Tea and TEE

16 Jan 2006

Today I’m thinking about tea and TEE.

At the Potts house, we get tea from Harney and Sons. This morning I drank Hao Ya ‘A’ tea. It is a Keemun, a China Black tea, considerably more expensive than the standard English Breakfast, but with an amazing complex flavor, even when drunk behind the wheel of my car out of a plastic travel mug.

The difference between the Hao Ya ‘A’ and the regular Harney and Sons English Breakfast is a bit like the difference between a single malt scotch and a good blended whiskey. The single malt is, well, singular: full of character and intrigue. The blended version is reliable and tasty but does not baffle your taste buds. A comparsion between the two really highlights the tea blender’s art. The standard English Breakfast has many of the same elements (I think it has some of the Hao Ya ‘A’ in it), but they are harmonized. The Hao Ya ‘A’ is full of piss and vinegar (well, not literally). It demands your attention. It fascinates. Even with a mild cold this morning, it has a bewildering variety of flavors and aromas: a smokiness, a nuttiness, a peatiness, a meaty flavor, even a briney pickled flavor. It is too fine a tea to drink every day; I would start to take it for granted, and that would be wasteful.

I recommend both the Harney and Sons English Breafast and the Hao Ya ‘A’ very highly. For a less complex but excellent “comfort tea” I recommend the Malachi McCormick, an Irish Breakfast blend that goes very well with sugar and milk. The English Breakfast and Malachi McCormick blends may seem expensive, but per ounce they are actually cheaper than decent bagged teas.

Now, TEE. TEE stands for Trans Europe Express, the train and eponymous Kraftwerk song. Isaac and I have been watching the Minimum-Maximum live Kraftwerk concert video. The live performance of Trans Europe Express is fantastic. It makes me wish for a larger TV and a better stereo. An extended solo section of the song is performed in front of a montage of steam engines and clashing steel. It is strangely erotic and romatic. I didn’t know very much about Kraftwerk or the TEE back then; in particular, I didn’t understand the suble nostalgia that Kraftwerk’s music embodies, a kind of Gernsback Continuum of electro-pop. but I am reminded of a friend of mine who was also at the College of Wooster: Dalex. His independent study thesis involved creating several different ceramic tea sets inspired by the design language of the TEE, including a set designed for a male couple. I went to his thesis exhibition.

I realize now that Dalex was the kind of art student that a teacher must run across only once or twice in a career. It was amazing work! I admired it, but did not fully appreciate it, at the time. Dalex, if you are reading, congratulations. You were at least sixteen or seventeen years ahead of me in your reading of Kraftwerk in the tea leaves. I raise my plastic travel mug to you.

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