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On botany and budgets: a tale of two Roberts

Originally published May 30, 2011

Well, we’ve covered Captain Pidding, and I’m still working my way through the 1800s literature, so let’s make our next subject the two Roberts: Robert M. Fortune and Robert Montgomery Martin.

The two men are fairly opposite personalities. Fortune can be generally characterized as a robust, fearlessly determined adventurer, while Martin was a matter-of-fact analyst, and meticulously detailed researcher. But both are responsible for great contributions to the spread of tea to the western world, in their vastly different ways.

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OMG WTF is SFTGFOP?

Originally published February 22, 2012

No, Orange Pekoe does not taste or smell like orange. Fine is usually expensive, and Super Fine is usually more so. There’s Flowery and Golden Flowery, as well as Tippy and Golden Tippy, so there’s Tippy Golden Flowery but also Golden Tippy Flowery, which is different. Annoying, isn’t it? These terms are, by far, the most confusing obstacle to the new tea drinker; today’s essay will let you in on what they mean.

These many designations are called leaf grades. They serve a simple purpose – when tea is packaged and sold, it is sold in large lots by auction, in closed cases. Those cases are not all opened and inspected, because exposing the tea to air damages it and this is to be avoided. Therefore, the tea industry uses these grades to describe the tea leaves contained in the chests being put up for auction; the grower is expected to have properly sorted and separated their leaves to the correct grades, and the buyer knows, more or less, what to expect they are buying without having to look inside.

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On Lettsom’s literary legacy: The Natural History of the Tea-Tree

Originally published April 8, 2012

portrait
John Coakley Lettsom

Theam omnium pulcherrimè et graphicè descripsisti.

[You have, of all others, most
excellently and exactly described the Tea-tree.]

— Carl Linnaeus to John Coakley Lettsom1

John Coakley Lettsom was Britain’s first literary authority on tea: his 1772 work, The Natural History of the Tea-Tree2, represents the earliest English language attempt at a comprehensive survey of the science and history of what would become the United Kingdom’s national beverage. In my last essay we reviewed the tea literature of Europe leading up to Lettsom’s time. We’re therefore ready to take a closer look at what Lettsom himself wrote, and get a better sense of Europe’s ideas on tea in his time.

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On marketing and masquerade: the persistently plucky Captain Pidding

Originally published March 22, 2011

Studying the history of a commercial enterprise is, in my experience, broken down into two distinct portions: the long tedium of endless streams of numbers that have long since blurred together, and the occasional humorous diversion of the trivial, the unusual, and the bizarre, that are the natural occurrences within any extended and well-documented human acitivity.

The history of tea is especially ripe with such stories, as it presented an almost perfectly fertile environment for a cunning mercantile imagination, freed from concerns of honesty or fair practice. Having one’s British customers and Chinese suppliers exactly half a world away from each other offered ample opportunity to tea merchants at various levels of the industry to exercise their creativity in order to advance their prosperity. Some were more amusingly determined at it than others.

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On Lettsom’s literary lineage: early European writers on tea

Originally published March 11, 2012.

I’ve recently been considering the question of identifying the seminal works in tea literature. Every student of tea will quickly learn of Lu Yu’s Classic of Tea 茶經, around 780, and of course the landmark work in the English language, All About Tea by William Ukers in 1935. These are the obvious selections which we will cover at a later date.

In my opinion, an early seminal work worth reviewing would be John Coakley Lettsom’s The Natural History of the Tea-Tree of 1772. 160 years before Ukers does the same thing, Lettsom attempted to digest and summarize all of the tea-related information available at his time, collating botanical, medical, and historical writing into a coherent general survey. Lettsom’s is also the first English work entirely focused upon the subject of tea, granting it a unique place in its history – published prior to the era dominated by the East India Company, it is a relatively apolitical and objective book. It is also significant for its influence, as much of the West’s later understanding of tea was founded upon and shaped by Lettsom’s work, which was widely read, analyzed, and cited for many years.

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On assumptions and arrivals: early American attempts at tea

Originally published July 7, 2011

Well, since it was the 4th of July and all…

It was, of course, the British who most determinedly set themselves to the “reverse engineering” of the cultivation and production of tea, with the object of producing tea in their own territories. In America, while tea had been enjoyed by the early colonists, its later association with the Boston Tea Party – an act of protest against symbolic, and heavy, taxes to Britain – put a major dent into its popular acceptance as a drink of choice.

Eventually, however, the unholy gobs of money generated by the British trade could not fail to reawaken an American interest in tea. Early U.S. works on the subject focus primarily on importing tea from China, but there was also some interest in the cultivation of tea, actually growing tea on United States soil. Both approaches to the “tea question” shared one goal: competing directly with, and eventually overtaking, the Great Britain-China trade for the supply of the world’s tea.

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Melange Radio!

You might be surprised to hear that among the most frequently asked questions I’ve gotten since closing the store has been about the music we used to play there. Then again, you might not. Point being, plenty of old friends have asked ‘hey, what was that one track…?’ So I thought it might be useful to put up a playlist of everything I used to play at the store from my collection. Hope you enjoy!

This was made with Spotify since I can’t post music, and Pandora has been an utter disappointment. Please note that if you are not a Spotify user, you’ll only hear 30-second samples of the songs, and I think you’ll only see 100 songs from the list. Sorry.

Tracks that were played at the store but I haven’t found on Spotify:

  1. Akira (Soundtrack) (1990): 08 Exodus from the Underground Fortress
  2. Bain: (2010) Mr Many Enemies: 01 untitled as of yet
  3. Bain: (2010) Mr Many Enemies: 02 Dim
  4. Bain: (2010) Mr Many Enemies: 04 de-Omised
  5. Bain: (2010) Mr Many Enemies: 06 Conamara Chaos
  6. Bain: (2010) Mr Many Enemies: 10 Pronounced Derjhe (with Calum Howard)
  7. Bain: (2010) Mr Many Enemies: 11 Chang (Mammal Club remix)
  8. Bain: (2010) Mr Many Enemies: 12 First in a while and last for a while
  9. Boxx, Igor: (2010) Breslau: 14 Downfall
  10. Buddha-Bar (series): 10 Desert Dancer (Zeb’s Slow Camel Ride Remix)
  11. Buddha-Bar (series): 11 Go Easy
  12. Buddha-Bar (series): 11 Stonyridge Terrace
  13. Buddha-Bar (series): 19 Meanderin
  14. Buddha-Bar (series): 28 Laurence D’Arabie (Ambient Mix)
  15. Burning Spear: (2001) Spear Burning: 11 I Gave You My Word
  16. Calypso King & The Soul Investigators — Chick Beans
  17. Cinematic Orchestra: (2007) Past, Present & Future — Classics, Instrumentals & Exclusives: 18 Lullaby
  18. Cloudkicker: (2011) Loop: 03 3
  19. Cloudkicker: (2011) Loop: 10 10
  20. Cloudkicker: (2011) Loop: 13 13
  21. Dibango, Manu: (1976) Countdown at Kusini: 07 Bush
  22. DJ Funnel: (2009) Laid Back: 04 Inner Science — Amotion
  23. DJ Funnel: (2009) Laid Back: 09 Suite On Clouds — The Grand Piano
  24. DJ Funnel: (2009) Laid Back: 12 Pytlik — Atmachb
  25. DJ Funnel: (2009) Laid Back: 13 Helios — Fourteen Drawings
  26. DJ Funnel: (2009) Laid Back: 18 The Abbasi Brothers — Clouds Are Sleeping
  27. DJ Krush: (1996) Meiso: 02 — Anticipation
  28. DJ Tran-Bert: (2009) Music Friends Life: 04 Sweet Dreams
  29. DJ Tran-Bert: (2009) Music Friends Life: 05 Voyage
  30. Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim): (1989) African Sun: 06 African herbs
  31. Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim): (1989) African Sun: 08 Blues for B
  32. Dub Specialist — Dub It Easy — Swing Easy by The Soul Vendors
  33. Fleshquartet: (1990) Goodbye Sweden: 01 Hey Bombay
  34. Jazzanova: (2006) Blue Note Trip Vol 5 Scrambled Mashed: 01-13 Egberto Gismonti — Sanfona
  35. Jazzanova: (2006) Blue Note Trip Vol 5 Scrambled Mashed: 01-14 Robert Glasper — Chant
  36. Kashiwa, Daisuke: (2009) 5 Dec: 08 About Moonlight
  37. King Jammy — Jump Song Dub
  38. Klucevsek, Guy: (1996) Stolen Memories: 06 Stolen Memories
  39. Knife, The: (2006) Hannah Med H: 01 Real Life Television
  40. Knife, The: (2006) Hannah Med H: 12 Vegetarian Restaurant
  41. Loop Guru: (1995) Amrita — All These and the Japanese Soup Warriors: 06 Often Again
  42. Loop Guru: (1997) Loop Bites Dog: 13 Tam Duugi
  43. Lunar Testing Lab: (2009) Seashore Blvd: 01 Black Sands
  44. Lunar Testing Lab: (2009) Seashore Blvd: 02 Summer Seas
  45. Lunar Testing Lab: (2009) Seashore Blvd: 04 Shoreline at Dawn
  46. Manu Dibango — New Bell
  47. Mogllar: (1971) Mogollar: 02 Bahcelere Geldi Bahar
  48. Mogllar: (1971) Mogollar: 04 Uskudara Giderken
  49. Mogllar: (1971) Mogollar: 06 Yine Bir Gulnihal
  50. Mogllar: (1971) Mogollar: 10 Misket
  51. Niney & The Reggae Crusaders — Couchie Dub
  52. Pizzicato Five: (1997) Happy End of the World: 10 Porno 3003 I Music For Sofa; II Galaxy One; III It’s All Too Beautiful
  53. Putomayo (label): From the Tea Lands (2000): 07 Kamil Alipour — Afshari
  54. Putomayo (label): Islands (1997): 02 Kali — Me Ki Sa Oule
  55. Putomayo (label): Jewish Odyssey (2000): 07 The Klezmer Conservatory Band — Meron Nign
  56. Putomayo (label): Mexico (2001): 06 Dueto De Los Hermanos Rios — Mediu Xhiga
  57. Quantic: (2006) One Off’s Remixes and B Sides: 01-01 Quantic — Archipelago
  58. Schnauss, Ulrich: (2001) Far Away Trains Passing By: 05 A Million Miles Away
  59. St Germain: Saint-Germain-des-Prés Café (series): 07 Saint-Germain-des-Prés Café 7 (2005): 02-09 Alice Russell — To Know This
  60. St Germain: Saint-Germain-des-Prés Café (series): 09 Saint-Germain-des-Prés Café 9 (2007): 01-09 ThIRD EYE AKA Nicola Conte — Macedonia
  61. St Germain: Saint-Germain-des-Prés Café (series): 09 Saint-Germain-des-Prés Café 9 (2007): 02-02 DJ Cam Quartet — So Sweet [Album Version]
  62. Takemura, Nobukazu: (1997) Kodomo To Mahou [Child & Magic]: 01 Solitary Walker
  63. Takemura, Nobukazu: (1997) Kodomo To Mahou [Child & Magic]: 02 Bright Time to Come
  64. Takemura, Nobukazu: (1997) Kodomo To Mahou [Child & Magic]: 05 Curious Child
  65. Takemura, Nobukazu: (1997) Kodomo To Mahou [Child & Magic]: 07 Child and Animals in the Forest
  66. Thievery Corporation: (1997) Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi: 08 The Glass Bead Game
  67. Thievery Corporation: (1997) Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi: 09 The Foundation
  68. Thievery Corporation: (1997) Sounds from the Thievery Hi-Fi: 11 The Oscillator
  69. Thievery Corporation: (1998) Covert Operations: 01 Sex Elevator Music (Thievery Corporation Mix)
  70. Thievery Corporation: (1998) Covert Operations: 12 Thunderball — The Moon, The Sky
  71. Thievery Corporation: (1999) Abductions And Reconstructions: 08 Ave Maria (Thievery Corporation Remix)
  72. Thievery Corporation: (2000a) Departures: 03 Coming From The Top
  73. Thievery Corporation: (2000a) Departures: 08 Theme From A Dream
  74. Thievery Corporation: (2003) Den Of Thieves — The Sound Of Eighteenth Street Lounge Music: 07 The Karminsky Experience Inc. — Exploration
  75. Thievery Corporation: (2003) Den Of Thieves — The Sound Of Eighteenth Street Lounge Music: 09 Brooklyn Blues
  76. Thievery Corporation: (2003) Den Of Thieves — The Sound Of Eighteenth Street Lounge Music: 13 Into The Light
  77. Thievery Corporation: (2004a) The Outernational Sound: 07 Under My Sensi (Thievery Corporation Mix)
  78. Thievery Corporation: (2004a) The Outernational Sound: 10 Cookin’ (Version)
  79. Thievery Corporation: (2006) Versions: 07 Herb Alpert — Lemon Tree
  80. Trojan Box Set — Carnival (2003): 01-04 The Doctors — In The Summertime
  81. Trojan Box Set — Carnival (2003): 01-16 The Cimarons — You Can Get It If You Really Want
  82. Trojan Box Set — Dub Vol 2 (2000): 03-15 Scientist — Scientist
  83. Trojan Box Set — Instrumentals (1999): 03-11 Baba Brooks — Seven Guns Alive
  84. Trojan Box Set — Producer Series (1999): 01-14 Lee Scratch Perry & The Upsetters — Black IPA
  85. Trojan Box Set — Producer Series (1999): 02-02 The Dynamites — Mr. Midnight
  86. Trojan Box Set — Producer Series (1999): 03-01 Carl “Cannonball” Bryan — Soul Scorcher
  87. Trojan Box Set — Rare Groove (1999): 03-03 The Aggrovators — Doctor Seaton
  88. Trojan Box Set — Rare Groove (1999): 03-16 Keith Hudson — Melody Maker
  89. Trojan Box Set — Reggae Brothers (2003): 01-06 Desmond Dekker — Fu Man Chu
  90. Trojan Box Set — Reggae Chill-Out (2003): 02-05 Hopeton Lewis — Take It Easy
  91. Trojan Box Set — Roots (1999): 03-15 Cornell Campbell — The Judgement Come
  92. Trojan Box Set — Ska Vol 2 (2000): 01-02 Don Drummond — Dragon Weapon
  93. Trojan Box Set — Soulful Reggae (2000): 03-14 Matumbi — Brother Louie
  94. Trojan Box Set — Tighten Up (2000): 02-17 Slim Smith — The Time Has Come
  95. Trojan Upsetter Box Set (2002): 01-15 Bob Marley & The Wailers — Put It On
  96. Trojan Upsetter Box Set (2002): 01-19 The Stingers — Give Me Power
  97. Tycho: (2006) Sunrise Projector: 03 PBS KAE
  98. Tycho: (2006) Sunrise Projector: 06 Lapse
  99. Tycho: (2006) Sunrise Projector: 07 Send And Receive (Ft. Jianda)
  100. Tycho: (2006) Sunrise Projector: 10 A Circular Reeducation (Ft. Jianda)
  101. Tycho: (2007) The Science of Patterns: 04 Systems
  102. Yoshida Brothers: (2003) Yoshida Brothers: 02 Hyakka Ryouran (Blooming)
  103. Yoshida Brothers: (2003) Yoshida Brothers: 04 Storm
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Gravy

Ah, gravy. The rich brown sauce that honestly most people could just drink straight, but manners require us to serve it on top of comfort foods such as mashed potatoes, roast poultry, stuffing, etc.  The tricky part is what texture you like — if you prefer yours thinner or thicker, you’ll have to play with how much juices/stock you use, and the cooking time. Don’t worry — there’s really no such thing as a bad gravy.