The Tea Squirrel interviews tea blogger Georgia of Notes on Tea
Happy New Year, dear tea lovers! I wish you a wonderful 2018, filled with sips of delicious tea enjoyed together with friends and loved ones! To kick off the new year I have a very exciting interview for you! My tea friend and fellow tea blogger Georgia, author of the NYC based blog Notes on Tea, kindly agreed to answer my questions about her own tea journey. Last year, it was such an honor to be featured in her teaware series on her blog! Without further ado, let me introduce you to Georgia.
Anna: When and how did your tea journey begin?
Georgia: Tea was part of the beverage culture growing up in Jamaica but as a child, I did not drink Camellia sinensis. Children drank herbals or tisanes. So-called “bush teas” were drunk for refreshment and for healing. I drank a lot of coffee for several years in the early aughts but also started an afternoon tea ritual with a small group of friends. When I moved to California, I was still drinking a lot of coffee but there were several tea houses in the Bay Area that precipitated the switch to being an almost exclusively tea drinker.
Anna: I didn’t know you lived in the Bay Area, how exciting! The availability of high-quality tea around here definitely helps, it’s a tea lovers’ paradise. What is your favorite tea or tea category?
Georgia: My favorite teas are ones made from Camellia sinensis though I do turn to blends and herbs when I am sick or sleeping poorly. My tea preferences are seasonal but I would never turn down an oolong. Within this category my palate alternates between green and darker oolongs, and when I say dark oolongs I don’t necessarily mean roasted oolongs.
Anna: My favorite teas change seasonally too, but I totally agree with you, a good oolong is hard to resist, regardless the time of year. What is your favorite aspect of tea drinking and why?
Georgia: I am a typical Western tea drinker in that I drink tea by myself more often than not. I do enjoy drinking tea on my own as it gives me the physical and mental space to experiment with tea. However, there is a fantastic tea community in the NYC area and it’s always a delight to meet up with these tea ladies.
Anna: The NYC tea community seems very vibrant and lively. I hope I can visit soon and see firsthand what it’s like. What is your favorite brewing method?
Georgia: Coincidentally, I have been thinking about this issue often lately. I prefer to use a lot of leaf and short infusions. I don’t adhere strictly to the gong fu method but my steeping approach would be recognizable to most as such. Of course, some teas such as matcha and other Japanese teas require other methods (and tea ware).
Anna: Speaking of brewing tea, what is the one piece of tea ware or tea accessory you cannot do without?
Georgia: The gaiwan. This tea ware is versatile. You can use it to prepare most teas. I think matcha would be the exception. If I had to choose a second, it would be my variable temperature kettle, and I wish there was a truly portable version, and preferably with a battery option.
Anna: The gaiwan! How can one not love it? Sometimes, though, it seems to me that it’s a little intimidating to Western tea newbies...until they try it. What would you recommend to tea newbies to kick start their tea journey?
Georgia: I think others have offered this tip, too, but here it is again: buy samples. It is an affordable way to cast a wide tasting net. Most tea companies sell sample sizes and in brick and mortar shops, you can often purchase in small gram sizes, too. Drink everything, at least once, even or maybe especially the tea you think you won’t like.
Anna: What is the most unusual tea-related thing that you have ever experienced?
Georgia: This is a hard question. I’ll share two stories; I don’t know if they are unusual per se but they are definitely memorable for me. The first was an afternoon tea that a friend reserved at a hotel in Boston. When we arrived, our table was strewn with red rose petals. We were surprised at the decoration because we had not ordered a special tea or indicated we were there to celebrate a special event, but in the end we reveled in the beauty of the table and the views of the Boston Harbor. The second memory is less pleasant. While I was in Hong Kong, my husband and I went to a very fancy hotel for afternoon tea service. I should say we waited in line to be seated but were told we could not be because I was not wearing appropriate footwear. I was pregnant at the time and also traveling light so had only packed my expensive hiking sandals. Needless to say the price of my footwear did not matter. We were told that they were suitable for the beach but totally inappropriate for service there. We left the line and went to another hotel where we enjoyed a delicious a la carte afternoon tea.
Anna: How insensitive of that hotel to turn you down! I’m glad you and your husband found a better option. I’m a huge fan of your blog. What is the story behind Notes on Tea?
Georgia: Notes on Tea is old by blogging standards. My first post is dated February 11, 2006. My early posts are embarrassingly spare and visually unattractive. I began writing the blog as a way to log my nascent tea journey and to write differently than I did in my graduate program. My first logo was “Notes on Tea” handwritten on ruled paper on which sat a tea cup. I am a huge fan of stationery and long-hand writing so it was rather easy to name the blog.
Anna: You are a tea sommelier in training. Tell us more.
Georgia: To give due credit, the idea was not my own. I’d like to give a major shout-out to Jee of Oh, How Civilized who organized a small group of us to enroll in the tea sommelier certification course with the International Tea Education Institute or ITEI. The course is fairly personalized in that for much of it I have met with instructor one-on-one, via Skype. I am still in training as I have not yet sat for the practicum which is a blind tea preparation and assessment.
Anna: How exciting! And I bet taking the course as a group is much more fun! You and I have another passion in common beyond tea, and that is tea and food pairings. What are your favorite tea and food combinations and why?
Georgia: My two favorite foods to pair with tea are chocolate and cheese (and crackers). Of course, if you are a fan of afternoon tea, as I am, then you know that sandwiches and scones also pair well with tea. I drink a lot of oolong throughout the year, and think you can find an oolong to pair with most chocolate and cheese.
Anna: Tell us more about your Tea Pairing 101 series.
Georgia: Sara (Tea Happiness), Jee, and I spend a lot of time together drinking and talking about tea. We are taking the tea sommelier course together so we had discussed ways to practice and share what we are learning. But it was Jee who put her finger on this exact idea. Our goal is to offer a tea pairing edition for each of the tea categories with the exception of yellow tea and dark tea such as heicha. We have completed white, green, and oolong pairings. The two remaining categories are black tea and puerh both of which we will pursue in 2018. We share the responsibilities and any costs of finding and securing venues and sourcing teas and foods. It is a great collaboration - fun and delicious!
Anna: Your collaboration sounds like a dream! I’ve been following Tea Pairing 101 since the beginning and I can’t wait for more. Can you share your tips and tricks to create delicious tea and food pairings?
Georgia: My first response is: experiment. My second response about pairing is to consider complementary flavors, contrasting flavors, or the elusive third flavor. I can’t say much about the latter because I haven’t had much success with it. In terms of complementing flavors, if you have an oolong with fruity flavors, you might want to pair it with fruit or with a chocolate that has those fruit notes. In terms of contrasting flavors, you could pair a shou puerh with a fatty cheese or meal (think of the traditional pairing of puerh and dim sum). In the same way you could pair a creamy cheese or chocolate or dessert to mellow the robust astringency characteristic of some black teas.
Thank you, Georgia, for sharing your story with us! It was a pleasure having you as a guest on my blog!