I often reflect back to the beginning of my tea studies.
Here I was in my kitchen in Rome, Italy, holding a thermometer in one hand and a tea timer in the other hand, nervously anticipating the right mix to get the optimal brew.
Fast forward now to my kitchen in Yangon, Myanmar, were I grab some tea leaves and throw it into hot water to get a wonderful cup of tea.
In a way the past year has liberated me from following the instructions on the box and use scientific instruments to make tea.
However the one area where I never felt liberated is how I always experienced buying tea.
In most shops a nice tea salesperson would carefully open a tin box based on my request and would allow me to have a careful glimpse into the box. In good stores they might let me smell the tea from a safe distance.
Many people around the world who love tea every day engage in the same ritual.
Grab a tea bag from a box, drop it into a cup and pour hot water over it. Wait until there is some uniform color appearing in the cup and pour some more ingredients into it like sugar, milk or a slice of lemon. Then take a sip and hope that this mixture will not be terrible.
Or sit in a plane and after the meal service the flight attendant will come around announcing the arrival of the tea (or coffee) to be poured into your little plastic cup.
And many of us who are attending a conference or workshop, grab a teabag from a ‘selection’ box and hope for the best.
This is the daily reality, mostly in the western world, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is a beverage you made for yourself, you like it, it comforts you, and so of course that’s good for you.
It is hard to believe that I have now been living almost one year in Myanmar. Time is really flying by! While my life at the moment is mostly focused on my mission with the World Food Programme and the well being of my family, I did experience pockets of tea life over the past year.
I know my blog has not been very active this past year, but that is about to change. Seeing the World Tea Expo happening in Las Vegas I felt a renewed commitment to be a more active part of the tea community. My passion for tea is as strong as ever and I need to share some of my observations more frequently.
Here are my Top 5 observations one year into my tea life in Myanmar:
1.) Tea is everywhere and a big part of life. I started taking it for granted that with every corner you turn, tea is part of the culture in so many aspects.This goes beyond the tea as a classic drink, but tea as part of food, cosmetics and sweets. I slowly built a life where tea is an essential part of it. I wake up in the morning and shower with green tea shower gel. I make it a special moment of my morning to pick a special tea for the day, which I will sip at work over and over. (More on this in a separate blog post.) I eat a wonderful pickled tea leaf salad and munch on green tea chocolate sticks and have a green tea desert for dinner. So many choices and little moments of tea joy in the day.
Some thoughts over a cup of courtesy tea after living almost a year in Myanmar.
This is a guest post by Kristen Palana, aka: Michael’s wife, “Ms. Tea.”
It has been nearly a year now since I first moved to Yangon, Myanmar with my family. Initially I wondered if I would hate, like, or even love my new home. It’s one of the few places in my life that I moved to without having had the opportunity to visit first. (The other two were Edinburgh, Scotland and Los Angeles, CA. respectively.)
Inya Lake in Yangon
So over ten months in I can say with profound certainty that it is indeed love. Yangon, Myanmar is the most happening city in all of Myanmar and yet it doesn’t suffer (yet) from choking smog or that boxed-in feeling you might get from Bangkok, Hong Kong, or New York City from an over abundance of giant skyscrapers blocking out the sun. Continue reading →
A few weeks ago, while on vacation in the US, I went to an ordinary supermarket, curious what the regular consumer can expect when in the mood for tea.
I was a bit disappointed to see convenience ruling over quality. Rows of teabags of all sorts, not that there is something wrong with it, but it would be nice to give the regular consumer some choice; an avenue to explore towards new heights and infinite better quality.
In all fairness it is getting a bit better when compared to years ago as some loose leaf tea has found their way to the shelves. However it’s still a far cry away from the wonderful complexity and taste wonderland that is the loose leaf tea world.
As promised I would like you to take you with me on exploring tea finds in this wonderful part of Southeast Asia. I would to start with small daily observation. I noticed that in contrast to Italy, were I had to made quite an effort to find good tea, here in Myanmar tea will find me.
As a new tea sommelier my willingness to find new, exciting things about tea is omnipresent. As part of my journey with you I would like to share interesting little items I came across, some you might be well familiar with and some might come as a surprise to you.
Everywhere you go, there is an opportunity to drink some awesome tea. One amazing drink I discovered are matcha smoothies, a bright green colored drink with a strong presence of matcha flavors.
After a few weeks of broadcast silence I am finally back behind the keyboard to continue my blog from Yangon, Myanmar.
You might think I lost interest or have achieved everything I wanted with this blog, but quite the opposite is true.
In the past weeks I had to set priorities as the move from Rome, Italy to Yangon, Myanmar, which is quite substantial. My focus was on settling the family into a new house, getting the kids used to a school routine and have a successful start into my new assignment as the Head of Finance and Administration for the World Food Programme in Myanmar.
A big heated debate is currently running through the tea industry – what is a tea sommelier and how can these people compare themselves to highly skilled wine sommeliers?
As I am on the path to become a tea sommelier myself I thought it might be a good moment to add my five cents to this discussion.
In ancient times, the job of a sommelier (derived from the middle French “saumalier”) was to keep the provisions (food and drinks) of a royal house well-stocked. It also included tasting and taking sips of wine to ensure they are edible and not poisoned.
Now this is not an attempt of hidden product placement, it is more an attempt to pay tribute and respect to the one tea company which ignited my tea passion and put me onto the road I am on right now (no worries – I am not getting any commission for writing this…).
The company I am referring to is tea retailer Twinings. When I was living in Germany, I was well before the point when I started my tea journey. Yes I admit, I was a tea bag dunker and certainly the shelves of supermarkets are full of all kinds of tea bag boxes. It was convenient and quick and I did not have anything to compare it to anyway as back then there was no ‘ loose leaf aisle’ for high quality teas.