and cost $5 each. Tickets can be purchased from the festival website, and may also be available at the door on the day of the festival. Each attendee also receives a gift bag with more tea samples from the vendors, a special tea tasting cup to use at the festival, and contact information for all the vendors at the festival.
A perfectly set, formal afternoon tea place setting, at Kensington Palace. Image: Bit Boy, Wikimedia Commons.
Proper tea etiquette – or table manners in general – not only makes you a more pleasant person to be around, but considers other people by avoiding spreading germs and making a mess. Hopefully these “dos and don’ts” are common sense and easy to understand! Here are some of the details of good tea table etiquette, when you’re taking tea at a tea shop, or at home:
- Do offer to pour the cups of tea for your friend or friends.
- Add milk to your tea, if you like, but not cream. Cream is too rich and covers up the flavor of the tea. It doesn’t matter whether the milk or the tea goes into your cup first.
- Do use the utensils like sugar tongs, lemon forks or serving spoons, to serve yourself or others from shared containers, instead of your fingers or your personal teaspoon or fork. Remember to include these items when stocking your tea party pantry!
- When serving yourself some jam or other scone toppings, use the serving spoon or knife to place a small amount on the side of your plate, and then use your personal spoon or knife to spread your jam, cream, etc. on your scone.
- When eating your scone, break the scone in half, and only spread one bite-sized section at a time, with the toppings, instead of the entire half-scone. It helps keep jam, cream, etc. off your face as you’re eating!
- Do try to make as little noise as possible when stirring your tea, drinking your tea, or eating your food.
- Do place your spoon on your saucer after stirring your tea, instead of on your plate or on the tablecloth.
- Do hold your teacup by the handle, either pinching it in between your thumb and first finger, or putting your finger through the handle and supporting the cup with your thumb on top of the handle and your third finger under the handle.
- Don’t stick your pinky up or out when holding your cup of tea. It is an affectation which is more prissy than polite, plus it compromises your grasp on the teacup’s handle, which is unsafe.
- Don’t turn your teacup upside down on your saucer to indicate when you’ve had enough tea; you will drip tea on the tablecloth!
Teatime is about relaxation, being considerate, and comforting others as you enjoy the comfort of the tea and treats. That’s not so hard to do! There are many tea books on the market, including etiquette guidebooks, that can give you more detailed pointers if you want them. Why not practice good manners over a cup of tea?
Copyright 2012, Elizabeth Urbach.
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For more information:
“The top 10 tea myths: don’t be fooled by any of them!”
“What you need to make a good pot of hot tea”
“Tea 101: How to brew a pot of hot tea using loose tea”
“Where to buy books about tea in San Jose”
“5 books that should be on the tea-lover’s bookshelf”
“Etiquette and manners for the 21st century”
“Afternoon tea vs. high tea”
“The great napkin debate of 2009 continues”
“How to set a table”
“Tea and etiquette”
“Etiquette Faux Pas and Other Misconceptions About Afternoon Tea” by Ellen Easton
“The Gift of Good Manners” by Ellen Easton
“Tea Times – Milk or Lemon for your Tea?” from the Stash Tea blog
“Let’s give a tea party” video from 1940s
“Arranging the tea table” video from 1946
Tea exhibit at Fowler Museum at UCLA