The Journey – A Poem

The Journey:

Two leaves and a bud.
Plucked, cooked, dried
And rolled. Carried from sea to shore.
Strained into my canary yellow teapot.
Taste it. Taste the colors of India.
Swirl it, taste the rush.
Spices and chaos,
Packed into my cup.
The journey it has made,
Makes every sip worthwhile.

– by India Kushner

Sage

It’s officially spring and the Sip staff is maintaining a garden just for fun.  Each of us has planted two garden beds (approximately 3 feet wide by 8 feet long) with a variety of vegetables and herbs.  The sage is looking beautiful and it’s time to make some tea with it! We will keep you posted as we each harvest delicious vegetables from the garden.

Tea and Time

– by India Kushner

India-the origin of Darjeeling tea, a place with an incredible blend of many religions, colors and the best example of culture shock you will ever encounter. If you want to experience a place unlike New York, India is the complete opposite. It also happens to be my namesake. This winter, I had the privilege of visiting Darjeeling, a small town in the north of India.

Traveling to Darjeeling used to be quite difficult, dangerous even. However, it became a great deal easier with the introduction of the railway, or the “toy train”- so named because of the smaller parts needed to build the railway up the winding hairpin twists and turns of the mountain. Until this year, you could still take the train up the mountain – a 4 to 6 hour trip. Most people nowadays travel up the mountain by car – a mere 2-3 hours.

So how exactly do you get to Darjeeling? The trip there is an adventure in itself. From New York to Bagdogra, the town at the foothills of the mountain where Darjeeling is located, takes about a day and a half of traveling. Once you arrive, a driver will pick you up and begin the 2-3 hour trip up. Bagdogra is a good illustration of India at its best. The roads are crammed full of cars, motorbikes, and rickshaws all weaving in and out, avoiding each other, as well as the numerous cows, goats and dogs that dot the streets. Traffic here is unlike New York City at all. People are not so much aggressive, as they are assertive. You cannot hesitate and honking is more of a conversation-“Can I pass by? Honk!” “Sure you can! Little honk or blinking turn signal.” “Thanks so much, tiny toot.” As you wind your way up, you may find yourself hanging on to the side of the car as the driver wends his way around one hairpin turn after another, again honking around each turn to warn he’s coming. Don’t worry – even though you are inches from the side of a hill that looks like something you could bungee jump off of, your driver will get you there safely.

If you’re staying at the Windamere (like I did), on your arrival, you will most likely be greeted by Elizabeth Clarke, director of the hotel, who always has a cheery smile and a wealth of knowledge about everything Windamere-related (as well as many other subjects).  Though many come to the hotel itself purely for relaxation, there are plenty of other activities to do and places to see. In the town itself, there are numerous scarf shops, where shop owners will unfold shawls of every shade, unfolding them with a flourish. There are also many curio shops, as they are called, with everything from statues of Ganesha to singing meditation bowls. But, if you know anything about Darjeeling, then you will know that what they specialize in is tea. Here, Darjeeling tea is known as “the champagne of teas.”

The drink first arrived in Darjeeling in the mid-1800s, completely changing the landscape and economy. To this day, tea is a prized commodity.

Though I have been a tea drinker for many years, working at Sip has given me a newfound appreciation for and understanding of the beverage. I count myself incredibly lucky to have an opportunity to travel to this country fairly regularly. My mother’s family has a history that is tied to Darjeeling, so when we reconnected with them several years ago, very soon after, we traveled all the way across the world to meet them. In the past few years, I have developed a growing connection both with tea and India, as a country, both on a personal and cultural level.

On this trip, Nicole, the owner of Sip sent me with a mission-to find new tea. There are many tea plantations to visit while in Darjeeling. Four years ago, on my first visit, I toured Castleton, the Windamere’s tea by choice. This time, the staff kindly arranged a meeting with the owner of Makaibari Tea Estates, Rajah Banerjee. Makaibari is located halfway down the mountain, in Kurseong. What’s intriguing about the tea factory is that it practices biodynamic methods (developed by Rudolph Steiner) to help their tea plants grow more abundantly.

Rajah is a story in himself. When we arrived, we were ushered through the gates and led to his office, where we found him sitting in his office waiting, with tea in elegant teacups. A fourth generation owner, he explains the history of Makaibari interspersed with jokes. After an introduction, he dispatched a worker to give us a factory tour. We learned about the different processes of tea, from just picked to drying, rolling and sometimes even frying. Next, Rajah rejoined us and took us into a light-filled room where we were given green aprons with the Makaibari logo and were led through a tea tasting.

Not unlike a wine tasting, tea tastings involve examining the tea leaves, smelling the tea, then sipping a little and slurping it-loudly! After swirling it around in our mouths several times, we were instructed to spit it out into a sink and rinse off the spoon we used to dip into the teacup. We tried about five different types of teas. Once we were through slurping and spitting, we walked up to a room resembling an attic with low, sloping ceilings and boxes all around the edges. These boxes turned out to have the ingredients for the biodynamic process used there. Rajah went on to explain the whole process, cracking jokes throughout and quizzing us, smiling gleefully at our guesses to his questions. At the end of our tour, we were each given a sample of our favorite tea. I was given a tea called Darjoolong and I managed to buy a sample of a tea for Nicole, called Silver Needle.

As I wrapped up my Makaibari visit, I just let the experience wash over me. Where else would I have met characters, such as Rajah Banerjee, or see the plants where tea is handpicked? Next time you sit down with a cup of Darjeeling or any loose tea, just stop and imagine your tea growing on a plant, being handpicked and then traveling through a long lengthy process just to find its way into your cup. You may find yourself savoring your leaves a little more than usual.

TEAS WITH CHEESE

On Sunday, March 24th, 2013, Sip Tea Lounge hosted an event with Mark Cassin from The Big Cheese.  We paired five teas with five local cheeses.  The result: AMAZING!
The fifth pairing was a surprise that included Red Rooibos, a delicious, homemade ginger bar from Sip Tea Lounge and fresh Chevre from New York State.  A trio of goodness.
For those of you who missed the event, here’s a breakdown of how things went down:

Pairing 1: Makaibari Darjeeling Tea with Berleberg Cheese
It is estimated that Darjeeling produces about 9 million kilograms of tea annually, yet it is said that 40 million kilograms of tea end up at the market each year. The good news is that there’s nothing fake about this organic 1st Flush 2012 Darjeeling from Makaibari Estate. The sweet and spicy scent and fruity notes of this SFTGFOP 1 SPL grade tea are signs that it is the real deal.

The tea is paired with Berleberg cheese from Hoosick, NY. One of the few certified organic cheeses, this cow’s milk cheese is delicate with floral notes, and has a finish like buttered popcorn. When combined, the Makaibari and Berleberg create a symphony in your mouth.

Pairing 2: Japanese Sencha Tea with Dulcinea Cheese
This clean, vegetal premium grade Sencha green tea from Southern Japan is deep steamed after plucking, giving the leaves their emerald green color. With hints of seaweed and ocean, this delicious brew will transport you.

This tea is paired with Dulcinea, a raw sheep’s milk cheese from Danascara’s Cheese of Fonda, NY. The cheese is made in the “Manchego” style, yet it has some cheddar notes. A rare find in New York State, a cheese like Dulcinea is a treat. The light sharpness of this cheese pairs well with the seaweedy Sencha.

Pairing 3: Chinese Pu Er Tea with Redfield Cheese
This mini “Shu” or “Cooked” Pu Er Tea cube from Yunnan, China is a fermented, compressed tea. To make Shu Pu Er, the fermentation process is accelerated by mixing new leaves (almost compost style) with the previous batch. Once the tea leaves have completed their rotation from the bottom to the top of the covered pile, they are baked, steamed, compressed and packed. This earthy Pu Er will continue to get darker with each brew, making it a long-lasting tea to savor and share.

This tea is paired with Redfield, a raw goat’s milk cheese from Cranberry Ridge Farm in Williamstown, NY. A semi-firm, light and almost lemony cheese, Redfield is a nice combination with the barny, hay-like Pu Er tea.

Pairing 4: Chrysanthemum Tea with Alpage Cheese
According to traditional Chinese medicine, Chrysanthemum flower is known for its internal cooling properties, and its ability to clear the liver and help the eyes. This decaffeinated herbal infusion is flowery with a unique and appealing bitterness.

This tea is paired with Alpage, from Amazing Real Live Food Co. in Pine Plains, NY. Alpage is a raw, aged cow’s milk cheese made in the classic Swiss tradition of Gruyere. The cheese hints of grass and stout by itself. When combined, the Alpage and Chrysanthemum bring out the best in each other.

Pairing 5: Rooibos Tea with Painted Goat Cheese
Rooibos is an herb that is grown in a small area in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Not technically a tea because it is not produced from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis, Red Rooibos goes through a process of oxidation that is somewhat similar to a single garden tea.  As a result, the leaves become reddish-brown in color. The decaffeinated Rooibos herbal tisane has a distinct mellow yet earthy sweetness that makes it a lovely choice for the end of a meal.

This tea is paired with the season’s first batch of fresh Chevre from Painted Goat Farm in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State.
The combination of the Chevre spread on top of a delicious, homemade ginger bar, and the Rooibos herbal Tisane, make this final pairing an unforgettable surprise.

Don’t be sad if you missed this pairing.  We will do another tea and cheese event.  In the meantime, check out the siptealoungeny.com “Events” section to learn more about our upcoming tastings and pairings.

See you at Sip Tea Lounge soon!

Grit. Who’s Got It?

“A determined soul will do more with a rusty monkey wrench than a loafer will accomplish with all the tools in a machine shop.”

Robert Hughes

A few years ago a friend (insecure epicure) shared with me a New York Times Article about the qualities that have been found in successful individuals. More recently, a TED talk appeared on the same subject. The topic of how to be successful is popular. People will tell you that going to a good school and getting the best grades will help you land the perfect job.  Or they will say that finding the right job is all about who you know. Life is not that easy.  Connections are great, but if you do not step up to the plate, motivate yourself, take initiative and follow through on completing a task from start to finish, eventually you will come to a dead end and lose the opportunity for growth. It takes hard work to move ahead.

Whether the goal is to run one mile or 100 miles, find your dream job or lose five pounds, it can only be achieved with hard work, focus, tenacity and a plan. Ultimately, it is not the one college degree, the single connection or the “smartest” individual that achieves the most success.  One must stay on the entire journey and jump all the hurdles along the way.  The real question is: Do you have the grit to stick to the plan, stay focused and reach your goal?  Will you do whatever it takes.  Will you do it humbly?  Will you do it well, no matter the task?

It is easy to make excuses.  Articulating a goal is hard, but dealing with the hurdles on the road to achieving it is harder.  It is tempting to blame others when the going gets tough, but ask yourself, are you tough enough?

Can you handle criticism?  Can you take advice?  Can you do something with the feedback you are given and become a better person?  Do you have grit?

In my own life, I am getting better at hearing advice I do not want to hear.  It means taking criticism that can be harsh.  It involves thinking until my brain hurts.  It is a lot like running a race or completing a physical activity. It is hard work, but it feels so good when it is done.   To be honest, I also like the process.  After all, the learning is in the doing.

Luckily, at the beginning and end of the day, I have tea to help me slow down and reflect.  Tea allows me a moment to look at the big picture, stop and make a plan, refocus, reenergize and keep going strong.

What is your goal?  What tools do you use to accomplish it?  Do you have grit?

– Nicole Basso