A Tea-cap.

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 think that I am a bit obsessed with Yunnan Teas.  This one from 5 o’clock, a smallish shop in Warsaw is a good everyday Green tea, but is nothing out of the ordinary.

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.

A good quality and clear variety of Sencha tea from China.

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!

A standard Green Tea, but in a Cape Verde packet.

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!

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Day 39, Kaunas, February 17th 2012

Tea 39: More Hot Chocolate instead of tea!, Chocolaterie, Kaunas Old Town

Today (yesterday) was a lovely day.  Lithuania is definitely a place I will need to go come back to.  Unfortunately my time here is almost up and tomorrow (today) I will be leaving for Poland.  My day started with another great breakfast, bread and cheese and then banana pancakes and yoghurt.

 After this great start to the day I left the house and walked down the huge staircase (210 steps) to the town centre.  First stop was the bus ticket office where I bought my ticket to Warsaw for another bargain price of 29litas, about 8.5 Euro.  The lady in the ticket office was very friendly and helpful with everything, printed me off my ticket and then I headed into the town centre.  I wandered down the long main high street Laisvės alėja, lined with trees and that leads all the way to the old town.  The old town starts after you have traveled beneath the main road and come up the other side.  Immediately recognisable as an Eastern European / Baltic Old Town, with the building styles and layouts.  The first street is still the main street and leads directly to the town square.  There are lovely little shops, a tea shop (though not cafe), which I popped in to have a look and a smell, but didn’t buy anything.  Then I went to a little glass fronted photography gallery just off the town square.  A nice space with some good work on show, though I have totally forgotten by who, and their website isn’t up to date yet.  In the town square there were workmen taking down a huge christmas tree made from recycled green plastic bottles.  I imagine it must have looked quite cool at night time.  Apparently the tree is only just being taken down because some wise fellow decided that the weather had been much too cold for people to work outside at such a job and so it had been left until now, when the weather is reasonably milder.  A very good idea!  I wandered around and then decided to take a seat next to a sculpture of Maironis, Lithuania’s most celebrated poet, who had studied during his high-school years in Kaunas.  While I was sitting there in the peace and quiet a delivery lorry turned up and two young people were, rather unceremoniously left holding a mattress.  After a few attempts to lift and carry the thing I decided that I would offer some help to the young couple.  So I got up, went over, apologised for my lack of Lithuanian but offered help.  We carried the mattress the few hundred yards to their front door, had a little chat about why I was in Lithuania and what they did (students, one studying Music Technology, the other Medicine), and then I went back to the town square.

I then walked a little while north and found myself at Kaunas Castle, an old, semi-ruined, semi-reconstructed (and therefore sort of ruined a little more), building that stands more or less at the point where the two rivers, the Nemunas and the Neris, meet. It also marks the start of a small area of parkland that is the true point of the land where the two rivers meet.  The little park is only a few meters higher than the river level, the ice of one river was pretty much mostly frozen, but on the other, the Nemunas the ice was breaking up and shifting.  Huge great chunks of glacial blue ice slowly floated down the river, creaking and bobbing about.  It was quite an amazing sight.

After that I went back into the Old Town Square, I had spied a place to get a little treat.  Chocolaterie, as it is simply named, is a sweet little chocolate and coffee cafe.  It isn’t cheap, and especially not by Lithuanian standards, but as a small treat it is ok.  I had the above hot chocolate, and espresso sized cup filled with glorious liquid chocolate, I also treated myself to a piece of cake, true gluttony as the chocolate by itself was much more than enough sweetness.  But the cake was really good, chocolate, cherries, more chocolate, and not just sponge but a layer of solid chocolate in the middle too.  Very, very bad for you, and therefore very, very good for your soul…

I sat there for a while, then wandered through some of the side streets of the Old Town.  Taking my life in my hands down the icy narrow, cobbled streets until I reached the Nemunas River again, but this time further up stream, by a large bridge that leads into the heart of the old town.  A huge sundial sits on the wall of one building, it’s smiling face greeting all those that arrive.  I then met up with Lina’s brother and one of his friends who decided to take me to the Žalgiris Arena, the huge black basketball arena that sits on a small island in the New Town area of Kaunas.  Basketball is actually Lithuania’s national sport, and they are very passionate and proud about it.  In the arena a competition was on between a lot of Lithuanian schools (though I don’t know if it was just local schools or the whole country).  The stadium is mostly black, outside and in, which is actually quite nice to sit in, the focus is really on the basketball court.  We sat and watched for a while.  Small three person competitions taking up the time between quarters of the main game of the day.  Then a small challenge for a member of the audience to throw a basketball from the centre of the court into the basket, but, as if this wasn’t hard enough, they were blindfolded.  When they inevitably missed the audience was told to scream and shout as if they had made the shot.  The guy throwing was very almost convinced!

After a while I decided I would head back home, so, leaving Lina’s brother and friend I walked across the main bridge back to the mainland, walked past the huge empty unfinished Soviet era hotel.  This is an almost solid block of concrete, about 12 stories high and probably the size of a few football pitches.  The thing is built so solid that it is apparently near impossible to break it down, the reinforced concrete latticed with steel.  No one knows what will happen to the thing, but everyone hopes something will happen to it.  It is like a huge, grey, gloomy reminder of the past.  Making it back home, through the little park, that was once a graveyard, then a sports arena (another Soviet influence) and now a park with reference to the previous graveyard, and back up the 210 steps, myself, Lina and Algis sat a chatted for a while. Then we ate some traditional Lithuanian dumplings, little parcels of pastry filled with meat or mushrooms which are boiled and served with sour cream and salad.  Very satisfying food!  Then a couple of Algis’s friends arrived and we sat with some wine and a few card games, and another round of Dixit (the game I failed to explain yesterday).  Then by the time all that was over it was time for bed!


Day 24, Tallinn, February 2nd 2012

Tea 24:  Qi Pao Tea, from CHADO tea shop, old town Tallinn.

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…

                       

                        CHADO