Monthly Archives

November 2015

Tea Reviews

Pure Green Tea with Four Seasons Tea Co.

Four Seasons Tea Co. is a brand new Canadian tea company specializing in Chinese teas.

I first met founder Jeff Kovac when he was my instructor during the Tea 101 module of my tea sommelier training with the Tea Association of Canada.

When I first met him (via Skype), I was struck not only by how personable Jeff is, but also by his knowledge of Chinese tea and the Chinese tea industry.

He lived in China for a number of years, and his knowledge of the region gives the Four Seasons Tea Co. a unique advantage.

He knows everything about the tea he’s selling.

Both the Gan Lu and the Jasmine samples Jeff sent me come from Mt. Meng in Sichuan Province. Tea cultivation on Mt. Meng began over 2,000 years ago during the Han dynasty.  It’s thought to be one of the first places on earth where tea was cultivated.

The leaves picked for the Four Seasons Tea Co.’s Meng Ding Gan Lu and their signature Snowflake Jasmine are grown in the misty peaks of the mountain.  It’s about 800+ metres above sea level for the Gan Lu leaves, and 600-800 metres for those found in the Snowflake Jasmine.

[white_box]Fun Fact: Meng Ding is also the hometown of panda bears.[/white_box]

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Meng Ding Gan Lu

Gan Lu means ‘sweet dew’. This tea from Mt. Meng is famous for its sweet aftertaste. People have been making it for thousands of years.

I can see right away that the curly, dry tea leaves have a light silver fuzz. This is a good sign.

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A note from Jeff:

“In Sichuan, a lot of Meng Ding Gan Lu is blended with a Bai Hao cultivar. My teas are just high mountain tips ONLY. Not blended.”

 

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Here is the unfurled leaf after infusion. The tips don’t lie.

I had a very pure, bright green-yellow liquor, with a clear, velvety soft taste. There is nothing blended in to dilute the flavour. It slides right over your tongue and hugs your mouth.

There’s a sweet but toasty aftertaste, like green peas or chestnuts.

Snowflake Jasmine

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I can see the jasmine flowers!

It’s funny, but this is an important checkmark for me. I’ve had jasmine tea that has no jasmine flowers in it. That always makes me suspicious – where is the scent supposed to come from?

Here, the tiny white buds unfurl beautifully along with the tea. Beautiful fragrance – not too heavy – and a nice, clean taste from the underlying tea. The warmth of the chestnut flavour works well with the floral.

This is a local favourite in Sichuan.

Jeff told me this Jasmine was incredible and I have to agree. I’m very picky with scented teas because I don’t usually drink them (Earl Grey being the exception), but I’ll definitely be finishing this sample.

Preparation

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Here are three different methods for preparation:

  1. Gaiwan for short infusions: 3 g for 60 ml of water. Pour the tea from the gaiwan into another cup. Do longer and longer infusions.  6s, 8s, 10s, 14s… etc.
  2. Gaiwan with tea: 3 grams for 120 ml of water. Sip and enjoy.
  3. Tall glass with tea: 3 grams just about a cup of water. Leave the tea leaves in while you drink it.

Don’t make your water too hot. 80˚C should do the trick.

Try all three and let me know what you think. I tried both short infusions in the gaiwan, and in a tall glass (mason jar for me).

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Four Seasons Tea Co.

This is a brand new Canadian tea company, and I’m very excited about them. I think Jeff will continue to produce high-quality tea informed by his knowledge of the Chinese tea industry, and I look forward to drinking more from them.

Right now they only sell their teas in 100g quantities. That might seem like a lot, but the quality is such that you’ll be wanting more to drink anyway.

Jeff was kind enough to include a discount code for readers to use on their website store. You can get 12% off your order by using the code: MelhadTea12

The code is valid for the next two weeks. From today until Friday, November 27.

Lifestyle

It’s Not What They Call You

First, a nod to veterans young and old on this Remembrance Day.

I wouldn’t do well in the service.

Mostly, I am far too self-centered, questioning and suspicious of authority figures to ever work successfully in the army.  I would probably be booted out on day one.  Not ideal soldier material.

I have friends and family who have been a part of the military, or who are still a part of it, in one way or another.  Some of them are the most earnest and steadfast and brave people I know.  Some of them.  Some of them just do their jobs, and that’s fine too.

An organization that goes to war in my name, and makes decisions I don’t often agree with can be tricky.  That fact that this organization contains some amazing people makes it further complicated to resolve in a binary system.

It’s like seeing an ugly, old, broken-down machine on the garage floor, and then looking closer and seeing that the heap of junk is made out of diamond and gold parts. Confusing.

If only someone could figure out how to put the machine together.

Let me try and stay on-message, here:

W.C. Fields said, “It’s not what they call you. It’s what you answer to.”

 

People will call you all sorts of things. They will try and draw a box around you as soon as they meet you.

It’s not really their fault – life is simpler this way. Who can blame them?

(Well, you can, actually)

But! It’s not your obligation to step into the boxes they’ve drawn. You can stand aside and say, “Nice box. Not for me.” and then go and get into whatever box you please.

Sometimes people will make a box for you and the. Come and say, “Come and stand in this beautiful box I built for you! I wish someone had built me a box like this.” And if you decline, they’ll say, “how ungrateful.”

Boxes are not one size fits all.

If your personal box says artist, then don’t answer to accountant.

If your personal box says accountant, then don’t answer to artist.

People will get the idea soon enough. You gotta write something on that box though. I mean – you’ve gotta give people something to call you!

Download the wallpaper here.

I took this photo of a clear day at Mt Robson in August. A day before being proposed to on this very mountain! Fancy that.

The Sunday Letter

Sunday Sundries | Vol. 21

Happy Sunday!

Going to keep it short and sweet today. Trying to decide what to eat for breakfast. Maybe pancakes? Yeah. Pancakes.

Here’s what I found interesting this week:

That’s it, team. Take it easy this week and take care of yourself. Flu season is upon us! Also, if anyone knows where I can find a time turner, I’m taking suggestions. Asking for a friend.

Tea Places

The Tea House Challenge at Lake Louise

a.k.a. one of the best goddamned days of my life.

I’m so excited we’ve finally arrived here!

I wanted to share this with everyone for so long. Someday I am going to become a tea house hermit in the Canadian wilderness. It’s only a matter of time.


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The Tea House Challenge

The Tea House Challenge is a 14.6km round-trip hike that starts at the base of Lake Louise and takes you in to and behind the mountains around the lake, and back again.

It should be considered a sacred pilgrimage for any tea-lover who finds themselves in western Canada.

At least, that’s how I feel about it.

There are two tea houses: the Lake Agnes Tea House, and the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. Each has it’s own trail, or you can combine them into a super trail for the longer Tea House Challenge Route, which is what we did.

You don’t need any maps. The trail is straightforward. When you reach Lake Louise, follow the path that leads towards the back of the lake and you’ll come to the trailhead naturally.

Everything can clearly marked, with lots of good signposts along the way. A lot of the signs were in miles. Canada only got their metric act together in the 70s, and a lot of the signs have been here much longer.

And hey, we made this awesome video to share with you.

It starts off on a rainy morning. We saw lightning strikes as we headed across the Lake Louise Parkway.

We weren’t allowed to film inside the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. They have a no-media policy to preserve the atmosphere and let their guests tune in to nature instead. Totally fine by me. Their chocolate cake made everything okay.

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Okay, so I did sneak one photo. Of this mostly-eaten cake. I couldn’t stop myself; the cake was half-gone before I even picked my camera up.

Not in the video: When we arrived at the Lake Agnes Tea House (with only enough money for one chai!) the staff at the Lake Agnes Tea House gave us a note to take to the staff at the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House. In exchange (and out of the kindness of their hearts) they gave us a cookie.

The two sets of staff hang out together and walk the path between tea houses all the time. They also walk up and down the mountain nearly every day, with trash or to get supplies.

The note said, “See you for church night. Don’t stand us up again!”

I asked our server what church night is.

“Oh, it’s half off wings and beer down in town.”

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The Banff Tea Company provides the tea for the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house. I visited the tea company in Banff the day before (because of course I did) and there I learned that the woman who started the Banff Tea Company now owns the Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House.

The Banff Tea Company even does a special Plain of Six Glaciers herbal blend. I got this and some of their Traveller’s Tea. They do a lot of specialty blends with rocky mountains and Albertan themes. Definitely visit them if you’re in Banff.

You can’t buy any loose tea at the tea house. Bringing up stock is difficult so they only keep on hand what they need to cook for guests. If you want to buy tea, best stock up in Banff before or after.

The Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House is pretty old. It was built in 1927 by two Swiss guides for the Canadian Pacific Railway. There is also a dog named Arlo-Barlo.

The Lake Agnes Tea House is the oldest tea house in Canada. It was built in 1901 by the Canadian Pacific Railway and started serving tea in 1905. They have been serving tea for 110 years.

Honestly, walking up to the Lake Agnes Tea House was like walking into Rivendell. We were so tired and it was such a paradise. There’s even a waterfall with stairs going up the side you have to climb to get there.

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For Canada, that’s mighty old.

That’s a lot of cups of tea.

It was so chilly outside the tea house and warm inside with the ovens going that thick condensation hugged the windows. It was so cozy. I could have spent the whole day here.

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I don’t know if you can tell, but I am VERY happy here.

Also, we had some ridiculously good photo weather. I mean, and this is half brag and half incredulity, but just look at these!

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I kept feeling like I was in Jurassic Park, or a new Mac OS screensaver. Either way, goddamn lucky. It was rainy and overcast when we left (as you can see in the video). Never thought we’d get clouds or sun like this.

The photo above is a piece of the mountain known as the Big Beehive.

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If you do this route, don’t forget to bring cash.

The Lake Agnes Tea house is cash only, and Plain of Six Glaciers did take our VISA, but bring cash, that way you’re good no matter what.

Ask me any questions you want about the trail! Is there anything I forgot to add?

And (of course) a rainbow at the end of the day to tie it all together.

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This was a day when I felt really lucky to be alive and be human and get to climb mountains and drink tea and see rainbows.

The world is a really extraordinary place. I’m very privileged and lucky, but you know what? A lot of people who can afford to, don’t even make time for little pleasures, like looking at rainbows, and drinking tea. They say they can’t, or just don’t think of it.

Make time for those things, okay guys? They’re really important.

And you know what? Rainbows are free. Tea is nearly free.

What’s that phrase, “the best things in life…”

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Day 16 Costs:

  • Family Diner, Lupper for 2: $34.29
  • Lake Agnes Tea House, Chai Latté: $4.00
  • Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House (chocolate cake, 2 sandwiches, soup with corn chips, chai latte, 2 bottles of water, lemonade): $53.80

Total: $92.09

Canada

Across North America, Day 15: Show Me the Mermaid and Sundance Canyon

I found one of Canada’s National Treasures today, thanks to the rain.

We woke up to a cold and depressing morning. Cold, grey and damp with continuous downpour.

Camp was dismantled quickly around 6:30am and Tim Horton’s warmed our grumpy and cold bodies up.

Luckily, the cold doesn’t last forever. Later the same day I was taking notes in the hot sun, and looking back at that morning.

Our original plan for this Canmore morning was to climb Ha Ling Peak, but the peak looked a lot less appealing in the freezing cold. We couldn’t even see the top through the heavy fog.

We decided to head over to Banff to see if the weather was any better over there.

First, a quick stop at Vermilion Lake.

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Then we discovered a national treasure: Cave and Basin. The origin of National Parks Canada.

Cave and Basin

Who knew the overture of Canada’s history of nature preservation opened with the smell of sulphur?

As we walk up to the outside of the building housing the entrance to the cave, you can smell rotten eggs, and see great gulps of steam coming over the railings from the hot rivers that pour out underneath the brick foundation.

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The story goes that the site was discovered in 1875, but it wasn’t until 1883 that it became famous. William McCardell and Frank McCabe, two Canadian Pacific Railway workers, descended through the skylight hole in the ground in to the hot springs in the cave below.

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Nowadays, of course, there’s an easily accessible walkway entrance into the cave. You could even bring a wheelchair in.

The building around the cave is plastered with informative diagrams and posters about the history of the area, including a large smattering of wartime recruitment posters, and also placards about the semi-endangered Banff Springs Snail.

The tiny gastropods about half the size of my pinky nail. You see them all over the rocks near the underground hot spring. According to the Parks Canada signs, their shells spiral to the left, whereas most snails’ shells spiral to the right. What rebels.

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Walking out of Cave and Basin, we follow a path behind the building that leads to a small exhibit in its own building.

I’m about to discover a dark part of the national park’s history.

Work Camps

This wood building that stands on its own, away from the main building, is a tribute to the workers in labour camps who were made to clearcut and shape Canada’s first national park lands.

When the First World War began in 1914, there was Canada-wide paranoia that immigrants from enemy countries (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Bulgaria) would turn on Canadians. This fear allowed the federal government to pass a rule calling them ‘enemy aliens’ and allowed them to be interned.

In the internment camps, there was a hierarchy. First class internees were German officers and civilians. Second class was mostly immigrant labourers, from Austria-Hungary.

The internees did a variety of work, including clearing land and constructing roads for the national parks.

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Basically, in lieu of expensive actual labourers and tradesmen, the government used the ‘free’ labour of immigrants and POWs stuck in internment camps to clear trees and make the trails. And for my fellow Nova Scotians, check out the right side of photo two. People were also interned at Citadel Hill in Halifax.

This would be good curriculum to add to our history classes in Canada. I had never heard anything about the government using prisoner labour to make the parks until I read up on it myself. It’s surprising, because Canada’s natural parks are part of its beauty and allure for so manny tourists. It’s something we think of as so pristine.

I’m glad Cave and Basin put this exhibit together, but I also think: “Why not just include it in the main exhibit hall?” It seems kind of funny that it’s out on its own, in a building about 50 feet from the main structure.

Did they set it apart as a sign of respect, or are they trying to distance themselves from their history?

We left the exhibit and decided to keep walking, following the signs for Sundance Canyon.

Sundance Canyon

Quite a little bit later (bring a snack for this walk) we stumbled into Sundance Canyon. The elevation wasn’t bad at all. It’s about a 7.4km round trip. The signage isn’t great, but the path is very straightforward. It’s even paved about half the way.

Some people rode on horseback, some people were biking (I’d go this route next time), and some of us were walking. By the time we got to the canyon, it was pretty late in the afternoon, so we were all alone.

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By the time we walked back to the Cave and Basin area, I was starving. Luckily, they had a little cafe with excellent dark chocolate energy balls for sale.

Note to self: Next time, buy energy balls before the walk, to bring with you.

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Also, There Was a Mermaid

In this one shop…

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The Banff mermaid is a long-standing oddity that attracts many curious visitors. You can stare as long as you like and read its origin story in its fish tank at the Banff Indian Trading Post in town.

It’s slightly grotesque and slightly cool. I found it in the back room between wolf t-shirts and hand-sewn moccasins.

Read this article if you want a bit more in-depth mermaid coverage.

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Back in town, we treated ourselves to a ‘fancy’ supper. It cost us less than $60. Not the most expensive, but this was a big spend for our budget. Luckily, Melissa’s Missteak was also delicious and worth breaking the budget for. I recommend “Melissa’s Mountain Stew, Beef chunks swimming in red wine gravy simmered slowly with fresh vegetables“. Not only was it delicious, but you get a huge serving.

P.S.

I just want to break away for a moment to tell you this great dog name I discovered:

A line of horses and riders passed us as we were hiking the trail to Sundance Canyon. They were all attached by a rope and being led by a girl in her late teens. All the horses were wearing tourists on top.

One of the horses on the rope started acting up and the girl turned around on her horse and yelled, “Perogie! Stop fucking around.”

Perogie. Cute horse name… great dog name.

a) Not only does it fit my food/animal naming convention (see: our cats: Taters and Trout); but,

b) Pero means ‘dog’ in spanish.

Voila. Perfect dog name.

P.P.S.

Also, we went to the movies later that night.

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Day 15 Costs:

  • Tim Horton’s Breakfast for 2:$16.72
  • Tunnel Mountain Campground: $27.40
  • Banff Tea Company: $13.05
  • Lux Cinema, 2 Adults Rogue Nation: $21.98
  • Groceries at Safeway: $19.46
  • Basin and Cave, 2 Adults Entry: $8.05
  • Melissa’s Missteak, Fancy Dinner + dessert for two: $55.79
  • National Park Pass (good until the 18th): $58.80
  • Cave and Basin Café: $7.80 (chocolate energy ball, tea, mars bar, water)

Total: $229.05

Lifestyle

Who gives a shit?

We got some good writing advice in my radio workshop today. Amongst other apt suggestions from our professor, such as “Get to it!” when it comes to broadcasting, he also reminded us of this brief quote by Linden MacIntyre, an investigative journalist for the CBC:

There’s one, short question that you have to address: Who gives a shit?

 

Ahhh. There’s the rub.

It’s funny, there are so many things that I’m interested in and would love to write about, but with news you need to be able to answer the question, “Why now?” 

You might have a really great idea for a piece, but if there’s nothing timely in it, then… your piece might not be as great as you think.

It works to your advantage to have it come out in a timely fashion when people care about it of course, because then they’re all the more likely to read it.

Say for example you shadowed a candy factory worker for a day. Well, that’s pretty cool. In fact, I would definitely read that. But the thing to keep in mind is your audience. Do most of them have the time to commit to your whimsy?

But! What if last week the candy factory your worker was at came under investigation, for employee maltreatment, or something such. Then! Your piece is suddenly relevant to the public eye. “Can you believe they have to eat ten candy bars a day? Yeah! I read it in so-and-so’s piece!”

You knew it was interesting all along, but you have to time these things so that your public is willing to be receptive.

I think there is a certain point (far, far, far, far, over the hill and away in my future) where your readers will trust you enough that they will listen to anything you think is important enough to write about.

But for now, us lowly, baby writers need to understand how public consciousness works, and how to make our works understood and stand out amongst the daily vortex of media content.

So, yeah. Why should anyone give a shit?

Being able to answer that question will also help your pitches improve, until no one is turning down your stories. Just saying.

Download the wallpaper here.

Thanks to MacIntyre for being so saucy, and Doug Kirkaldy for teaching radio.