So, those of you who have followed me from the very beginning will know that this blog all started with a tea everyday, and usually a little something was said about the teas. This hasn’t really been happening in a while, but I just want you to know that I have not abandoned tea, far from it in fact. This is a little round up, a tea-cap if you will, of all the teas currently doing the rounds in my cup. Some have been with me a long time, some are much newer, some are good, some less so. But here you go!
The Golden Chariot tea above is not very good quality tea at all, hence it costing so little, but I bought it because I really love the packaging!
I bought this Mate in Berlin for 1Euro. It is a roasted variety and is quite pleasant, being much smoother and less bitter on the palate than a normal Mate, but it lacks the magic punch and stimulation of the unroasted variety.
This tea, which is not strictly ‘mine’, is delicate and sweet, with the smoothness of the Sencha balanced well with flower blossoms.
Definitely just for night-time!
I’ve not tried this yet, and it is again not strictly mine, but I will let you know when / if I get my hands on it!
This is probably my most coveted tea, from Estonia I have been carrying this around since February. It is excellent, you can steep the leaves several times and it is delicate yet nourishing. If you happen to leave it a little long the Ginseng, in which the Oolong has been rolled, will start to create an odd, but not unpleasant, sweetness.
I love Mate, ever since I found it tucked away in a little farm shop in the middle of nowhere in England when i was about 16. This one is good, actually quite delicate in flavour, but it definitely does the job!
Last, but by no means least, is my Yunnan Green Oolong. I brought this with me when I started my trip and it has been perfect every time. I am running extremely low on it now so will only drink it occasionally. It is perfect for lifting the spirits and refreshing the soul. This tea is a life saver!
Riot Squads, Police Vans, Russian and Polish football fans. The air before match between Russia and Poland was full of anticipation of some rather major violence and aggravation. Before the match the Russians had planned to march to the Narodowa Stadium in celebration of the Russian national day, this march was halted, though there were still a number of people and there was some violence, as you would probably expect whenever anyones passions and anticipation gets stoked up. There were a few crowds, people throwing stuff occasionally and a lot of (harmless) ‘explosions’ (or just loud bangs really). The police did well and controlled the situation and during all of the time we spent in the city centre that night we never really felt in danger or under threat. The situation was dealt with extremely well in my opinion, and the city should be proud of how it handled itself (largely).
The result? A rather democratic 1-1.
Tea 61, 20 Year old Pu Erh, Herbaciarnia, Krakow
So, the 10th. What I did on this day may come as a surprise to many of you, but I actually decided to return to Warsaw. I have decided that I will attempt to stay in Warsaw for a little while. My next intended stop is the Ukraine, and after a bit of deliberation I decided the weather was still too cold there for me, and that I still wasn’t done with Warsaw, so I decided to come back, sit out the cold weather a while longer and get to know Warsaw a bit more. This all hinges on finding somewhere cheap and easy to stay at for a month or so, but will probably be the case.
The morning was spent getting my stuff together, and then I went with Marta (Malgorzata’s flatmate, not Warsaw Marta), to the art school to have a look around the studios and see what their system is like (not the sort of system I agree with at all), and we talked about art and our passions and intentions with it for a while. Then I went to town and to this tea house called Herbaciarnia. This is tucked down a small staircase off of Florianska street in the old town that leads to the main square. It was an amazing find. The place is in the basement and the vaulted ceiling is bear brick and a bit like the little tea house under the church in Warsaw. I ordered a tea, a 20 year old Pu Erh tea. This was a great choice, it was a really amazing tea, one you could feel working, the warm glow you get in your cheeks and the tingle up your spine. It was a really amazing, meditative tea. Really wonderful. A while spent there until it got a bit cold from all the people coming in and out of the door. I paid, left the building, went to a milk bar for some simple but satisfying soup and salad and then went to the bus station, which it took me ages to find, getting lost in the train station because of all the construction work going on. Then I got on the bus and headed back to Warsaw!
Today was a travel day, 1040 – 1645 on a bus. Riga to Kaunas in Lithuania. This bus was probably the nicest one so far, good leg room, good temperature, though a dubbed version of Fast and the Furious Five was maybe not the ideal ‘in coach entertainment’ choice!
I left the apartment in Riga earlier than I really needed to, but this was because I was determined to leave Riga on a high note. And, at long last it worked! I managed to track down the illusive Emil and the holy chocolate grail! This made me exceedingly happy. The perfect treat for 9:30am? A cup of the gorgeous hot liquid chocolate. This small but perfectly formed little cup provided me with a much needed and much appreciated chocolate high. This hot chocolate was literally just melted chocolate in a cup, even those little bits that are left in the cup you see began to turn back into solid chocolate. It was simply wonderful, only cost 1 lat and the lady that served me did so with a lovely smile and a warm bit of broken English conversation. It was a great ending to a strange few days in Riga. Thank goodness! The little shop is in the central train station, and there is even a tea shop too, I think I probably should have just hung out there the whole time I was in Riga!
I got to the bus station, waited a little while then hoped onto the bus, a double decker beast of a thing, but as I said, nice and comfy. The journey didn’t feel too long either, we made a small stop somewhere, then another short stop in Vilnius, which looked, from the bus window, a bit like Riga… Then I arrived at Kaunas. I went into the bus station to ask about buses for the next leg of my trip, received friendly and efficient service and then waited for my next host, Lina. She arrived a little after 5pm and after a quick pop to the supermarket we headed to her flat, which she shares with her husband. The flat is lovely, on the top of a hill only a few minutes from the bus station and it has the most wonderful view of the city, I will try to get a photo of it in the coming days. We sat and chatted, ate a little, drank a bit of brandy, which I actually enjoyed even though I didn’t think that it was my sort of drink. Then one of Lina’s friends arrived, we ate some dinner, a bit more chat and now it is time to sleep…
I started to like Riga a little more today. I went into the city centre, by foot once again, and headed straight for Aspara Tea House. This was one of the ones I hadn’t managed to find yesterday, I think it is because the internet seems to think it is in two different places, but today I picked the right one! The Tea House is a circular building, with glass windows all around, almost as though it is built on an old bandstand or something similar. There are two floors, the upper is a full circle with loads of cushions and a view out over the park in which the tea house sits. I chose to sit downstairs though, in a comfy arm chair. I ordered a Milk Oolong tea. This doesn’t involve any milk for any of you who are wondering. The tea leaves come in a pearl form which then unravel with the addition of water. This was served to me in a semi-traditional style, with kettle / thermos, teapot, fair cup and drinking cup. The tea can be steeped between 5 and 7 times, with moderate increases in the steeping time with each new round. The waitress told me to leave the second steep for around 1 minute, which I considered much too long, so I left the second steep for just about 40 seconds, this was still too long, in my opinion. The first steep gave a refreshing, smooth and delicate taste, and yes, sort of milky, creamy sensation. The second steep, which was far too long gave a much deeper, more bitter flavour, with far too many tannins attacking the sides of my tongue. The flavour had become much dirtier, almost alcoholic in it’s sensation, with the flavour flooding the front of my mouth. The third steep was better, this time I gave the tea only 25 seconds. This was still a little long, but the flavour was much better, the smoothness and milky sensation returning though still a slight tang. The flavour of the tea improved a lot as it cooled, becoming sweeter and more fragrant. The fourth steep was for 25 seconds once more, this time the flavour was much more balanced, the dustiness and bitterness was totally gone now and there was much more clarity in the flavour. The tea hadn’t become more delicate, but purer in flavour and fragrance. Steep 5 and the colour had become beautifully golden now, the flavour was deeper, at the base of the tongue and the sweetness had begun to dissipate. Steep 6, the final steep and the tea finished with a flourish, the floral notes in the tea coming out, super refreshing and clear in flavour. The tea had seemed to come alive. That’s why I decided to stop it there, there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing…
A couple of hours had passed now so I got up and went wandering through the lovely, peaceful parks. The city was sleepier today, less people and traffic, the snow was falling again, covering up the brown-grey piles of old snow and ice, making it a little prettier. I wandered past the congress building, various consulates, that line the Kronvalda Parks. People walked their dogs, a guy had his girlfriend filming his snowy Parkour tricks. Ducks splashed around in the few bits of unfrozen river. The city felt a lot more inviting today. I kept wandering like this, around the North-East of the city centre, past museums, official buildings, shopping malls for a good long while. Then I met up with my host for more walking. This time much farther North, along Brivibas Bulvaris. The architecture along this road is pretty amazing, huge Gothic and Baroque style buildings lining the streets. Busts and faces staring out at you from the Facades.
We found ourselves on Miera Street, another one I had failed to find yesterday. There is a nice mixture of traditional wooden houses and the more Baroque styled stone built buildings. Miera apparently means ‘peace’, and we found this small, beautiful cafe there with the same name. At number 9 Miera Street this little cafe is beautiful, with French music playing gently throughout the cafe, handmade hats, candles and teapots in the window. I had a really, really good Chili Latte, with a beautiful syrupy decoration on the top. We sat there and warmed up for a while, the chili doing the perfect job, then we decided it was dark and getting colder so we are both home. More couchsurfers have arrived so the flat is getting full, but it is good to meet some more people.
Today had another gloriously sunshiny morning. But yet again, the coldest day so far, I think -20 was the high today…. I left the apartment around mid-day and made for the old town again. On my way I wandered around some of the side streets, slightly off of the beaten track and was treated to various sights of old tumble-down, but beautiful wooden and brick buildings, literally next door to huge, modern glass structures, such as the Radisson Blu hotel, and the Sokos. The business hotels basically. The sunlight was beautiful in these patches though, glinting off of windows and through the broken windows of the older buildings. I carried on towards the old town, and stopped off in the little Tammsaare park again. Today I noticed there were now quite a few ice sculptures that I am fairly sure were not there yesterday, a hedgehog, a wolf, an eagle, a knife and fork…. All sorts of things, glinting away in the low lying sunshine.
A few photographs later, and I was in the old town. I headed straight for the tea shop I had spied yesterday. What an amazing little tea shop, loads of excellent quality teas from all over the place. I stood and chatted to the shop keeper and her sister for ages about tea and traveling and all things inbetween. They were lovely people, very friendly, warm and inviting, and passionate about tea! It is really an amazing place, called Chado it is situated on Vana-Viru, a right turn directly after the main entrance bit of the old town. I chatted for a while and bought a cup of Qi Pao tea to go, as well as a small packet of Ginseng Oolong and a small sample of a mystery Pu Er tea they had gotten hold of, it is twelve years old, and hopefully will be amazing! I’ve not tasted either of these two yet, but as soon as I do you will be the first to know! I think I need to save the mystery tea for a proper occasion, with all the gear to get a proper idea of it. If you are in this part of town, and let’s face it, who doesn’t go to old town Tallinn, make sure to give this shop a look! There’s also a link to their website at the bottom of this page.
I took my hot cup of Qi Pao into the cold outside and began to drink. It was really good, smooth and refreshing, with a great tannin level to make it just right in the cold air. I’ve kept these leaves too for another few brewings. I wandered around the old cobbled streets a while longer, trying to keep the cold out; the remnants of my tea actually froze in the cup, and the lid also froze to the cardboard! Eventually the cold started to freeze me again and hunger started to creep in, so I decided to try and find the Krug Inn, a place recommended to me by my host Ingrid. After a little search I found it hidden on the corner of the town hall building, a white washed building that looks like a church. Inside is dark and extremely medieval, the only light supplied through the small translucent windows and a few candles dotted about. The waitress was dressed to the nines in a red medieval frock and a service style to match. She is funny and brilliant, but in a completely abrupt, some would say rude, manner. It’s all part of the act though and if you take it in your stride you will only enjoy it! They serve two things, Elk soup and pies, though various types of pie. I had a steaming, hot, rich and delicious bowl of Elk soup, with a sweet, tasty carrot pie. The food is really good, the perfect food for the cold. If you make it there be prepared to drink from the bowl and mop up with your pie, or make sure you have packed your spoon…
After that I decided that I didn’t want to have too much time out in the freezing cold, so I made for the Museum of Occupation. This charts basically the last century when the country of Estonia has changed hands basically three times, first the Soviet Occupation came, followed by the Nazi Germany invasion and occupation, followed once more by the Soviets taking Estonia back from the Germans. The museum is small but has numerous objects from the whole era, as well as a number of documentary videos charting the whole process from initial occupation, through deportations, exploitations, to sovereignty and finally full independence at the fall of the Soviet Union. If you visit here, which you really should to get a true appreciation of what the estonian people have gone through, then give it time and watch through the various documentaries, it is really enlightening and moving. And entrance is only 2 Euros, so well worth it! I then headed home, the snow had started to fall again and it was still bitingly cold. I read it is only going to get worse in the coming days, and my next stop, Tartu, over the weekend, is even colder…