Introducing my tea friend Carlotta Mariani
Happy Thanksgiving tea lovers! This year, in the true spirit of the holiday, I want to celebrate by giving thanks. I am thankful for finding my true passion and a lot of friends along the way. Carlotta Mariani is one of them.
Yes, we share the same last name and no, we are not related. The love for tea has brought us together. Carlotta lives in Italy, not far from Milan and is the talented journalist behind the tea blog FiveOclock. Last September, during a trip to Italy, I had the pleasure to meet her in person over a cup of tea.
How did you become a tea lover?
When I was in high school, my friends and I would often meet to study together at a friend’s place. I remember hating my math homework with all my heart, but my friend’s mother would always make us a cup of tea half-way through our study session, which cheered me up again. Back then, nobody drank tea in my family and the only tea available in my parents’ pantry was way past its expiry date. My friend had a huge collection with so many different tea bags! From that moment on, my group of friends and I were hooked! We started drinking tea regularly and we were always looking for new flavors. I don’t drink bagged tea anymore, because “life is too short to drink bad tea”. Once you try loose leaf tea, there’s no going back.
When and how did you start your tea blog?
In 2008 I graduated with a thesis on blogging. Back then, blogging was not so popular like it is today and I only had a photo blog. In 2009 at journalism school, I had to start a blog as part of my course assignments. I was free to pick a topic and at first I wanted to start a travel blog. Everybody had chosen that topic already, so I ended up choosing tea, which is in a way very much like traveling.
What is your favorite tea?
I love green tea but I drink other types of tea too. My green tea passion is fueled by the way I feel after drinking it, I feel good and I get into a Zen state of mind. My favorite teas are Long Jing, Anji Bai Cha, Meng Ding Gan Lu, Sencha and of course, my beloved matcha.
Is there a brewing method that you prefer over the others?
It really depends on the tea, on my mood and on the time of the day. In the morning, I make myself a bowl of matcha and use all the traditional tools or if I’m drinking any other type of tea, I use my mug and a tea strainer. Right after getting up in the morning, I am not usually very active, so I prefer the easiest method. During the day, while I’m working, I love using my gaiwan for Chinese teas and my Kyushu teapot for Japanese teas. For black teas, regardless of their origin, I use a mug and a tea strainer or a Western-style tea pot.
What is the one piece of tea ware or tea accessory you cannot do without?
My teacups and tea mugs. I have many of them in different colors, shapes and styles and they remind me of my trips and travels and of the friends or family members that gave them to me as a present.
What is the most unusual tea-related thing that you have ever seen/experienced?
The first is Goishicha, a fermented Japanese tea that I discovered at the Universal Exposition Expo2015 last year in Milan. The second is getting to know the camellia sinensis plant up close and personal, which happened last summer on a tea farm in Northern California. I would have never thought it possible!
What are your plans for your tea blog?
I want to make my blog even more professional and I would love to become a point of reference for tea lovers and tea newbies alike. The layout and structure of the blog have already been improved and my mission is to educate Italians on tea. It’s going to be challenging but I love a good challenge!
What are your favorite tea houses in Milan?
My favorite tea houses are Chà Tea Atelier and La Teiera Eclettica. Here you can drink high quality loose-leaf (properly-brewed) teas from different countries. Another favorite is Crazy Cat Café, not only because of the tea they serve but also because of the cats (can you tell I am a cat lover?).
What are your favorite tea shops in Milan?
Chà Tea Atelier and La Teiera Eclettica are not only tea houses but also tea shops. Moreover, I recommend Essenza del The, l’Arte del Ricevere and Dammann Fréres (the only single-brand boutique in Italy by this brand).
What places or events should be on every tea lover’s list while visiting Milan?
Chà Tea Atelier and La Teiera Eclettica regularly organize tea-related events. Giappone in Italia (a Japanese cultural center) and Urasenke school of Japanese tea ceremony should also be on your list. I hope that Milan can soon have its own tea museum or educational exhibition like Bologna and Turin and I would love to see high quality tea become more and more popular and readily accessible. Some cafes already serve loose leaf tea but often the leaves have not been properly stored or hot water from the espresso machine is used for brewing, without checking the temperature. We still have a long way to go!
What are the current tea trends in Italy?
Recently it has become easier and easier to find high quality tea in Italy, especially in cities like Milan, Rome, Turin and Bologna. There are very interesting specialty tea shops and many reliable on-line tea retailers. Italians don’t drink much tea but we are witnessing a rising interest. Young women love tea, especially green tea and flavored teas. A lot of people start drinking tea for its health benefits but I hope they can go beyond that and discover the flavors, scents, places and thousand-year-old traditions connected with tea. I am really passionate about it and I hope my blog can inspire people and encourage them to try it. Matcha has become fashionable in recent years, both as a culinary ingredient and as a drink. In Milan this trend is closely related to a real Japanophilia movement (the love for everything Japanese), which has emerged after the Universal Exposition Expo2015. During Expo, the Japanese delegation organized a lot of events to boost tourism and promote Japanese culture and tea played a key role.
What brewing method would you recommend to tea newbies?
If you are starting out with tea, stick to uncomplicated brewing methods. If you are drinking black tea, brew it with a mug and strainer or in a Western-style tea pot. To Italian tea newbies I recommend starting from the closest tea ritual (culturally), the British afternoon tea. Start easy, then you can move onto higher-quality unflavored tea and marvel at the subtle nuances and differences between an Indian black tea and a black tea from Kenya or from China. Let curiosity be your guide!