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It’s always so lovely to hear about the parties & celebrations that our china gets to be a part of!

The lovely Elle hosted a gorgeous High Tea Hen’s for this gorgeous bride-to-be Orla! From Cups and Saucers, our congratulations goes out to Tom & Orla!

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Tea, Please

I’ve taken tea on Bahrain’s isle,
Sri Lanka and Hong-Kong,
Where desert sands run mile on mile
And sunlight’s powerful strong;
Tea from the gallery in our plane
Gave ease when flights were long.
In tropic heat, in freezing rain
The tea-cup came along.

Tea in Japan, tea in Malay,
Tea in Aden’s heat.
At cricket on a summer’s day
A tea is hard to beat.
And I remember taking tea in the land of Lorna Doone
With Devon cream – just you and me
Whilst on our honeymoon.

~ Jasper Miles, 1994

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Tea is, after all, a plant

Terroir. We hear this term bandied about in the wine world, but it is by no means exclusive. What does it mean and what does it mean particularly for the tea-drinker? At its base, terroir refers to the conditions of the immediate environment in which our tea plants grow. Its meaning reaches to the soil surrounding the roots, the climate, the elevation at which the bushes grow, drainage of the crops and the weather conditions they have been subject to during each new flush’s growth. We can see: the term is heavily loaded.

All these factors among others (leaf style, production, varietal of plant etc) impact the taste that reaches your lips at the other end of the journey! Now, in light of this phenomenon, we can make choices.

As each tea enthusiast follows their unique tea journey, they will often be presented with this choice between a tea “blend” or what we refer to as a “seasonal” pick, or a single estate tea.

We are either embracing the terroir of each season or craving and brewing a particular tasting blend with various taste componants. Both are completely valid – neither should be considered “better” than the other. Just a matter of mood! There can be some strong opinions regarding each avenue, but honestly, both have great merits.

A blend offers the drinker a catered taste, or the consistency and the faith that this particular chosen tea will be the same, time after time (as much as the super-human blending gurus can manage). Blended teas allow what we describe as a balanced flavour profile. One can create a distinct tasting tea by drawing on elements from various tea plucks. English Breakfast is a prime example of this style of tea. Specialists known as cuppers will dutifully taste and record, one after another, samples of different plucks. The information garnered from these tastings allow the resulting blend to be accurate. The recipe of sorts might have to change in ratio or locational source to keep the consistency.

Seasonal teas will have the estate listed in the name – especially in regards to teas from India and Sri Lanka. The younger tea producers of Kenya are following suit in this identification protocol. The history of a region and its legends may be present in the title of the tea estate. Often the name will describe the region- like Mist Valley – an estate in Nepal. A beautiful and honest reflection of the conditions will result in the appearance of the leaf, the aroma, the flavour, the mouth-feel – everything! It can be particularly fun to follow an estate yield season after season and notice the changes.

TOP TIP: Darjeeling translates as “land of the thunderbolt”. We can expect this season to have Darjeelings (the estates in this region number many) that will reveal the heavy rains that have hit recently.

The most beautiful thing about this, is that as you drink your tea, you can know that had it come the opposite side of the very same mountain, you would be drinking a different tea. Uniqueness in definition, summed up in a beverage.

Have a cup of tea for me,

knave of cups xv

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Finding good tea

Do yourself a favour – spend money on good tea. Beautiful fresh leaf that hasn’t been sitting on a supermarket shelf with nought but cardboard between it and the world. Not only do you have a brew that is flavourful and invigorating, but all your purported health benefits will be in much richer quantity. Ditch the bag. Eliminate the taste of bleached paper from your cup. Gain control over strength, quality and dosage of leaf.

Anthony Burgess said it best: “To prefer teabags to real tea is to exhalt the shadow over the substance”.

Real tea will open up a new world of flavours to you – the range of different teas to explore is truly staggering. Don’t let that daunt you, though, there are people to help you find what you are after, even if you may not know from the outset.

Tea people love to talk. It becomes our passion and we are so happy to share our excitement for tea. A tea consultant will more than able to give recommendations and discuss the minute differences between different teas. It is more than ok to say: “I’m not sure what I’m looking for.” Let them ask questions to establish what flavour profiles you enjoy, what is the best tea for whichever time of day you prefer a cuppa. Don’t be afraid to ask questions yourself– just be prepared for a barrage of information in response.

Some tea purveyors to visit and enjoy:

Taka tea – The Strand Arcade, Sydney, NSW
T2 – various locations around Australia http://www.t2tea.com
Tomte Tea – Online store, http://www.tomtelife.com/ based in Mosman, NSW
Zensation – East Redfern, NSW http://zensation.com.au
Elmstock & Dalhurst Teas – Balmain, NSW
The Tea Centre – various locations around Australia http://theteacentre.com.au
Storm in a Teacup – Collingwood, VIC http://www.storminateacup.com.au
Oriental Teahouse – four locations around Melbourne, VIC http://orientalteahouse.com.au
Berry Tea Shop – South Coast, NSW https://www.theberryteashop.com.au/
Harney & Sons – Online Store http://www.harneyteas.com.au/

The Knave of Cups xx

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“Hello, China? Yes, that’s right: ALL the tea.”

Few things have sparked such passion for large-scale acquisition as the tea plant. The British obsession with it grew more and more powerful since their very first contact with the beverage.

Time for a history lesson, my tea people. Gather round. We begin our tale in the seventeenth century.

From around 1684 onwards the British East India Company had exclusive trade clearance for tea purchase from China, the birthplace of tea and sole tea-producing nation at the time. They did not have to go through Dutch traders any longer, as was the previous method of acquisition. Tea madness only continued to grow…

Almost a century and a half later, pressure from other traders nullified the exclusivity of tea trade. The East India Company now had to compete with other merchants to buy up BIG and cheap – as much as possible before every other trader. It was pretty cut-throat.

The Chinese understood the immense value of their finest export. A trade deficit was apparent between China and Britain. The Chinese would accept only silver for tea leaf. They had no need for, or interest in, other exports from Britain. They were incredibly protective of the secrets behind the production of this valuable plant and guarded their knowledge carefully.

ENTER ROBERT FORTUNE.

His was a tale of espionage, of disguises and subterfuge. I bet you never thought tea could be so 007, no?

Not a trained spy, nor a hit-man, nor a diplomat. He was a Scottish botanist. (Scottanist?) The year is 1848 and Robert Fortune cruises around Fujian Province, a notable tea-growing region (many famous white and green teas are produced here), DISGUISED (somehow convincingly?) as a Mandarin businessman. He investigates tea growing methods, takes cuttings, seeds, and has major pow-wows with Fujian tea masters. His memoirs and diaries list among some of his adventures: fighting off pirates. So, not a tame walk in the garden as per your everyday botanist. Not only does he bring back physical specimens and the know-how to cultivate said plants, but he brings with him tea specialists from China to aid the production of tea in British India. His fabled and successful journeys earned him the title of “The Tea Thief” – a documentary now exists by the same name.

His stolen Chinese variant of the camellia sinensis thrived in the ideal terroir of Darjeeling, but failed miserably in the available colonised spaces in the Assam region of India. Brits begin freaking out as tea bushes in Assam continue to yield disappointing results. But oh, what is this? THERE’S A TEA PLANT VARIETY GROWING WILD AND PERFECT IN ASSAM.

Nice one, Britain. You had your own tea plant virtually the entire time.

The Knave of Cups xx

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The scientific pursuit of brewing

The great thing about the tea plant is that SO MANY styles can be derived from that one plant. Is it magic? Probably. Today, we’ll concentrate on how best to brew each style of leaf.

We have six varieties of production. These are black, oolong, green, yellow, white and pu erh. Some of these you may be familiar with. You may know of all of these! Power to you. The appearance and flavours vary greatly among the styles. In conjunction with this comes a need for varied preparation techniques.

Let’s break it down:

  • Black teas are often the most familiar to us. They are a hearty leaf and can handle the heat. 100°c recommended. I  personally favour a 2 minute default steeping time, yet adjust from there depending on the individual tea! A really brisk, finely broken leaf (say Irish Breakfasts and other strong morning blends) can allow a quicker extraction of flavour, so I may drop down the steep time to a minute or so. Fuller leaves I allow to ruminate and circulate maybe for a two and a half minutes. It’s a highly singular preference, so experimentation is definitely encouraged.
  • Green tea and white tea enjoy a reputation of delicacy. The tender leaves must be steeped in lower temperatures to protect the prized flavours. Pour a fresh kettle’s worth on the leaves and you are guaranteed a ruined and bitter brew. Drop the water temperature to 80°c (70°c even for white teas and really special greens) and you’ll find the resulting brew to be succulent and free from bitterness or unwanted astringency.  A 2-minute steep for greens is a great starting point. Brew time for white teas can range from 3-10 minutes. Experiment by tasting the tea at each new minute marker and see what your magic white tea brew number is. Mine is seven minutes.
  • Yellow tea is quite rare – only three main established varieties remain in production today. It most closely resembles a green tea and should be prepared as such. It deserves its own post entirely, so keep your peepers peeled…
  • Oolongs are tricky fellows. They span varying levels of oxidisation. Does it lie nearest the black tea end of the spectrum? Or the green tea end? Smack bang in the middle? Adjust accordingly! Darker roast oolongs can withstand heat – take it to 90°c and enjoy the malty, toasty enigma of dark oolong. A greener style oolong wants, again, a lower temperature. Vegetal complexities are coming your way. If it looks green, hit up the 80°c water. Traditional Chinese brewing methods practice what is called “awakening the leaves”. I definitely recommend this for tightly rolled oolong. It involves giving your leaf a quick burst of hot water – a rinse, pitching that lot and starting with newly dampened leaves, which will unfurl more readily.
  • Now, pu erh teas, these are specific. They MUST be rinsed. It is a tradition but also a rule.  Given that the tea is aged, very much like wine, it is important to flush any sediment or particles which may have settled onto the leaves. Brew with freshly boiled water and brew multiple times. It will yield up to and even beyond seven infusions. Brew time is highly personal with pu erh tea. I know people who prefer a 45 second first infusion and some who go for a 2-5 minute steeping. Gong Fu style brewing ceremonies will use special porous clay pots which will attain the flavour over time of whichever tea is chosen to be brewed therein. These ceremonies are also performed with oolong tea.

It can seem very sciencey indeed – but will make all the difference to your experience by using appropriate temperatures and times for each style of tea.

Enjoy playing around with brew time. A difference of thirty seconds can yield a noticeable change in taste.

There is a favoured phrase among tea academics, which demystifies the complexity behind tea brewing. I will leave you with this: “It’s just leaves and water.” Happy brewing.

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Chill out with some iced tea know-how

Now, we’ve had some changeable weather recently. It’s hot, it’s not, it’s overcast, it’s raining. I want to prepare us all for those beautiful, sunny, “let’s have a picnic” gems. (I maintain that they are coming!). Now, I want to give you the skills to brew anything your heart desires.

Icing tea. It isn’t difficult. Once you go through the motions a couple of times, you’ll have the mojo forever. Do not fear the icy magic – the results are spectacular. Let me first clear up one thing. A certain misconception seems to be floating around: that only specific types of tea can be iced. The reality is this: any tea or infusion/tisane whose flavour you enjoy, will very likely be enjoyed as an iced counterpart. I have seen heavily smoked tea, lapsang souchong (often described as having a “campfire” aroma), being used in a quirky cocktail. If you like it – you BREW it, honey-boo-boo-child.

Let’s cover the basics today. There are two main ways to ice a tea. Simply put, these are: hot brew/quick brew method and the cold brew/slow brew method. One is quick enough that you can prepare it for a same-day beverage. The other involves less effort, but more time. Flavour and strength of brew will end up much the same, regardless of which method you choose. Chemically, I have heard it likened to the difference between “pulling” and “pushing” the flavour out of the leaves.

COLD BREW:
For each metric cup of water you will end up with – use a tablespoon’s worth of tea leaves.
You will be covering the leaves in cold water, hence filling full the receptacle of your choice and letting the infusion draw for at least eight hours. This translates to “put leaves in cold water, stick in the fridge.” Easy, right? Right! For a surprise in the morning, just wait overnight and wake up to a tasty elixir. Simply strain and serve.

HOT BREW:

Again, you will need a tablespoon of leaves for each metric cup of liquid.

Only use enough hot water to cover the leaves and give room for their expansion. Keep in mind that some classes of tea will expand up to 7 or 8 times their dry mass. The more room you can give the leaves to swim and play and interact, the more even a brew you will have in result.

Black tea, herbal infusions and fruit infusions want 100°c water from a freshly boiled kettle. If you are brewing green, white, or greener style oolong tea, you will need to use water below boiling temperature. 80°c is a good starting point. Finer or more delicate teas in these styles may require an even lower temperature! Oh how those Japanese greens LOVE to be particular….

Once your tea has infused to your desired strength (depending on your tea anywhere between 1 – 30 minutes, wow!), strain the leaves and top entirely with ice cubes. This dilutes the concentrated tea to a correct strength and chills the tea right down.  The recap on this one: steep leaves in a bit of hot water, remove leaves, add super lots of ice to fill.

Let’s talk garnish. It’s beautiful. It’s tasty. Fruit, herb, spice, blossom. All are viable. Choose one ingredient for a simple and unassuming aesthetic or put a full on fruit salad in there if you wish. Cinnamon quills add an aromatic softness. Rose blossoms are perfect for a romantic spin. Citrus will liven up a tea with pleasant tang.  Chuck in a classic leafy sprig of mint or a cheek of lemon per glass. Delightful!

Now don’t feel pressured to exclusively choose glass for iced tea. Granted, it looks so utterly refreshing to see a crystal tea complete with garnish in a glass covered in dewy condensation. BUT it can be a lovely homage to the traditional piping hot original to use your antiques. Pop some ice cubes in those porcelain friends. You can go all out and freeze some edible flowers into ice cubes for a festive floral touch. Track down some candied violets! Nasturtiums! Marigold!

Some suggested, tried and true iced tea equipment:

  • Huge tea infuser ball. This guy is large enough to accommodate a full jugs worth of required leaf.
  • A barista’s thermometer. If using the hot brew method for delicate tea – check your water temperature before the leaves come into contact. You’ll thank me later!
  • Tempered glass. Make sure your vessel of choice can handle 100°c water. Let’s be OH&S conscious here.

Happy brewing.

Time to get me one of those tapped glass dispensers to share the iced goodness….

the knave of cups x.

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Revealing the secrets of the leaves… The Knave of Cups

Signing in as resident tea guru (such the lofty title) – I will be striving to bring all information necessary and fascinating about the beauteous leaf of the camillia sinensis plant (and all its various forms to be taken and enjoyed). This space will bring histories, legends, reviews, suggestions, techniques and more – all to complement and encourage your love of the leaf. Cups and Saucers Vintage China Hire is a true example of the tea revival in our city. We know the coffee culture is strong here. Let’s turn the tables and bring tea into the spotlight. Tea is about taking time away from the hectic pace of life, about gathering with friends, and about the finest of porcelain we can find to honour the calming brew it will happily contain. Choose to nurture your body and mind with this healthy leaf. Choose to get WELL fancy with a proper teacup. Extended pinkies and plates bountiful with petit fours are in our sights. Begin the adventure.

Regards,
the knave of cups. x

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A Summer Soirée

So delicious – a perfect companion to a summer high tea!

A sweltering weekend in Sydney did have some upsides.. I got the chance to trial a new recipe for a refreshing iced tea. I can’t take any credit for the recipe – which I found at Delish.Com ‘Lovable Liquids: 28 Summer Cocktails and Drinks’ – check it out for some inspiration!

Don’t get me wrong, I love my Shelley, Royal Albert, Tuscan and Paragon – and more than anything I love a black tea with a dash of milk and maybe something sweet on the side. But even the most lovely high tea needs a cool refreshment on a hot summer day. This was a lovely drink and very easy drink to make – brew 3 green tea bags, 1/2 cup fresh mint, 2 tbsp honey, 4 cups of boiling water for 5 minutes or so. Cool, add ice, and find your spot by the pool…