The Rules Of Tea

The other day I had a conversation with someone about coffee and how i like everything about it except the taste.  I like the idea of it: the beans, grinding the beans, the nerdy people who make grinding the beans into a fine science, the sound of it percolating, the smell, the SMELL (got it’s so good), and i like how my parents turn coffee into a big ordeal every morning “doctoring it up”.  I realized as soon as i moved here that by not drinking coffee, i am a total minority in america.  But never fear – I have tea!  The canadian equivalent!  It has all the fun of coffee, but with a taste that is actually enjoyable for me without having to add a ton of sugar, chocolate syrup, and whip cream.  Tea is, hands down, my favourite beverage and because I feel sometimes like making tea is more of an art form than just a drink, I think I can put this in the blog.  Executive decision.  So my disclaimer is that this post doesn’t have anything about the animals, actual art, or any of the other usual things I write about… just sayin.  Below is a letter I wrote to a friend a while ago when i was at her house and discovered that she did not own a tea pot <gasp!>

So take note, everyone:

The Rules Of Tea

Per our conversation yesterday, and because I believe this to be one of the most important things you will ever read in your life, I am going to now share with you the coveted secret of all Canadians (and the British too) regarding the ritual of drinking tea.

There are a few important things to remember that the whole philosophy of tea drinking is based around:

1) Tea is not just a drink, it is a customary ritual.
Let me elaborate: brewing tea contains steps that are like unwritten laws… steps that progress in a certain reliable order that we will elaborate on later.  Making tea involves unique cultural practices that regulate our social conventions and customs, and brings us together as a society and nation.  Tea is a powerful thing…

2) Tea is sacred and when brewed properly you can harness the natural powers of its contents.
What i mean by that is: if you need to relax and go to sleep, there is a tea for that.  If you need rejuvenating energy, there is a tea for that.  Want to lose weight?  Want to focus more?  Prevent illness?  Etc? Tea can be a portal to happiness, health, and wisdom.

3) Brewing tea involves a series of steps, vessels, and accessories
To make the best tasting tea in the world, and to not be shunned by Canadian society (gasp! a horrible thought!) there are a few important things to remember: tea kettle, tea pot, tea cup, tea bags (or loose leaf if you want to be extra fancy), sugar (granular or cubed), milk (1% or 2%), tiny elaborate spoons, fancy napkins, optional: scones (golden brown, with rock sugar on top…), and a tray to put all that on. If you provide all of these things to a canadian, they will know what to do with it, and you will be a hero for offering it to them. You don’t even have to make the tea, just having all the right stuff will make you a superstar. BUT I will give you the steps below so if you ever find yourself hosting a tea party for canadians you will pull it off like an old pro…

The Steps:

Boil the water in a whistling tea kettle – in some cases, a full boil is too hot for the type of tea you are making, so you want to turn the stove off right before the kettle whistles.  You will know when the time is right when the pot is making a lot of ‘pre-boil’ noise but not yet whistling.  I can show you sometime… recognizing the pre-boil is a skill that takes time, practice, and fine-tuning.  OR you could just say ‘screw it’ and let the kettle whistle so you know for sure the water is ready… besides, all canadians love the sound of a whistling tea kettle.

Pour a small amount of water into the tea pot.  Just a half cup or so.  Swirl the water around in the tea pot to warm it.  Dump out that water.  Pour in new water all the way to the top of the tea pot.

Add a tea bag (or loose tea in a tea-ball).  You always want to put the tea in after the water, because there is something about burning the tea leaves with the boiling water if you pour the water right over it, but I don’t really get it because what’s the difference if the tea goes in the water AFTER  it is poured?  It’s ending up in near boiling water either way… i don’t argue with it, that’s just the way it is.  Says my Nana.

Let the tea sit (steep) for 3-5 minutes. If you have a tea cozy, put it on your teapot to keep it warm. Tea should be served as hot as possible, and only allowed to cool down in the tea cup.

Give the tea a little stir before pouring to make sure the tea has evenly infused in all the water. Pour the tea into some small and dainty tea cups. Take the tea, sugar, milk, spoons, napkins, and scones (that you baked earlier) out to the guests and then the fun part begins – adding milk and sugar.

This is also the part that is easiest to mess up… so don’t be in a rush.  The color of the tea after milk is added should be a pale tan.  Too much milk and it will look like a biscotti cookie color, too little milk and the color will be more like watery coffee.  You want somewhere in between.  I wish i had an image of the perfect cup of tea to add to this section, but I will just have to demonstrate for you sometime.  Sugar is added to each person’s individual taste.

Stir it all up with the tiny elaborate spoon.  Then: pinkies up, sip, and enjoy!  And eat some scone.  And partake in some social gossip: “did you hear about all the things?!”

There you have it, Canada’s social ritual all summed up.  Each vessel you use and each process is like a step along a sacred pathway to the “perfect cup of tea” and no part may be compromised or altered.  It just isn’t the same otherwise (i mean, it might actually be the same, but it’s not the SAME, you know?!) Sooooo the moral of this elaborate lesson on tea is: buy a tea pot.

Update: she bought a tea pot.

Magic Panda

It has been a busy few months at work leading up to the opening of our seasonal exhibit (hence the blog hiatus, hence no new pictures, hence no new facebook posts) BUT the great news is that the exhibit grand opening went fantastic and I’m back to being a normal human again working normal human hours and days.  Weeeee!!

Unfortunately that means there has been no time to do any new pictures lately (lies! there is one new one: The Brontothesaurus of Friendship – i’ll post it soon on the facebook page) but I did get a chance to meet up with an old friend today and get him ready for his big blog debut.  I am talking of course about Magic Panda.  He is a little bit shy and has been reluctant to come on the blog (which is why it has taken so long to officially introduce him), but I talked him in to it with promises of blueberries.  Oddly, he likes to supplement his diet of primarily bamboo with blueberries from time to time… i guess it’s the antioxidants… but blueberries are a pricey commodity in San Diego since they don’t grow here, so it was a treat he couldn’t pass up.  Seriously, $5 for a tiny little container of them?!  Outrageous.  But worth it to get him to finally make an appearance.  So without further ado, here he is for the first time, Magic Panda, everyone! <insert talk show audience applause track>

The first time I met Magic Panda was at a lunch with Rainbow Cow.  They are good friends, and Magic Panda was in town visiting for a few days (this was before he lived in the area) so he joined us at a nice little cafe that had a great garden patio and the best iced tea you could ever imagine… maybe I was just thirsty, but this iced tea was memorable.  Rainbow Cow and I did most of the talking since we had much to catch up on – it had been a while since we had seen each other and he wanted to tell me about some new projects he is working on (more about that later), and I wanted to tell him that I had finally tried cake pops (much to his delight).  “See? i told you they were good. didn’t i say cake pops are the best? i told you to try them so many times, and now you did, and now we can talk about how good cake pop are! today is the best! can we order cake pops here? i want a cake pop right now. lets make cake pops tonight too! we could eat cake pops together and it would be the best ever! Magic Panda, have you ever had a cake pop?”  I think it went on like that for longer, but the first time I heard Magic Panda talk was his response to the cake pop question: he smiled, looked down bashfully, and quietly said ‘yes’ with the slightest glimmer of a memory shining in his eye.  I didn’t think much of it then, but I would later learn the story behind his first cake pop encounter and that innocent, bashful smile would make so much sense.  It was a small, subtle gesture and it told an incredible story to those who knew him without using any words at all.  But in that moment, it was just a smile like any other, and i didn’t think anything of it.  I left lunch that day with my impression of Magic Panda being that he was sweet and gentle, shy but complex and probably had an adventurous side that would come out sooner or later.  I liked him, and I knew we would be friends.


I guess I need to give a little background on pandas and why he is magic and others aren’t.  It wasn’t always that way… other pandas were magical too.  In fact, ALL of them were magical in the distant past and there are still many pandas today who posses the same genetic anomaly that led to the magical powers that their ancestors had harnessed thousands of years ago.  But today, pandas will not acknowledge this power or practice magic any more and they will almost certainly deny it even existed at all.

(the great and powerful beast in action)

But I will tell you the truth (or what I know of it from things Magic Panda has told me):  The origin of their powers is thought to be from a strange anomaly in the panda’s brain (i’ll spare the detailed medical mumbo-jumbo) that was initially caused by eating bamboo that grew in close proximity to an underground mineral spring.  No one has been able to identify exactly what the mineral spring had in it that was being absorbed by the bamboo to cause this because the spring dried up long ago. Luckily researchers observed a slight pigmentation difference between the leaves on affected bamboo plants which allowed them to trace the dispersal of the affected plants over time. They reverse tracked it from its current known locations back to where it originated hundreds of thousands of years ago and that is how they came across the dried up spring. They believe the ancient pandas that lived in this region to be the common ancestors of all future populations of pandas.

(not surprising that such a magical setting produced magical animals)

On a side note, there is also evidence of ancient mining activity in the area, but no historical accounts exist of what was being mined – it is actually a big mystery among the geological community these days and a subject of much interest and debate because despite many geological surveys and sampling, there have been no conclusive results showing anything out of the ordinary in the soil, plants, and rocks of the region.

Whatever the case, the long and short of it is that pandas ate this altered form of bamboo, got special powers, and almost ruined the entire planet.  And now today, no pandas will even acknowledge the existence of their magical past or the blunders of their ancestors.  There is a much larger story here, but I’ll have to save that for another day because this is getting a bit long.  How did pandas almost ruin everything?  Why is Magic Panda so open about magic?  What happened on that occasion when he ate a cake pop for the first time?  How did Magic Panda and Rainbow Cow meet? (legitimate question, not even I know that actually)
There is much more to tell… tune in next time!